CMHR faces calls to remove Myanmar leader Suu Kyi from exhibit

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is looking at whether Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi should be removed from its exhibitions amid widespread allegations of human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims.

Aung San Suu Kyi's inclusion ‘appears incongruous’ to visitors, museum official acknowledges

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is featured in two places in the Canadian Museum for Human rights, including an exhibition dedicated to honorary Canadian citizens. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is looking at whether Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi should be removed from its exhibitions amid widespread allegations of human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in the predominantly Buddhist nation she leads.

Suu Kyi is featured on the fourth floor of the Winnipeg museum in its Turning Points for Humanity exhibition, alongside Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, as well as on a timeline of human rights moments in history on the museum's second floor.

Raees Ahmed, a Rohingya-Canadian and human rights activist, said that's shameful.

"There is this big, beautiful wall of timeline and people from across the history of the world," Ahmed said. "Out of all these heroes you have Aung San Suu Kyi. It is almost as if [it's] dishonouring these heroes."

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state into Bangladesh since the summer, fleeing military operations the United Nations has described as ethnic cleansing.

Villages have been burned, and Human Rights Watch has accused Myanmar's military of committing widespread rape against Rohingya women and girls.

This week, Amnesty International described the Rohingya Muslims' ordeal in Myanmar as "dehumanizing apartheid."

Aung San Suu Ky is featured on the fourth floor of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in its Turning Points for Humanity exhibition, alongside Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai. (Courtesy the Canadian Museum for Human Rights)

Suu Kyi responded to the international outcry by calling the accusations "fake information" and saying the world is facing instability that leads to new threats, including illegal migration and terrorism.

She was once recognized for her human rights work but is now facing calls for the revocation of her Nobel Peace Prize, and her honorary Canadian citizenship.

"You cannot put [her] in a museum where people will walk past and read it — and children will go and read it, and they will learn that and they will take that as, 'These are the heroes … these are the people I look up to.' No. Unacceptable," Ahmed said. 

Spokeswoman Rhea Yates said the museum wants to use the exhibition as a teaching opportunity.

"Our exhibit is about honorary Canadian citizens [and] the government of Canada has given that honour to six people, so she is there as one of the people who has been given that honour," said Yates.

"We recognize that it appears incongruous to a visitor now."

She said the museum has engaged people on the issue on Facebook, and they have staff positioned in the gallery to speak to anyone they notice "stopping or slowing down in front of her picture" about the current situation in Myanmar.

Rohingya refugees reach for food at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhiya near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, on Aug. 30. (AFP/Getty Images)

"This controversy is an opportunity to have a dialogue with our visitors about how to deal with this incongruity," said Yates.

"We have not talked about removing the exhibit but what we've talked about is, 'How do we make the situation in Myanmar more front and centre?'"

On Thursday, museum officials said they were in the process of looking at whether changes should be made but, so far, there were no plans to remove Suu Kyi from its exhibitions.

Mohammed Tayeb, a member of Winnipeg's small Rohingya community, said having Suu Kyi honoured in the museum is absolutely wrong.

"In my opinion, she's a politician," he said. "From the beginning she was silent about the Rohingya… She should be removed from the museum."

Yates acknowledged the Rohingya people themselves may be deserving of a place in the museum.

"We don't have an exhibit plan, but the story about the Rohingya fits with many of the other kinds of stories that we currently tell in our… gallery focused on atrocities," she said.

"Certainly what the Rohingya have experienced is an atrocity."


  • An earlier version of this story, based on remarks wrongly transcribed by The Associated Press, said that Aung San Suu Kyi said illegal immigration was spreading terrorism. In fact, Suu Kyi said: "Conflicts around the world are giving rise to new threats and emergencies; illegal migration, spread of terrorism and violent extremism, social disharmony and even the threat of nuclear war."
    Nov 25, 2017 3:41 PM CT

With files from CBC's Kelly Malone and Rignam Wangkhang and The Associated Press