Faulted by UN over Rohingya, Suu Kyi finds herself bound to army
GB news 24 desk//
For a while, it looked like Aung San Suu Kyi was playing the long game by soft-pedalling the army’s vicious campaign to clear Myanmar of Rohingya Muslims.
The former Nobel Peace Prize winner has made a point of cooperating with her one-time military captors since winning national elections in 2015, and her advisers have said her realpolitik approach was meant to win the generals’ confidence so she could proceed with more democratic reforms, reports wsj.com.
But a damning United Nations report that recommended six army officials be prosecuted for genocide also laid blame on Suu Kyi, saying she failed to use her position as head of government and her moral authority to stem a wave of violent Buddhist nationalism. It also accused her government of trying to cover up the extent of the turmoil by destroying evidence, denying any wrongdoing by the military and blocking UN teams from entering the area.
The assessment leaves Suu Kyi in a fraught relationship with the military as each blames the other for a worsening situation that could unravel its effort to open up to the West. Both sides have been careful not to upset the country’s delicate constitutional balance, under which the army enjoys control of home and defence ministries but none of the responsibility for health, education and other difficult-to-provide public services.
‘The Rohingya crisis has become a top-level global issue with an impact on aid budgets and investment,’ said one person with extensive experience in the country. ‘Both the civilian government and the military are now beginning to realize that this is the new normal—the reputational damage is done and won’t be forgotten in a few months.’
The UN report elevated the clearances of the stateless Rohingya—which some human-rights groups have said killed at least 10,000 and drove more than 700,000 others to seek refuge in Bangladesh—to the level of some of the worst crimes of the 20th century. The three-member fact finding team singled out army commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and five of his deputies for prosecution.
Speaking to business leaders in Myanmar as the UN report was released Monday, Suu Kyi said the country needed to come together to endure outside scrutiny.
But pressure is building for sterner action. The UN investigation team has recommended that the situation be referred to the International Criminal Court, and if not there, a special tribunal. The UN Security Council is expected to consider the matter later this year, though some diplomats suggested that vetoes from permanent members China and Russia would prevent the matter from going any further.
Additional financial sanctions from the West are a likelier prospect. The European Union and the US have already moved to freeze the accounts of selected military officers and barred companies from doing business with them, though the blacklist doesn’t yet include Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.
One person familiar with the situation said sanctions would do little to discourage the army from its campaign against the Rohingya. Nor is it likely to sway public opinion, which, thanks in part to anti-Rohingya sentiment stirred up on social media, overwhelmingly backs the clearances.
A diplomat said the previous dictatorship survived in isolation for decades, buoyed in part by its vast neighbour, China. ‘They are familiar with the role of international pariah,’’ he said.
Opprobrium heaped on Gen. Min Aung Hlaing from abroad might enhance the army’s influence ahead of elections scheduled for 2020. Myat Hein, a former air force commander now with the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party, has suggested that sanctions would rally more people behind the general.
Like other military loyalists, he accuses the Rohingya of attempting to carve out an independent state and compares the situation to the breakaway of predominantly Muslim Kosovo from Serbia during the Yugoslav civil war.
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing lost one platform when Facebook removed his page from its site Monday for hate speech, along with nearly 20 other people and organizations. The page had been his primary means of outside communication. In one post last year, he described the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and said pushing them out was an ‘unfinished job.’
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said Tuesday that the ban was already causing friction between the civilian government and the military. He said he is lobbying Facebook to reverse the ban, complaining that it impedes free speech.
Attitudes will likely harden in Myanmar as both Suu Kyi and the army turn from the West and instead try to develop more business with Asia. Suu Kyi was in Singapore last week to do just that.
‘She didn’t make any effort to address the complaints of the West on the Rohingya,’’ one of the people closely following the situation said. ‘She pitched her speeches at the region: China, Japan and Singapore.’
One Rohingya, who like many can trace their roots in Myanmar back generations, said he welcomed the report and hoped that larger countries would take a harder line with both the army and Suu Kyi. ‘I feel like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing are the same,’ he said.