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Aung San Suu Kya, Myanmar leader has defended military actions taken against the Rohingya people during a lecture in Singapore on the 21st of August. Aung San Suu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 after taking a stand against the undemocratic military junta that controlled her country at the time. Despite this, the persecution of the Rohingya ethnic minority, which has been described by the UN as “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing,” has not drawn any word of opposition from the Nobel Laurite. For decades, the Rohingya communities have been unjustly prosecuted by the Burmese military authorities. The basis of this conflict is rooted in a religious and ethnic divide. The Rohingya are a Muslim people living in a predominantly Buddhist nation. The outgrowth of this divide has increased in severity over the past few years. In 2014, the government of Myanmar denies that the Rohingya had Burmese citizenships and failed to include them as a population in that year’s census, effectively marking the 1 million strong population as stateless, resulting in increased tensions.
The recurring conflicts have seen many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya displaced, predominately migrating on foot to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh. The most recent escalation came after Rohingya separatist launched a deadly attack on police in the Rakhine state on 25 August, 2017. Now, nearly a year later, almost 300 villages have been burnt to the ground with rising civilian deaths. Before the August military operations, an estimated 307,500 Rohingya were already living in makeshift refugee camps in the region. Since then, an estimated 687,000 have either been forced from their villages or fled in fear of violent reprisals from the military, and are currently living in those same camps. The situation in the camps is dire, food aid is required for the whole displaced population and the Bangladeshi government has recently denied education to the 38,000 refugee children out of fear that the camps may become a permanent fixture.
Despite the obvious majority of popular support Suu Kya enjoys in the parliament her actual powers are seen to be quite limited. In fact, the military still remains in control of a large portion of state operations, an obvious carry over from the days of military junta. The military controls the areas of home affairs, defence and border operations. This mean that in reality, the military functions independently from the government with a freedom to define the scope of ‘security.’ The vast power that the military still hold would seem to explain why Suu Kyi has not spoken out against the operations of the military, assuming that she still holds her humanist sentiments from her 15-year period of house arrest. Any dissenting voice would be sure to draw an aggressive response from the Buddhist nationalists and military officials.
Despite any pragmatic reason for not adequately addressing the atrocities of the military, blame can and should still be levelled at Suu Kyi for downplaying the extent of the military actions. Zeid Raad Al Hussein the High commissioner of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights decried Suu Kyi for not even addressing the Rohingya people by their name, stating that “to strip their name from them is dehumanising to the point where you begin to believe that anything is possible.” Such an emotive denunciation is rare from a UN official, he continued stating his belief “that [the genocide] was really well thought out and planned.” Mss Aung San Suu Kyi has failed in her office to protect the people of Burma and has directly corroborated in the attempted and continued genocide of an ethnic minority. Her government continues to support the military, postponing decisions relating to the resettlement of the one million Burmese Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. This is a humanitarian crisis of the most serious kind and the international community’s response has been almost as underwhelming as Ms Suu Kyi’s, one of quiet reproach but ultimate acceptance.