Aung San Suu Kyi needs no introduction. No Nobel laureate does. She won that coveted prize for her stand against authoritarianism in her country, Myanmar, for which she was recognised and accepted as the conscience of the nation and the heroine of humanity.
This lady had the stature of a moral giant. Unfortunately, she has become a pragmatic politician, with all its negative connotations, who has turned to an apologist for the most grotesque abuses of basic rights inside her own country. Before now, she was universally acclaimed as a champion of human rights and the moral face of Myanmar.
That unfortunate country is not new to oppression. As an adult, Suu Kyi experienced first-hand the brutal power of an oppressive state, when she spent 15 years under house arrest. The democracy champion turned politician made her name as an implacable fighter for human rights. She sacrificed her family life, her freedom and her health, in a battle for the soul of her country and the future of her people. But all that is now in the past as her conspiracy of silence in the saga of ruthlessness perpetrated by the military as they trample on the Rohingya Muslim minority has left the rest of the world aghast. She stands by as hundreds of thousands of her fellow countrymen, women and children are persecuted, massacred and driven from their homes because of their religion and perception as illegal immigrants.
Going by her human rights records, many had expected Suu Kyi to, at least, say something even if she is not able to do something given the peculiarities of that country and the preponderance of military influence. She disappointed that expectation and it is no surprise that this lady, admired as a moral icon, has fallen in global estimation.
The Rohingya people in Myanmar are described as the world’s most persecuted minority. They are an ethnic group, majority of whom are Muslims, who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Myanmar. Currently, there are about 1.1 million Rohingya who live in that Southeast Asian country. The Rohingya speak Rohingya or Ruaingga, a dialect that is distinct to others spoken in Rakhine State and throughout Myanmar. They are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless. Up to 400,000 Rohingya of which, about 60 per cent are children, have fled to Bangladesh since August 25 to escape the latest wave of violence.
Suu Kyi’s decision to separate the suffering of the Rohingya from that of other peoples, after years of insisting that human rights are a universal birth right and fighting to make human community safer and kinder, appears to mark the start of a disturbing new chapter in what was an exemplary life.
She was the daughter of a national hero. But in the space of a few months, in 1988, she would become a national hero herself and an international icon. At the peak of her fame, Suu Kyi was put in the class of the world’s greats- Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. Like Mandela who emerged from prison to electoral victory, she won, easily, an election in 2012 when she was allowed to contest. Her party, National League for Democracy (NLD), riding on the crest of her popularity, swept into power during the country’s first largely free general elections in 2015. She took over a host of portfolios from the foreign to the energy ministries and a newly created role as state counsellor, a position that granted her unfettered access to the President. Yet as attacks on Rohingya intensified, so did her deafening silence and, of course, her reputation.
It is difficult to decipher her motivations for treading this path of infamy. In our opinion, the only thing she could possibly lose by speaking out is the support of the military power brokers who still control Myanmar. Also, in our view, the only thing she hopes to gain by her silence is more power and influence. But she had written in her book ‘Freedom from Fear’ that “It is not power that corrupts but fear, fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it.” Is that the case with her as the oddity in her country persists?
As an elected political leader in Myanmar, Suu Kyi owes herself a moral obligation to address abuses against the minority Rohingya Muslims. Otherwise, the lady dies in her for keeping quiet in the face of tyranny.