The shame­ful hypocrisy

Truro Daily News - - OPINION -

The hypocrisy of Myan­mar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is as­tound­ing. Her com­plic­ity in the face of hor­rific state vi­o­lence against the coun­try’s Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity is surely re­defin­ing her place in his­tory.

The No­bel Peace lau­re­ate, who for decades fought against the junta that kept her un­der house ar­rest and ter­ror­ized her coun­try, who spoke so elo­quently of the power of non­vi­o­lence and of the im­por­tance of multi-eth­nic unity to Myan­mar’s fu­ture, ap­par­ently does not stand by the words that built her rep­u­ta­tion as a great hu­man­i­tar­ian – or per­haps does so only in so far as they per­tain to the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity.

The United Na­tions has called Myan­mar’s Ro­hingyas the world’s “most per­se­cuted” mi­nor­ity. Base­lessly vil­i­fied as il­le­gal im­mi­grants from Bangladesh, they have long been un­fairly de­nied cit­i­zen­ship and oth­er­wise made sub­ject to myr­iad dis­crim­i­na­tions.

Yet in re­cent years their plight has sig­nif­i­cantly wors­ened as vi­o­lent at­tacks from gov­ern­ment and other na­tion­al­ist fac­tions have deep­ened their poverty and forced many into squalid in­tern­ment camps. Hun­dreds of thou­sands have fled to Bangladesh, an­other coun­try that does not want them.

The cur­rent wave of mil­i­tary vi­o­lence be­gan in Au­gust, af­ter a group of Ro­hingya farm­ers took up arms against state se­cu­rity forces. By all cred­i­ble ac­counts the gov­ern­ment crack­down that fol­lowed has been grossly dis­pro­por­tion­ate and highly in­dis­crim­i­nate. UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res warns that we are see­ing some­thing ap­proach­ing eth­nic cleans­ing. Many oth­ers, cit­ing satel­lite footage of scorched vil­lages in Rakhine state and count­less ac­counts of rape and the mass mur­der of civil­ians, in­sist that bar has al­ready been met. Some 160,000 Ro­hingyas have fled the coun­try in the two weeks since the vi­o­lence be­gan.

About the mount­ing in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tions, Suu Kyi will say only that they re­flect an “ice­berg of mis­in­for­ma­tion” be­ing prop­a­gated by “ter­ror­ists.” The ev­i­dence against this claim is over­whelm­ing. Plus, if there’s noth­ing to hide, why have the min­istries un­der Suu Kyi’s con­trol worked so hard to keep in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tors out of the coun­try?

So what can be done? At home, some have ar­gued that the Trudeau gov­ern­ment should re­voke Suu Kyi’s honorary Cana­dian cit­i­zen­ship, one of six ever awarded, in re­sponse to her pro­found moral fail­ure. Oth­ers have called for her No­bel Peace Prize to be re­scinded. But such moves would be dis­trac­tions from the real chal­lenge at hand. There will be plenty of time to rewrite Suu Kyi’s place in his­tory. More ur­gent by far is that we do all we can to pro­tect the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity now un­der siege.

To that end, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment has taken im­por­tant steps, pledg­ing $1 mil­lion in hu­man­i­tar­ian aid for Rakhine state and strongly con­demn­ing the per­se­cu­tion of Ro­hingyas. The prime min­is­ter says Ot­tawa con­tin­ues to ap­ply pres­sure on Suu Kyi. He is right to use Canada’s strong re­la­tion­ship with the leader to try to push her to show some of the courage and hu­man­ity that led to her many awards. But per­sonal di­plo­macy can ac­com­plish only so much.

Suu Kyi alone can­not end the vi­o­lence. Al­though she was elected in a land­slide, her power ex­tends only so far; many parts of the Myan­marese state are still con­trolled by the mil­i­tary. The chal­lenge for Ot­tawa and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will be to find a way to ex­ert real pres­sure on the still-pow­er­ful rem­nants of Myan­mar’s erst­while junta.

Suu Kyi’s com­plic­ity in the on­go­ing atroc­i­ties in her coun­try has left her once-totemic rep­u­ta­tion in ru­ins. But sym­bols of our dis­ap­proval will do lit­tle to help those in need. We should be us­ing ev­ery tool at our dis­posal, in­clud­ing our close ties with Suu Kyi, to aid the em­bat­tled Ro­hingyas and push Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary to end its bru­tal cam­paign.

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