An Oxford University college has removed a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi amid allegations Myanmar has been carrying out ethnic cleansing.
Ms Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, is an alumna of St Hugh’s College and has previously been awarded an honorary degree.
But the leader has come under mounting criticism over her handling of the Rohingya crisis which has seen more than 400,000 Muslims flee the country.
Earlier this month the United Nations accused the state of ethnic cleansing over the mass exodus of the Rohingya, an ethnic minority, fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh.
A portrait of Ms Suu Kyi, who graduated from St Hugh’s in 1967, has hung near the college’s main entrance since 1999.
It was painted by artists Chen Yanning in 1997 and belonged to Ms Suu Kyi’s husband, Oxford don Michael Aris. It was given to the college following his death.
But the college’s governing body has now decided to remove her portrait from public display and replaced it with a Japanese painting, according to the college’s student newsletter The Swan.
The reasons for the portrait’s removal are not clear but it comes just days before the start of the academic year and the arrival of new students.
The new painting, by Japanese artist Yoshihiro Takada, was presented to the college earlier this month and is currently displayed in the entrance of the college’s main building.
St Hugh’s College said: ““The College received the gift of a new painting earlier this month which will be exhibited for a period.
“The painting of Aung San Suu Kyi has meanwhile been moved to storage.”
But the decision was branded “cowardly” by the Burma Campaign UK group, which has called for the college to go further.
“This seems a rather cowardly action by St Hugh’s. If they have taken down the portrait because of Aung San Suu Kyi defending the Burmese military as they commit ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya they should say so and write to her urging her to respect human rights,” Mark Farmaner, the campaign’s director, told the Guardian.
This is not the first time universities have been pressured to removing references to divisive figures. Last year a bronze cockerel, which has resided in Jesus College since 1930, was removed from public view after protests from students that it celebrated a “colonial narrative”.
The protests came in the wake of the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the 19th century colonialist, from Oxford’s Oriel College.
Ms Suu Kyi was awarded an honorary degree in June 2012, which the university said it was not considering removing.
The politician won a Nobel Prize following years as a political prisoner and has been Myanmar’s political leader since winning elections in 2015.
The election was greeted with enthusiasm by the international community, but Ms Suu Kyi has come under widespread pressure to act over the current crisis affecting the country.
The state has rejected allegations of systematic atrocities, telling the UN security council that “there is no ethnic cleansing and no genocide in Myanmar”.
Last week Oxford University said it had concerns over the current climate in Myanmar, saying: “[the University] hopes the Myanmar administration, led by Oxford alumna Aung San Suu Kyi, can eliminate discrimination and oppression, and demonstrate to the world that Myanmar values the lives of all its citizens”.