Council could revoke Aung San Suu Kyi Freedom

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 City’s Court of Common Council will consider stripping Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary Freedom of the City this Thursday, after members raised concerns over the Burmese leader’s treatment of the country’s Rohingya Muslims.

The City Corporation presented Ms Suu Kyi with the accolade in May amidst a storm of controversy that saw members of the Common Council boycott the ceremony and protesters picket Guildhall.

The honour is the highest the City can bestow upon an individual, and puts the de facto leader of Myanmar in the company of Nelson Mandela, Florence Nightingale and Winston Churchill.

Several members raised concerns ahead of the ceremony that they had not been permitted adequate time to consider the nomination before being required to vote at a Common Council meeting in April.

Now, less than six months later, the same Common Council meeting will consider revoking the honour following a motion tabled by Portsoken councillor Munsur Ali.

In an email to councillors seen by City Matters he called for the City Corporation to express its “considerable disappointment at the inaction of Aung San Suu Kyi” and raised concerns over the proposal being “sprung on them without any advance notice or ability to question whether it was the right time to offer her the Honorary Freedom”.

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

The motion comes less than a week after Oxford City Council voted unanimously to strip Ms Suu Kyi of its own Freedom, saying it was “no longer appropriate”. The council will hold a special meeting to remove the honour towards the end of next month.

Mr Ali said the City of London’s Honorary Freedom was of concern to him as both a Londoner and a person of Bengali heritage, and that it should also be revoked.

“I travel to Bangladesh every year, and even though the country is very stretched with it’s [sic] resources, they are doing all they can,” he wrote. “This is not a black and white issue – the military wield significant power behind the scenes.

“However, I still feel Aung Su [sic] has failed to suitably stand up against the horrifying genocide of (the) Rohingya minority. As a consequence I feel we need to debate whether or not she is still worthy of Freedom of the City.”

Common Council member for Aldersgate, Richard Crossan, echoed Mr Ali’s sentiments, calling the decision to grant Ms Suu Kyi the Freedom after her government was accused by the UN of ethnic cleansing in the Rakhine state as “very curious”.

“The City of London is a body that has been very adept at avoiding controversy – it is one of its great skills, in fact – so I find it very curious that we stepped into this controversy quite willingly,” he said.

Mr Crossan also said that the Honorary Freedom proposal process needed to be reviewed, adding that some councillors, himself included, were unaware Ms Suu Kyi had been nominated before they walked into the meeting on 27 April, their first following the City elections.

“I had no idea that it was coming,” he said. “If we had a little more time to think about a response and discuss, then I think at least there would have been a slightly larger minority that would have been opposed.”

Currently, process dictates that individuals proposed for the Honorary Freedom are nominated for consideration at the monthly Common Council meeting, but they can be added to the agenda at any time and high profile nominations are often kept from public record. Minutes from the meeting on 27 April show the item concerning Ms Suu Kyi’s nomination as urgent.

Other Common Council members City Matters spoke to stopped short of calling for a total revocation, however Cripplegate’s Mary Durcan said the Corporation needs to make its position clear “regarding its business connections, cancelling proposed visits and any other contacts it may have”.

Farringdon Without councillor Caroline Addy agreed the controversy revealed the need for a review, including a process of reconsidering the honour where “issues come to light”.

“While those processes are (rightly) not public, nowadays the Corporation is expected to explain its decisions to the public and we must address that too,” she said.

A City of London Corporation spokesperson confirmed the issue would be debated on Thursday, but added the Freedom was awarded “in recognition of Aung San Suu Kyi’s non-violent struggle over many years for democracy and her steadfast dedication to create a society where people can live in peace, security and freedom.”