Recently in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Prize winner and former State Counsellor of Myanmar, has been put on trial for five charges. Most importantly, the illegal possession of walkie-talkies and breaking Covid-19 regulations during her campaign for elections. On February 1st, 2021, the military took power in a forceful coup that ousted Suu Kyi from power. Suu Kyi’s political history is not without human rights controversies, especially her role in refusing to condemn the Rohingya Genocide. However, protesters have taken to the streets to argue that these charges are politically motivated. Concerningly, protesters also claim that these charges only support the military regime.
Political Analyst Richard Horsey stated, “It’s not at all clear that her position on the Rohingya was driven by political considerations, but it certainly meant that, at the time of the coup, she had a much-diminished international reputation at a time when she needed international support the most.” In other words, whether her role in the Rohingya Genocide was politically motivated or because of her own personal beliefs, the international community has seen the tarnished image of Aung San Suu Kyi unfold. Consequently, the international community may not be so quick to defend her against these charges, even if the charges are indeed politically motivated.
What is most concerning to peace processes is twofold: firstly, it is necessary to hold leaders accountable for their wrongdoings, and secondly, the ongoing presence of military violence against protesters clearly threatens holistic peace processes. It is perhaps a step towards broader peace if Aung San Suu Kyi is being prosecuted for her legitimate wrongdoings. However, if she is being prosecuted purely due to political motivations, which are not directly linked to her malefaction, that fundamentally contradicts the peace process. This is because it diverges from actual goals that advance peace by misdirecting the public’s attention. Therefore, shifting people’s focus to something that is not productive or meaningful in the broader context of holistic peace processes. Moreover, the violence that the military is inflicting against protesters undermines their ability and right to protest and make themselves heard. Furthermore, some activists and protesters are looking beyond this trial to broader, more revolutionary changes to be made. According to Al Jazeera, one activist, Thinzar Shunlei Yi, said that while the protests are calling for the charges against Suu Kyi to be dropped, it is not necessarily clear that Suu Kyi would support a complete revolution, which is what may be necessary for overturning the military regime and judicial system. If protesters on the frontlines encourage drastic change like revolution, the international community should consider how that could be beneficial for future peace in Myanmar.
The army and Suu Kyi have historically opposed one another. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of which Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader, is head of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, which is seen as insulting to the nationalist military, according to Al Jazeera. As a result, Suu Kyi and the military have become political opponents. Aung San Suu Kyi’s political life has been fraught with contradictions. On one hand, she has been known as a pro-democracy activist who opposed the nationalist military. On the other hand, she defended Myanmar against Rohingya Genocide accusations, doing nothing to stop the genocide or meaningfully hold Myanmar accountable for the harm inflicted on the Rohingya. This may have been because she was trying not to anger the nationalist military for fear that, if she did not defend Myanmar, the military would take power from her. Many activists in Myanmar were disappointed in her actions and lack thereof with regards to the Rohingya Genocide.
Importantly, the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi can provide insight into the future of politics in Myanmar. Democracy may be around the corner but that will come with the dissolution of the military regime. Suu Kyi also may no longer be attached to the pro-democracy movement, it may soon be led by younger activists who have seen the damage Suu Kyi has done and want to separate that damage from the movement.
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