Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

Rohingya inaction inexcusable

15 MARCH 2017: As Rakhine state burns in northern Myanmar, the government continues to neglect the plight of the Muslim Rohingya settlers, many of them killed or driven off their lands as villages are torched and violent pogroms alleged orchestrated by the military, ravage the countryside. There have been claims of rape, pillage, and plunder as thousands have crossed over to Bangladesh as refugees, yet Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi continues to maintain her resounding silence on the subject and has yet to visit the troubled area since taking office as State Counsellor and Foreign Minister, with her office often claiming the disturbance is 'fake news' created by foreign media.

The BBC's Jonah Fisher writes 'She has created a powerful role for herself called State Counsellor to fulfil a promise of being "above the President". In practice that seems to also mean "above" public scrutiny.' He continues, 'Some claim the Burmese army is committing ethnic cleansing, even genocide but that is rejected by the Burmese army and Ms Suu Kyi, who says it is a counter-terrorism operation to catch the Rohingya militants who started the crisis when they attacked police outposts.'

The Rohingya, numbering about one million, 'have taken reporting into their own hands. They have been filming their own testimony on smartphones and sending it via messaging apps to those outside the country.'

Comments David Scott Mathieson in The New York Times, 'No doubt, some of the news reporting about the conflict has been sloppy, with media outlets running fabricated news, photos and footage of alleged abuses. (The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, posted on its site a video purporting to show a Myanmar soldier torturing a Rohingya toddler with a stun gun. In fact, it was footage of child abuse in Cambodia.)'

'Still, the reaction of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration has been astonishingly obtuse. Any government genuinely committed to transparency would have ignored this hysteria and guaranteed accredited journalists and human rights investigators unfettered access to verify allegations of abuse. Instead, the N.L.D. government has dismissed and discredited much of the media. Security forces have prevented journalists from entering northern Rakhine, only fueling concerns that humanitarian assistance to people in the conflict area was being obstructed. '

One reason for Ms Suu Kyi's apparent reluctance to take on the military is the constitutional setup in Myanmar that places limits on her physical authority, if not her moral authority. Writes the NYT, 'She is formally circumscribed by the 2008 Constitution, which gives senior military officers control over three key security ministries: defense, border affairs and home affairs. If she condemned abuses and insisted on holding perpetrators accountable, she would have few levers over the military to do much about them: The Constitution also reserves for the Tatmadaw one-quarter of all seats in Parliament.'

Over a dozen former Nobel laureates strongly criticised 'The Lady' for inaction and came out with a strongly worded letter to the UN Security Council in December 2016. Britain's The Guardian newspaper ran a story quoting the letter as saying, “Some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide. It has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies – Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo.”

In an editorial in January 2017, the Hong Kong South China Morning Post came out strongly against Suu Kyi's silence. It wrote, 'The UN’s human rights agency has suggested Rohingyas may be victims of crimes against humanity. There is no disputing they have been denied citizenship, authorities contending they are refugees from Bangladesh, despite many having lived in Myanmar for generations. Their status means they do not have access to education and cannot own property, and most live in displacement camps with inadequate food and health care.'

Middle East voice Aljazeera came out strongly in favour of regional intervention and pressure. Writer Priyamvada Gopal describes the situation thus: 'They [the Rohingyas] have also been subjected to draconian marriage and childbearing regulations intended to curb their numbers. The word "persecution" is wholly inadequate to describing a population which is clearly being targeted for systematic elimination from the body politic of Myanmar.'

She suggests, 'Rather than just pandering to the manifestly brutal and authoritarian military, India - and other South Asian nations - should be unambiguous in their condemnation of the bloodletting and ravaging being visited upon an entire population. Above all it is time for India, along with other international players, to engage more robustly with Suu Kyi and put enormous pressure on her to undertake her primary duty: bringing the people of Myanmar back on to the true democratic path - and the only genuinely Buddhist one - of humane co-existence.' — Asian Conversations