Oxford College Removes Portrait Of Aung San Suu Kyi But Activists Want More
THE CITIZEN BUREAU
NEW DELHI: St Hugh’s, the Oxford College where Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi studied as an undergraduate, has reportedly removed her portrait from public display and put it in storage. The move follows an international outcry over Suu Kyi’s role in the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar, where 500,000 people from the minority Rohingya community have been forced to flee.
Reports say that the governing body of the college decided to remove Suu Kyi’s painting from its main entrance on Thursday, just days before the start of term and arrival of students. The portrait was painted by the artist Chen Yanning in 1997, and it belonged to Suu Kyi’s husband, Oxford academic Michael Aris. The portrait was given to St Hugh’s soon after Aris’ death, where it has hung in the college entrance since 1999.
A statement issued by the college says: “The college received the gift of a new painting earlier this month which will be exhibited for a period. The painting of Aung San Suu Kyi has, meanwhile, been moved to storage.”
The Swan, St Hugh’s student paper, The Swan, said that the decision to remove the nobel laureate’s portrait was was taken by the college’s governing body. This includes the college’s fellows and its principal, Dame Elish Angiolini.
The removal represents the turn around on Suu Kyi by the international community, as the Burmese leader was exalted as a defender of human rights and democracy for years when in opposition. In 2012, Suu Kyi was celebrated with an honorary doctorate from Oxford. She held her 67th birthday party at St Hugh’s where she studied politics, philosophy and economics between 1964 and 1967.
Suu Kyi has been the subject of widespread international criticism as the world watches the Rohingya crisis in wide horror. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee, as reports emerge of excesses on the part of Myanmar’s military, including arson, destruction, rape and indiscriminate killings. Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue is being read as approval of the military action. The one public statement Suu Kyi made in fact put part of the blame on the Rohingya for the crisis, and barely mentioned the military. The UN has issued several condemnations, and a number of Suu Kyi’s fellow nobel laureates have spoken out in protest.
The Burma Campaign Group in the UK, however, described St Hugh’s decision to remove the portrait as “cowardly.” “This seems a rather cowardly action by St Hugh’s. If they have taken down the portrait because of Aung San Suu Kyi defending the Burmese military as they commit ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya they should say so and write to her urging her to respect human rights,” said Mark Farmaner, the campaign’s director, as quoted in The Guardian.
Meanwhile, Oxford council is set to vote next week, on stripping Suu Kyi of the freedom of the city it had awarded her in 1997, when she was being held as a political prisoner by Myanmar’s military government.
Oxford University, however, has thus far not moved to reconsider Suu Kyi’s honorary degree. The University has expressed “profound concern” over the situation in Myanmar, saying that it “hopes the Myanmar administration, led by Oxford alumna Aung San Suu Kyi, can eliminate discrimination and oppression, and demonstrate to the world that Myanmar values the lives of all its citizens”.
Meanwhile, reports of the violence in Myanmar continue. The total number of refugees leaving Myanmar has now been estimated at over 501,000. Refugees face new hardships -- the majority of them fleeing across the border into Bangladesh.