How will history judge 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi?
How does the one-time global icon of human rights and democracy wish to be remembered by the world? And will the Rohingya Muslims and other oppressed minorities in Myanmar forgive the daughter of the nation’s independence hero Aung San for her silence on the suffering of millions of people in her own country?
Unless she eventually finds the political courage and will to stand up against the military’s decades-long rampant and systemic persecution of her people, she will likely be remembered as among those most responsible for the gross human rights abuses inside Myanmar, a member of Asean.
Unfortunately, there is little hope that she will practice what she preached in her Nobel Lecture in Oslo on June 16, 2012. She said she had gained inspiration during her 15-year house arrest from the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads: “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts, which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspirations of the common people”.
On Monday, a United Nations-backed fact-finding mission into violations of human rights urged the world body to investigate and prosecute Myanmar’s top military leaders, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief, for genocide.
It also concluded that state counsellor Suu Kyi had failed to use her “moral authority” to prevent violence against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state. The report was released one year after the military forced at least 700,000 Rohingya people to leave their native land.
“Military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages. The [military’s] tactics are consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats, especially in Rakhine State, but also in northern Myanmar,” the report states.
Indonesia has actively participated in convincing Myanmar’s generals in the past to hand over power to civilians. The country is now enjoying the fruits of political reform in terms of economic growth. But Myanmar could become a pariah state again if its leaders continue to defy the international outcry against the ongoing atrocities.
Suu Kyi still has a chance to leave a towering legacy for future generations if she shows willingness to uphold justice for the victims of human rights abuses in her country.
A single individual would indeed face huge challenges against the apparently still entrenched junta. Therefore Asean also must show what it means by its principle of “centrality” regarding Myanmar. Is it the centrality of national leaders or of their people? Following informal approaches by Myanmar’s neighbours, especially Indonesia, to alleviate the Rohingya’s suffering, Asean now has the backing of the UN, whose report recommended that organisations like Asean “develop strategies to ensure accountability” for perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes.