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Museum Rescinds Human Rights Award From Aung San Suu Kyi


Six years ago, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum awarded Aung San Suu Kyi its Elie Wiesel Award for her work promoting human rights in Myanmar.

CAMERON HUDSON: She survived 15 years of house arrest under a brutal military dictatorship. And at the time that the award was given, she was helping to usher in a new era for her country and for the people of her country.

MONTAGNE: Cameron Hudson directs the museum's Center for the Prevention of Genocide. And he was one of the people behind a rather stunning letter the museum sent Suu Kyi earlier this week. It read in part, it is with great regret that we're now rescinding that award. The museum says Suu Kyi, who is Myanmar's civilian leader, has not stepped in to stop the genocide of her country's Muslim Rohingya minority. Hudson told me what he and his team have witnessed in Myanmar in the years since Suu Kyi received the award.

HUDSON: We saw internment camps. We saw Rohingya Muslims being rounded up, their homes being destroyed but also a more insidious kind of persecution through legislative acts of the government at the national level, restricting their civil liberties and civil rights. We saw a denial of access to humanitarian assistance and inability to hold jobs or to get diplomas for high school or secondary education. And in 2013 and 2014, we issued a report where we thought that the early warning indicators of genocide were present in the country.

MONTAGNE: Which turned out to be true. That's just what seems to be happening.

HUDSON: Absolutely. We've seen in the last year more than 700,000 people pushed out of their homes. And we are seeing increasing accounts of villages being destroyed and are hearing horrific accounts of the military attempting to cover their acts. So committing these crimes in civilian clothes and doing other things that acknowledges that the crimes shouldn't be happening but are happening. And we've seen even efforts by the government of Myanmar, preventing journalists from getting in to document these crimes. The U.N. has been blocked from going in to undertake human rights investigations. And these are all things that Aung San Suu Kyi herself can control.

MONTAGNE: In your opinion, though, given that the military is very powerful still to this day, she's a civilian leader to some extent there because they let her be there. What could she have done?

HUDSON: This is a huge dilemma. And we acknowledge it in our in our reporting, and we acknowledge in the letter that the country is coming out of decades of military rule, that the democratic institutions such as they are in the country are nascent. And I think we're - you know, we're sensitive to that. But at the same time, you know, if you play the long game in the short run, there'll be no Rohingya left in this country. And so she could provide visas to international humanitarian aid workers. She could see investigations undertaken. She's choosing not to do those things. And I think that where we ultimately came out in our decision to revoke this reward is that any democracy that is allowing a genocide to occur on its watch - what kind of democracy is that?

MONTAGNE: Cameron Hudson of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has revoked its award to Aung San Suu Kyi, an award that honored her work in human rights. Thank you very much.

HUDSON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.