City of London U-turns over decision to strip Aung San Suu Kyi of freedom award

The City of London Corporation has U-turned on an earlier decision to strip Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary freedom award over her failure to condemn the ongoing violence against the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

The Corporation’s freedom applications committee today decided that Suu Kyi’s honorary freedom – the highest honour the Corporation can bestow upon an individual – should be suspended rather than revoked, despite a vote from councillors earlier in the year calling for it to be removed.

Read more: City of London Corporation votes in favour of revoking Aung San Suu Kyi honorary freedom award

The freedom committee said the award should be suspended because there were “barriers…to having the sufficient knowledge of the situation in Burma and, in particular, the position of the honorary freedom”.

It added that it could not be certain Suu Kyi had received the original letter informing her of the decision to revoke because they had not received a response from her.

Some councillors reacted angrily at the decision.

Portsoken councillor Munsur Ali, who tabled the original motion to revoke Suu Kyi’s award, told City A.M that the suspension decision represented a “watering down” of the Corporation’s original stance, but it was “better than nothing”.

Another said it was an example of the Corporation going “weak at the knees whenever there is international pressure” and suggested other trading nations and the foreign office had criticised the decision to revoke.

“It was a really unedifying spectacle of the Corporation retreating into its comfort zone and cosying up to power,” they added.

Following the original vote to revoke the award, the corporation began the process of revoking the award. However, it is understood that during that process it decided to move towards suspension rather than revocation.

Today another vote was held on the decision, and councillors narrowly voted to suspend the award.

Sir David Wootton, who chairs the freedom applications committee said: “The City of London Corporation has today sent a clear message that the violence in Burma and the oppression of that country’s minority Rohingya population cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.

“The freedom applications committee will now inform Aung San Suu Kyi of the court’s decision.”

Giving the reasons for its decision, the committee said the situation in Burma should be condemned “in the most absolute terms”, but that it was “difficult to judge Aung San Suu Kyi personally without knowledge of her level of responsibility”.

Read more: City of London Corporation accused of ‘dragging feet’ over Aung San Suu Kyi award

The Corporation granted Suu Kyi the honorary freedom award in May 2017. At the time, it said the award was given in “recognition of her non-violent struggle over many years for democracy and her steadfast dedication to create a society where people can live in peace, security and freedom”.

However, a number of local councils including Oxford and Dublin have revoked the award on the grounds she has failed to speak out or condemn the atrocities committed by the country’s military against the Muslim Rohingya people in Rakhine state, where tens of thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have fled.