U2 urge council to revoke Freedom of Dublin from Suu Kyi

Failure to help Rohingya people a ‘betrayal of principles’ for which she received award

U2 have written to Dublin City councillors urging them to revoke the Freedom of the City of Dublin from Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the mistreatment of the country’s Rohingya Muslims.

The band, who wrote their 2001 song Walk On about the Burmese politician, said that they believed Ms Suu Kyi's failure to stand up for the rights of the Rohingya people "constitutes a betrayal of the principles for which she was so revered and for which she received the Freedom of the City".

The letter was sent a day before Dublin City Council is due to vote on whether to revoke the award amid international uproar over her response to the repression of the Rohingya and the decision of another recipient, Bob Geldof, to return his own award in protest against her honour.

U2 said that they felt compelled to write to the council before they vote on the issue on Wednesday evening “given our history with you and with Aung San Suu Kyi”.


The politician was awarded the Freedom of the City in November 1999, on the same day that all four members of U2 received the award. She did not attend the ceremony as she was under house arrest in Rangoon as a campaigner for democracy at the time.

"The city of Dublin sent a very strong message in defence of human rights in 1999, we believe an equally strong message in defence of human rights is just as important now," the band said in their letter signed by Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen jnr and Adam Clayton.

The four musicians told the city’s councillors that the day they received the Freedom of the City was “a very special one” because Dublin is their hometown and because they were “so moved by the strength and fortitude shown by Aung San Suu Kyi in then-Burma”.

They campaigned for her release and “were proud of Dublin’s recognition of her courage” to bring about “fledging democracy against all odds against one of the most brutal regimes of modern times,” they said.

"So it saddens us to be writing to you today as you discuss recent events in Myanmar and decide whether that merits the rescinding of the honour you bestowed on her. We believe that it does."

Ethnic cleansing

Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority country, has been accused of ethnic cleansing of the minority Rohingya Muslim population. Ms Suu Kyi has denied this, saying that the military crackdown in the Rakhine state in western Myanmar is a counter-insurgency aimed at suppressing violent militants.

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have sought sanctuary in neighbouring Bangladesh as reports of murders, rapes and torture inflicted by Burma's military forces have emerged.

"You have the same facts as we have, which indicate that deliberate and brutal violence, rape and murder are being used to drive the Rohingya from Rakhine State, " the band said in their letter.

"This persecution has been authorised and led by Min Aung Hlaing, the head of Myanmar's military. While Aung Suu Kyi does not have the capacity to control the military, she does have the responsibility to condemn their actions."

The band said that the civilian government led by Ms Suu Kyi was responsible for everyone in her country and “no matter how difficult her position is, to stand by while half a million lives and livelihoods are deliberately decimated by the Myanmar military is beyond comprehension.”

They quoted Martin Luther King jnr’s saying: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

The band wrote to the council as "long-time supporters of Amnesty International and as extremely proud recipients of the Freedom of the City."

Councillors are voting on proposals to rescind the honorary freedom award or to have it removed on the request of a recipient, as Mr Geldof has sought, as the council has no current mechanism to do either.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times