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Cotler urges government to rescind rare honour

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Irwin Cotler

A prominent Jewish human rights activist is calling on Ottawa to revoke the honorary Canadian citizenship of Myanmar’s leader, one of only six people to ever receive the distinction.

Irwin Cotler, a former federal justice minister and advocate for a host of political prisoners going back to the days of Soviet Jewish refuseniks, said he feels the honour that was bestowed on Aung San Suu Kyi in 2007 should be stripped for her failure to stop the ethnic cleansing and genocide of her country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

Cotler and others cited a damning report from the United Nations late last month that faulted Suu Kyi for failing to use her “moral authority” to prevent the violence that has forced nearly 725,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The UN report accused Myanmar’s military of genocide against the Rohingya in the country’s Rakhine state, and alleged the army was responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity against minorities across Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

The UN report said it found conclusive evidence that the actions of the country’s armed forces “undoubtedly amounted to the gravest crimes under international law,” including genocide, imprisonments, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual slavery, in Rakhine and other states.

The report said Suu Kyi had failed to use her “position as head of government, or her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine state.”

In light of the report, Suu Kyi “does not belong in that pantheon of heroes” deserving of honorary Canadian citizenship, Cotler stated.

“Would we have appointed her to be an honorary citizen if that issue were now to arise?” he told the Globe and Mail. “I am sure the answer would be no. In fact, I don’t believe there could now be a nomination for an honorary citizenship.”

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) issued the same call.

 “Without a doubt, Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship should be suspended for her nation’s crimes against humanity,” said FSWC president and CEO Avi Benlolo. “If Canada is truly against the human rights abuses that have taken place against Rohingya families, it must recognize that Suu Kyi does not belong to the country’s exclusive group of honorary citizens who have made positive contributions to humanity and stood up for human rights.”

Amnesty International Canada also said it is time for the government to rethink Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship.

“It is likely time for the Canadian government to consider whether her honorary Canadian citizenship can in any way be leveraged to increase the pressure on her to assert sorely needed human rights leadership, or whether it is time to consider revoking that honour,” said Alex Neve, Amnesty International Canada’s secretary-general.

Last month, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg removed a reference to Suu Kyi in one of its exhibits.

READ: CANADA-SAUDI DISPUTE ‘ALMOST INEXPLICABLE,’ IRWIN COTLER SAYS

Canada’s other five honorary citizens are Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who is credited with rescuing tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazis in wartorn Budapest; former South African president Nelson Mandela; the Dalai Lama; the Aga Khan; and women’s rights and education activist Malala Yousafzai.