The CPD Blog is intended to stimulate dialog among scholars and practitioners from around the world in the public diplomacy sphere. The opinions represented here are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect CPD's views. For blogger guidelines, click here.

No Protocol to Revoke Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prize? What Baloney.

Sep 20, 2017


The Rohingya may be at the brink of facing genocide. As each day passes, new headlines in the press highlight their tragic situation, but with little solace to their dire condition. Since the Myanmar military began their ruthless incursion into Rakhine State three weeks ago, nearly 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape kidnapping, torture, rape, army raids or being burnt to death.

Twelve year-old Jashim walked for 13 days before reaching Bangladesh after the military ransacked his village, shooting indiscriminately and burning houses. “I'm very upset about my village because it's not there any more. We did not bring anything, so it is all lost.” Thirty-three-year-old Mohammad had to carry his 80-year-old paralyzed mother during the 10-day trek. “We crossed three rivers by boat while the rest we did on foot. Sometimes, we would come across the military who would start shooting at us, and sometimes we would sleep in the forest where there were lots of wild animals.”

Despite widespread international outcry, the pro-democracy Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has remained deafeningly silent while the military continues its onslaught of the Rohingya. The government that she now heads displays outright disinterest in the plight of the Rohingya. Worse yet, her title of Nobel Laureate serves to legitimize her continued (in)actions, while Rakhine State goes up in flames.

In recent days, more than 420,000 individuals across the world have signed an online petition petitioning the Norwegian Nobel Committee 2016 to revoke Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize. “When a laureate cannot maintain peace, then for the sake of peace itself the prize needs to be returned or confiscated by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee,” the petition states. This petition comes at the heels of fellow Nobel Laureates Malala Yousafzai, Desmond Tutu and Shirin Ebadi expressing their deep dismay over the failure of the Myanmar leader to address in any serious manner the Rohingya’s plight.

Unlike any other award, the Nobel Peace Prize has a direct impact on real world events. By conferring the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee licenses Suu Kyi with unparalleled moral authority.

However, on Friday, September 8, the Norwegian Nobel Institute released a statement making clear that it would not consider revoking Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prize. “[A]s a matter of principle the Norwegian Nobel Committee never comment upon what the Peace Prize Laureates may say and do after they have been awarded the prize.” In an interview, the head of the committee added, “Neither Alfred Nobel's will nor the statutes of the Nobel Foundation provide for the possibility that a Nobel Prize […] can be revoked.” The message is plain and clear. No protocol exists and the committee intends to distance itself from monitoring any subsequent behavior of recipients. This response by the committee is—to be frank—simply baloney.

No single accolade garners so much attention and widespread respect as the Nobel Prize. It “has become something of a global recognition,” writes Professor Hamid Dabashi. The prize confers upon the recipient an incredible status of moral rectitude and authority. Nobel Peace Prize recipients are forever etched into the annals of history as exemplars of “people who have given their utmost to international brotherhood and sisterhood.”

Far more than simply recognizing achievements, the Nobel Peace Prize empowers its recipients in whatever action they pursue moving forward, for better or for worse. And the committee is well aware of this fact. Their attempt to inspire Barack Obama to bring about global change was a total flop. But the move powerfully captures the moral authority that the committee had hoped to confer upon Obama to reach a particular end.

In the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, her assent to political power as well as her ongoing disregard for the human rights and dignity of the Rohingya people remain deeply entangled with the immense moral authority afforded by the Nobel Peace Prize. Critics may argue that her strong character would have allowed her to reach her political aspirations regardless of the award, and sure, this may be true. But the prize certainly did not hurt her case. However, what is most worrisome is that the prize now effectively shields her from serious criticism and accountability as she pursues her political ambitions (let us be honest that supporting the Rohingya within Myanmar remains a politically unpopular position). Thus, when the UN announces that actions by the Myanmar Army amount to nothing less than ethnic cleansing, Suu Kyi can cloak herself in the protective surety of her prize as it quite literally gives her claim to the highest apex in human rights.

Unlike any other award, the Nobel Peace Prize has a direct impact on real world events. By conferring the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee licenses Suu Kyi with unparalleled moral authority. For the committee to say it cannot fetter that authority—even when the prize serves to shield her from the criticisms of inaction regarding egregious acts of human suffering happening directly under her watch—because it lacks the protocol is irresponsible at best and complicit at worst. Underlying any protocols—and indeed, the prize itself—is the understanding that the prize be a force for good in the world and a means to alleviate human suffering.

Let us not forget this as each Rohingya man, woman and child wonders ominously about their future.

Photo by the East Asia and Pacific Media Hub U.S. Department of State I U.S. Government Work


Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

A friendly appeal to all those who wish Myanmar well

As you may be well aware, within hours of the release of the report of Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by Dr. Kofi Annan, a series of coordinated attacks were carried out on 30 police outposts in Northern Rakhine. The ARSA claimed the responsibility for the attacks. These attacks ignited fresh violence in the region, resulting insignificant loss of life, widespread suffering and mass displacement of all communities. Those who have had to abandon their hearth and home are many- not just Muslim and Rakhine, but also small minority groups such as Daingnet, Mro, Thet, Mramagyi and Hindus. Most of the world has been oblivious of their existence and plight.
Let us be clear. We are deeply concerned about the present situation in Rakhine. Our deepest sympathy goes to the families of all innocent civilians and members of the police and security forces who have lost their lives. There is no denying that this is a problem of significant magnitude. We understand that many of our friends throughout the world are concerned by reports of villages being burnt and of hordes of refugees fleeing. Our government is working to restore the situation to normalcy. Since 5 September, there have been no armed clashes and there have been no clearance operations. Nevertheless we are concerned to hear that numbers of Muslims are fleeing across the border of Bangladesh. It is very little known to you all that the great majority of Muslims in the Rakhine State have not joined the exodus. More than 50 percent of the villages of Muslims are intact. They are as they were before the attacks took place.
Our government has been making every effort to restore peace and stability and to promote harmony between Muslim and Rakhine communities. Our government established the Central Committee on Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development of Rakhine State, chaired by the State Counsellor herself on 30 May 2016 to address the specific needs of the State. Additionally in August 2016, she set up a commission headed by Dr. Kofi Annan to advice the government on sustainable solutions to the complex situation in Rakhine. We have been striving to ensure that the Rakhine State is duly developed while ensuring peace, stability and societal cohesion. This is no easy task. Deep mistrust developed over decades has to be slowly chiseled away.
Myanmar stands together with the rest of the world in condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Terrorism constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security. Our position is clear. We cannot condone terrorism.
At the same time, the government is working to ensure that acts of terrorism will not distract us from pursuing the long term strategy that is necessary to address the complex challenges in Rakhine State today.
Our State Counsellor also stressed that “We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence. We are also committed to the restoration of peace, stability and rule of law throughout the State. The security forces have been instructed to adhere strictly to the Code of Conduct in carrying out security operations, to exercise all due restraints, and to take full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians. Human rights violations and all other acts that impair stability and harmony and undermine the rule of law will be addressed in accordance with strict norms of justice. We feel deeply for suffering of all the people who have been caught up in the conflict.”
Our democracy is very young and fragile with many problems, but we have to cope with them all at the same time. We don’t want Myanmar to be a nation divided by religious beliefs, or ethnicity or political ideology. We all have the right to our diverse identities and we all have the right to strive to fulfill our lives in the ways in which we believe are right. It is by cooperating only, that our world can go forward. By attacking each other, either with words, or with weapons, or even with emotions, will not help us. Hate and fear are the main scourges of our world. All conflict arises either out of hate or fear. It is only by removing the sources of hate and fear that we shall be able to remove conflict from our country and from our world.
As our State Counsellor said that there are many allegations and counter-allegations. We have not gone into any of them because it is not our purpose to promote and encourage conflict, whether of ideas, or of arms, but to try to promote harmony and understanding. We hope that you will understand us and join us in our endeavours.
At present, humanitarian assistance is our first priority. We are committed to ensuring that aid is received by all those in need, without discrimination. Our government has already dedicated significant national funds and resources to humanitarian relief operations.
May I conclude that our government is committed to a sustainable solution that would lead to peace, stability and development for all communities with the Rakhine State.


Visit CPD's Online Library

Explore CPD's vast online database featuring the latest books, articles, speeches and information on international organizations dedicated to public diplomacy. 

Join the Conversation

Interested in contributing to the CPD Blog? We welcome your posts. Read our guidelines and find out how you can submit blogs and photo essays >