Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is once again facing criticism over her failure to publicly condemn the Rohingya crisis. This time the criticism has been delivered by three fellow Nobel Laureates, Tawakkol Karman, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire, who had been visiting Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar on February 26 to hear about their experiences of violence and persecution.
The Nobel Laureates spent the day talking to Rohingya refugees, most of whom are women and children and heard first-hand accounts of sexual violence from women whose husbands and children had been killed by the Myanmar army. In an emotional statement to the media, Maguire claimed that “[t]his is a policy by the Burmese government and military of genocide, of ethnic cleansing, of the people of Rohingya.” Karman appealed directly to Suu Kyi to “wake up” to the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority population, “otherwise she will be one of the perpetrators of the crime[s],” and called for Suu Kyi to resign if she continues down her road of inaction.
Almost 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, making it the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, according to the United Nations. Often described as the ‘world’s most persecuted people,’ the Rohingya are an ethnic group who have lived in Myanmar for hundreds of years. However, they are unrecognized by the Myanmar government and therefore do not have the rights and protections afforded by citizenship. Enduring violence and persecution by the Myanmar Army’s ‘clearance operations’ has thus forced the Rohingya people out of their home of Rakhine state, and has likely killed above 10,000 people, according to reports.
It would appear that Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation has been irreparably tarnished by her refusal to condemn such violence in her own country. As a political figure who once personified her country’s fight for democracy through non-violence, Suu Kyi is now often labelled a hypocrite for her complicity in the displacement, rape and genocide of an entire ethnic group.
This is not the first-time fellow Nobel Laureates have publicly spoken out against Suu Kyi; in 2017, Malala Yousafzai condemned the situation in a Twitter post while also stating that “[she was] still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same.” Many in the international community have called for Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prize to be revoked, while others sympathize with the political constraints of the constitution of Myanmar. In Suu Kyi’s current role as de facto leader of Myanmar, she has no control over the military, nor its operations.
It is important that the international community, including fellow Nobel Laureates, continue to voice their outrage over the Rohingya crisis and continue to pressure Suu Kyi to condemn the actions of the military. Once beloved the world over, Suu Kyi is betraying the Rohingya people, as well as her own values, by standing idly during this atrocity. While she has refused to publicly renounce the actions of the Myanmar military, her colleagues have stepped in to continue the important work of shining a light on the plight of the Rohingya.
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