After weeks of urging from international leaders and international organisations, Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) eventually appeared on Tuesday, September 19, to address the issue of genocidal attacks on the Rohingyas in a roomful of government officials and foreign dignitaries in Naypyidaw, the capital city. Her speech was delivered in English, a choice widely seen as directed towards the international community that has been imploring her to speak against the genocidal attacks against the Rohigyas by the Myanmar army and Buddhist militias. Her 30-minute address delivered from the vast convention centre in the capital city inviting foreign listeners to join her in addressing her country's problems and her willingness to find out why this exodus was happening referring to Rohingya mass movement across the border to Bangladesh. But she steadfastly refused to criticise the military which has masterminded the genocidal attack on these people. Her hollow declaration that her country is ready to be "scrutinised by the international community'' was repudiated by her country's representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Htin Lynn, within hours of her declaration. He clearly reasserted his government's "position of disassociating'' from the investigation.
ASSK during her speech never used the word "Rohingya''; so it is difficult to ascertain whether she was referring to the entire population of the state or specifically the Rohingya population. The only time she used the word "Rohingya" was when she referred to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) - the militant group with the sole objective to label the group as a terrorist outfit - more precisely the Rohingyas as Jihadists (the term as understood in the current Euro-American political discourse). This means her strategy is that, this is the only identity that the Rohingyas will be attached to. Violence begets violence and situations of insecurity tend to breed other forms of insecurity. There are approximately one million Rohingyas who live in the country with roots in the land dating back to the 8th century, in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar where they are denied citizenship and forced to live under an apartheid system. The study of history clearly shows that it is not surprising that an insurgency emerged.
In her speech she even went further to brand them (ARSA) as terrorists who acted against the benevolence of the government and army. The ARSA leader in an interview said that the attacks were carried out to defend "our civilian population". He further outlined that the long- term goal is the peaceful coexistence of Muslim Rohingayas and Buddhists in Rakhine State.
ASSK referred to Rohingyas only as Muslims (in the current context of the Euro-American political narratives on Islam, the term Muslim is a very loaded identity). What she is doing is just playing on the dehumanisation of Muslims in Euro-American imagination to her and the Myanmar army's favour. In the historical context it must be noted that the conflict is not rooted in religion, but ASSK and the army are trying to fashion it that way. Attacks on the Rohingyas and constant attempt to drive them out of Rakhine have been undertaken on many occasions both during and following the end of the WW II. The British during its colonial rule also perpetuated and worsened ethnic tension and strife through its "divide and rule'' policy in Myanmar, a legacy that has worsened now to a stage where for the Rohingyas it has become a question of survival as an ethnic group.
But it also appears that some circles, including some state functionaries even in Bangladesh, also raised the spectre of Rohingyas being fertile ground for terrorist recruitment i.e. becoming Jihadists, therefore, a security threat requiring joint anti-terrorist operations with the Myanmar army. If one goes by TV talk shows on numerous Bangladesh TV channels, some Bangladeshi security experts and political commentators agree with this view, so much so that I have even heard one commentator blaming the current rice price hike on Rohingya refugee influx. The sources of such apprehensions require further critical scrutiny to understand the phenomenon of such negativity against the Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Notwithstanding such negative portrayal of Rohingya refugees by a section of the media and some state functionaries, the government of Bangladesh has opened the door to the refugees and extended all possible help. The response of the international community is also laudable. The people across the country have shown tremendous support and extended help and, where possible, hospitality to these refugees.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs also in a communique strongly condemned the terrorist attacks on the Myanmar army completely sidelining the terrible atrocities committed against this long-suffering ethnic group. India considers 40,000 Rohingya refugees in their country as illegal immigrants and a security threat (read Jihadists), therefore eligible for expulsion from the country. India's junior Interior Minister Kiren Rijiju told Parliament the government would deport all the Rohingya. Prime Minister Modi was in Myanmar immediately after the Myanmar army's genocidal attack against Rohingyas started and where he was very warmly received by ASSK. At the conclusion of the visit there was no mention of the crisis in the joint communique issued in the Myanmar capital except condemning the terrorist attack. Modi also expressed his sympathy with the Myanmar government being under attack from terrorists without mentioning the attacks on the Rohingyas by the army and Buddhist militias. But at a later date the Indian Foreign Ministry issued a statement declaring their wish for the peaceful resolution of the crisis. However, India remains one of the principal suppliers of arms to Myanmar and it is reported that arms shipment from India to Myanmar is continuing at a time the Myanmar army is killing the Rohingyas and when countries like the UK stopped all military cooperation with the Myanmar regime.
It is hard to imagine of a people so persecuted at the moment than the Rohingyas. A satellite analysis by Human Rights Watch shows that at least 210 Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground since attacks on the Rohigyas began on August 25. But listening to her (ASSK) speech one would not know that; rather she expressed her surprise why Muslims (not Rohingyas) are fleeing the country. Her language was remarkably similar to that of the generals. She said the security forces have been instructed to adhere strictly to code of conduct implying that the security forces have not committed abuse against the Rohingyas. Yet, credible evidence of soldiers raping, killing, and setting villages on fire are now widely available. Survivors and human rights groups have documented Myanmar security forces and Buddhist vigilante mobs shooting Rohingya civilians as they fled, as well as eyewitness accounts of rapes and torching of more than 1000 villages.
While the military persecution of the Rohingya minority is longstanding, it has escalated many folds since the National League for Democracy (NLD) government came to power under the leadership of ASSK. Her unqualified support for the military's brutal measures is the price she is ready to pay for ascension to power. Under her leadership Buddhist nationalist radicalism has been allowed to spread completely unchecked so much so that her party is now thoroughly permeated with Buddhist Bamar chauvinism and literally works as a junior partner to the military. Her father Aung San founded the modern Burmese army. In a way she was born into that military apparatus. Her mother was a minister from 1948-62. Her deputy in NLD is a former chief of the Myanmar army. She is a member of the Myanmar ruling elite and hails from the very upper echelon of the Bamar Buddhist majority.
Since 1982, the Rohingyas are stripped of citizenship making them stateless people hence denying them their basic rights. Various human right groups have provided detailed accounts of abuses and restrictions the Rohingyas face in their everyday life and that include restriction on movement, marriage, child birth, construction and repair home and houses of worship and other aspects of everyday life.
In 2015, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's Simon-Skjodt Centre for the Prevention of Genocide sent a fact-finding mission to the region. They came back warning that the region is at risk for genocide. The Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said, "Myanmar crisis is very reminiscent of what happened in Bosnia in 1995 and Rawanda in 1994''.
However, it is the responses of some of the diplomats who were present at the address that is surprising. According to Aljazeera, the Russian ambassador Nikolay Listopadov dismissed the allegation of ethnic cleansing. The Bangladesh Ambassador Mohammad Safiur Rahman said, "I simply say one thing, that whatever she said is encouraging and we have to implement that in the right spirit''. While the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy also attended the address, he did not make any comment.
ASSK's speech is a classic example of victim blaming. She indulged in a series of falsehood and misinformation. No wonder, her words carry no weight to the refugees across the border in Bangladesh. In effect, she assured the military to carry on their business as usual. Her speech is a cover for the genocidal atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar army against the Rohingyas.
The writer is an independent economic and political analyst.