AUNG SUNG Suu Kyi has fallen from grace more spectacularly than most. As her army continues violent ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the formerly saintly one is accused of facilitating genocide.
Since her 2014 election victory, Suu Kyi has been publicly silent on the Rohingya – literally so, as she will not even say the word. She even avoided saying it to the BBC’s Fergal Keane in their recent interview.
Unlike supine foreign secretary Boris Johnson who visited Myanmar in January as part of the UK’s new “ever-greater global role”, at least the BBC’s Keane pushed Suu Kyi hard, saying he had visited Rakhine state and he knew ethnic cleansing when he saw it.
Suu Kyi insisted ethnic cleansing was “too strong a word for the army’s actions”, which she preferred to call “troubles.” But these troubles, as described by Rohingya to the UN, are mass atrocities including helicopter gunship attacks on villages, gang rapes, shootings, throat-slitting, torture, burning people alive in their homes and throwing small children into the flames.
Satellite images support these accounts, but Suu Kyi’s government suggests people are burning their own homes and faking their own rapes to garner sympathy. Smartphone footage of dead children is dismissed as fake news.
Suu Kyi has not intervened, despite a letter from other Nobel laureates condemning her inaction. Appalled UK MPs were promised that on his new year visit Boris Johnson would at least break the usual protocol of shaking hands and not mentioning the war by raising Britain’s “strong concerns”. But in a world where UK politicians no longer question the despicable for fear of torpedoing potential trade deals post-Brexit, Johnson seems to have been dissuaded from speaking his mind, and reports of his visit focus on watery praise.
Last month the UN ordered a full international inquiry, despite UK suggestions that there wasn’t the will for one. The Burmese government immediately declared that this inquiry was “not fair”. Suu Kyi won’t allow the UN access, but told Keane the UN was free to inspect her own government’s investigation instead. Sadly, investigation by a government that rubbishes witness accounts with intimidation, propaganda and denial, run by a military that burns live children, seems of little value. Indeed, its interim findings dismiss allegations of genocide because there are still “some” Rohingya left.
Suu Kyi’s reactions go far beyond inaction. Commentators say she is focused only on consolidating power. Criticism is not tolerated. Those who speak out are detained, including senior members of her own party. Officials and ministries under her direct control constantly denounce international reports of atrocities, referring to “exaggerations”. She told Keane the Rohingya, who have long been persecuted and disadvantaged, with vast numbers forcibly interned in camps, were unhappy for “no reason that we could think of”, adding: “I think there is a lot of hostility there.”
On that, at least, everyone can agree.