In honouring Aung San Suu Kyi, Canada missed the signs
Another idol bites the dust. The world had been told that Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi was a hero 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.
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 officers, the army has reportedly set fire 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 fleeing 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 effect, occupy Rohingya villages.
This didn’t seem to particularly bother Suu Kyi. But, to be fair, it didn’t much bother anybody in the West, as governments were falling over one another to normalize relations with resourcerich Burma.
John Baird, then Canada’s foreign minister, trekked to Burma to lobby the government on behalf of Canadian firms. He also presented Suu Kyi with her honorary Canadian citizenship.
Publicly, neither said anything about the Rohingya.
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.