It’s always sad when personal heroes do questionable things. I grew up admiring Aung San Suu Kyi, current State Counsellor of Myanmar. A notable opposition figure against an oppressive military regime, Suu Kyi became Secretary General of a pro-democracy party. Suu Kyi was inspired by the nonviolent tactics of Gandhi as well as her Buddhist beliefs and remained fiercely dedicated to her country.
After the uprising was quashed by a junta, Suu Kyi was put under house arrest and although given the option of leaving the country where she could live in freedom, she spent nearly 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010 where she furthered her Buddhist thought and spent hours meditating. For her nonviolent resistance, she was awarded the Sakharov Prize in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
I’ve been a big fan of Suu Kyi, she represents a lot of what I believe in. Peaceful resistance while actively, ardently fighting against an unjust and oppressive military regime takes immense strength of character. Spending decades bearing the burden of being a resistance icon targeted by the establishment with grace and poise is something that really had an impact on me.
Unfortunately, Suu Kyi is only human and current events in Myanmar have soured my impression of her. The Rohingya people are a historically oppressed minority in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and racial tensions have come to a breaking point after several instances of violence on both sides.
After riots in 2010, a state of emergency was declared in the Rakhine state and the military moved in to ostensibly keep the peace. Under the military, the Rohingya have suffered more and have been subject to what has been described as ethnic cleansing.
The military’s administration of Rakhine has seen the Rohingya subjected to extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, brutalities and looting. Helicopter gunships have even been used to kill Rohingya. Hundreds have been killed and more are fleeing the country. Reports are few however, as the Myanmar government refuses to let media or human rights groups into Rakhine.
The Rohingya were victims of the same brutal regime Suu Kyi fought against, but Suu Kyi does not support them in the least. When interviewed by the BBC, she went so far as to refuse to condemn the violence the Rohingya people have to endure. She denied the charges of ethnic cleansing and her position was described as purposeful ambiguity for political gain.
In May of 2015, the Dalai Lama publicly urged her to support the Rohingya people and saying that in two earlier private conversations, Suu Kyi was resistant. Suu Kyi even asked the US ambassador to Myanmar to not even use the word Rohingya.
These actions have made a big impact on how I think of Suu Kyi. It’s inexcusable to essentially legitimize this genocide, to brush it off like it isn’t a big deal. Suu Kyi knows exactly what it’s like to be oppressed by the military yet does nothing to help the Rohingya. In response to criticism, she replied “Show me a country without human rights issues.”
I was completely taken aback. A Nobel Peace Prize winner treating the persecution of the Rohingya like it wasn’t a big deal was shocking.
The Rohingya people need to be helped. There’s a refugee crisis in the area with thousands boarding boats and heading to countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. The United Nations has condemned the situation and still the Myanmar government does nothing.
The common theory is that Suu Kyi’s refusal to speak on the matter is due to the fact that it’s an election season and the majority of the country’s population does not support the Rohingya. By supporting to Rohingya, Suu Kyi would be committing political suicide.
When political pressures force otherwise honorable people to fail at basic human decency, it’s time for those politicians to take a look at who they have become.