Defending the indefensible

Defending the indefensible

The conversion of Aung San Suu Kyi from human rights champion to defender of military violence has been painful to watch. The Myanmar leader capped her change last week. At a UN-sponsored conference in Hanoi, she sloughed off questions about the brutal expulsion of 700,000 Rohingya, who now are refugees. Shockingly, she defended the imprisonment of two Myanmar reporters by praising a law written by colonialists to intimidate and punish her own country's citizens.

It must be noted that Ms Suu Kyi was questioned gently by an official, with no questions allowed from reporters who were present. The brief press conference was on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum seminar in the Vietnamese capital. The almost obsequious questioner gave her every opportunity to explain or justify her new positions on basic human rights, and she refused.

She was asked about the forced exit of the Rohingya, the killings and documented massacres included. She said only that, "with hindsight, it could have been handled better". That is obvious. It included military gang rape, arson and mass killings. United Nations investigators have said that the expulsion operation was ethnic cleansing. A second report charged the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe by the Myanmar tatmadaw and now defended by Ms Suu Kyi of the Rohingya was caused with genocidal intent.

It is difficult to see how it could have been handled worse. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) has called for intervention by the International Criminal Court, and the ICC has stated it is drawing up charges of crimes against humanity. The elected Myanmar leader stated that expelling the Rohingya was "in order to have long-term security and stability". It was a stunning turn. She is not, as some of her diehard defenders state, afraid to act against the tatmadaw. She is actively, voluntarily defending its brutality and massacres.

She then launched an equally absurd and appalling defence of the jailing of Reuters newsmen Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28. They were ordered to prison for seven years early this month on the most ludicrous and trumped-up charges imaginable. Since they broke no law of present-day Myanmar, Ms Suu Kyi's government and the army brought out the 1935 Official Secrets Act. This was written by British colonial occupiers - the very group Ms Suu Kyi's father gained national-hero status while fighting.

The real crime of the two men was reporting while Myanmarese. They obtained details of an army massacre of 10 Rohingya men in Rakhine state and were in the process of bringing it to the world. It offended the army and angered Ms Suu Kyi, who had claimed to that point in time that no mistreatment of any kind had taken place.

No one will ever know whether her blanket denials of massacres, brutality and razing of villages were deliberate lies or utter ignorance. There seems no third possibility. UN investigators wrote unequivocally that she aided the undoubted criminal behaviour of the army's top generals. Her utter lack of compassion or understanding of what she has done to the two Myanmar reporters is further proof that by gaining power, she has lost the direction and humanity that earned her the Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy.

By her statements in support of the Rohingya expulsion and what she laughingly calls "rule of law" on the reporters, Ms Suu Kyi is simply defending the indefensible. It is a sad day, for her and for the great issues at stake. It is tragically ironic that during her long exile she quite properly depended on brave Myanmar journalists and world media to get her message out to the world. It is shameful that, having gained power, she has rubbished all her ideals.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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