Suu Kyi's sad neglect

Suu Kyi's sad neglect

Protests took place after noon prayers last Friday at the Myanmar embassies in Kuala Lumpur (above) Jakarta, Dhaka and Bangkok (AFP photo)
Protests took place after noon prayers last Friday at the Myanmar embassies in Kuala Lumpur (above) Jakarta, Dhaka and Bangkok (AFP photo)

It takes a unique grievance to inspire linked demonstrations across Southeast Asia and beyond. But last Friday, in half a dozen cities including Bangkok, protests occurred at the embassies of neighbour and fellow Asean member Myanmar. The focus was the recent escalation of violence against Rohingya people in the western state of Rakhine. The peaceful protesters, mostly from Muslim groups, were outraged at Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

A petition from is soon to be on its way to the Nobel Peace Prize committee in Oslo. It contains more than 200,000 signatures, the bulk of which were gathered in the past week. It asks, or more correctly demands, that the committee "take back Aung San Suu Kyi's Nobel Peace Prize", awarded during her darkest political days in 1991.

There are those who say that Ms Suu Kyi is in the process of proving that old proverb that notes past performance is no guarantee of future results. She won the admiration of the world for her prolonged and defiant stand against Myanmar's military dictators. The Nobel Prize properly recognised her brave actions. That history already is written, and it would be a travesty to remove her well-deserved award.

But the heroine only is perfect for a set time; Ms Suu Kyi now is an embattled politician. More to the point, she either is failing in her duties as national leader or she is once again being held captive by the tatmadaw, Myanmar's armed forces who ceded political power to pro-democracy forces five years ago. But the army has ensured it retains more than a little influence in a nation that is still trying to escape the worst years of its history.

In the past month, the Myanmar army has erected a virtual iron curtain over northwestern Rakhine state which borders Bangladesh. It has raided and razed entire Rohingya villages. It has created tens of thousands of refugees who are -- in an even more cruel twist of fate -- being denied safety in Bangladesh.

An ironically named military unit called "True News Information Team" blithely denies even the most evident and provable atrocities. It has blamed "fighting" on bands of Rohingya rebels. Witnesses who have escaped the area confirm that some Rohingya men have indeed launched self-defence measures: With sticks and staves. But there are no confirmed reports of organised resistance, or anything resembling an insurgency which might provoke an armed response.

In fairness, it is difficult to confirm reports from the embattled area. The army has reported a death toll in the hundreds. Satellite photos show the destruction of entire villages and hundreds of homes and shops. There is only one known force in the region capable of such destruction.

The terrible things that are occurring in Rakhine are happening on Ms Suu Kyi's watch, but she is absent from public view. Her previous stance on the Rohingya, her lifetime view, is that whatever happens to them is their own fault. They are not citizens. She has banned use of the word "Rohingya" in her presence including, as foreign minister, by foreign diplomats.

While Ms Suu Kyi, as an acknowledged leader, must bear responsibility for the killings and the dire refugee situation in western Myanmar by rejecting her conscious duty towards the oppressed and dispossessed. Thailand and other countries also have refused to take the proper courses. They have neither publicly protested the escalating violence, nor moved to help war refugees.

The region's worst humanitarian crisis deserves action from the Asean countries, not silence.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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