In a recent interview with the BBC, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Laureate, denied that there was any ethnic cleansing taking place in her country. She said: “I don’t think there is ethnic cleansing going on. I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening.”
Suu Kyi also suggested that Muslims were killing Muslims in Rakhine state. “It is Muslims killing Muslims as well, if they think they are collaborating with the authorities.”
This is perhaps the first time that we have heard such a strange statement. Those who heard these words may mistakenly believe that the Myanmar leader was speaking about Muslims in countries where civil wars are being waged and political clashes are going on.
Muslims are not fighting against Muslims in Myanmar. Instead, Muslims are victims of persecution by extremist Buddhist elements as well as by the armed forces and police. There are no Muslims in Myanmar collaborating with the authorities. On the contrary, the authorities keep Muslims away and do not want to engage with them.
For example, during the last general election, no Muslims found a place on the list of candidates of any political party, including the ruling National League for Democracy, headed by Suu Kyi. The party denied tickets even for Muslim deputies who represented the party in the previous session of parliament.
It seems ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Myanmar is not going to stop since the government is not doing anything to stop extremist Buddhist organizations which want to make Myanmar a purely Buddhist countryDr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
In her answer to the questions raised by the BBC journalist in the interview, Suu Kyi deliberately gave evasive answers. This was the case when the correspondent asked her about the criticism directed against her by those who sympathized with her, and about her silence with regard to the gross human rights violations in Rakhine state. She emphasized that what “we are trying to go for is reconciliation not condemnation. Despite condemnation of some groups, we are working to achieve reconciliation among various groups in Rakhine state after realizing the fact that condemnation does not help.”
Suu Kyi talked about reconciliation as if the dispute was between groups that were equal in their rights and capabilities. She forgot or pretended to forget the fact that the entire world knows very well that Muslims are the oppressed group in Myanmar and that they have been subjected to persecution by extremist Buddhist groups with the blessings of the authorities, who remain silent about the murder, rape, demolition of houses and mosques, and burning of villages being perpetrated by these extremists.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, who escaped persecution, have been forced to flee to neighboring states such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. At the same time, Suu Kyi says that her government will welcome those who come back and that they will be safe. “We welcome them, it is not a matter; we will welcome them back. They have been coming back. And those who have come back have been welcome.”
Nobody should be misled or deceived by these words as they are far from the truth. She also claimed that these people went to neighboring countries because they did not want to live in regions where fighting was taking place. However, the truth is that these people fled in order to escape from being killed in the country where a war is being waged against them and where they have been deprived of their citizenship.
Suu Kyi did not hesitate to point out that what happened recently to the Rohingya was the result of an attack on police last October. “In October, there were these totally unexpected attacks on police outposts for no reason we could think of, because we had started the citizenship verification process, the process of bringing people back from the IDP camps, and resettling them.”
Not war crimes?
This shows that she does not consider what happened to Rohingya Muslims before October to be war crimes. Suu Kyi spoke as if she had not heard anything about the atrocities perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims. All these crimes before October may have been committed by the Buddhist extremists in broad daylight with the blessing of the authorities. However, after October, the perpetrators of such crimes were mostly heavily armed security forces. UN investigators have stated that these crimes of killing, looting and rape committed by the security forces are war crimes.
When the BBC correspondent pointed out that the arbitrary acts of the security forces against Rohingya Muslims have damaged her reputation in front of her fellow Nobel Laureates and global human rights organizations, Suu Kyi denied that any such things were happening in her country.
When asked by the BBC whether perceptions of her as an amalgam of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa of Calcutta were incorrect as she was more similar to former British leader Margaret Thatcher, she said: “Well no. I am just a politician. I am not quite like Margaret Thatcher, no. But on the other hand, I am no Mother Teresa either.”
What is going on in Myanmar shows that the ethnic cleansing of Muslims is not going to stop since the government is not doing anything to stop extremist Buddhist organizations which want to make Myanmar a purely Buddhist country. The adoption of the Race and Religion Protection Laws is the best example of this. There is sufficient proof to show that Suu Kyi is supporting this racist ideology in both direct and indirect ways.
It is high time for the international community, represented by the United Nations, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other global organizations, to take stringent and decisive measures to halt the ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims whom the UN described earlier as the “most persecuted minority in the world.”
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on April 12, 2017.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @DrAliAlghamdi.