Suu Kyi es­sen­tial to find­ing a so­lu­tion in Myan­mar

Arab News - - OPINION - SIr johN jeNk­INs | spe­cIAl to ArAb News

Rather than un­pro­duc­tive virtue sig­nal­ing, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should es­tab­lish a pres­ence on the ground in Rakhine that would help Ro­hingya refugees re­turn safely and build to­wards long-term sta­bil­ity.

Iwrote about the sit­u­a­tion in Myan­mar’s Rakhine State last Au­gust, af­ter the mur­der­ous at­tack on a po­lice post by self-pro­claimed Ro­hingya mil­i­tants and the mas­sive and of­ten bru­tal mil­i­tary re­sponse. Since then, the out­flow of ter­ri­fied peo­ple into Bangladesh, bear­ing sto­ries of mul­ti­ple atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against them and their fam­i­lies has con­tin­ued. Bangladesh now prob­a­bly hosts more than 700,000 refugees from Rakhine. There has been a pulse of sto­ries ac­cus­ing Aung San Suu Kyi, the coun­try’s for­eign min­is­ter and first state coun­sel­lor, of at best ig­nor­ing these re­ports and the clear ev­i­dence of se­ri­ous abuses of hu­man rights by the Myan­mar se­cu­rity forces, and at worst of com­plic­ity. I tried to ex­plain in my last piece why I be­lieve these ac­cu­sa­tions are un­fair and re­flect either ig­no­rance or a mis­read­ing of Myan­mar’s his­tory and a mis­un­der­stand­ing of the range of pow­ers avail­able to Suu Kyi in the face of an en­trenched mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment. Af­ter all, it was Suu Kyi who had specif­i­cally com­mis­sioned a re­port into the sit­u­a­tion in Rakhine by the for­mer UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Kofi An­nan, the pub­li­ca­tion of which and her wel­come of it had been de­lib­er­ately un­der­mined by the care­fully timed at­tack on the po­lice post. And it was Suu Kyi who sub­se­quently es­tab­lished an in­ter­na­tional ad­vi­sory board to help her take the con­struc­tive con­clu­sions of this re­port for­ward in the face of hos­til­ity within the mil­i­tary, a largely un­sym­pa­thetic pub­lic opinion, and a sus­tained wave of per­sonal crit­i­cism from out­side the coun­try.

Last week, for­mer senior Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial Bill Richard­son, who served as gov­er­nor of New Mex­ico, en­ergy sec­re­tary and US am­bas­sador to the UN, added fuel to the fire af­ter the first visit of the ad­vi­sory board to Rakhine by an­nounc­ing his dis­ap­point­ment at progress and his im­me­di­ate res­ig­na­tion. This out­burst cap­tured press and pub­lic at­ten­tion once again and led to a fresh surge of highly per­sonal at­tacks upon Suu Kyi — in spite of the fact that Richard­son was also quoted by Reuters as say­ing he thought she re­mained the only hope for Myan­mar.

As I strolled down the Whitechapel Road in Lon­don last week, among the vi­brant mar­ket stalls out­side the East Lon­don Mosque, and saw the col­lec­tion buck­ets for the Ro­hingya refugees and the re­sponses of or­di­nary peo­ple, I rec­og­nized the depth of emo­tion this is­sue clearly stirs. But I also thought — and think — that we all need to take a deep breath and con­sider what a gen­uinely col­lec­tive rather than com­mu­nal ap­proach to this cri­sis might ac­tu­ally de­mand and what role the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should play in de­liv­er­ing a res­o­lu­tion.

As we do so, we might re­flect that Richard­son was him­self crit­i­cized by an­other mem­ber of the board, for­mer South African De­fense Min­is­ter Roelf Meyer, who said at a press con­fer­ence: “Mr. Richard­son was in a lit­tle bit of a hurry to make this state­ment. I think it is un­fair and it is not a le­git­i­mate state­ment by him. Our im­pres­sion so far is that they (the gov­ern­ment) are lis­ten­ing and our im­pres­sion so far is they are se­ri­ous. We would like to press for that en­gage­ment to be suc­cess­ful.”

Su­rakiart Sathi­rathai, the for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter of Thai­land who heads the ad­vi­sory board, gave a long in­ter­view to jour­nal­ists about his team’s first visit to Rakhine and re­marked: “We com­mend the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment in com­mit­ting to im­ple­ment the 88 points rec­om­mended by Kofi Anan. The state coun­sel­lor has em­pha­sized the rule of law and pro­vid­ing jus­tice to the peo­ple in the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. I think that is the right way to go.” In re­sponse to Richard­son’s spe­cific crit­i­cism of the board, he added that they needed to come with open minds and speak with one voice to the im­ple­men­ta­tion com­mit­tee.

Even Justin Forsyth, a deputy ex­ec­u­tive director at UNICEF, told the BBC last Thurs­day that, while he had heard hor­rific and cred­i­ble ac­counts from refugees, we still needed to re­mem­ber that it was not Suu Kyi but the mil­i­tary that ran the show in Rakhine. This theme has been picked up in de­tail in a se­ries of ex­cel­lent re­ports on the sit­u­a­tion by the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group.

These are all se­ri­ous voices. So crit­ics should not sim­ply dis­miss Suu Kyi’s ef­forts to bring some or­der, sta­bil­ity and hu­man­ity to this ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion. I be­lieve she is do­ing all in her power to rem­edy it, but she faces im­mense dif­fi­cul­ties in a sys­tem that de­lib­er­ately lim­its her ca­pac­ity to con­trol events while she seeks to re­spond to in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on her per­son­ally to de­liver.

Ide­ally what we need to see now — af­ter the re­cent and wel­come an­nounce­ment of an agree­ment be­tween Myan­mar and Bangladesh to im­ple­ment an or­derly pro­gram for the se­cure re­turn, re­set­tle­ment and rein­te­gra­tion of refugees — is the es­tab­lish­ment of a ca­pa­ble in­ter­na­tional pres­ence on the ground in Rakhine. This would help the gov­ern­ment of Myan­mar, with their bless­ing and work­ing through the Union En­ter­prise for Hu­man­i­tar­ian As­sis­tance, to pro­vide safe places and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for re­turnees; to re­con­struct those ar­eas most af­fected by the vi­o­lence; to pro­vide sus­tained im­prove­ment in ba­sic ser­vices; and to con­sider re­form of the le­gal frame­work to address is­sues of hate speech and in­cite­ment.

In the long run, this needs to be a pro­gram of sup­port that helps the gov­ern­ment more gen­er­ally address the huge chal­lenges in­volved in mov­ing the coun­try away from mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship to­wards a truly ac­count­able, rep­re­sen­ta­tive and re­spon­sive po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that guar­an­tees the rights of all its ci­ti­zens. In all this, Suu Kyi is an es­sen­tial fig­ure. Without her, I find it hard to see how any­thing of per­ma­nent value will be achieved. Con­struc­tive crit­i­cism is fine, as long as it is in­tended to help and is ac­com­pa­nied by gen­uine of­fers of prac­ti­cal sup­port that don’t just address im­me­di­ate needs — im­por­tant as they are — but rec­og­nize the broader con­text and set out to sta­bi­lize that too. As Meyer, Forsyth and Sathi­rathai have all sug­gested, any­thing else risks look­ing like un­pro­duc­tive virtue sig­nal­ing.

Sir John Jenk­ins is a senior fel­low at Pol­icy Ex­change. He was the Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Saudi Ara­bia un­til Jan­uary 2015.

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