Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi smiles during a meeting with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Sept. 15, 2017. Facing growing condemnation globally, Aung San Suu Kyi will not attend U.N. General Assembly meetings Sept. 19-25,
For more than 20 years, Aung San Suu Kyi has stood as a human rights icon. Known as "The Lady," she was admired and respected around the world as she endured house arrest and the repression of Myanmar’s military government.
Myanmar’s de facto leader has received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has been showered with honorary degrees and memberships.
Now there’s a petition to revoke her Nobel (the Nobel committee says that’s not possible) and a growing chorus of criticism. Even fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, retired Bishop Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, have called on her to say something to condemn the violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group.
In the three weeks since a Rohingya militant group attacked police posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the military and security forces have pressed a retaliatory offensive. Nearly 400,000 Rohingya have fled to overflowing refugee camps in Bangladesh, where aid workers struggle to feed them.
The United Nations has called the violence against the mostly Muslim Rohingya ethnic cleansing.
Others call it genocide.
Indian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, in New Delhi, India, Sept. 13, 2017. The protesters criticized Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, asking whether she was given a Nobel Peace Prize for promoting peace or for persecuting Rohingya Muslims.
But Aung San Suu Kyi has said little. Her first statements were to say that the world was being misled about the issue. Nearly two weeks after scores of Rohingya villages had been destroyed, she said her government would protect all the country’s residents and would implement a U.N.-backed plan for ending the discrimination and abuse the Rohingya endure.
But nothing more.
“Her silence in this case — that is increasingly recognized as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing or, by the scholars, genocide — silence is complicity,” Maung Zarni, a Myanmar rights activist said via Skype from Britain.
While other critics aren’t quite as harsh, the frustration at her silence is profound.
“I suppose the disappointment comes from that someone who knows how abusive the military is has failed to call them out,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
It’s not just that Aung San Suu Kyi hasn’t condemned the violence, said John Packer, director of the Human Rights Research and Education Center at the University of Ottawa in Canada. Packer, who has spent years researching rights in Myanmar, noted that she has also used the language the military has used to justify its actions in Rakhine.
That includes referring to the Rohingya, who have been denied citizenship since 1982, as Bengalis, which reinforces the government’s position that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Almost all of them, Packer said, are from families that have been in Myanmar for generations, going back hundreds of years.
Burmese residents living in Japan, who support Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, stage a rally against ethnic Rohingya, in front of United Nations University in Tokyo, Sept. 13, 2017.
New at governing
There are those, however, who urge patience with Aung San Suu Kyi.
They argue that her National League for Democracy has run Myanmar’s government for only a few years, and that the military,