Oxford University has called on Aung San Suu Kyi to “eliminate discrimination and oppression”, in light of the expanding humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, but has said it is not reconsidering her honorary degree.
A number of UK universities and institutions have withdrawn or suspended honours given to Myanmars’s de facto leader, after the displacement of around 400,000 of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, which the UN has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
In a statement to Cherwell, Oxford said Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary degree, awarded in 2012, is not currently under discussion, but expressed the university’s “profound concern” about the treatment of the Rohingya community.
“Since the country established its first democratically elected government for more than 50 years, in 2015, Oxford has expanded a wide-ranging programme of assistance to universities in Myanmar, in particular the University of Yangon,” the statement said.
“The institution’s goal is to support peaceful and inclusive democracy, strengthened rule of law, and the provision of greater economic opportunities through higher education.”
It called on Aung San Suu Kyi, who graduated from St Hugh’s College in 1967, to act on the growing crisis. “The University remains committed to these ideals, and hopes the Myanmar administration, led by Oxford alumna Aung San Suu Kyi, can eliminate discrimination and oppression, and demonstrate to the world that Myanmar values the lives of all its citizens.”
The statement stopped short, however, of reviewing the honorary degree bestowed on Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012, one of the University’s highest honours, awarded to only a handful of international figures each year.
In recent days, a number of institutions have suspended or reviewed awards given to Myanmar’s leader. Yesterday, Oxford councillors announced they could reconsider the freedom of the city of Oxford awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1997.
“If nothing changes, I think it is very likely that the city council will be stripping her of the freedom of the city,” councillor John Tanner told the Oxford Mail.
“It’s something that we very much regret but clearly the reasons for giving her support have now changed.”
Bristol University, one of several UK universities to have awarded Aung San Suu Kyi an honorary degree, said it was reviewing its award.
LSE’s student union said it would be stripping the former political prisoner of her honorary presidency.
“We will be actively removing Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary presidency as a symbol of our opposition to her current position and inaction in the face of genocide,” said Mahatir Pasha, the union’s general secretary.
Among her critics has been fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner and incoming Lady Margaret Hall student Malala Yousafzai. She wrote on Twitter that “the world is waiting” for Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn the suffering of the Rohingya community.
— Malala (@Malala) September 3, 2017
Aung San Suu Kyi studied PPE at St Hugh’s College, gaining a BA in 1967 before studying for an MA in Politics.
In a televised address yesterday, Aung San Suu Kyi said: “There have been allegations and counter-allegations. We have to listen to all of them.
“We have to make sure those allegations are based on solid evidence before we take action.”