The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority ethnic group in Myanmar. They are believed to be the descendants of Arab traders who traveled to Burma. These people are not recognized by the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar as its citizens.
They are routinely persecuted and were even excluded from the census of the nation. In August 2017, violence broke out in the Rakhine Valley of Myanmar, which is mostly occupied by the Rohingyas. This violence has escalated into unimaginable proportions and the refugees fleeing into Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries has reached high numbers. Refugees interviewed in Bangladesh say that they fled after Myanmar troops systematically started burning down their houses and killing them, aided by the Buddhist populace. The attacks by the army seem to be a kind of demented purification or ethnic cleansing.
The Rohingya crisis’ political facet is being closely scrutinized. Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of slain independence leader General Aung San, is a beacon of hope to the Burmese. She is not the president of the nation because she has children who hold citizenship in other countries. Her post is instead that of the ‘state counselor’.
She is a Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work to give a voice to the powerless. She has peacefully protested against the military-run administration of the nation and was under house arrest for fifteen years. But in the current scenario, she is being criticized for her failure to speak up for the Rohingyas and condemn the atrocities being meted out against them. As a national leader and a Nobel Prize winner, it is her onus to quell the fears of her own people and the world. But she hasn’t risen to the challenge, possibly because of the fear of political fallout.
She has systematically evaded questions on the breakdown of human rights in Rakhine. According to the Guardian, she also ignored questions on claims of rape by Myanmar troops of Rohingya women. One can speculate the disintegration of her status in Myanmar if she were to comment on the status of the crisis. The military still controls major government bodies such as the home ministry and the defense ministry. This means that it still controls the police, which is the force essentially behind the crisis. She would probably face a backlash from Buddhist nationalists who are fighting for establishing their own importance.
In the wake of her refusal to speak up, several honorariums bestowed upon her are being revoked. Dublin city councillors voted unanimously to rescind Suu Kyi’s Freedom of Dublin City award. Her alma mater, Oxford, as well as the city of London followed suit. The Holocaust Museum has also revoked her Eli Weisel Award that she received in 2012. As recent as two days ago, Amnesty International stripped her of their highest award officially stating that what Suu Kyi is doing is a “shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for”.
All these bodies as well governments across the world are beseeching her to use her moral high ground to speak for the people of the nation. It’s true that military might still reigns supreme in the country. But Suu Kyi and her civilian government has been constantly accused of covering up for the crimes committed by the military and not holding anyone accountable. They have remained relatively silent to the atrocities committed against minorities in the country.
Suu Kyi was celebrated for being a role model, a change agent in Myanmar and across the world for her contributions in achieving peace in a military-led country, and her undying dedication to human rights. Which is why her betrayal to her own principles hurts so many people everywhere. 5 years ago, nobody would have expected her to be in this place. It is deplorable that someone like her is being a silent spectator, when she herself fought for peace and equality to begin with.