A Nobel Peace Laureate’s Painful Silence
Myanmar’s democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi has recently announced that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party will participate in the country’s elections, set to happen on November 8th. The NLD party won the elections by a landslide in 1990, but military officers has forbidden the party to form any government and has placed Suu Kyi under house arrest. NLD boycotted the 2010 elections as most of its important members were barred from contesting. Military rulers, who have drafted Myanmar’s constitution has included a clause barring anyone with foreign family members from becoming the country’s president.
The clause was said to be solely formed for the sake of Suu Kyi, since she was married to a Briton (he died in 1999) and her two sons are foreign nationals. So, the NLD has started to search for presidential candidates and Suu Kyi has vowed to amend the constitution, if her party wins by majority of votes (although it would still be hard since military general would have 25 percent of seats in the legislature and they hold a veto power in making any vital constitutional changes). NLD is also preparing its election manifesto that might be released very soon. The manifesto might include NLD’s position on economy, foreign policy and other vital topics. But, will it say anything about the world’s most persecuted minority – Rohigya Muslims of Myanmar?
When Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Suu Kyi in 1991, the committee stated that ‘it has honored this woman for her unflagging efforts to attain democracy, human rights, and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means’. Now, Rohingya Muslims might definitely disagree on Nobel Committee’s assessment as the inspirational world leader has avoided speaking out on the aggravating plight of Myanmar’s minority Muslims. The Rohingyas mostly live in the Western part of Myanmar (at least 1.3 million), near the border of Bangladesh. For decades, the minorities have faced discrimination and have never been recognized as citizens of Myanmar. Their discriminatory treatment recently gained the attention of international media as thousands of Rohingyas fled Myanmar in small boats to escape the deadly attacks conducted by the country’s military officials.
Thousands of Rohingyas have arrived as refugees in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Thousands more are stranded on decrepit boats, with few or no supply of food and clean water. The state government of Rakhine has imposed severe restrictions on Rohingyas like ‘two child limit’ and they have very little access to education and health care. Last year, the government has even banned using the word ‘Rohingya’ and registered the minorities, who had been living in Myanmar for generation, in the census as ‘Bengali’. Buddhist extremists led by monk Ashin Wirathu have rampaged the towns and villages of the minorities.
Despite the fact that the persecution against Rohingyas has reached untenable levels in the last two years, Aung San Suu Kyi has only maintained silence. Phil Robertson, Deputy Director for Human Rights Watch Asia has commented that ‘It’s been a deafening silence, one that’s called into question her (Suu Kyi’s) commitment to human rights’. Of course, Suu Kyi speaking against the persecution of the minority Muslims isn’t going to bring changes overnight, but her silence was regarded as bad as complicity. She was accused that a political calculation lies behind the silence. She was backed by the majority of sects, who are intent to persecute & butcher the minorities. The extremist Buddhist mobs which support Suu Kyi in the upcoming elections doesn’t want the minorities to possess the right to vote. It is an irony because Suu Kyi’s ideals for decades have all been about ‘pro-democracy’.
Fellow Nobel peace laureate Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist Spiritual Leader, has urged Suu Kyi to do more to protect the Muslim minorities. Suu Kyi, once courageously challenged the Country’s vile Islamophobia and racism, but now she is afraid to alienating the majority of voters by taking up the issue of Rohingya. In an interview to Washington Post (in December 2014), Suu Kyi has answered to a question about her silence: “I am not silent because of political calculation, I am silent because whoever’s side I stand on there will be more blood. If I speak up for human rights, they (the Rohingya) will only suffer. There will be more blood”.
Suu Kyi for the past few months has been addressing the Rohingya issue as ‘very complicated’. Has she transformed into a typical politician who puts votes ahead of principles? Only in 2012, when accepting Nobel Peace Prize in person (21 years after she was awarded the prize), Suu Kyi said these words “Our aim should be to create a world of which each and every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have freedom and capacity to live in peace”. As of now, Suu Kyi’s NLD is expected to win the upcoming elections. She could at least try to bring peace, freedom, and hope to her fellow, oppressed minority citizens.