Aung San Suu Kyi was never the Heroine of Human Rights Community

July 21, 2018

Aung San Suu Kyi was never the Heroine of Human Rights Community

by Napat Rungsrithananaon

Image result for aung san suu kyi from human rights activist to a racist

Talk is cheap; Action demands Courage and Compassion, Madam

Before coming to power in a landslide victory for her party, the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi was widely perceived as the embodiment of hope, a brave symbol of defiance against the Myanmar military dictatorship and a heroine of the human rights community.  It is a perception that has sadly collapsed, having foundered on the treatment of the country’s Muslim Rohingya population, who make up just 4 percent of the country’s 53 million population.

This week, Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hliang have convened a five-day conference in Naypyidaw, the country’s administrative capital, meeting with representatives of the country’s long-oppressed ethnic minorities in an effort to reach a lasting peace. The off-delayed 21st Century Panglong Conference is given little prospect of success by analysts. But for the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, the chances for success are even less.

Related image

Aung San Suu Kyi, look yourself in the mirror, instead of pointing fingers at genocide victims

Among the Oxford-educated Suu Kyi’s many honors is the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in 1991 for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, having spent 15 of her 21 years in the country under house arrest. In her 2012 acceptance speech more than 20 years after being awarded the prize, Suu Kyi reaffirmed her values. She spoke about creating “a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless” and “a world of which each and every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.”

That same year, however, saw an outbreak of communal violence in Myanmar that resulted in the displacement of more than 100,000 Rohingya people who were forced into makeshift refugee camps. At least 200 people were killed in clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine state, a territory of 3.1 million people on Myanmar’s west coast.

Although Muslims have been in Myanmar since at least the 9th century, their numbers increased markedly during British imperial rule. Nonetheless, the majority Buddhists, who make up 90 percent of the country’s population regard them as interlopers.  The violent blow-up generated by ethnic differences has largely discredited the country’s heralded transition to democracy, which began in 2010.

As the leader of the opposition at the time, Suu Kyi at first deflected the blame and responsibility to the government, claiming that the crisis was “the result of our sufferings under a dictatorial regime” which in turn created a “climate of mistrust.” Once in power as State Councillor, the equivalent of Prime Minister, she pledged to “abide by our commitment to human rights and democratic values.”

Fast forward six years, the crisis shows no sign of abating. In fact, it escalated further when government troops launched a massive security operation in response to coordinated attacks in October 2106 by the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, resulting in the deaths of nine police.  A second attack occurred in August 2017, with more than 30 onslaughts against police posts in northern Rakhine state.

Since the onset of the crisis, outside observers have continued to document numerous mass atrocities including widespread killings, torture and rape committed by Myanmar’s army and other state security forces. As widely reported, more than 717,000 people have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017. Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the UN Human rights chief, has called the security operation in Myanmar “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Having joined the government, Suu Kyi could no longer deflect the blame and responsibility. Unfortunately, her response has not been any more commendable. She has repeatedly failed to speak out against the violence inflicted on the Rohingya or address the allegation of ethnic cleansing, insisting that the crisis was instigated by “terrorists” and distorted by a “huge iceberg of misinformation” – something her government has bizarrely continued to maintain by obstructing independent investigations into the crisis.

Barring the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar from entering the country, the government has offered a further indication that whatever is being concealed in the Rakhine state must be something terrible.

Suu Kyi’s refusal to condemn the violence or attempt to lead her government away from it has made her the target of worldwide criticism as her country’s military wages its campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Image result for aung san suu kyi from human rights activist to a racist

Her defenders argue that while she makes the majority of important decisions, the military retains control of three crucial ministries – home affairs, defense and border affairs – and is hence the real power in northern Rakhine state and along the border with Bangladesh. There is therefore an argument that Suu Kyi is in fact powerless – that she is not in charge of decisions capable of alleviating the suffering of Rohingya or that she cannot do so without risking the stability of the whole country. While that argument is popular among her supporters, it doesn’t explain her failure to at least speak up for the Rohingya.

But it is more likely that the world got Suu Kyi wrong from the beginning, that she was never really truly a political saint. Western leaders have a tendency to champion individuals – often activists who have made high-profile heroic sacrifices – as one-stop solutions to the problems of dictatorship or shaky new democracy. Then, in their zeal to find simple solutions to complex situations, they overlook their champions’ flaws, fail to see the fundamental challenges of being in power and assume that countries are the products of their leaders – when it is almost always the other way around.

Looking back, there were early signs that Suu Kyi might not after all be a determinedly unquestioned champion of human rights. In a 2013 interview with the BBC, for instance, she refused to acknowledge the rising violence directed at the Rohingya and pointed out that Buddhists had also been displaced from their homes and similarly subject to violence.

Image result for the plight of the rohingya

Then she went on to claim that Myanmar as a whole – as do many other parts of the world – live in fear of “global Muslim power.” Instead of raising eyebrows, this Islamophobic remark went largely unnoticed, with Western leaders continuing to embrace her advancement.

Leaving aside her more recent effort to consolidate and centralize her authority – she also serves as foreign minister and the chair of various committees – it should still be reasonably clear that the world might have really got her wrong from the beginning. A champion of human rights and democracy could not have possibly made such an Islamophobic remark.

Andrew Selth, a professor at the Griffith Asia Institute, sums up the issue very neatly when he writes: “If Suu Kyi had so far to fall, it is because the international community raised her so high.”

Napat Rungsrithananaon is an intern at Free the Slaves. 

17 thoughts on “Aung San Suu Kyi was never the Heroine of Human Rights Community

  1. the issue is once put in the frontline facing muslims it is highly probable a losing battle ahead because practically the hardliners take it upon themselves to stand for the flock and everyone else will be labelled kafirs. success maybe difficult but not impossible otherwise.

  2. Pingback: Aung San Suu Kyi was never the Heroine of Human Rights Community — Din Merican: the Malaysian DJ Blogger – elunarcom

  3. Speaking in an interview with CNN in October 2013, Aung San Suu Kyi rejected suggestions that she has been forced to transition from human rights activist to politician:

    “I’m always surprised when people speak as if I’ve just become a politician. I’ve been a politician all along. I started in politics not as a human rights defender or a humanitarian worker, but as the leader of a political party. And if that’s not a politician then I don’t know what is.”

  4. Myanmar has such a divergent society that it is hard to find a solution that fit all. The world is asking the Myanmarese to handle the Rohingya, Shan, Kachin and other problems with minorities with kids glove. Is the world not aware that there is a group of murderous separatist out there the Government. I hope the world can focus on the genocidal acts of the Saudis and American in Yemen.

    • This here gringo is mesmerized by “the evil that man do”. Please look at the refugee problem in Europe which is spawning ultra right governments in Europe. Breexit results from the fear of being swamped.

    • Exactly, Lim. The Yemeni people have been facing genocidal bombings for months on end, while the West continues to sell deadly weapons to the Saudi perpetrators. Moreover, this is just a continuation of the nation killing activities that started with the total destruction of Iraq, the dismembering of Libya, the foreign-supported attacks against Syria, and renewed threats against Iran. The vast majority of such genocidal actions in the Middle East were committed by those who’re now shedding crocodile tears about human rights in Myanmar. Minorities in Southeast Asia, especially the Chinese community in Indonesia, understand full well who were behind the Gestapu atrocities, who sold the weapons that resulted in the massive killings in East Timor, etc. ASEAN governments therefore must be wise enough to solve internal problems before foreign powers, from any part of the world, dip their dirty hands in our affairs and used us against our own interests. Regrettably we have enough people under all guises to do the bidding of their foreign masters. Suu Kyi was given a Nobel Prize not because she was for human rights, but because some foreign quarters thought she could be used.

      There is a need for ASEAN to get together to help solve matters such as the Rohingya crisis without external interferences. Inviting East Timor to be part of ASEAN is also important to safeguard her resources from some nation down South. ASEAN nations should also pool together their resources and synchronise better their economic development.

  5. Reading the story of the stateless young soccer boy rescued from Thailand cave made me realize how fortunate I am. He is a stateless child from Myanmar, a Chinese descent, a Christian. Path for him to be a Thai or citizen of any any nation is not certain. His story and my story, is it that different? Yet, I always have a passport. The American one, I earned it (at least, that is how America classifies my naturalization process) The one in Malaysia, I gave up in darker days so that I could be more honest in my personal quest for being a second caste in Malaysia.
    Zakir Naik got a citizenship for being Muslim in India. Yet, how many Rohingya could ever dream of getting a passport from Malaysia. I do bersyukur. As such, I spend this little time to urge those fortunate enough to never have to wonder their nativist right in Malaysia too to bersyukur a little bit more. I gathered our main opposition party leader has parents who came from Indonesia. Hopefully, he would fight for the Rohingya. The same applies to our Tun Dr who has Indian heritage also. Us vs Them? Poor weak Melayu who is torned between big geopolitical fight of “Us vs Them”. Shh.. tell you a secret, you could never be “them” in this big geopolitical existential fight. You are always “us” if you stop identifying the “them” in your country.

  6. Lately, the Nobel Peace Prize has been as good an indicator of the moral moorings of recipients as the best commentaries. Just look at the list to see what I mean…The Lady fits in well…

  7. Zakir Naik did not get citizenship for being Muslim in India. He is an Indian citizen by birth. Rohingyas, on the other hand, are interlopers and they cannot demand citizenship as a matter of right. It is up to the Malaysian Government to give or not and if so to how many? International community cannot pressure Malaysia to take in all of them. It is a blot and shame on Muslim countries that thousands of their own people want to settle in the West given half a chance.

    Male chauvinism and the application and practice of fundamental Islam may be the major causes for some of the Muslims to want to uproot themselves elsewhere.

    Remove death penalty for those leaving Islam to give them the choice and freedom. Other faiths by and large care a damn if their followers leave the fold. How can a caged bird see the beauty of the outside world?

    • //Zakir Naik got a citizenship for being Muslim in India.
      @Hawking.eye: I made the above reference as I gathered that Tun Dr suggested in an brief interview that giving Zakir Naik a Malaysian citizenship is in light of possible difficulties of a Muslim growing up in a predominantly different culture, especially in reference to the Uyghurs’ experience.

  8. Does the writer know the real power in Myanmar? Who banned Su Kyi from Presidency which she earned from the votes? Does he know the name General Min Aung Hlaing?

    • The world fails to understand that the politics of Myanmar is centered on the Myanmarese Nationalists whichever affiliation they may belong. The rest are separatists.

    • @jack with a name like Napat Rungsrithananon, you will think he doesn’t know? this is how he describes himself.

      View at

      Napat Rungsrithananon is an intern at Free the Slaves, a US-based NGO devoted to building a world without slaves.

      Previously, Napat worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company before moving on to a Singapore-headquartered boutique consulting firm. With his research and analytical skills, he is fully committed to working for the human rights, justice and equality causes, and Human Rights 101 is intended to be that starting point.

    • Napat or no Napat, Human Right is still not in our agenda until the Government exorcise the ghost of Wng Kelian.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.