It is hard to believe that someone who once was honored for their fight for peace and their devotion to democracy is now someone who is allowing the systematic slaughter of an oppressed ethnic minority.
The State Counsellor—and de facto leader of Myanmar—Aung San Suu Kyi is complicit in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the the Rohingya people. While the oppression of the ethnic minority has been going on long before she assumed office, she is allowing—and even defending—the continuation of genocide.
The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in an otherwise Buddhist country. According to a UN report, a cycle of systematic oppression and violence has led to almost half a million Rohingya to flee Myanmar to other Southeast Asian countries, mainly neighboring Bangladesh.
The UN report also claims that the Myanmar military has been killing and raping the Rohingya, as well as setting fire to many of their villages in the Rakhine State part of the country.
Systematic discrimination of the Rohingya people is by no means a new development and has its roots in the early 1960s. In March of 1962, Myanmar—then called Burma—was taken over by the military in a bloodless coup and created a military dictatorship. Like any dictatorship worth its salt, they bolstered their power by using fierce nationalism and uniting the nation around a common enemy, the Rohingya. The nationalism that Burma used was founded in the nation’s Buddhist identity. This made the targeting of the Rohingya people easy since they are the Muslim minority within the country. Even though the Rohingya people can trace their history back to 15th century Burma, they continued to be singled out by the government as “invaders” and “illegal immigrants” from neighboring countries. Then in 1978, the government began “Operation Dragon King.” The operation had the military use violence and rape to force almost a quarter of a million Rohingya to flee their country.
In 1982, the government passed an act that recognizes over 135 different ethnic minorities. The Rohingya—with a population near a million—was not one of them. The Rohingya then officially became a people without a state. Buddhist nationalists continued their oppression of the ethnic minority, leaving them disenfranchised and persecuted. Then, when a militant group of Rohingya started to fight back, the government swiftly and brutally retaliated. The government continues their campaign against the ethnic group, killing civilians and burning villages. The violence has caused an exodus of Rohingya with the military going as far as planting landmines on the Myanmar border to prevent the Rohingya from ever coming back.
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi—who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for “her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”—has all but ignored the humanitarian crisis. When speaking about the burned Rohingya villages Aung San Suu Kyi said that it was not an issue and that the Rohingya still had over half of their villages.Aung San Suu Kyi won one of the world’s highest honors for bringing about democracy to a dictatorship. And now, she seems to be allowing the ethnic cleansing of a long oppressed people. The story of Myanmar is not a new one. It is a story of someone coming to power after dismantling a brutal government to become equally as brutal. It is a story of a government clinging to power by appealing to religious identity and nationalism. It is a story of the oppression and violent removal of native people. The story of Myanmar is a story as old as nations themselves. If Aung San Suu Kyi is to continue to allow the systematic destruction of the Rohingya people, we should stop thinking of her as a bringer of peace rather than one of history’s worst despots.