Published 8 July 2017 3 hours ago
Not surprisingly, Myanmar has said it will refuse entry to members of a United Nations panel investigating the alleged killings, rape and mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims by its national army. Naypyitaw had rejected the fact-finding mission when it was announced in March. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s de facto leader who goes by the designation of State Counsellor, had no hesitation in making her stand clear even as she travelled in May to the headquarters of the European Union – a grouping that had lent her some of the staunchest support she received during her long years of struggle. That the UN resolution was brought by the EU adds a twist of irony to the situation.
The issue of the Rohingya, who are an ethnic Muslim minority group predominantly settled in the Rakhine state, has been festering for four decades. Although their presence in what is now Myanmar has been recorded for at least four centuries, they face rejection by the dominant Buddhist community, which sees the Rohingya as illegal settlers whose numbers surged under British colonial rule from Calcutta, seat of the British Raj. Refused citizenship papers, and subject to extreme harassment, thousands of Rohingya have turned refugees, heading towards Muslim-majority nations in Asean such as Malaysia and Indonesia, but chiefly into adjoining Bangladesh. Last year, after Myanmar troops conducted a security operation against Rohingya extremists who killed nine soldiers, an estimated 75,000 fled into Bangladesh. As much as a humanitarian crisis, the issue is a full-blown political one.
While she is de facto leader, few doubt the massive constraints Ms Suu Kyi operates under. A suspicious military will not yield the national security and border issues portfolios, and the Constitution is tailor-made to circumscribe her politically. Thus, she lacks the freedom to do the right thing, as the world expects of this Nobel Peace Prize winner. Myanmar’s generals also feel little international pressure on this score because China and India, giant neighbours that are both jockeying for influence, have conveniently looked the other way, just as they did in Sri Lanka when the military’s worst excesses surfaced during the closing stages of the ethnic conflict in that country. Given US President Donald Trump’s barely concealed suspicions of Muslims, the Rohingya cannot expect help from that quarter either.
Sadly, Ms Suu Kyi’s fans, and they number millions still, are veering round to the view that her own Burman instincts may not be too different from the military’s hard line when it comes to the Rohingya. That would be a tragedy for those who looked to her to be the moral voice of the early 21st century, just as Mahatma Gandhi was in the early 20th century, and Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela in its latter part.
Topics: Myanmar, UN, Aung San Suu Kyi, Rohingya Muslims