Awkward moments at ASEAN Summit in Singapore


November 17, 2018

Awkward moments at ASEAN Summit in Singapore

by mergawati zulfakar

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for asean summit 2018

IT is an ASEAN homecoming for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the summit hosted by Singapore. The last time he attended an ASEAN Summit was in Bali 15 years ago where then Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri gave a tearful farewell speech.

This week at the 33rd ASEAN summit, all eyes will be on the Prime Minister again as he sits down next to another female leader who he has been critical of in recent weeks.

Image result for aung san suu kyi and mahathir in singapore

And because of ASEAN’s way of doing things, the seating arrangement will be done in alphabetical order – which means Dr Mahathir will be seated next to Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

In his Address at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September, Dr Mahathir blamed Myanmar authorities, including a Nobel Peace Laureate, for closing their eyes to the fate of Muslims in Rakhine state who were being murdered and forced to flee their homes.

 

In an interview conducted the same week in New York, the Prime Minister made it clear that Malaysia would no longer lend its support to Suu Kyi over her handling of the Rohingya. He remarked that Suu Kyi seemed to be a “changed person” and he had lost faith in her.

For years, it was taboo for ASEAN leaders to even mention the word “Rohingya” during their meeting, skirting the issue by using words like Muslims and Rakhine state, bearing in mind ASEAN’s non-interference in the domestic affairs of another country.

But the situation became worse, and it is understood that Malaysia started raising the matter during the leaders’ retreat as recent as three years ago.

“The leaders’ retreat is where they can raise any issue but it will be unrecorded. But when we saw no serious efforts from Myanmar, Malaysia started using ‘Rohingya’ at official meetings,” said an official familiar with the issue.

“Obviously, Myanmar didn’t like it. It was an affront to them. We all know this is beyond the red line for them but we did it,” he added.

And Suu Kyi, who has been attending these summits, showed her displeasure. “You could tell from the body language and all that. She did not like it,” said an official.

At the ASEAN summit, the 10 leaders would normally pose for a group photo holding hands and giving their best smiles to the international media.Even former Prime MInister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak felt uncomfortable, telling his officers it was awkward.

So how would Suu Kyi handle someone who has lost faith in her? Would she care enough to find time and explain to a leader who once fought hard for Myanmar to be a part of ASEAN despite the world condemnation against the military regime that curtailed her freedom?

As for Dr Mahathir, the rest of ASEAN must be looking to him, wondering what he would do next.

“What else is Malaysia doing after such strident statements by the Prime Minister?No ASEAN country in recent times has singled out the leader of a fellow AASEANean country especially on the United Nations platform,” said an official.

When Dr Mahathir says he no longer supports Suu Kyi, what does he mean exactly? Suu Kyi is a legitimate leader who is still popular among her people.

“What is it that you want to do when you make that statement? What message are you sending? “How do you translate it through Malaysia’s foreign policy,” asked an observer.

“Malaysia must realise there could be some repercussion over such remarks. It may affect not only relations with Myanmar but also other ASEAN countries because “we are like a family”.

Whatever the Prime Minister utters is officially national position. Which means officials will have to rationalise it and implement it in the best way that will protect and promote Malaysia’s interests, not only in its relations to the country concerned but also ASEAN and globally.

For Malaysia to play a constructive role, it is important to protect and maintain some level of goodwill and trust. Putting it simply, it is vital to maintain good relations and keep the communication lines open”.–Mergawati Zulfakar

An official admitted that any statement deemed critical of leaders of another country could diminish any measure of trust that remains between Malaysia and Myanmar.

“In ASEAN or even Asia as a whole, face saving is very important. You do not humiliate, you don’t admonish if you want to maintain relations and some form of trust,” the official said.

Going tough on the Rohingya issue started in Najib’s time. Is Dr Mahathir’s speech at UNGA an indication that the current Government is not compromising and will take an even tougher stance on this issue?

Whatever the Prime Minister utters is officially national position. Which means officials will have to rationalise it and implement it in the best way that will protect and promote Malaysia’s interests, not only in its relations to the country concerned but also ASEAN and globally.

For Malaysia to play a constructive role, it is important to protect and maintain some level of goodwill and trust. Putting it simply, it is vital to maintain good relations and keep the communication lines open.

Mergawati Zulfakar –merga@thestar.com.my

What’s new in Dr.Mahathir’s UNGA 2018 Speech?


September 30, 2018

What’s new in Dr.Mahathir’s UNGA 2018 Speech?

Opinion  |  Azly Rahman
Image result for Dr. Mahathir

COMMENT | Sharp as he was and is, Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad rattled off his speech to the international community at 11.40am EST in a shaky voice, befitting a 93-year-old man’s cranking of the vocal cords.

He spoke with a slight Kedah Malay twang, at times swallowing his words and mispronouncing a few. Perhaps the long trip to New York, jet lag, and age itself contributed to an unsmooth and forceless start. Behind the light golden frame of his glasses, his eyes look puffed, and heavy with bags. He looked tired and groggy. But he was making his comeback, and the global community to know it.

Five minutes into the speech, he went right into trumpeting the idea of a ‘new Malaysia’, a slogan more and more now picked up by many Malaysians in their emails and WhatsApp messages – replacing the old “Salam 1Malaysia” which recalls 1MDB, now synonymous with the mysterious and puzzling grand theft of the nation’s coffers, the people’s savings, by Malaysia’s crime ministers and their merry band of more than thieves, including those in turbans and green robes.

So, the grand old man – a veritable GOP of one, or the Vito Corleone of Malaysian politics – spoke at length about the new regime’s commitment to ensuring the country’s equitable share of the nation’s wealth.

“My last speech here was in 2003, and fifteen years later, the world has not changed much. In fact, it is worse now,” he lamented.

 

Against the jade-green UN General Assembly wall, he spoke of Malaysia’s foreign policy of “prosper thy neighbour.” He spoke with a heightened tone of how in May he overthrew race and religious bigotry to destroy the dominant 60-old party he led for 22-years, at a time when there was still no term limit. A time of consolidation of power, inspired by what Niccolò Machiavelli taught to the prince.

Seize power, consolidate power, and disperse it as hegemony, That is the lesson on the deep state of things. Love thy self, know thy enemies, one hundred battles, one hundred victories.

The New Malaysia is faced with the global issues of the effects of the US-China trade war, an attack to the institution of marriage, and the war on terrorism, he complained to the assembly.

But it was, in general, a good speech. Vintage Mahathir. Anti-imperialist, anti-hegemony, anti-oppression, and anti-US, primarily. I did not expect anything different in content, delivery and tonality from the Prime Minister.

He sounded as defiant as David throwing stones at Goliath or Hang Nadim warding off the swordfish with just a keris, as he did during the time of Fidel Castro, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Perez, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Robert Mugabe – his peers in the general assembly, not all of whom lasted as long as he has.

This defiance is how Malaysia’s foreign policy was crafted and communicated to a world that continues to prioritise bombs over bread.

Image result for Dr. Mahathir

Dr. Mahathir had a message for Myanmar’s Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi  

I used to like it when Mahathir spoke to the world. He, for lack of a better cliché, called a spade a spade. I just didn’t like what he did to the country in his 22 years of ‘solopreneurial’-political rule. While calling for world justice, he did several degrees of harm to the country’s economic, political, and educational culture, and ensured that almost all power is concentrated in the executive.

But at the UN General Assembly this year, Mahathir had nothing new to say: strive for peace in a world defined by, to use Willy Brandt’s term, “arms and hunger.”

I did, however, like Mahathir’s mention of the military-industrial complex, of the world arming itself, and the proliferation of conflicts in a paradigm governed by the all-too-familiar maxim “in order to have world peace, nations must prepare for war.”

 

It is a Bismarckian world the current president of the US would uphold, what with the “principled realism” undergirding the country’s foreign policy – a realism based on the might of the right, and the Pentagonian power of war-loving corporate America of defence contractors, bomb makers, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, DuPont, and Raytheon; builders of warmongering tools of peace; speakers of the language of the war system, realpolitik and gunboat diplomacy.

Thank you, Mahathir, for pointing that out.

As the Malaysian ‘comeback kid’ left the podium, teleprompter and all, I did not feel anything except a sense of academic nostalgia – of ploughing through hundreds of pages of his speeches of the 1980s, as he spoke of world peace.

Same tone same message, perhaps taken from old files, but whose contents still work fine. Because the world is still the same. Sane and insane. Whether in the global arena, or at home, in Mahathir’s Malaysia.


AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Bahru, and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in five areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, and creative writing.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Burden: The Plight of The Rohingyas


September 18, 2018

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Burden: The Plight of The Rohingyas                           

by Bunn Nagara

Image result for aung san suu kyi

The problem with tracing the origins of Myanmar’s current massacres of its Rohingya people is that the starting point goes back many years.

Myanmar’s campaign of genocide has been consistent albeit punctuated by peaks and troughs, with violent discrimination against Muslim Burmese people in Arakan (later renamed Rakhine) state dating to at least 1930. It is easy to forget that until 1982 Rohingyas were still accorded Burmese citizenship, but their treatment by the military government and the general public soon deteriorated sharply. For many observers, the “current round” of mass killings and rapes of Rohingya villagers with looting and burning of their homes began in August last year. There have been many horrendous rounds, with each merging into the next.

More limited and stilted have been international campaigns against Myanmar’s government for allowing, aiding, abetting and participating in the crimes. Even so, the current international campaign reaches back to at least December 2016 when fourteen Nobel laureates including 12 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, with other public figures, urged the UN Security Council to halt the humanitarian crisis confronting the Rohingyas.

Image result for the plight of the rohingya

International opinion has grown steadily against Myanmar State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi, a once-respected leader in her people’s struggle for democracy. In the 2015 election campaign she boasted that she would be “more powerful than the President,” even though the army-friendly Constitution barred her from running for the presidency. She won the election but has since been less powerful than a presidential poodle. Worse, she has served to deny all the atrocities committed by state forces and reported by credible international monitors, instead condemning Myanmar’s accusers for spreading false news.

Questions about possibly recalling her Nobel Peace Prize arose, then faded away. If the Nobel Committee knew as much about her in 1991 when they presented it as they do now, she might never have received it.

Other awards she received as figurehead of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy have been withdrawn. Oxford University and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum have revoked the prestigious honours they had bestowed on her earlier.

In 2015 the US Holocaust Memorial Museum sent a fact-finding team to Myanmar to observe conditions of the Rohingya community on the ground. They came away horrified that the conditions for genocide were already in place.

Image result for the plight of the rohingya

More critical voices from concerned distinguished persons were heard from around the world. The Dalai Lama reproached Myanmar’s mostly “Buddhist” mass murderers, saying that Buddha himself would have helped the Rohingyas.

The spotlight remained on Suu Kyi as the country’s (nominal) leader. Last year Yanghee Lee, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, called on Suu Kyi to issue a statement but she remained silent.

Increasingly, Suu Kyi’s stubbornness has made her criticise the critics of Myanmar’s genocide while denying any crimes had taken place. This month, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Suu Kyi should have resigned if she could do or say nothing against the military’s crimes against humanity.

The UN Security Council visited Myanmar in March, with plans for a fact-finding mission to investigate the situation. Myanmar banned the mission, which then had to interview hundreds of Rohingya refugees fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The report of the mission names six senior military officers who should be put on trial at the International Criminal Court. It also blames Suu Kyi for doing nothing to stop the mass atrocities.

In turning things around by inverting the truth, Myanmar’s government rejected the report outright. Instead it blames those responsible for producing what amounted to a pack of lies.

Image result for the plight of the rohingya

Myanmar officials should know about telling lies. The army’s public relations unit called True News produced a book with photos allegedly showing Rohingyas attacking other locals. Reuters examined the photos and found that they came from somewhere else – Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war, when Pakistani troops attacked Bangladeshis.

Government and military spokesmen could not be reached for comment. An Information Ministry official declined comment by saying that he had not seen the book, which is on sale publicly.

After the international community had pressured Myanmar to take back the hundreds of thousands of refugees it had expelled, it announced the return of a family of five Rohingyas from Bangladesh in April.

Bangladesh immediately denied that had happened. An independent refugee expert agreed with Bangladesh, saying that Myanmar’s claim of repatriation was yet another publicity stunt.

Meanwhile Myanmar’s verification process for Rohingya returnees remains obstructive. Among the requirements is that the Rohingyas must renounce their claim to ever being a citizen of Myanmar, placing them officially as illegal migrants liable for deportation. Rohingyas want to return home to rebuild, so long as they can enjoy basic human rights and freedom from persecution. Myanmar only has to agree to this.

It is difficult to see how Myanmar can agree to anything decent given all that has happened and continues to happen. Rohingya men, women and children have been slaughtered or otherwise terrorised and their homes razed in driving them from their land.

Image result for the plight of the rohingya

There may be valuable minerals in the ground in Rakhine state, and politicians, business people and the military may exploit them better if the population was cleared or reduced. Hence, “ethnic cleansing.”

The Myanmar military or Tatmadaw has fought internal wars with dozens of ethnic minority groups, some of which have become defunct or which have been engaged in talks with the government.

At least nine militant ethnic groups remain. Yet the Rohingyas are not among them, since they are not even recognised as an ethnic minority. Rohingyas are the most persecuted of all the minority communities also because they have fought back the least. The Tatmadaw’s bullying style is to target the weakest the most.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) has conducted some sporadic operations against the army, but nothing like the other ethnic minority armies. The Tatmadaw then exploits Arsa’s resistance efforts as a pretext to persecute Rohingyas further.

Even as Suu Kyi joins her generals as international pariahs, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull feted her in Sydney in March. Within 23 weeks Turnbull was removed as Prime Minister, and in another week he had left Parliament altogether. Would Suu Kyi go down a similar road?

It is no longer a secret that the real power in Myanmar still lies with the military. Suu Kyi may be afraid that if she did anything decent about the Rohingyas she may be out of a job.

She is known to have said: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it”. Has she been corrupted by power? She may say no, if only because she never had it. Then she should have no fear of losing what she never had.

She has also said: “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.” The Myanmar military has allowed her outside her house for some time now. But will she allow herself to enjoy real freedom?

She may have no power over the Tatmadaw, but she has power over her own actions. Rohingyas hope their leader will let them enjoy freedom too.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at ISIS Malaysia.
http://www.thestar.com.

ASEAN: Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rohinnya Genocide


September 8, 2018

ASEAN: Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi and  the Rohinnya Genocide

by Bunn Nagara

http://www.thestar.com.my

THE problem with tracing the origins of Myanmar’s current massacres of its Rohingya people is that the starting point goes back many years.

Image result for aung san suu kyi quotes

Myanmar’s campaign of genocide has been consistent albeit punctuated by peaks and troughs, with violent discrimination against Muslim Burmese people in Arakan (later renamed Rakhine) state dating to at least 1930. It is easy to forget that until 1982 Rohingyas were still accorded Burmese citizenship, but their treatment by the military government and the general public soon deteriorated sharply. For many observers, the “current round” of mass killings and rapes of Rohingya villagers with looting and burning of their homes began in August last year. There have been many horrendous rounds, with each merging into the next.

More limited and stilted have been international campaigns against Myanmar’s government for allowing, aiding, abetting and participating in the crimes. Even so, the current international campaign reaches back to at least December 2016 when fourteen Nobel laureates including 12 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, with other public figures, urged the UN Security Council to halt the humanitarian crisis confronting the Rohingyas.

Related image

International opinion has grown steadily against Myanmar State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi, a once-respected leader in her people’s struggle for democracy. In the 2015 election campaign she boasted that she would be “more powerful than the President,” even though the army-friendly Constitution barred her from running for the presidency. She won the election but has since been less powerful than a presidential poodle. Worse, she has served to deny all the atrocities committed by state forces and reported by credible international monitors, instead condemning Myanmar’s accusers for spreading false news.

Questions about possibly recalling her Nobel Peace Prize arose, then faded away. If the Nobel Committee knew as much about her in 1991 when they presented it as they do now, she might never have received it.

Other awards she received as figurehead of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy have been withdrawn. Oxford University and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum have revoked the prestigious honours they had bestowed on her earlier. In 2015 the US Holocaust Memorial Museum sent a fact-finding team to Myanmar to observe conditions of the Rohingya community on the ground. They came away horrified that the conditions for genocide were already in place.

Image result for the rohingya genocide and The Dalai Lama

More critical voices from concerned distinguished persons were heard from around the world. The Dalai Lama reproached Myanmar’s mostly “Buddhist” mass murderers, saying that Buddha himself would have helped the Rohingyas.

The spotlight remained on Suu Kyi as the country’s (nominal) leader. Last year Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights, called on Suu Kyi to issue a statement but she remained silent.

Increasingly, Suu Kyi’s stubbornness has made her criticise the critics of Myanmar’s genocide while denying any crimes had taken place. This month, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Suu Kyi should have resigned if she could do or say nothing against the military’s crimes against humanity.

The UN Security Council visited Myanmar in March, with plans for a fact-finding mission to investigate the situation. Myanmar banned the mission, which then had to interview hundreds of Rohingya refugees fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh.

The report of the mission names six senior military officers who should be put on trial at the International Criminal Court. It also blames Suu Kyi for doing nothing to stop the mass atrocities.

In turning things around by inverting the truth, Myanmar’s government rejected the report outright. Instead it blames those responsible for producing what amounted to a pack of lies.

Myanmar officials should know about telling lies. The army’s public relations unit called True News produced a book with photos allegedly showing Rohingyas attacking other locals. Reuters examined the photos and found that they came from somewhere else – Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war, when Pakistani troops attacked Bangladeshis.

Government and military spokesmen could not be reached for comment. An Information Ministry official declined comment by saying that he had not seen the book, which is on sale publicly.

After the international community had pressured Myanmar to take back the hundreds of thousands of refugees it had expelled, it announced the return of a family of five Rohingyas from Bangladesh in April.

Bangladesh immediately denied that had happened. An independent refugee expert agreed with Bangladesh, saying that Myanmar’s claim of repatriation was yet another publicity stunt.

Meanwhile Myanmar’s verification process for Rohingya returnees remains obstructive. Among the requirements is that the Rohingyas must renounce their claim to ever being a citizen of Myanmar, placing them officially as illegal migrants liable for deportation. Rohingyas want to return home to rebuild, so long as they can enjoy basic human rights and freedom from persecution. Myanmar only has to agree to this.

It is difficult to see how Myanmar can agree to anything decent given all that has happened and continues to happen. Rohingya men, women and children have been slaughtered or otherwise terrorised and their homes razed in driving them from their land.

There may be valuable minerals in the ground in Rakhine state, and politicians, business people and the military may exploit them better if the population was cleared or reduced. Hence, “ethnic cleansing.”

The Myanmar military or Tatmadaw has fought internal wars with dozens of ethnic minority groups, some of which have become defunct or which have been engaged in talks with the government.

At least nine militant ethnic groups remain. Yet the Rohingyas are not among them, since they are not even recognised as an ethnic minority. Rohingyas are the most persecuted of all the minority communities also because they have fought back the least. The Tatmadaw’s bullying style is to target the weakest the most.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) has conducted some sporadic operations against the army, but nothing like the other ethnic minority armies. The Tatmadaw then exploits Arsa’s resistance efforts as a pretext to persecute Rohingyas further.

Even as Suu Kyi joins her generals as international pariahs, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull feted her in Sydney in March. Within 23 weeks Turnbull was removed as Prime Minister, and in another week he had left Parliament altogether. Would Suu Kyi go down a similar road?

It is no longer a secret that the real power in Myanmar still lies with the military. Suu Kyi may be afraid that if she did anything decent about the Rohingyas she may be out of a job.

She is known to have said: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it”. Has she been corrupted by power? She may say no, if only because she never had it. Then she should have no fear of losing what she never had.

She has also said: “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”The Myanmar military has allowed her outside her house for some time now. But will she allow herself to enjoy real freedom? She may have no power over the Tatmadaw, but she has power over her own actions. Rohingyas hope their leader will let them enjoy freedom too.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at ISIS Malaysia.

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

http://www.asiasentinel.com

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.