On Burmese leader, Canada ig­nored signs

Metro Canada (Ottawa) - - Views - Thomas Walkom

An­other idol bites the dust. The world had been told that Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi was a hero­ine of democ­racy and hu­man rights. Now it turns out that her idea of hu­man rights doesn’t in­clude the roughly 1.1 mil­lion Ro­hingya Mus­lims liv­ing in Burma’s west­ern state of Rakhine.

It seems she ap­proves of Burmese military “clear­ance” op­er­a­tions that crit­ics say amounts to eth­nic cleans­ing.

In reprisal for in­sur­gent at­tacks that killed 12 po­lice ofi­cers, the army has re­port­edly set ire to Ro­hingya vil­lages, caus­ing about 125,000 Mus­lims to seek refuge in neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi has dis­missed Ro­hingyan com­plaints as fake news.

In­deed, as the BBC has re­ported, some of the so­cial me­dia pic­tures pur­port­ing to de­scribe military atroc­i­ties have been faked. But the gist of the story is cor­rect. Mem­bers of a per­se­cuted mi­nor­ity in Burma are lee­ing the coun­try in ter­ror.

And the woman lauded around the world for her com­mit­ment to hu­man rights has vir­tu­ally noth­ing to say.

There are calls to re­voke the No­bel peace prize awarded her in 1991. In Canada, there are calls to take back the honorary Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship she was given in 2007.

How could we have been so wrong about her? The an­swer, it seems, is that we weren’t pay­ing at­ten­tion.

In 2012, com­mu­nal vi­o­lence be­tween Bud­dhists and Mus­lims in Rakhine led the Burmese army to, in e ect, oc­cupy Ro­hingya vil­lages.

None of this seemed to par­tic­u­larly bother Suu Kyi. But, to be fair, it didn’t much bother any­body else. In 2012, West­ern gov­ern­ments were fall­ing over one an­other to nor­mal­ize re­la­tions with re­source-rich Burma.

John Baird, then Canada’s for­eign min­is­ter, trekked to Burma that year to lobby the gov­ern­ment on be­half of Cana­dian irms. He also per­son­ally pre­sented Suu Kyi with her honorary Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship.

Pub­licly, nei­ther said any­thing about the Ro­hingya.

Now, as de facto leader of the elected gov­ern­ment, she uses the military’s ter­mi­nol­ogy. She refers to the Ro­hingya as Bangladeshi for­eign­ers; she says the army’s so-called clear­ance op­er­a­tions are de­signed to ight ter­ror­ism.

She ig­nores the crit­i­cisms of the United Nations High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights.

This June, she vis­ited Ot­tawa and spoke to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau. There is no in­di­ca­tion that the plight of the Ro­hingya came up in their con­ver­sa­tion.

It seems a bit churl­ish to com­plain now about the hon­ours she has been awarded. No­body asked Suu Kyi about her take on the Ro­hingya be­fore she was awarded honorary Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship. I ex­pect that’s be­cause no one wanted to know. In­con­ve­nient facts in­ter­fere with myth­mak­ing.

is na­tional af­fairs colum­nist for the Toronto Star. He writes on po­lit­i­cal econ­omy.

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