If Aung San Suu Kyi fails to act, she will go down in history as an unworthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize

Published: September 13, 2017

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi talks during a news conference with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Naypyitaw, Myanmar September 6, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. In her acceptance speech, she called for the world to be “free of the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless”. Her story is one of courage and determination, especially the way she took on the might of the military junta for restoring democracy in Myanmar.

In the 1990 general election, Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), witnessed a resounding victory but unfortunately, the military junta refused to recognise the results. The military kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for 15 years. In spite of her captive years, she kept fighting for the restoration of democracy and for ensuring the fundamental rights of the people.

In the 2015 general elections, her party once again achieved a landslide victory. This finally forced the military junta to call Suu Kyi to form the government, and consequently, ended 50 years of military rule. However, she was unable to become president because of a constitutional amendment her father formulated, which debars citizens married to foreigners from taking the presidential office. Therefore, she accepted the position of State Councillor, one that was created solely for her and involved vast powers in governing the country.

Today, Suu Kyi is under attack for not taking a stand against the brutality and wave of terror unleashed on the Rohingya Muslims. According to the United Nations (UN), it is estimated that over 270,000 Rohingya Muslims, almost a quarter of the total population, have crossed over to Bangladesh to escape persecution by the Myanmar army.

Furthermore, over 1,000 Rohingya people, mainly elderly men and children, have been brutally killed. Satellite images show that whole villages have been razed to the ground. There are chilling stories of elderly people who could not escape and as a result died when their houses were burnt to ashes.

It is true that the present brutal attack on the community is in response to the terrorist attacks carried out by the Rohingya insurgent groups on the military and the civilian population, where over 400 soldiers and civilians lost their lives.

UN flash report released in 2016, which was based on oral and documentary evidence, described the mass killings and gang rapes by the armed forces. However, what shocked the conscience of people around the world is the total silence of Suu Kyi, the so-called torchbearer of human rights. Her studied silence can be attributed to her reluctance to alienate her Buddhist constituency. Another reason is that she can do little to reign in the army, as they refuse to accept her decree.

Notwithstanding the compulsions, as a human rights champion, she should have spoken out against the brutality, even if it meant resigning from the government. There is already a worldwide opinion building on her deafening silence. Consequently, various well-known activists and peace groups are demanding the withdrawal of the Nobel Peace Prize for her complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. In fact, over 40,000 people have signed a petition to strip Suu Kyi of her prize.

Suu Kyi should take immediate steps to evolve a national reconciliation policy to facilitate the safe return of the refugees from Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Indonesia. She should also consider granting citizenship to the Rohingya Muslims so they can peacefully integrate into society. This will go a long way in generating good will for her as well as for her party. However, if she fails to act, she will go down in history as the woman who was complicit in the brutal killings of the Rohingya people.

On the other hand, if she believes that she cannot prevent the army from unleashing a wave of terror on the community, she should have the moral conviction to step down. Such a step will pressurise the army to stop committing this atrocious genocide. Unfortunately, her lust for power has made her turn a blind eye.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently flew to Myanmar on an official visit. Instead of putting diplomatic pressure on Suu Kyi over the Rohingya genocide, he sided with Suu Kyi.

One of the main reasons for Modi’s silence is that he wants Suu Kyi’s assistance and compliance to launch an offensive on all insurgency operations in Myanmar that is operating against India’s northeast states.

The attitude of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is even more perplexing as they have refused to take a stand on the brutality against the Rohingya Muslims. They claim that they cannot comment on the internal affairs of its members, as part of the ‘key principles’ of the association.

The first lady of Turkey, Emine Erdogan was recently in Dhaka to meet the Rohingya refugees. She visited the refugee camps at Cox Bazar to assess the situation first hand and to distribute relief supplies. Furthermore, she has promised to take up the matter in the UN General Assembly after consulting her husband.

It is strange that a Buddhist country have abandoned the teachings of Gautam Buddha, who advocated non-violence, compassion and brotherhood. If Suu Kyi fails to act, she will go down in history as an unworthy recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. She should heed the advice of fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In his open letter to her, he said,

“If the political price of your ascension to the highest office is silence, the price is surely too steep… We pray for you to intervene in the escalating crisis and guide your people back towards the path of righteousness.”

One can only hope that she will act upon this wise council. In the meantime, the UN should pressure Myanmar’s military junta to put an end to the killing and find a solution to restore peace in the region.

K S Venkatachalam

K S Venkatachalam

The author is an independent journalist and political commentator. He tweets as @Venkat48 (twitter.com/venkat48)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Your’s Truly

    Aang San, Obama, Malala and some others from the past. In future will be Donald Trump and Tony Blair. I myself might as well get this noble peace prize because of my good wishes for humanity that I displayed when guys on the road were beating up the poor man, at this occasion I was the only one who stood up and said this must stop, I also said I dream of a world free of violence. Then I walked away safe and sound. Today Harvard and Oxford universities are both calling me to study there, I am thinking of joining one so I could become prime minister in future. Oxford University will provide me framework for thinking and western bankers, politicians and corporates will exploit it for their agenda. But my dream will remain the same no matter what happens “I dream of a world free of violence.”Recommend

  • wb

    Venkatachalam, if Aung San Sue Kyi stops the action by Myanmar Junta, then she will go down in the history as an unworthy recepient of Nobel prize. Hence, we want her to keep quiet and let the army do their job in eliminating the menace of Rohingya terrorism.

  • Vinod Chauhan

    Benazir Bhutto also won peace prize and she didn’t help minoritys and wanted 1000 years war with India.Recommend

  • Parvez

    It seems evident that there is a clear power sharing between Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals that puts her in a difficult position. Having said that, what is deplorable as you correctly point out is her silence……giving the clear impression that she is comfortable with this ‘ ethnic cleansing ‘.
    The Nobel Peace Prize committee must be scratching their heads and saying how were we supposed to know, times change, people change ……..and they would be right.Recommend

  • Subhathra Goyal

    Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has cancelled plans to attend the U.N. General Assembly, a government spokesman said Wednesday as the country draws international criticism over violence that has driven at least 370,000 ethnic Rohingya Muslims to nearby Bangladesh in less than three weeks.Recommend

  • PorkSmasher

    Why not Muslim countries come forward and offer their citizenship to Rohingyas. OIC must stop the hypocrisy.Recommend

  • Sane

    Was she involved or supportive in genocide of minorities like Aung San Suki, Modi and Netan Yahoo. I am very much surprised about the level of your knowledge that you say Benazir won the Peace Prize. She did not.Recommend

  • Sane

    Aung San Sue Ki inviting trouble. Do you think Rohingyans and those who are supporting shall be silent. If, India could not silenced Kashmiri despite using brutal force. What Burma can do?Recommend

  • AJ

    The Nobel Committe awarded a Nobel Prize to Obama as well, God kbows why. For me it lost its credibility since that day.Recommend

  • AJ

    Did she? Please google.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    lol..you are hilarious. Have a like.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The modern Buddhist personality of the 21st century who claims to have the support of chinese who are to explore for oil in the Rohinga region. The Burmese miliatry is doing the cleansing, the non citizens must go to the neghbouring Bangla Desh which is governed by another ruthless woman..

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Patwari

    Banarsi Brahmini, you are showing your true colors.
    There are a lot of little brown hitlers like you in Hindustan.
    As is very evident in these hindu comments.Recommend

  • rationalist

    I agree. Muslim countries and Muslims are the ones making the loudest noise on this issue, but not even one Muslim country except BD have offered the Rohingyas asylum.Recommend

  • rationalist

    I wonder if Mr. Venkatachalam has written any columns condemning ethnic cleansing of 400,000 Kashmiri Pundits or the continued persecution of Pakistani Hindus.Recommend

  • PorkSmasher

    She was silent spectators when Hindus were forcefully converted into Islam , and Hindu girls were raped and later forced into marriage with Muslims without their consents. Not much difference with syu kie.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    This is not very different than what Ashoka dd in ancient India against Buddhists and gave birth to Hindu dominated Ind. Today they have become the demographic problem for the non hindu people.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • G. Din

    You betray your lack of knowledge of history. Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism. Where do you learn this perverse history?Recommend