Damned by her silence

Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo by Reuters
Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo by Reuters
Aung San Suu Kyi has been universally admired around the world for championing the rights of the Burmese people. She sacrificed her family life, her freedom and, sometimes, her health, in her campaign to capture the soul of her country and the future of her people.

Emerging from two decades of struggle, she has now stood by as hundreds of thousands of her fellow Burmese are persecuted massacred and driven from their homes because of their religion.

The United Nations yesterday denounced Myanmar's treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. In an address to the UN human rights council in Geneva, Zeir Ra'ad Al Hussein denounced the ''brutal security operation'' against the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which he says is clearly disproportionate to insurgent attacks carried out last month.

Myanmar's foreign affairs ministry says it shares global concerns at the displacement and suffering of all communities in the latest violence. The statement failed to mention the Rohingya. Security forces have been instructed to exercise all due restraint and to take full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians, the ministry said.

Overseas reports say more than 310,000 people have fled to Bangladesh in recent weeks, with more trapped on the border, as information arrives of burning villages and extrajudicial killings.

The latest crackdown against the Muslim minority was triggered on August 25 when a Rohingya insurgent group attacked more than two dozen security sites and killed 12 people.

Militia groups, local security forces and the Burmese army responded with clearance operations, forcing refugees into Bangladesh and leaving tens of thousands more displaced inside the state.

Rohingya people have been systematically persecuted for decades by the Burmese Government, which, contrary to historical evidence, regards them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and restricts their citizenship rights and access to government services.

The UN earlier described security operations as possible ''crimes against humanity'', but the scale of the latest violence - and allegations Burmese forces are manning the border - has led to speculation the military is trying to remove the Rohingya for good.

The Dalai Lama spoke about the crisis, saying those people harassing some Muslims should remember Buddha.

Most of the problem comes from the widespread hatred for the Rohingya minority. Buddhist nationalists, led by firebrand monks, have operated a long Islamophobic campaign calling for them to be pushed out of the country.

When Aung San Suu Kyi broke her silence on the Rohingya, it was only to defend the Government she is part of, sparking fierce criticism from former friends, allies and supporters.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to his ''dearly beloved younger sister'': ''If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep''. Archbishop Tutu is the latest of several Nobel Peace Prize winners to publicly rebuke their fellow laureate. Sweden and Britain have requested a United Nations Security Council meeting on the ''deteriorating situation'' in Myanmar's Rakhine state. The meeting is likely be held tomorrow.

Trying to understand the motives of Aung San Suu Kyi has perplexed many. By not speaking out, she appears to gain more power and influence from the military power brokers who still control the country. Her silence is costing the lives of people she should be protecting with all of her strength.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been urged to look back over her own advice to politicians and despots, set down when she could still count herself among a small pantheon of modern-day secular saints.

''It is not power that corrupts but fear,'' she wrote in Freedom from Fear, thought to be her most famous work. ''Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it.''


In a sense, 'Holy War' has nothing to do with their Buddha, 'the enlightened one'. These militant monks are nominally 'Buddhist', and a disgrace.