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
Email

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.