International Policy Digest

Claude Truong-Ngoc
World News /30 Oct 2013
10.30.13

Minority Report: Suu Kyi’s Silence over Violence against the Rohingyas

“No, no- it’s not an ethnic cleansing” – stated Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi when was asked for her views on the mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims in an interview with BBC Radio 4. Given the contradictory claims, Suu Kyi’s public denial may not help assuage the fear of the human rights activists across the globe that the Rohingya Muslims fell prey to a state-sponsored racial purification campaign. Rather, Suu Kyi’s interview with the BBC’s Mishal Husain implicitly, if not overtly, revealed her stance on a number of issues. Unfortunately, when the question of the mistreatment of ethnic minorities is raised, her unflinching ideology to uplift the great cause of democracy and humanity seems to be at stake.

On April 22nd New York-based Human Rights Watch published a detailed account in which it accused the Burmese government of conducting a highly orchestrated ethnic cleansing. “The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues [today] through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” said Phil Robertson, the watchdog’s Asia deputy-director. Although Suu Kyi remained noncommittal after these claims surfaced, Suu Kyi’s latest comments apparently exposed her bias.

In the BBC interview, Suu Kyi remained in the driver’s seat by labeling the ongoing problem as a “new” one. She added, “This problem arose last year.”

Suu Kyi bypassed the root of this ongoing problem which commenced when the ultranationalist military junta amended the constitution in 1982 suspending the citizenship rights of the Rohingya Muslims. Thenceforth, waves of stateless Rohingya Muslims are scattering in the region from Bangladesh to Thailand to Malaysia as they are often the targets of racial hatred and violence.

Nonetheless, Suu Kyi coined a brand-new ‘fear theory’ saying, “the fear is not just on the side of the Muslims but also on the side of the Buddhists as well.” She also added, “Muslims have been targeted but also Buddhists have been subjected to violence.”

Her claims are flawed, however. Those Buddhists who were ousted were the result of the iron-fisted policy of the Military regime. Minorities like Karen, Shan, and Kachin that are predominantly Buddhist were never forced by the Muslims to seek refuge in foreign lands. It has been their demand either for democracy or a separate independent land that put them face-to-face with the brutal military regimes.

With the goal of defending herself, Suu Kyi might have unintentionally offered her personal thoughts vis-à-vis the massacre against Muslims. “Global Muslim power is very great and certainly, that is a perception in many parts of the world and in our country as well.” Such an ambiguous statement from a personality of great stature like her will bear no fruit. Moreover, the Buddhist anarchists like the Burmese Bin Laden could interpret her stand as unwarranted support. In that case the situation will only deteriorate further.

Evidently, Suu Kyi’s staunchest loyalty to rehabilitate democracy in Burma has started to pay off. Suu Kyi has been released after being house arrested for the past 15 years. Her party has got representations in the parliament. Yet; she has never voiced her sympathy for those living an uncertain refugee life abroad. Not to mention, many of them are democracy activists. Nor, has she a definitive plan to do something for any of the victim groups. “I would say instead of asking us members of the opposition what we feel about it, what we intend to do about it…you should ask the present government of Burma what their policy is.”

Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize to honor “her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.” The irony is that her somewhat disdainful attitude toward the precarious human rights conditions in her own country leads one to believe that she does not support democracy with human rights – spiritually, if not practically with the military regime behind closed doors. Did her latest public stance on minorities in Burma unmask an unscrupulous Suu Kyi? I hope not, as do her millions of supporters and backers worldwide.