Aung San Suu Kyi has just run out of excuses

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
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The Final Report of UN Commission to Rakhine State led by Kofi Annan has just been published and its recommendations are clear:

• Myanmar must use its existing nominal citizenship pathway processes to actually extend citizenship to over one million Rohingya who are entitled to it.

• It must overhaul the 1982 Citizenship Law which the Myanmar authorities have used to render almost the entire Rohingya population stateless in the land of their birth, against the prescriptions of international law.

• It must lift restrictions against the freedom of movment of Rohingya in the state.

• It must close the internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps and allow the Rohingya interred there to return to their properties.

• It must allow full humanitarian access to UN agencies and international NGOs.

• It must allow full access to both local and international media to document the situation in the State.

• It must allow the Rohingya and any other minority group equal access to healthcare and education to every other citizen of the country.

• It must allow and facilitate representation of the Rohingya and any other minority groups in local and central government.

• Myanmar’s judiciary must practice the rule of law and abide by international standards of impartiality and transparency.

All perfectly sensible recommendations which those of us in the international community who have been following the plight of the Rohingya have been calling for years.

In the past, the Myanmar government used to deflect such recommendations, whether they were put forward by UN humanitiarian officials, or NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières, on the grounds that they were put forward by ‘international pressure groups’ who were politically hostile to the government. Even after the 2015 election which brought Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to power, the same line was taken: Suu Kyi has always said that the situation in Rakhine state is complicated, and nobody should rush to specific solutions.

Is she a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, or just another craven politician who will abide by ‘ethnic cleansing’ to not rock the boat, and allow her to stay in power unchallenged?

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

It was in fact in this context that she commissioned Kofi Annan to investigate and produce a report on the matter. The Annan Commission was a political ploy to demonstrate to the world that she is doing what she can, getting to the bottom of the problem with the help of one of the world’s most respected diplomats. It is on the back of this approach that she even managed to get sanctions lifted from Myanmar by convincing former US President Obama that things were moving towards resolution in Rakhine state at reasonable speed. All the while, she was playing to the domestic crowd and to the Army, by dragging things out and taking no action on the ground against either the ultra-nationalist civilian groups, the Rakhine State authorities, or the segments of the federal security forces who were carying out the abuses against the Rohingya.

But now matters have come to a head. Despite the artificially restricted remit Annan was given for his investigations, the findings are much the same as those of the previous humanitarian observers – if couched in somewhat more placid language to mollify the Myanmar government. And the recommendations are what we knew was needed and what we have called for all along. Suu Kyi asked for neutral recommendations from a globally respected international diplomat and she got them. What happens next?

This is where the politics of the matter become difficult for Suu Kyi. She can no longer tow the neutral line in the middle and pretend to be all things to all people. She must now choose a side. Is she on the side human rights and international humanitarian and ethical standards, or is she on the side of the ultra-nationalists and the Army hardliners in her country? Is she a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, or just another craven politician who will abide by ‘ethnic cleansing’ to not rock the boat, and allow her to stay in power unchallenged.

Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim

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