DUBLIN (Reuters) – Irish musician and anti-poverty activist Bob Geldof will return his ‘Freedom of the City of Dublin’ award to his home town on Monday, saying he could not continue to hold the honor with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Well over 600,000 Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine state have fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh after military clearance operations described by the United Nations as ethnic cleansing were launched in response to attacks by Rohingya militants.
The plight of the Rohingya has brought outrage from around the world and there have been calls for Suu Kyi to be stripped of the Nobel peace prize she won in 1991 because she has not condemned the Myanmar military’s actions.
“I am a very proud Dubliner but cannot in all conscience continue to be one of the honoured few to have received this great tribute whilst Aung San Suu Kyi remains amongst that number,” Geldof said in a statement.
“In short, I do not wish to be associated in any way with an individual currently engaged in the mass ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people of North West Burma.”
Suu Kyi, previously renowned for her human rights activism, was under house arrest when she was given the Freedom of Dublin in 1999 and received her award at a public reception in Ireland in 2012, two years after her release.
Last month she was stripped of a similar honor by the British university city of Oxford, where she was an undergraduate.
Other foreign recipients of the Freedom of Dublin since it was first awarded in 1876 include John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Geldof, a former singer for the Boomtown Rats, was given the honor in 2005 in recognition of his charity work which included organizing the 1985 Live Aid concert, which reached an estimated 1.5 billion people and did much to raise the profile of those suffering from starvation and disease in Ethiopia.
“Her association with our city shames us all and we should have no truck with it, even by default. We honoured her, now she appalls and shames us,” Geldof said.
“The moment she is stripped of her Dublin Freedom perhaps the Council would see fit to restore to me that which I take such pride in. If not so be it. Please accept this small gesture and the sadness that accompanies it.”
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Guy Faulconbridge