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'Aung San Suu Kyi turned her back on democracy': Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi

In a DW interview, Iranian rights activist Shirin Ebadi has criticized fellow Nobel peace laureate and Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi for ignoring the Rohingya plight. But Ebadi says Suu Kyi deserved the Nobel Prize.

The plight of the Rohingya has cast a dark shadow over the image of Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has come under increasing fire over her perceived unwillingness to speak out against the treatment of the Rohingya minority or criticize the military.

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority in Myanmar. They live predominantly in the western state of Rakhine. They are not officially recognized by the government as citizens and for decades the nation's Buddhist majority has been accused of subjecting them to discrimination and violence.

Read more: Opinion: The gray area in Myanmar's Rohingya conflict

Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner of Myanmar's junta and Nobel peace laureate, broke her silence on Wednesday and lashed out at "terrorists" for spreading "a huge iceberg of misinformation" about the latest Rohingya crisis. Suu Kyi refused to denounce Myanmar's military forces, despite reports of troops carrying out targeted arson attacks and mass killings.

Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi in Wundwin (Reuters/S. Lewis)

Aung San Suu Kyi accuses "terrorists" of spreading "a huge iceberg of misinformation" about the latest Rohingya crisis

Since the Myanmar army launched a military counter-offensive against Rohingya militants just under two weeks ago, around 400 people have been killed and more than 125,000, mostly women and children, have fled across the border into Bangladesh.

Observers have warned that Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority - considered one of the world's most persecuted ethnic groups - could be facing genocide.

Global condemnation

A number of world leaders and global celebrities have urged Suu Kyi to use her influence and intervene in the crisis to help ease tensions between the majority Buddhists and the minority Muslims in Rakhine.

"Every time I see the news, my heart breaks at the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar," Pakistani activist and Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who famously survived being shot in the head by the Taliban, said in a statement on Twitter.

"Over the last several years I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same," she added.

Watch video 01:58

Myanmar under pressure over continuing violence

Equal rights for all people

Another fellow Nobel peace laureate from Iran, Shirin Ebadi (main picture), has joined Malala and other global icons in Myanmar condemnation. "I had supported Suu Kyi during the time she was under house arrest as a political prisoner," Ebadi told DW in an exclusive interview.

But the common mistake, Ebadi points out, is that people consider Suu Ki a human rights activist.

"She was never a human rights defender. She is a politician who came to power through free elections in 1990 but was imprisoned by Myanmar's military junta. Suu Kyi chose a peaceful resistance from prison instead of instigating her supporters. This is exactly what Iranian opposition leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Hossein Mousavi, who have been under house arrest for six years, are doing," Ebadi said.

The former Iranian judge said that Suu Kyi's peaceful movement against the military dictatorship earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. "But she turned her back on democracy once she came to power [in 2015]. Democracy means equal rights for all people in the country, but the fact is that a large number of the Rohingya are not given citizenship and are constantly under attack from hardline Buddhists as well as the Burmese army," Ebadi told DW.

Ebadi, however, believes that it is not right to call on the Nobel committee to rescind Suu Kyi's peace award. "Suu Kyi received this prize for her peaceful resistance in the face of oppression. She deserved to win it. How the Nobel peace laureates behave after taking the prize has nothing to do with the Nobel committee. It is up to the laureates to honor the award. Aung San Suu Kyi fails to do."

Watch video 02:14

Rohingya people at risk of ethnic cleansing: UN

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