The Failures of the Myanmarese Gandhi
By: John van Duyn
Under Aung San Suu Kyi’s watch in Myanmar, a massacre is happening without a whisper of intervention. As a minority group in a predominantly Buddhist country, the Rohingya Muslims have been oppressed for decades. They live primarily in villages near the northern border with Bangladesh, and it seems that the Myanmarese government under Kyi is trying to eliminate them as quickly as possible. Simply put, it is a genocide. There were over a million Rohingyas living in the country when Kyi took leadership in 2015, and now there are less than 300,000. The rest have either fled to Bangladesh, died in the process of fleeing (it involves travel through steep mountain passes), or been killed by the Myanmarese army in what eyewitness accounts describe as nothing short of ethnic cleansing.
Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Burma on June 19th, 1945. In July of 1947, her father, a well-known leader of the fight for independence, was assassinated. On the 4th of January 1948, her country was finally liberated from the British and became its own republic, the very vision her father had fought and died for only six months before its realization. It was under these circumstances she was raised by her mother, who had been named the ambassador to Delhi under the new regime. For the next thirty years, she travelled the world, studying at Oxford University and working in Japan and Bhutan, even briefly returning to the United Kingdom before settling at home in Burma, now called Myanmar, to look after her critically ill mother. She came back to a country in disarray, the people demanding reform; after organizing peaceful protests and gaining the support of the public, she ran in the government election of 1990 and won. There was no peaceful transition of power. She was put under house arrest until 1995, then again in 2000. It seemed that the junta controlling Myanmar was doing everything they could to silence Aung San Suu Kyi, turning her into a powerful voice for democracy. During her time in confinement, she refused to rouse her supporters to violence, further strengthening her image as a symbol of civil disobedience and and garnering her a Nobel Peace Prize. She was released in 2002.1
Aung San Suu Kyi is now the State Counsellor of Myanmar, a position that is below the President, although she is said to be his closest consultant with a very significant amount of sway. In the eyes of the people, Aung is the country’s leader, and by her Gandhi-esque resistance to the military-controlled government during her time under house arrest, she is its moral face as well. So how could it be that the Rohingya, a minority group, are being slaughtered under her regime with what seems to be her implied consent? The Rohingya have long been persecuted, with public opinion firmly rooted against them and their religious views through propaganda and willful ignorance. In late August more than 18,000 Rohingya fled their homes in search of refugee camps due to violence from the Myanmese army. There had been a minor terrorist attack at a government outpost, and its perpetrators asserted that they were representing the Rohingya. Retaliation has been brutal and all-encompassing. In the initial attacks that occurred days after the terrorist incident, Rohingya villagers claimed that Myanmese soldiers had fired at them with mortars and automatic rifles, and at least 1,500 were confirmed dead. Over the last ten weeks, that number has climbed to 600,000 that are unaccounted for, either killed or displaced. There are widespread reports of the methodical destruction of villages and their inhabitants by Myanmarese soldiers, and the rape of Rohingya women. Those that remain in the country are forced into hiding wherever they can. If they are found, it is an instant death sentence.
Nobel Peace Prize recipients, especially politicians, are expected to create an environment within their country of sanctuary and brotherhood, where no conflict exists between groups based on color, religion, or creed. Aung San Suu Kyi, however, has consistently ignored this aspect of the tacit contract she agreed to upon accepting the award. When asked about the treatment of the Rohingya, she blamed the previous regime on creating a sense of unrest among her people. “I think there are many many Buddhists who have also left the country for various reasons and there are many Buddhists who are in refugee camps. This is the result of our sufferings. I think if you live under a dictatorship for many years, people don't learn to trust one another,” she told a journalist in 2013. Her lack of strong opinion on the issue demonstrates the true colors of Aung’s leadership: she is underplaying the hardships of the Muslim minority to maintain popularity amongst the Buddhist majority. The Myanmarese army has wiped out hundreds of thousands of Rohingya under her supervision, and as the weeks pass, it becomes more and more difficult to argue that she is not complicit in the genocide. Her lack of action demonstrates a malevolent unwillingness to help those she swore to protect, and for that, she should be stripped of her Nobel Prize and no longer considered a humanitarian symbol of resistance.