Et tu, Suu Kyi?


The military of a sovereign country openly indulging in the persecution of a section of its own population with a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace virtually presiding over it sounds strange, but it is true. This has been going on in Myanmar (formerly called Burma) for a long time with Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (1991) looking the other way.

The latest incidents of Rohingyas’ torture and killings, continuing for nearly a year, have resulted in more than five lakh of these victims having abandoned their homes and hearths in Myanmar’s Rakhine province to find refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. Over 40,000 of them have fled to India too to save not only their lives and limbs but also their honour.

It is quite revolting to watch the videos and pictures being circulated on social media of how these poverty-stricken people have been kicked, tortured and killed with their entire villages set on fire by the army of their own country. History has no parallel to the treatment being meted out to the Rohingyas only because their religion is different from that of the majority population in Myanmar, the Buddhists. Is it a crime?

The time has come for the world to find an answer to the question to ensure that what is being experienced by the Rohingyas does not become the fate of any other people in other parts of the world on any pretext.

The overwhelming majority of the Rohingyas are practitioners of Islam. They are no longer trusted by the majority Buddhists as well as the army. They are subjected to all kinds of atrocities mainly because very few of them have allegedly turned rebels and indulge in acts of terror, as the Myanmarese army claims. However, there is no convincing proof available to justify the allegations. It is like giving a dog a bad name before hanging it.

The Myanmarese authorities are not prepared to listen to the cries of the Rohingyas. Why make the entire ethnic community suffer untold miseries for what some of them are alleged to have done? Indulging in ethnic cleansing on any pretext is no logic which can be accepted by today’s civilised world.

The Myanmarese authorities feel emboldened because the country’s allies like China and Russia are not moved by the Rohingyas’ plight. These countries go by what the Myanmarese military has been propagating baselessly to defend its inhuman actions.

A few days back Chinese envoy to the UN Wu Haitao said, “The international community must be aware of the difficulties faced by the Burmese government, be patient and provide assistance.”

Blaming Rohingya fighters for “burning villages”, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia argued, “We must be very careful when we talk about ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

The Russian viewpoint, as presented before the United Nations, is that “excessive pressure” on Myanmar’s government over the violence “could only aggravate the situation in the country and around it”.

This is not the way world powers should react to a humanitarian crisis. Looking at a purely human issue with politically coloured glasses will only lower the image of both Russia and China in the estimation of the global community.

The two countries came with their heartless arguments when US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused Myanmar of carrying out “a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority”. Addressing the UN Security Council’s first public meeting on Myanmar since 2009, she said, “The time for well-meaning, diplomatic words in this council has passed.”

If this was not enough to make Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi to move to tears over the Rohingyas’ suffering, she could have acted after hearing the appeals made by other Nobel Peace Prize winners like Malala Yousafzai (2014) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984). But, alas, she remains unmoved till now!

Malala, who came into limelight after she survived being shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban when she was just 15, issued a very moving statement pleading with Suu Kyi to condemn the violence and take effective measures to end it. She wrote on twitter: “Stop the violence. Today we have seen pictures of small children killed by Myanmar’s security forces.” She added, “Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same. The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984) wrote a letter to “My dear Aung San Suu Kyi” pleading, “It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain.”

According to the Chief Executive of Fortify Rights, a human rights organization, Mr Matthew Smith, “There are enormous numbers of people arriving (in Bangladesh). The Myanmar military is basically clearing out all of the Rohingya Muslim villages in northern Rakhine state.” His organisation said, “State security forces have been killing men, women and children. They have been slitting throats; there have been beheadings. Soldiers have opened fire on groups of people and then set the bodies on fire, including children.”

This human rights organization has documented horror stories like “Children have been thrown into rushing rivers, thrown on the ground and stomped. We’ve documented children being burned to death,” Mr Smith says.

The Maldives has announced to severe all trade ties with Myanmar whereas Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has called for international action to “prevent further ethnic cleansing.” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said, “This humanitarian crisis has to stop immediately.” But all this is in vain. Suu Kyi is not listening. How sad!

Though Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar for generations, they have been stripped off citizenship and denied basic rights with the world community doing little beyond condemning the actions of the country’s military.

The situation appears to be getting worse. Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingyas is fraught with dangers for peace in the region and the rest of the world. The horror stories are enough to feed homegrown militancy which may draw support from militant groups elsewhere. According to reports, Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen has already called for retaliatory attacks whereas the Afghan Taliban outfits have appealed to people to “use their abilities to help Myanmar’s oppressed Muslims.”

The world community must view all this with the seriousness it deserves and quickly launch a drive to end the brutality against the Rohingyas in Myanmar. The Rohingya refugees wherever they are must not be forced to go back to Myanmar under the prevailing conditions as that will amount to facilitating their killing at the hands of the
Myanmarese army. Their rehabilitation should begin only when there is proper security arrangement with the involvement of the global community and institutions like the UN Security Council.