Aung San Suu Kyi could be stripped of Freedom of the City

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi being escorted out of the Old Library at the end of the Honorary Freedom ceremony by Sir Alan Yarrow and Sheriff of London Peter Estlin. Photo: credit: Clive Totman

The process has begun which could see Aung San Suu Kyi become the first person to be stripped of the City of London Corporation’s Freedom of the City honour over her role in the Rohingya refugee crisis.

The Court of Common Council has voted to begin the process to remove the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s symbolic honour in light of growing international criticism of Ms Suu Kyi.

She has faced international condemnation over her failure to denounce the military for its treatment of Rohingya people amid widespread reports of their abuse in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), where she is de facto leader.

The motion was tabled at the court in the City’s Guildhall by councillor and film-maker Munsur Ali, who has visited Rohingya refugee camps.

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Protesters at Guildhall during the ceremony to award Aung San Suu Kyi an Honorary Freedom of the City in May 2017

Ms Suu Kyi was celebrated in the past as a figure for freedom after she spent years under house arrest as a democracy campaigner while the country was being ruled by a military dictatorship.

While the offer of a Freedom of the City had been made years earlier to Ms Suu Kyi, she finally accepted it in May 2017.

Some councillors boycotted the ceremony at the time, and the question of whether to explore the process to revoke the honour has been under deliberation for the past year.

Cllr Ali’s motion asked the court to express “its regret as the minority Rohingya population suffering persecution still await justice, especially as the international world continues to call for justice and most recently the call to bring the generals of the Myanmar army to justice for genocide.”

The motion attracted broad debate, splitting the court on 10 January.

Cllr Tijs Broeke said he fully supported the motion: “We are not rewriting history this is happening now, as we speak. This is not party political.”

Cllr Chris Hayward said his understanding was that whenever the court made awards of freedoms to high-profile international recipients it was done with the the knowledge and consent of the Foreign Office.

He added he was unaware of any wish from it to revoke the honour, saying revoking it “won’t save one single life, which is a great, great sadness.”

Cllr Tom Sleigh said the City should be “bold” and called on the court to vote for the notion as “an issue absolutely of conscience.”

A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation said: “At today’s (10 January) Court of Common Council, elected members voted in favour of beginning the process by which Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary freedom could be revoked.

“The freedom applications committee will now write to Aung San Suu Kyi to inform her of the proposal to revoke the award and will consider her response before a final decision is made.

“The City of London Corporation condemns the shocking humanitarian abuses carried out in Myanmar, and has already written to the ambassador for Burma to express its profound concern about the current situation in his country.”

What happens next?

The Corporation released a statement explaining the vote still has a long process yet to go through.

The freedom applications committee will now write to the freeman outlining the reasons for the proposed revocation, and it will consider a response, if any representations are made over whether or not to proceed with stripping the honour.

If it decides to proceed, another vote will go before the Court so members can make a final decision.