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Open Letter to Harvard University President

Dear Professor Faust,

I am shocked to learn that Harvard University has honored Aung San Suu Kyi, the de-facto civilian leader of Burma (Myanmar), with Harvard Foundation’s “2016 Harvard Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award” on September 17. The award reminds me of President Obama's winning the Nobel Peace Prize soon after getting elected to the highest office in the USA. As you may agree the award was a premature one and only tarnished the image of the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Similarly, the Harvard Humanitarian Award to Ms. Suu Kyi is highly problematic, let alone being premature. As to why I feel this way, please, consider the following points – 

1. Aung San Suu Kyi is undeserving of such an award since for years she has been unconscionably silent on the serious plight of the Rohingya people of Myanmar, 'one of the most persecuted peoples' on earth according to the UN. The indigenous Rohingya are victims of an on-going genocide according to human rights groups and international law experts. Every year, tens of thousands of Rohingya flee persecution in Burma and make perilous journeys in rickety boats to seek refuge in other Southeast Asian countries. Many, however, have perished in their pursuit of better lives, while others fall victim to human traffickers.

2. During the 2015 general election, Suu Kyi and her NLD party failed to field a single Muslim candidate [out of the over 1,150 candidates that her party fielded]. Her decision shows that she was not a leader who values inclusion of either races or ethnicities, but rather a leader who seemed to promote exclusion. 

Drew Gilpin Faust is the 28th president of Harvard University and the Lincoln Professor of History in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

3. Suu Kyi has equivocated on the plight of Rohingya vis-a-vis the Rakhine. She has claimed and implied parity in rights abuses, and origin for the spread of violence. All rights groups and neutral observers note that the primary victims of state and mob violence have been the Rohingya.

4. Suu Kyi's NLD party, and the recently announced Advisory Commission has stated that the Rohingya issue is "not a priority" for the government. How could a serious humanitarian issue like the Rohingya problem that has led to the forced displacement of nearly a quarter million people be not a priority for Myanmar's government?

5. In her selection of the members of the Kofi Annan Commission, not a single Rohingya was included, while two Rakhine representative who have made anti-Rohingya and pro-genocide statements have been appointed. Such a gross display of unfairness can't be skirted off as being an oversight on the part of Suu Kyi.

6. A humanitarian's heart bleeds hearing or seeing the plight of persecuted people. Sadly, Suu Kyi has never visited a single Rohingya IDP camp. As you may know, 150,000 Rohingya remain in what has been described as deplorable "21st-centruy concentration camps" by the New York Times. Her attitude on the plight of the Rohingya people is inexcusable. 

7. Suu Kyi has been widely accused of bigotry. You may recall a report of Suu Kyi expressing bigoted anti-Muslim sentiments emerged from a new book detailing an encounter with BBC reporter Mishal Hussain, after which Suu Kyi was heard saying, "No one told me I would be interviewed by a Muslim." Such bigoted statements are not the ones expected of a humanitarian, and surely not of someone who has been honored Harvard Humanitarian of the Year.

8. Suu Kyi’s NLD party has never been pluralistic, and continues to demean or degrade the rights of non-Buddhists in multi-racial, - religious Burma. Aung Ko, NLD religious affairs appointee, calls Burmese Muslims, "associate citizens" implying they are not full citizens. Suu Kyi does not condemn or repudiate Ko for such statements that belie facts.

9. Suu Kyi and her NLD party have been accused of being willing partners to the eliminationist policy, carried out by the earlier governments against religious and ethnic minorities like the Rohingya. The Buddhist sangha – MaBaTha – have been playing a major role in that ‘slow’ genocide. Instead of disciplining MaBaTha and its terrorist monk Wirathu, Aung Ko has met the Buddhist monk, Wirathu, seemingly to pay respect to the hate group leader. As a leader, Suu Kyi has failed to set higher expectations for her party leaders. 

10. As the Lincoln Professor of History, you know all too well that the denial of one’s self-identity is an epitome of intolerance. Suu Kyi not only prohibits the use of the name ‘Rohingya’ by which the Rohingya people of Myanmar self-identify in her country but caves to extremists and advises foreign nations not to use the name "Rohingya". Such an arrogance is unacceptable from a humanitarian. 

11. Suu Kyi has failed to address the numerous anti-Rohingya/anti-Muslim protests, violence and hatred that has fomented for years among nationalists and extremists.

12. In Suu Kyi’s Burma, Rohingyas still remain stateless without any of the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. 

As can be seen, Harvard University’s decision to honor Suu Kyi with such an award is unfortunate and reflects very poorly on the image of the Ivy League school.

Habib Siddiqui

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