For all her democratic protestations of concern over the persecution of Rohingyas, the Myanmar government’s refusal to allow a UN fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state reflects poorly on the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Ironically, her stance is seemingly in agreement with a military leadership that controlled the country before she took office. As the de facto leader of Myanmar’s civilian government and also its foreign minister, Suu Kyi has rejected the allegations and now opposes the mission planned by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.
The flat refusal of the government in Nay Pyi Taw is in itself a mockery of human rights.
Sad to reflect, Suu Kyi appears helpless, prevented from endorsing the UN’s action for fear she will have to pay a political price for speaking out. Such a silence can have its costs, however. Having barred the UN team’s visit, she has in effect gone against the voice of the international community. Hope raised two years ago – at the time of transition from repressive military rule to a purportedly democratic regime – is in tatters. Indeed, her ability to achieve peace and rein in the military is now open to question, more so with the official assertion that the country will refuse entry to the UN investigators.
The world body’s mission would likely have exposed an almost relentless persecution that flies in the face of the principles of democracy that Suu Kyi has long upheld and struggled for. She seems to be utterly helpless and perhaps complicit in the vicious crackdown on the Rohingyas by her army, amid reports of mass arrests, rapes, killings, the burning of villages and the barring of journalists, aid workers and international monitors from Rakhine. Democratic change has made no difference to the plight of the Rohingyas – they remain a “nowhere people” on the border with Bangladesh, wandering from shore to shore in search of a home. The fact that some of them have fled to the Kashmir Valley in search of refuge might serve to exacerbate matters, given the existing tensions and insecurity in that swathe of India.
The necessity of the UN team’s proposed visit is supported by Amnesty International’s indictment: “The army’s callous and systematic campaign against the Rohingyas may be a crime against humanity.” So indeed it is. The lifeline for the “nowhere people” in Rakhine has been severed. The military blockade has deprived them of food, water and healthcare. Such brutality has served to undermine Suu Kyi’s standing, after having led Myanmar ever since her party’s resounding electoral triumph in 2015. Another such victory in 1990 brought a junta crackdown that landed her in jail rather than at the helm of government and cemented her reputation globally as an icon of democracy and human rights.
Now, the Rohingya crisis and other ethnic conflicts do not speak well of her skills as a peacemaker. Suu Kyi has failed to live up to her own rhetoric.