HONG KONG(New York) — Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmarand a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who once embodied her country’s fight for democracy, came under increased pressure on Monday to denounce a military operation that has caused thousands of Muslim refugees to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
As protests erupted across the region and a fellow peace prize laureate took to Twitter to confront Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, some wondered whether the Nobel Committee, which conferred the honor on her in 1991, would publicly criticize her or could even revoke the prize.
Demonstrations against the targeting of the Rohingya ethnic group, a persecuted Muslim minority, took place on Monday outside Australia’s Parliament in Canberra. In Jakarta, Indonesia, protesters burned photos of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and lobbed a gasoline bomb at the Myanmar Embassy.
“The world remains silent in the face of the massacre of Rohingya Muslims,” Farida, an Indonesian who organized the protest and uses only one name, told reporters.
The latest violence in Myanmar began last month when Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar military positions, in what they said was an effort to prevent further persecution by the country’s security forces.
The military responded with what it has called “clearance operations.” According to human rights groups, soldiers razed hundreds of Rohingya homes in Rakhine State. As a result, thousands of Rohingya have made the treacherous journey to squalid refugee camps across the border.
Their plight has drawn increased attention — and renewed criticism — from many people around the world, including other Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
“Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment,” Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani Muslim and the youngest recipient of the award, said in a Twitter post on Monday. “I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same. The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting.”
Last year, several Nobel laureates — including Ms. Yousafzai, Desmond Tutu and 11 other recipients — signed an open letter that “warned of the potential for genocide.”
Both the open letter and Ms. Yousafzai’s Twitter post were met online by critics of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who blamed her for the crisis and called for her prize to be revoked.
Those appeals are particularly poignant given Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s history as a political prisoner. She spent 15 years under house arrest after winning a presidential election in 1988, which the ruling junta at the time refused to honor. Under a constitutional power-sharing agreement, she was appointed state counselor after her party, the National League for Democracy, won in a landslide election in 2015. Still, under the law, she cannot become president and the military effectively controls many of the state’s levers of power.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been conspicuously silent on the Rohingya issue, and when pressed by reporters, she has toed the military’s official line, which contends that the Rohingya are illegally squatting inside Myanmar.
“No, it’s not ethnic cleansing,” she said in a rare interview on the subject in 2013.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is not the first Nobel laureate to stir controversy. In the past, activists have called on the committee to revoke the awards of Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama. In 1994, one member of the Nobel Committee resigned in protest when the award was shared among the Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. The committee member, Kaare Kristiansen, called Mr. Arafat a “terrorist” who did not deserve the prize.
The Nobel Committee, all Norwegian citizens appointed by the country’s Parliament, has never rescinded a prize and will not in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s case either, said Gunnar Stalsett, a former committee member.
“A peace prize has never been revoked and the committee does not issue condemnations or censure laureates,” said Mr. Stalsett, a former politician and bishop who was a deputy member of the committee in 1991, when Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi received her award.
“The principle we follow is the decision is not a declaration of a saint,” Mr. Stalsett said. “When the decision has been made and the award has been given, that ends the responsibility of the committee.”