ICAN founded by Malaysia’s Dr. Ronald McCoy wins Nobel Peace Prize 2017


October 26, 2017

ICAN founded by Dr. Ronald McCoy wins Nobel Peace Prize 2017

http://www.straitstimes.com

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Dr Ronald McCoy founded ICAN a decade ago

Dr Ronald McCoy founded the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) 10 years ago. On October 6, Ican won the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

But there was.

Decades later, Dr McCoy heard of and joined IPPNW, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Years of campaigning to eradicate nuclear weapons led the retired obstetrician to found the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) 10 years ago.

On October 6, Ican won the Nobel Peace Prize, after the United Nations announced in July that 122 countries had signed on to adopt a total ban on nuclear weapons.

The first UN treaty of its kind, it is legally binding and comes into effect once 50 nations ratify it. Absent from the negotiations were the nine nuclear-armed states and their allies, while Netherlands voted against it and Singapore abstained.

 “A lot of people in the world don’t understand what are the consequences of a nuclear war,” Dr McCoy said in an interview at his home in Petaling Jaya.

NOT AN INSURMOUNTABLE TASK

A lot of people in the world don’t understand what are the consequences of a nuclear war. There is the feeling that no matter what they do, nuclear weapons won’t be disarmed. But if there is a human problem, surely there is a human solution.

DR RONALD MCCOY, who founded the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or Ican.

“There is the feeling that no matter what they do, nuclear weapons won’t be disarmed. But if there is a human problem, surely there is a human solution.”

The founding of Ican, Dr McCoy said, stemmed from the 2005 failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to produce any agreed action plan.

“It felt like barking up the wrong tree… So I said, ‘Let’s take nuclear disarmament out of the NPT process, which was not working, and let’s form an international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons’. That is how we got Ican.”

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A sprightly 87-year-old, Dr McCoy has had an illustrious career delivering more than 20,000 babies during his 40 years working as a doctor in Malaysia.

Watching over soon-to-be mothers and their babies, Dr McCoy could not shake off the feeling of responsibility for children growing up in a world with nuclear weapons.

“This baby now lives in a world bristling with nuclear weapons and the threat of a nuclear war… To me, I have an extended responsibility to do something about that,” he said.

He added: “As doctors, we cannot do anything in a nuclear war… Nuclear disarmament is a kind of preventive medicine.”

Dr McCoy said that the countries possessing nuclear weapons cannot use the excuse of deterrence to justify having such destructive arms.

“You can’t forever rely on deterrence without an accident occurring one day,” he said.

The road to eradication of nuclear weapons, Dr McCoy believes, has to come from the country with the most nuclear arms – the United States.

“If the US gives these up, other nuclear states would give up their nuclear weapons. The change has to come from the US.”

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Despite his age, Dr McCoy has not slowed down. Spending his days responding to e-mails and reading the news and reports on nuclear weapons disarmament, he stays healthy by doing light exercises at home.

Dr McCoy, whose father was a civil servant with Malayan Railways, grew up in Kuala Lumpur.

It was a five minute-walk from his home to his primary school in Pudu, an old neighbourhood in KL; later, he cycled daily to the prestigious all-boys Victoria Institution for his secondary school education.

Of Anglo-Indian descent, Dr McCoy said many people are surprised to learn that he is Malaysian. “Maybe it is my name and the colour of my skin. So I would say, ‘I am 200 per cent Malaysian’,” he said in jest.

Although he thinks that it will be “a tough road ahead” for nuclear abolition, the bright and cheerful grandfather of four is optimistic that nuclear weapons disarmament is possible.

More so after the UN treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons was passed.

“You should have heard the roar in the room when they announced it!” he exclaimed.

“When we get to zero nuclear, I won’t be around. But do leave me a forwarded message and wherever I am, I will celebrate,” he said, smiling.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented on December 10 in Oslo, Norway. Dr McCoy will be attending the ceremony.

When asked if he could impart any advice to the younger generation, he said: “Love your fellow human beings. What could be more needful than that today?”

Correction note: The headline has been edited for clarity. We are sorry for the earlier error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2017, with the headline ‘Malaysian doctor wins Nobel prize for anti-nuke movement’. Print Edition | Subscribe

2017 Nobel Peace Prize Goes to ICAN–Congratulations


October  7, 2017

2017 Nobel Peace Prize Goes to ICAN–Congratulations

by Robin Wright

http://www.newyorker.com

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The dreamers won. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) is still so green that, when the call came from the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the group initially thought it was a prank. But, in the middle of two brewing crises over nuclear weapons, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to a global coalition of young activists who defied the United States and the eight other nuclear powers this summer to win support at the United Nations for the first treaty to ban the world’s deadliest weapon.

With dogged determination, ICAN, which was formed just a decade ago, generated support from more than a hundred and twenty countries for the landmark accord. Fifty-three nations have signed it since the formal process began, on September 20th.

The Trump Administration led a boycott of talks on the ICAN initiative at the United Nations last spring. “There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., told reporters. “But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”

The Nobel committee cited ICAN, which is based in Geneva, for “its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

Arms-control advocates were jubilant on Friday. “A stunning achievement with profound impact on global efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons,” Joseph Cirincione, the President of the Ploughshares Fund, told me. “No one but the members of ICAN thought they could succeed. They are dreamers in the best sense, people with a big vision and a big plan to match. Think John Lennon.” The Nobel committee’s message is clear, he said. “All nine nuclear-armed states are building more and newer nuclear weapons. The risk of nuclear war is at its highest level since the early nineteen-eighties, with impulsive, unstable leaders elevating the role of nuclear weapons in their strategies and playing nuclear chicken in Northeast Asia. The committee hopes that if the great nations won’t eliminate the one weapon that can destroy humanity, then the people themselves must force them to do so.”

In a statement, ICAN described the prize as “a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth.”

In a video, Beatrice Fihn, ICAN’s Executive Director (pic above), described how she thought the call from the Nobel committee was a joke. “You just get so nervous that it’s not real. So, it wasn’t until the actual broadcast, when she spoke the name ICAN, that we really understood that it was real,” she said, shortly after the news broke. Asked if she thought the treaty or the Nobel Prize would change the minds of the world’s nuclear powers, she said, “It doesn’t work like that. The treaty is meant to make it harder to justify nuclear weapons, to make it uncomfortable for states to continue with the status quo, to put more pressure on them. That isn’t going to happen overnight, of course. But it is a huge boost to all the people who worked on this issue for a very long time, the new generations who are mobilizing around this issue, through our campaign and other work. It’s a huge signal that this is worthy to work on and this is needed and appreciated.”

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Beatrice Fihn, left, Executive Director of the International campaign to abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and Actor and UN Messenger of Peace Michael Douglas, right.

The Nobel decision comes amid growing tensions between the United States and North Korea, which this year has tested both a nuclear bomb and new missile-delivery systems. President Trump has repeatedly vowed that North Korea cannot be allowed to keep its advanced-weaponry program. Last month, he warned Kim Jong Un, whom Trump nicknamed “little Rocket Man,” that the military option is on the table to contain Pyongyang’s ambitions.

The Trump Administration will also unveil its strategy next week regarding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, negotiated between Iran and the world’s six major powers. President Trump is expected to announce that Tehran is not fully conforming to the “spirit” of the accord, even though the U.N.’s nuclear-watchdog agency has repeatedly reported that Iran has fully complied with the deal’s restrictions. The move would endanger the deal but not automatically kill it. It would open the way for Congress to re-impose the economic sanctions lifted as part of the agreement—and put Washington and Tehran on a collision course.

The Nobel Prize was not a message to the Trump Administration, Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told reporters on Friday. “We’re not kicking anyone in the legs with this prize,” she said. Instead, it was to offer “encouragement” to all parties engaged in disarmament initiatives. The Nobel committee also recognized that a formal ban—enshrined in the treaty promoted by ICAN—would “not in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon, and that so far neither the states that already have nuclear weapons nor their closest allies support the nuclear-ban treaty.”

Yet ICAN has generated growing support among non-governmental groups—now totaling four hundred and sixty-eight disarmament, humanitarian, and environment organizations worldwide—since it was founded on a shoestring in 2007. The movement began in Australia but formally launched in Vienna.

Fihn, who is Swedish, said the movement was inspired by a similar coalition that mobilized support for a treaty to ban land mines. The U.S.-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and its American coördinator, Jody Williams, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. The land-mine treaty has been signed by the vast majority of U.N. members, although the big three—the United States, Russia, and China—have spurned it. Campaigns by civil society and grassroots movements have a growing profile on global issues—from the environment and human rights to the regulation or elimination of other weapons of mass destruction, despite pushback from major powers.

The new Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was voted on in July, prohibits nations from “developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons.” It also prohibits assisting, encouraging, or inducing any country to engage in these activities.

Any country that commits to destroy its nuclear weapons—in a legally binding and time-bound plan—is eligible to join. All nine nuclear powers—the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Israeli, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—have directly or implicitly rejected the treaty, which will not take force until fifty countries ratify it, the step after signing it.

“The ceremony to open signatures on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came a day after Donald Trump vowed to totally destroy North Korea if they attacked, which was followed by additional nuclear threats from North Korea,” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, in Washington, told me. “At a time when nuclear dangers and tensions are rising, ICAN’s call to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons — and the Nobel Prize itself—is the appropriate rejoinder to those governments and leaders who continue to promote the role and potential use of these mass-terror weapons in the twenty-first century.”

The Powerless Lady evades the Rohingya Issue in her speech to the World


December 19, 2017

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of Myanmar, stood before a room of government officials and foreign dignitaries on Tuesday to at last, after weeks of international urging, address the plight of the country’s Rohingya ethnic minority.

But those who expected Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to deliver an eloquent requiem for an oppressed people were disappointed.

In her speech, delivered in crisp English and often directly inviting foreign listeners to “join us” in addressing Myanmar’s problems, she steadfastly refused to criticize the Myanmar military, which has been accused of a vast campaign of killing, rape and village burning.

“The security forces have been instructed to adhere strictly to the code of conduct in carrying out security operations, to exercise all due restraint and to take full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians,” she said.

As she spoke, more than 400,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority long repressed by the Buddhists who dominate Myanmar, had fled a military massacre that the United Nations has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The lucky ones are suffering in makeshift camps in Bangladesh where there is not nearly enough food or medical aid.

A stark satellite analysis by Human Rights Watch shows that at least 210 of their villages have been burned to the ground since the offensive began on August 25. Bangladeshi officials say that land mines had been planted on Myanmar’s side of the border, where the Rohingyas are fleeing.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi tried to mollify her critics by saying she was committed to restoring peace and the rule of law.

“We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” she said. “We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people caught up in the conflict.”

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Supporters of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, on Tuesday. Credit Lynn Bo Bo/European Pressphoto Agency

But asking why the world did not acknowledge the progress made in her country, she also boasted that Muslims living in the violence-torn area had ample access to health care and radio broadcasts.

It was a remarkable parroting of the language of the generals who locked her up for the better part of two decades, and in the process made a political legend of her: the regal prisoner of conscience who vanquished the military with no weapons but her principles.

Officials in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government have accused the Rohingyas, who have suffered decades of persecution and have been mostly stripped of their citizenship, of faking rape and burning their own houses in a bid to hijack international public opinion. She has done nothing to correct the record.

A Facebook page associated with her office suggested that international aid groups were colluding with Rohingya militants, whose attack on Myanmar police posts and an army base precipitated the fierce military counteroffensive. In a statement, her government labeled the insurgent strikes “brutal acts of terrorism.”

It has been a stunning reversal for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 72, who was once celebrated alongside the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to her for her “nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.”

During her address, made from a vast convention center in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi tried to evoke a program of grand goals including democratic transition, peace, stability and development. But she also cautioned that the country’s long experience with authoritarian rule and nearly seven decades of ethnic conflict in Myanmar’s frontier lands have frayed national unity.

“People expect us to overcome all these challenges in as short a time as possible,” she said, noting that her civilian government only took office last year. “Eighteen months is a very short time in which to expect us to meet and overcome all the challenges that we are facing.”

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Myanmar police officers at the Bangladesh border near Maungdaw Township in Rakhine State last month. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But there were worrisome signs from the moment she entered a power-sharing agreement with the military after her National League for Democracy won 2015 elections.

Myanmar’s generals — who ruled the country for nearly half a century and turned a resource-rich land also known as Burma into an economic failure — stage-managed every facet of the political transition. The Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar Army is known, made sure to keep the most important levers of power for itself.

It also effectively relegated Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to the post of state counselor by designing a Constitution that kept her from the presidency.

“It’s always a dance with the generals,” said U Win Htein, an N.L.D. party elder. “She needs to be very quick on her feet.”

Mr. Win Htein, a former military officer who served alongside some of the Tatmadaw’s highest-ranking generals, warned that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had to placate an army with a history of pushing aside civilian leaders under the pretext of defending national sovereignty.

“The army, they are watching her every word,” he said. “One misstep on the Muslim issue, and they can make their move.”

Yet even before the compromises that accompanied her ascension to power, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was already distancing herself from the hopes invested in her by the international community.

“Let me be clear that I would like to be seen as a politician, not some human rights icon,” she said in an interview shortly after her release from house arrest in 2010.

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Rohingya refugees resting after crossing into Bangladesh from Myanmar last month. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times

Such a recasting of her role has disappointed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates. In an open letter, Desmond Tutu, the South African former archbishop, advised his “dearly beloved younger sister” that “if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, was even more pointed.

“She should not have received a Nobel Peace Prize if she says, sorry, I’m a politician, and the norms of democracy don’t suit me,” he said in a telephone interview with The New York Times. “The whole world stood by her for decades, but today she has become the mirror image of Aung San Suu Kyi by destroying human rights and denying citizenship to the Rohingya.”

“All we can do,” he said, “is pray for the return of the old Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Beyond her personal legacy, the direction of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership carries global consequence.

“People are invested in her because we need her to succeed. This is a democratic moment, and she represents Burma’s democratic promise,” said Derek Mitchell, the former American ambassador to Myanmar. “The country sits at the crossroads of Asia in a region where democracy is in retreat, which makes Burma’s success even more important.”

In Tuesday’s speech, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, acknowledged the state of democracy in her country.

“We are a young and fragile democracy facing many problems,” she said, “but we have to cope with them all at the same time.”

But she also stressed that “more than 50 percent” of Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine remained “intact.” And she seemed to borrow vocabulary from a self-help manual when she described the need to research why certain villages had not been touched by the violence.

“We have to remove the negative and increase the positive,” she said.

As the daughter of the assassinated independence hero Gen. Aung San, who founded the modern Burmese Army, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been unapologetic about her fondness for the military, even as it has driven out the Rohingyas and stepped up military offensives against other ethnic armed groups.

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Fires in Myanmar as seen from the Bangladesh side of the border this month. The Myanmar military has been accused of a vast campaign of killing, rape and village burning. Credit Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

“We do not have any trust in Aung San Suu Kyi because she was born into the military,” said Hkapra Hkun Awng, a leader of the Kachin ethnicity from northern Myanmar, one of more than a dozen minorities whose rebel armies have fought the Tatmadaw over the decades. “She is more loyal to her own people than to the ethnics. Her blood is thicker than a promise of national reconciliation.”

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi belongs to the country’s Bamar ethnic majority.

Even before the mudslinging of the 2015 election campaign, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was sidestepping questions about the sectarian violence in Rakhine that disproportionately affected the Rohingya. Rather than condemning pogroms against the persecuted Muslim minority, she has dismissed accusations of ethnic cleansing and called, instead, for rule of law to solve any problem.

Because most Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship by the military, it has not been clear how any laws might apply to them. Indeed, even though Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday that Myanmar was prepared to repatriate refugees who can establish that they are residents of Myanmar, that may be a formidable task for people who are unlikely to have documents proving they lived in Myanmar before fleeing across the border.

“I can confirm now that we are ready to start the verification process at any time, and those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problems and with full assurances of their security and their access to humanitarian aid,” she said.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has largely shielded herself from the media and has holed up in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s bunkered capital, which was unveiled more than a decade ago by a junta paranoid that the former capital, Yangon, might be vulnerable to foreign invasion.

Earlier this month, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi chose not to attend the United Nations General Assembly, where her stance on the Rohingya would surely have met with criticism. Just a year ago, as the nation’s new civilian leader, she attended the annual assembly and was celebrated by world leaders.

Still, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is attuned enough to public sentiment to understand the deep reservoir of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar. Even though a Muslim bloc had been a loyal patron of the N.L.D. for decades, the party did not choose to stand a single Muslim candidate in the 2015 polls.

If anything, her equivocations on the Rohingya have given currency to the widely held assumption in Myanmar that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who have occupied land that rightfully belongs to the Burmese.

Since Myanmar’s political transition began, a virulent strain of Buddhist extremism has pushed such attitudes further into the mainstream. Influential monks have preached anti-Muslim rhetoric and pushed successfully for a law that circumscribes interfaith marriage. N.L.D. elders have prayed at the feet of one of the movement’s spiritual godfathers.

“Buddhist nationalist radicalism has been allowed to spread basically unchecked,” said Min Zin, the executive director of the Institute for Strategy and Policy Myanmar. “The government is doing very little to stop it.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Ignoble Laureate


September 17, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Ignoble Laureate

“I am just a politician. I am not quite like Margaret Thatcher, no. But on the other hand, I am no Mother Teresa, either.”–Aung San Suu  Kyi

During her fifteen years under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi—now the de-facto leader of Myanmar—found solace in the poetry and novels of authors such as George Eliot, Victor Hugo, John le Carré, and Anna Akhmatova. Another favorite, she has said, was Rebecca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon,” an epic travelogue about Yugoslavia written on the eve of the Second World War. West described a country that Aung San Suu Kyi would have recognized as being much like her own: a fragile mosaic of ethnicities, languages, historical backgrounds, and cultural traditions.

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In a short essay called “Let’s Visit Burma,” published in 1985, Aung San Suu Kyi described the “colourful and diverse origins and customs” of her compatriots. Rakhine state, in the west of Myanmar, was something of a “mystery” in this respect, she wrote. Its population had originated from “Mongolian and Aryan peoples who had come over from India.” Owing to its geographical position, Bengal had also “played a major part” in its history and culture. Among the state’s numerous ethnic groups —Arakanese, Thek, Dainet, Myo, Mramagyi, and Kaman—others displayed “the influence of Bengali.” But she assured readers that while there are “more people of the Islamic faith to be found in [Rakhine] than anywhere else in Burma,” it had been “predominately Buddhist” for centuries.

By groups that “displayed the influence of Bengali”, Aung San Suu Kyi certainly meant the Rohingya, a stateless minority in northern Rakhine that most Myanmar people consider to be Bangladeshi immigrants. Since August 25, when militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts and an Army base, as many as a thousand Rohingya have been killed and over three hundred and seventy thousand (more than third of the Rohingya population) have been forced into neighboring Bangladesh, human-rights groups estimate. Aung San Suu Kyi’s champions are now contemplating her fall from grace, appalled that the Nobel Peace Prize winner remains silent about and unmoved by a crisis described this week by the U.N.’s human-rights chief as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” There have been widespread calls for the Nobel Committee to strip her of the prize. But there is no statutory procedure for doing so, nor is it clear how this would end the murder, rape, and mass exodus of the Rohingya at the hands of Myanmar’s Army.

The most urgent and powerful appeals to Aung San Suu Kyi have come from her fellow Nobel laureates. The Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who won the prize for her advocacy of girls’ education, condemned the “tragic and shameful treatment” of the Rohingya. “I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same.” Addressing a letter to his “dear sister,” the anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu wrote of his “profound sadness” and called on Aung San Suu Kyi to end the military-led operations. “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep,” he wrote. The Dalai Lama subsequently urged her to find a peaceful solution to the humanitarian crisis, saying that Buddha would have “definitely helped those poor Muslims.”

This is not the first time that laureates have spoken of their displeasure with Aung San Suu Kyi. In December last year, when the military conducted another brutal offensive against the Rohingya, thirteen Nobel winners, including Muhammad Yunus, Shirin Ebadi, and Leymah Gbowee, signed an open letter deploring the Army’s use of helicopter gunships, arbitrary arrests, and the rape of women. “Despite repeated appeals to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” they concluded, using her honorific, “we are frustrated that she has not taken any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas. Daw Suu Kyi is the leader and is the one with primary responsibility to lead, and lead with courage, humanity and compassion.”

When Aung San Suu Kyi accepted her own prize, in Oslo, in June, 2012, she said that, under house arrest, “it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world. . . . What the Nobel Peace Prize did was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me. . . . I began to understand the significance of the Nobel Prize.” Since becoming State Counsellor, in 2016, however, she has retreated into the solitude of her former life. Her husband, Michael Aris, died, of cancer, in 1999—she was prevented by the military regime from saying goodbye to him—and she rarely sees her sons. People close to her describe a life of morbid isolation, living alone in the administrative capital, Naypyidaw—arguably the dreariest city on earth—pouring over state documents late into the night. She rarely gives interviews, and is reluctant to delegate responsibilities (there is no obvious successor to lead her party when she’s gone).

There’s no evidence that the laureates’ chorus of indignation has any bearing on Aung San Suu Kyi, or whether their declarations can break the spell of isolation and bring her back to the outside world. The only response she has made to the present crisis in Rakhine was a Facebook post, detailing a phone conversation she had with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In it, she criticized the “huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities and with the aim of promoting the interest of the terrorists.” While Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent, the offices and ministries under her charge have not, describing the Rohingya as Bengalis and publicly advocating the use of force in certain situations. “If they are going to harm you, you can shoot them,” Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, U Zaw Htay, said. The most egregious case of the recklessness of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government came last month, when it accused international aid workers of supporting terrorists, prompting fears for the safety of thousands of people in Myanmar employed by charities and N.G.O.s. There have been demands that the U.S. government stop using the name “Rohingya”, and when a Rohingya women gave details of an alleged gang rape, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office dismissed it as “fake rape.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s biographer, Peter Popham, writes in “The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Democracy” that she “has become an object lesson in the slipperiness of the concept of heroism, and the folly of hero-worship.” Indeed, the tenor of the denunciations suggests that Aung San Suu Kyi’s critics are angered as much by a sense of personal betrayal as they are by her silence. She has exposed the artlessness with which many in the West reduced a complex personality into a Rapunzel of the East, emptied of her more illiberal traits, such as an authoritarian leadership style, and some potentially unsavory views on Muslims. The BBC correspondent, Fergal Keane, who probably knows Aung San Suu Kyi better than any other foreign journalist, has admitted that “we knew too little of Myanmar and its complex narratives of ethnic rivalries. . . . And we knew too little of Aung San Suu Kyi herself.” In a rare interview with Keane in April, she denied ethnic cleansing was taking place in Rakhine, and resisted the cruder perceptions of her persona: “I am just a politician. I am not quite like Margaret Thatcher, no. But on the other hand, I am no Mother Teresa, either.”

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Unlike Thatcher, a consummate political operator, many have commented upon Aung San Suu Kyi’s weakness as a politician. Her failure to act against the military operation in Rakhine, so the argument goes, is not a result of her bigotry but because she is unable to outmaneuver the generals in Myanmar’s very own game of thrones.

Few can blame Aung San Suu Kyi for her political impotence. The constitutional arrangements of Myanmar would foil the shrewdest operative. Designed by the military, in 2008, the constitution gives the armed forces control of three ministries—the interior, borders, and defense—that are beyond the oversight of the civilian government. It bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming President, and allows the Army to veto any attempt at constitutional reform. The irony, then, is that if Aung San Suu Kyi once represented the power of the powerless, she is now powerless in power, taking the flak for the Army’s unrelenting inhumanity in its fight against ethnic rebels on the borderlands, and the Rohingya.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s powerlessness hardly matters on this issue, anyway: hatred of the Rohingya is one thing that unites Myanmar. Despite their political differences, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, and the military are in lockstep when it comes to the problem of northern Rakhine. Years of xenophobic, anti-Rohingya propaganda, pushed from the late nineteen-seventies by the military government, endures in the nation’s collective memory, and is stoked by the hate sermons of Buddhist monks like Ashin Wirathu. By speaking up for the Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi imperils her standing in the eyes of her fellow-citizens.

When she was thrust into the public eye, in 1988, it was her lineage, rather than her politics, that was the driving force. As the daughter of General Aung San, the nationally revered founder of modern Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi was at the mercy of activists who recognized the dynastic force that her name, and looks (she is the spitting image of her father), lent to their struggle against the generals. Responsible for negotiating Burma’s independence from the British Empire, Aung San was assassinated by paramilitary forces of the former Prime Minister U Saw, in 1947, six months before its official declaration. Aung San Suu Kyi was just two years old at the time, but there’s no doubting her love and admiration for him. In a 2013 radio interview with the BBC, she described her father as “my first love and my best love.” This filial piety is perhaps the key to understanding Aung San Suu Kyi as saint and sinner.

Her father was an extraordinarily tenacious, even ruthless, man who navigated between the British and Japanese empires in order to achieve his objective—a unified, independent Burma. He was also a Burmese nationalist who cared little for the nation’s ethnic minorities. Today, he is universally venerated in Myanmar, while few outside the country know who he is. This has almost certainly influenced Aung San Suu Kyi, who mimics his leadership style, moral code, and political priorities. The Rohingya are a distraction from her overriding ambition: to complete her father’s dream of unifying the country and ending a civil war that has raged between ethnic rebel forces and the Myanmar government since 1948. As Rebecca West wrote in “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon,” in a passage that Aung San Suu Kyi likely associated with her father when reading the book under house arrest, “it is the habit of the people, whenever an old man mismanages his business so that it falls to pieces as soon as he dies, to say, ‘Ah, So-and-so was a marvel! He kept things together so long as he was alive, and look what happens now he has gone!’ ”

 

Whither the PLO–The Decline of the Palestinian National Movement


August 8, 2017

Whither the PLO–The Decline of the Palestinian National Movement