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On the occasion of the International Day of Human Rights on 10 December, Caroline Pauwels, rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, wrote a letter to Aung San Suu Kyi, Advisor to the State of Myanmar. In 1994 the VUB awarded Aung San Suu Kyi with an honorary doctorate for her role in the opposition against the military dictatorship in Myanmar. In 2016 she became head of the government in Myanmar. Since 2017, she has been in disrepute because of her so-called indifference to ethnic cleansing carried out by the army on Rohingya.
Dear Ms Aung San Suu Kyi
I am the rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), located in Brussels, at the heart of Europe. In 1994 we proudly bestowed upon you an Honorary Doctorate for the amazing perseverance, fortitude and civil courage you showed in the non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar, and the symbol you then became across the world for freedom and democracy.
On this auspicious day, where we celebrate Human Rights across the world, and as an advocate yourself, we would like to express concern about the current ongoing situation for the minorities and indigenous population of Myanmar, and for their recent struggles. As a fierce proponent of Human Rights, of democracy and non-violent action to attain freedom, we would like to urge the Government of Myanmar, and you as its First Counsellor, to honour the importance of Human Rights and freedom for all people in Myanmar, and especially for the indigenous groups.
You were once the light of democracy, of the oppressed in Myanmar, a beacon of hope. You once said in 1990:
“In an age when immense technological advances have created lethal weapons which could be, and are, used by the powerful and the unprincipled to dominate the weak and the helpless, there is a compelling need for a closer relationship between politics and ethics at both the national and international levels. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations proclaims that ‘every individual and every organ of society’ should strive to promote the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings regardless of race, nationality or religion are entitled. But as long as there are governments whose authority is founded on coercion rather than on the mandate of the people, and interest groups which place short-term profits above long-term peace and prosperity, concerted international action to protect and promote human rights will remain at best a partially realized struggle. There will continue to be arenas of struggle where victims of oppression have to draw on their own inner resources to defend their inalienable rights as members of the human family.”
We strongly believe that you still can have the choice to be the voice of freedom, human rights and democracy; the symbol of the struggle against oppression for all those living in Myanmar, who are “all human beings regardless of race, nationality or religion”; the defender of the indigenous people of Myanmar’s “inalienable rights as members of the human family”. We therefore ask you to remember the strong and hopeful words you spoke in 1990. It was these which motivated the Vrije Universiteit Brussel to award you with an Honorary Doctorate. We urge you to become this beacon of hope again today, for all the people across the world, but for the minorities and indigenous people of your country in particular.
I hope that as rector of a university which awarded you an Honorary Doctorate, I can look forward to your reply in due course.
Prof. dr. Caroline Pauwels
Rector Vrije Universiteit Brussel