Suu Kyi’s failure to acknowledge the persecution of Rohingya Muslims

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
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When Aung San Suu Kyi was finally able to collect her Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, the committee’s chairman described how her “firmness of principle” in the struggle for human rights and democracy had made her “a moral leader for the whole world”.

Since taking power in Myanmar, the former political prisoner’s moral credibility has been vastly diminished if not demolished by her failure to even acknowledge the brutal persecution of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state. A dozen fellow Nobel Peace Laureates have lamented her inaction faced with “a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.

On Tuesday, the increasing gulf between her and her long-time international supporters was exposed again when she appeared alongside the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. The EU rightly backs the United Nations Human Rights Council’s decision to dispatch a fact-finding mission over allegations of murder, rape and torture by military and security forces. She insisted the decision was “not in keeping with what is really happening on the ground” and would make matters worse.

The above-stated remarks were part of an editorial in the British newspaper The Guardian, which did not accept the deceptive logic used by Suu Kyi, the de facto ruler of Myanmar (formerly Burma), with regard to the Rohingya Muslim minority who live in northwestern Rakhine state.

At a time when the Rohingya Muslims have been subjected to all kinds of persecution and atrocities at the hands of Buddhist extremists, Suu Kyi is trying to portray all of these crimes as a conflict between two communities who are equal in terms of their potential and power.

At a time when all international human rights organizations agree that what is being practiced against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is ethnic cleansing, Suu Kyi denies that there is any ethnic cleansing in her country

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

Lack of trust

The world wants to believe her words but the reality is totally different, and as such even her supporters no longer trust what she says. They see that her words resemble the proverb: “You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

She was able to fool many people and even international human rights organizations, which had once mistakenly believed that she was an advocate of human rights. Suu Kyi was also able to fool the Nobel Peace Prize Committee so that the committee chose her for the most prestigious global recognition for promoting peace.

The entire world stood by her against the military junta that was in power in Myanmar and the mounting global pressure forced the military rulers to lift the house arrest that had been in force for about six years. This was instrumental in increasing her popularity as the leader of the National League for Democracy, which stormed into power with a landslide victory in elections held last year.

Since her release from house arrest, Suu Kyi has done nothing and has not said anything about the ethnic cleansing and genocide being perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims, who are considered by the United Nations to be the most persecuted minority in the world. Some people excused her before the elections saying that she feared a backlash from majority Buddhist voters while others blamed her for sacrificing her ideals and human rights credentials for the sake of winning cheap political gains.

Those who criticized her included her fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader in Tibet, was in the forefront of the critics. He spoke to her two times before she came to power urging her not to remain silent about the gross human rights violations being committed against the Rohingya Muslims.

Ulterior motives

Suu Kyi’s ulterior motives against the Rohingya and other Muslims in Myanmar came to the fore at the time of the preparations for elections. Not a single Muslim was included in the list of her party’s candidates for the elections. Even Muslim members of previous parliaments were denied tickets.

At a time when all international human rights organizations, including the United Nations Human Rights Council and all prominent global human rights figures agree that what is being practiced against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is ethnic cleansing, Suu Kyi denies that there is any ethnic cleansing in her country, contradicting the findings of UN investigators.

She said: “I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening. It is not a matter of ethnic cleansing; it is a matter of people on different sides of the divide, and this divide we are trying to close as best as possible and not to widen it further.”

Through these statements, she makes desperate attempts to equate the victim with the executioner – a bizarre comparison of those, who have been subjected to killing, rape, torching of homes and places of worship with the Buddhist extremists who are the perpetrators of these crimes and atrocities with the clandestine understanding and blessing of government agencies and security forces.

When the UN Human Rights Council decided to send a fact-finding mission to Myanmar, Suu Kyi rejected this under the pretext that it would further worsen the situation. She also stated that her government is investigating the abuses in Rakhine state. In fact, any investigation her government may carry out in line with its unfair laws, such as the Race and Religion Protection Laws and the law to deprive Rohingya Muslims of citizenship, will not be helpful in alleviating the suffering of these hapless people.

She justifies her claims by appointing a panel, headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, to propose concrete measures to end tensions and improve the welfare of all people in Rakhine. However, Suu Kyi failed to implement the recommendations on the grounds that she cannot implement all of the recommendations at once.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on May 10, 2017.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @DrAliAlghamdi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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