“… or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”
Aung San Suu Kyi rose to the stature of human rights goddess in 2012 when she was finally able to leave Myanmar for Norway to pick up the Noble Peace Prize awarded her in 1991. That was also the year the military junta unleashed a wave of terror and ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan state.
The 2012 campaign forced tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee for their lives to Bangladesh or across the Andaman Sea to Thailand. The Rohingya genocide became internationally infamous when Bangladesh closed its borders and refused entry and when Thailand took unsound boats of refugees out to sea and abandoned them. When again in 2015 thousands of Rohingya were stranded in boats off Thailand and Indonesia, not allowed to land, the plight of Rohingya became an international human rights cause.
Through all this, Suu Kyi remained in silent collusion or spoke in equivocations but now openly sides with the junta against the Rohingya.
Suu Kyi has been running interference for the military out of two of her cabinet offices: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Counsellor’s Office. Staff members in those offices claim Rohingya are torching their own homes to get sympathy
State-sponsored sexual violence as a weapon of war with impunity has been an issue for decades in Burma. There are many activists and organisations that have done consistent and extensive work on the issue, mostly working from exile in other countries. Documentation goes back as far as 1993 but just between 2005 and 2016, eleven women’s organisation from Myanmar published 33 separate reports on military sexual violence against women in ethnic groups or in groups the military is at war with. Although it is Rohingya who are sustaining what has been called the “final states of genocide,” many other ethnic groups are also targeted with systematic mass rape, conscription of child soldiers, forced labour, massacres, and deliberate destruction of villages and fields. Myanmar could be called a hellhole of ethnic persecution by the army of the Buddhist ethnic majority.
Suu Kyi never had much to say on the issue—or on any issue other than electoral politics—until 2011 when she made a video statement to a Nobel Women’s Initiative ceremony saying: “Rape is used in my country as a weapon against those who only want to live in peace, who only want to assert their basic human rights, especially in the areas of the ethnic nationalities. Rape is rife. It is used as a weapon by the armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country.”
Human rights seems to be a ceremonial gesture to Suu Kyi rather than a commitment because in December 2014, after she was elected to parliament as a renowned human rights figure, she was asked about military impunity for sexual violence which had just been documented in a report titled “If they had hope, they would speak: the ongoing use of state-sponsored sexual violence in Burma’s ethnic communities” from the Women’s League of Burma, a coalition of women’s groups. Suu Kyi’s response was to defend the military by saying the ethnic armed groups also use sexual violence in conflict. Probably – but what does that have to do with impunity for the military committing human rights crimes? It is a non-sequitur meant to dodge the issue of impunity.
In the long run, ending state-sponsored violence against men, women, and children in Myanmar will require dismantling the state apparatus and thoroughgoing revolutionary change since the Myanmar military has become inextricable from the ruling elite.
During the current offensive against the Rohingya, Suu Kyi has been running interference for the military out of two of her cabinet offices: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Counsellor’s Office. Staff members in those offices claim Rohingya are torching their own homes to get sympathy; they respond to every media report of rape or complaints by victims and witnesses of rape and torture that it’s all made-up and exaggerated to get international sympathy or “fabricated in collusion with terrorist groups.” Her representatives block every attempt to have formal or independent investigations of the allegations by blocking journalists and human rights monitors from entering the Arakan state. Most deplorably, in December, Suu Kyi’s State Counsellor’s staff posted a meme on their website with the words “Fake Rape,” and accused Rohingya women of making up rape allegations. There are also videos of Suu Kyi laughing and ridiculing the accusations during speeches in other countries.
Perhaps nothing shows up the political bankruptcy of Suu Kyi more than contrasting her ridicule and denial of accusations by Rohingya women with the public expression of solidarity from the Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO). Karen are a people within the state of Myanmar engaged in conflict with the army and paramilitary forces since the 1940s with the same human rights issues, including systematic mass rape. The KWO issued a strong statement of solidarity with Rohingya saying: In honour of the courage of women in Myanmar, we ask Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD government today, to make a simple nation-wide announcement: “Sexual violence is prohibited to members of the Myanmar Army. Any Myanmar soldier found to have committed this crime, and his commanding officers, will be severely punished.”
In the long run, ending state-sponsored violence against men, women, and children in Myanmar will require dismantling the state apparatus and thoroughgoing revolutionary change since the Myanmar military has become inextricable from the ruling elite. That class connection is what Suu Kyi most resonates with more than she does human rights or solidarity with those suffering injustice. It has nothing to do with Buddhism so much as with accepting and justifying inequality. What is needed is for the vision of the 8888 movement, for which so many freedom fighters died, to be fulfilled.
This article was not intended to vilify Suu Kyi personally but to expose her politically as the cynical human rights face of the military which continues to rule Myanmar with an iron fist, denies democratic and civil rights to millions of its ethnic minorities, and is committing genocide against Rohingya Muslims.
The heartfelt purpose is to build international solidarity with Rohingya who have fought long enough alone.