Aung Sang Suu Kyi
October 24, 2017
It is with great sadness that I write to you as the President of the Canadian trade union Unifor (formerly referred to as the Canadian Auto Workers [CAW] and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers [CEP]). In 2000, our union was honoured to select you as the first recipient of its greatest humanitarian honour, the Nelson Mandela Award. This Award is bestowed upon those who confront the struggle for the advancement of human rights with profound courage and determination. In choosing you as the recipient, the union recognized the weight of your struggle for Myanmar’s democratic independence, your extraordinary courage and exceptional achievement in advancing human rights and social justice in Myanmar through non-violent means, and your commitment to ending the iniquity of forced labour.
Some 17 years later, a growing humanitarian crisis lies on your doorstep and a courageous response is again needed. The documented action of the Myanmar Army has included wide-scale violence, sexual assault as a weapon against women and the murder of thousands of Rohingya. A mass exodus of Rohingya refugees have fled northern Rakhine and crossed the border into Bangladesh. This forced migration has resulted in untold deaths and extreme hardship for those who have survived the arduous trek. The presence of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons is straining resources beyond what they can reasonably bear.
Every geopolitical region has its own historical and modern-day, social and institutional complexities. What sets leaders apart in these regions, and in the most difficult times, is the capacity to take the primary responsibility for leading with courage, with compassion and most of all, with humanity.
Silence in the face of mass suffering, a refusal to denounce the actions of the military when confronted with atrocities and an unwillingness to intervene to protect the lives of the Rohingya is not the leadership the world should expect, or accept, from a human rights leader. Ethnic cleansing must always be firmly and clearly condemned.
In light of this horrific situation, we must regretfully advise that Unifor has determined that it must revoke the Nelson Mandela Award Unifor previously awarded to you.
The past cannot be undone, but the future can be remade. The world awaits your response, humanity needs you.