Nobel Prize winners under pressure

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It hasn’t been a good week for two Nobel Peace Prize winners who both have spent time in Oslo. Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma) is accused of not doing enough to stop her country’s persecution Rohingya refugees, while Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has been accused of accepting bribes.

Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Yangon in 2014. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet / Svein Michelsen

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik is among those criticizing Aung San Suu Kyi, who has received lots of support over the years from a succession of Norwegian governments. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her efforts to restore democracy to the country she still called Burma, and she finally succeeded at being released from house arrest and being able to accept her Peace Prize in Oslo. She won election to the parliament in Myanmar the same year, in 2012.

She has been mostly silent, however, on the horrific treatment and fate of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in western Myanmar that has been persecuted for years. They are considered illegal aliens in the country and the military in Myanmar this week was accused by the UN of massive attacks on Rohingya communities, in which Rohingya have been murdered, tortured and kidnapped, and women and children raped.

“This is of course completely unacceptable,” Bondevik, who now runs an institute in Oslo that promotes human rights and democratic development, told newspaper Aftenposten. He worked for years to help free Suu Kyi and has supported her democratic efforts.

‘Should have spoken out’
Now, Bondevik claims that Suu Kyi “should have spoken out clearly” against the attacks on the Rohingya. Asked why he thought she wasn’t tougher in advocating their cause, Bondevik said Muslims are “generally quite unpopular” in Myanmar, because of religious and other reasons. The Buddhist majority in Myanmar has treated the Rohingya badly as well, therefore Bondevik said he had “a certain understanding” as to why Suu Kyi was careful about expressing support for them that was “too strong,” out of fear of losing the last election in 2015.

“But I had hoped that she would be more clear about their human rights after the election,” Bondevik said. He also fears Suu Kyi’s political position wasn’t strong enough against the military powers in Myanmar. “This isn’t any democracy yet,” he said.

Other Norwegian politicians have called on Foreign Minister Børge Brende to put pressure on Suu Kyi to stop the persecution of the Rohingya. Brende has responded that the new report from the UN is “very worrisome.” He claimed he had taken up the “serious situation” with Myanmar’s authorities on several occasions, also with Syy Kyi. “I will contine to do this,” he told Aftenposten.

Juan Manuel Santos, delivering his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo in December. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Santos of Colombia, meanwhile, stands accused of accepting bribes from a Brazilian company involved in the huge Petrobras corruption case. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Wednesday that state attorneys in Colombia are investigating the claims that Santos took the bribes in connection with his reelection campaign in 2014.

The claims were made during the investigation of a former senator who allegedly accepted bribes in return for making sure that building firm Odebrecht won a major contract with in Brazil. Odebrecht is among the 16 largest building firms in Brazil that formed a cartel aimed at swindling Brazil’s huge oil company Petrobras. Its chief, Marcelo Odebrecht, has been in prison since 2015 for his role in the corruptin case that involved millions of dollars in political donations.

Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end Colombia’s civil war, and his administration rejected the accusations of receiving such donations as “fabricated” by the opposition in Colombia.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund