Rohingya Crisis: Rethinking The International Community’s Criticism

Since August 2017, the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar has escalated. According to Independent, approximately 500 thousand Rohingya refugees have rush to the border, which in turn has increased domestic pressure in Bangladesh. This rapid and large-scale refugee crisis has drawn international attention. However, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Ann San Suu Kyi and her government gave an ambivalent response after long-term silence regarding the refugee crisis, which caused fierce criticism by the international community.

Human Rights Watch and other 88 organisations have issued statements to appeal for the United Nations’s intervention: “All concerned UN member states should also consider bilateral, multilateral, and regional actions they can take to place added pressure on the Myanmar government. In particular, we call on all states to immediately suspend military assistance and cooperation with Myanmar.” However, the United Nations and other intergovernmental organisations seem to be unwilling to impose sanctions or invoke other methods that would curb Myanmar’s harsh treatment toward the Rohingya refugees. And the effectiveness of sanctions in the past has already shown the inability to bring about radical, positive change. Sanction may contribute to the suffering of the locals. The appeal issued by these organisations should be questioned, for it may not function well and it shows the international community is still absorbed in “fascinating but ineffective for-justice” approach to human rights violations.

According to The Guardian, Britain’s minister for Asia, Mr. Mark Field commented, “What we have seen in Rakhine in the past few weeks is an absolute and unacceptable tragedy. We need the violence to stop and all those who have fled to be able to return to their homes quickly and safely. Burma has taken great strides forward in recent years. But the ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis in Rakhine risks derailing that progress.” However, ironically, the United Kingdom is an important reason as to why there is a humanitarian crisis today. During the British colonization in Southeast and South Asia, the policy encouraged Bengali people to migrate to Arakan area, which is located in Myanmar today, due to the demand of cheap labor by the UK colonial government. The artificial immigration process by the UK colonial government paved the base for conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims in the Arakan area. During World War II, after the invasion by the Imperial Japanese Army, the British left and lost control of the Arakan area, which resulted in long-term local conflicts. During the war and post-war period, the tension in the Arakan area has never been alleviated. In particular, after the Saffron Revolution and the beginning of Ann San Suu Kyi’s government, the ethnic tension, which was masked to be considered as a nondemocratic problem, was disclosed and became significant. The historical cause rooted in the British colonization and Japanese invasion led to knotty situation in Rohingya crisis.

To respond to the Rohingya crisis, a long time silence since August, Ann San Suu Kyi gave a speech on September 19 2017, which confronted criticism from the international community, and on the other hand, satisfied Myanmar’s mainstream society. The international community blamed her for the Rohingya crisis, while they intentionally or unintentionally avoided the fact that Ann San Suu Kyi doesn’t have the capacity to alter the situation.

Although Ann San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won the 2015 Myanmar election by winning 86 percent seats in the Assembly of the Union, the military influence in society was significant and was impossible to change in the short term. After more than sixty-years of control, Myanmar’s army is still the country’s biggest institution, and the army holds 25 percent of the seats in Parliament. The military also controls two extremely important Myanmar companies: Myanmar Economic Corporation and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, which cover broad range of commercial fields and are linked to considerable stakeholders within the army. The impact of military on economics weakens the power of Ann San Suu Kyi and her government. It is unlikely that Ann San Suu Kyi has the ability to shift the crucial situation, if we consider all the military factors.

Another factor contributing to the Rohingya crisis is the nationalism in Myanmar. Although Muslims are a minority, it is not an excuse for the Buddhist majority to commit ethnic genocide in the country. Clearly, the national identity, which became the most important issue after the Saffron Revolution, is the fuse of this crisis. The nationalism, which is generated from national identity crisis, has been “institutionalized”. For instance, the Patriotic Association of Myanmar (also Ma Ba Tha), the Buddhist organisation, was established in 2014, which was involved in 969 nationalist movements. A large number of reports have disclosed different attacks or incidents related to nationalism. These demonstrate that national sentiment has spread across different social groups and social classes. Considering the strong pressure from the bottom of society, Ann San Suu Kyi faces the dilemma that, if she sides with the international community, she will possibly lose her support and stimulate more anger among Buddhists, while the current Rohingya crisis clearly indicates that she doesn’t have the capacity to solve this problem in the short term.

Seeing that Ann San Suu Kyi confronts the stress from both military and Buddhist society, she can’t act as a humanitarian icon to criticize the crisis freely. The news, mainly in the Western media, asserts that Ann San Suu Kyi is not a humanitarian icon, but a brutal politician. But does Ann San Suu Kyi want to label herself as an icon? And is human rights a pure ideal or political ideal? The answers to both questions are clearly no. Also, human rights is closely tied with politics. Before the Saffron Revolution, Western media put Ann San Suu Kyi on a pedestal and neglected the fact that the situation behind the political regime was actually messy. After the Saffron Revolution, during the Rohingya crisis, Western media asked to be impose sanctions and to replace Myanmar’s leader. It is clear that her inability to change the Rohingya crisis is a blow for the Muslim minorities, but we should also consider that the idea of “pure justice” is brutal, for it is a slogan used by the media and may not function well in society. The international community should stop their meaningless criticism, but provide real assistance. Especially the UK and Japan should offer appropriate help to Ann San Suu Kyi and her government, in order to make amends for their terrible past mistake. China and other Southeast Asian countries should also collaborate to provide assistance to make Asia a more stable region.

The Rohingya crisis is brutal, and extremely tricky to solve. The international community should remain calm and inquisitive, rather than yelling for “justice” we should understand that ideal is ideal, and human rights problems are tricky to solve. As part of the international community, we must be careful in analyzing and coming forth with a remedy for human rights issues.