Just as the Victoria Cross — though solely a British award — is recognised globally as the foremost recognition of valour in wartime so, too, the Nobel Peace Prize has gained international acceptance as the world’s most revered award for the advancement of human rights.
Established in 1895, the peace prize has gained that recognition and respect largely through the calibre of those chosen as recipients, among them Martin Luther King, as well as our own John Hume and David Trimble.
With some exceptions, those people and organisations awarded the prized prize gain in stature and global recognition as the finest examples of noble sacrifice and endeavour.
One glaring exception is Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the civilian ruler of Myanmar (formerly Burma) who received the prize in 1991 for facing down the military junta that seized power in 1988, but who now stands accused of failing to do anything to stop the wholesale slaughter by that same military of hundreds of thousands of ethnic, mostly Muslim, Rohingyas.
A whole range of human savagery has been unleashed on the Rohingyas by the ferocious and merciless military. Villages have been razed, women raped in front of their husbands, and those husbands killed in turn. Infants have been murdered in front of their mothers who are then, themselves, slaughtered. Those trying to flee Myanmar by boat are habitually gunned down in the water.
Not since the war in Rwanda or the Bosnian conflict has so much horror been visited on so many.
Through it all, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the country’s Nobel peace laureate, has not only stood silent but has claimed that reports of ethnic cleansing by her country’s military are either mistaken, misguided or plain wrong. She has even employed a Donald Trumpism — citing a report by the UN into the genocide as “false news”.
The UN report marks the first time the organisation has explicitly called for Myanmar officials to face genocide charges over a brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims last year.
The organisation that oversees the Nobel Peace Prize has said that the 1991 award to Aung Sang Suu Kyi cannot be revoked on the grounds that it is rewarded for past endeavours. But the rejection by her government of the report by UN investigators makes a mockery of the prize and, by extension, the Nobel academy that awards it.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the peace prize, must be cringing at the memory of her speech made in 2012 at Oslo City Hall when she was finally able to accept the award in person. Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the committee, praised her and thanked her “for your fearlessness, your tenacity and your strength”. He said: “Your life is a message to all of us.”
A little humility by the academy might be in order, on the line of the apology it offered in 2006 for failure to give the prize to Mahatma Gandhi, even though he was nominated six times. The peace prize has had a chequered past. At one stage, in 1939, Adolf Hitler was nominated for it. Aung Sang Suu Kyi is no Hitler, but she is no Gandhi, either.