“Only by removing the sources of hate and fear can we solve conflict in our country.”
In her first official speech regarding the crisis in the Rakhine State and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims that erupted on August 25th, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi was careful to speak all the right words without directly addressing the serious allegations leveled at her and her government.
There was no sign of the icon of peace and hope that the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate represented not just to her own people, but to the international community. In her place stood a seasoned politician, one quick to make excuses for the country’s “fragile democracy”, and its inability to diffuse cultural tensions in the less-than 18 months since her government was elected.
“I’m aware of the fact that the world’s attention is focused on the situation in Rakhine state,” she stated, but implored the UN and other “friends of Myanmar” to consider the concerns of the rest of the nation.
Of most concern was Suu Kyi’s framing of the crisis – which she refused to acknowledge as anything but an “exodus” by what she claims is a minority of people in the region – within the context of attacks by Muslim insurgents on the boarder between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
While Suu Kyi listed the names of other ethnic minorities within Rakhine, she did not include the Rohingya, instead referring to them only as Muslims. In fact, she only used the word once when referring to militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
By refusing to refer to the Rohingya as an independent ethnic group, and instead calling them Muslims shortly after referring to Muslim terrorists, Suu Kyi has failed her people. By refusing to acknowledge their plight, she is only serving to justify the military’s actions – actions she condemned only in theoretical terms by arguing that the government still needs to determine “where the real problems are”.
Offers to let diplomats survey the Rakhine State under military supervision and to expedite processes that will allow those who have fled to return to the country are meaningless. One only has to turn on a TV to see the reality of the situation. If Suu Kyi wants to live up to her reputation and is serious about determining where the real problem lies, perhaps she should start there.