Columns / Discourse / November 1, 2017

Nobel Peace Prize laureate, complicit with ethnic cleansing

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.


Stephen McAllister

Tags:  ethnic cleansing genocide Nobel Peace Prize

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