Manitoba

Suu Kyi to be removed from human rights museum exhibit following criticism of response to Rohingya crisis

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is removing reference to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi from one of its displays and dimming her picture in another, following criticism of the Nobel Peace Prize winner's response to widespread allegations of human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in her country.

Myanmar leader has been criticized for failing to condemn violence against Rohingya Muslims

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's photo has been dimmed in a CMHR display, and a sign with information about the current controversy surrounding the once-celebrated human rights leader has been placed in front of the display. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is removing reference to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi from one of its displays and dimming her picture in another, following criticism of the Nobel Peace Prize winner's response to widespread allegations of human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in her country.

Reference to Suu Kyi will be removed from the Winnipeg museum's timeline of human rights milestones. Her portrait in a gallery of honorary Canadians will remain, but has been dimmed.

"It was a very beautiful moment of relief," said Raiss Tinmaung, a representative of the Rohingya community who lives in Ottawa and was part of a chorus of voices calling on the museum to remove references to the once-celebrated human rights leader from its exhibits.

Suu Kyi lived under house arrest for years during her fight for democracy under Myanmar's military regime. Recently, though, as the country's state counsellor she had been criticized for failing to condemn violence against Rohingya Muslims.

The UN has said the Myanmar army began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslim minority following insurgent attacks.

The CMHR said it hopes dimming Suu Kyi's portrait in the gallery and providing a stand in front of it with information about the current situation will help visitors realize it is important to question the leader's actions.

Angela Cassie said the museum hopes the changes will prompt visitors to pause and reflect on the controversy around Suu Kyi. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"We hope that they'll pause and reflect that she is a honorary Canadian. That is part of history but that's not where we stop," said Angela Cassie, vice-president for public affairs and programs at the CMHR.

Cassie said the decision came after consultation with the Rohingya community and researchers.

"We recognize that it's painful for members of the community to see her face in this exhibition."

Tinmaung​ is happy with the museum's move but ultimately wants Suu Kyi removed from the honorary Canadian exhibit completely — something Cassie said is a challenge given the museum can't change the fact she is one of six honorary Canadians.

Instead, she said the museum is looking at moving the display featuring Suu Kyi to the side or putting a permanent text panel in front of it.

Aung San Suu Kyi's portrait is darkened while the other five honorary Canadians are illuminated in the CMHR exhibit. The museum is considering moving her display to the side of the exhibit. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"She is still an honorary Canadian but we need to deepen the history and deepen the story, and so from our perspective, it's allowing Canadians to have that context and not erase that but problematize it to increase that conversation."

'We cannot have this insult'

Suu Kyi is in the exhibit along with the five other honorary Canadians, including Nelson Mandela, who Tinmaung​​ grew up celebrating. He said keeping Mandela and Suu Kyi together in the display is wrong.

"It's an insult to Mandela. We cannot have this insult," he said.

"The museum is making a fool of itself if it continues to have Suu Kyi as she is as a human rights icon."

The museum said it is looking for a replacement from the Rohingya community to fill the void that will be left in the human rights timeline once Suu Kyi is removed.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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