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Has the junta rule really ended in Myanmar?
Aung San Suu Kyi, who earlier championed the cause of freedom and just treatment of civilians, is now just a puppet politician, says ranu Joardar
It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” This was once said by a person who had the courage to stand against a military Government, speak out publicly against them and their atrocities on civilians. She is none other than Aung San Suu Kyi. Her stoicism won her comparisons with Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson. She became a worldwide figurehead for freedom.
In 2015 when the junta Government finally accepted the NLD party, achieving a landslide victory in polls, a wave of applause spread across Myanmar and the world. The torch of democracy that the NLD party leader — Aung San Suu Kyi — had always upheld, spread warmth among all persons living in Myanmar. She had, in fact, once said, “Peace as a goal is an ideal which will not be contested by any Government or nation, not even the most belligerent.”
However, this warmth was, ironically, intended just for the Buddhist community of the country and not for the Rohingyas living in Rakhine region. The recent, massive exodus from this part of the country in search for safe haven in a foreign land has impelled us to ask — has the junta rule really ended for the Rohingyas?
The Rohingya community is the dominant Muslim group in the Buddhist dominant Myanmar. Even with a population of 1.23 million, they have continued to be the most persecuted community, which has been denied the right to citizenship and is almost never mentioned by their group’s name. The Rohingya community has been facing abuse since the 1970s. In 2015, some hope returned among them with Aung San Suu Kyi coming to power. However, with the recent incidents of rape, torture, arson and murder, hope for betterment has dwindled. Recently, brutality was triggered when the Myanmar Army waged a military campaign in northern Rakhine state against the Rohingyas after a Rohingya armed group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army or ARSA, carried out attacks on security forces on August 25. The United Nations has called the military act a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
In a recent interview with the BBC, the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh revealed several cases of people getting maimed after apparently stepping on landmines while fleeing the Burmese military. While the Myanmar officials say the area was mined in the 1990s, Bangladeshi sources say Myanmar’s Army recently planted new mines — an allegation denied by Myanmar.
The hospital visited by the BBC saw an influx of people with landmine injuries. One amongst them was a 15-year-old boy, Azizu Haque, who arrived with his legs destroyed. His body has been devastated by a blast, his legs gone and parts of his torso injured. According to another news report, lakhs of Rohingyas seeking safe shelter, the majority of whom were women and children, were in desperate need of humanitarian aid, including shelter, food, sanitation and medical care. Many women and girls were allegedly raped by Myanmar Army soldiers.
Survivors and witnesses have shared accounts of women and girls being raped then locked inside houses that were torched. They have recounted stories of torture, mutilations, being stripped naked and other atrocities and acts of humiliation.
“I was raped just 13 days ago,” recounted a 20-year-old mother, Ayesha Begum, to Al Jazeera. In the village of Tami in Myanmar’s Buthidaung Township, while having dinner with her four sisters some Armymen allegedly attacked her hamlet. Soldiers entered the houses and forced the women into a room. They forcefully took Ayesha’s baby from her arms and kicked him. The soldiers stripped the women and while holding knives to their throats, raped them, it was claimed. “Twelve soldiers took turns to rape me. I felt like they would kill me. I was afraid that my child was dead,” she said.
“(Soldiers) entered our house and took away our sister. She was very beautiful,” said Mohsina Begum, 20, also from Tami village. She said soldiers sexually assaulted and attempted to rape her until the village chairman intervened.
In 1991, when Aung San Suu Kyi was conferred with the Nobel Peace Prize, in her acceptance speech, she called for the world to be “free of the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless”. While awarding the Prize to her, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that it wished “to honour this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means”. And yet today, when the Myanmar Army burns and pillages its way across Rohingya villages and the same 40 per cent of her country’s population asks for her support, she prefers to stand idly. As the country’s de facto ruler and wielder of vast moral authority, Suu Kyi instead of condemning the Army’s actions called reports of burning of Rohingya villages as “fake news”.
After weeks of international urging, at last on September 12, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stood before a room full of Government officials and foreign dignitaries to address the plight of the country’s Rohingya ethnic minority. But all hopes of her acknowledging people’s oppression only festered. In her 30-minute speech, delivered in crisp English and often directly inviting foreign listeners to “join us” in addressing Myanmar’s problems, she steadfastly refused to criticise the country’s military, which has been accused of a vast campaign of killing, rape, and village burning. She condemned “all human rights violations” in general terms but refused to blame the military. She shocked everyone by saying: “We want to find out why this exodus is happening.”
She then went on to claim that more than 50 per cent of the villages of Muslims (nowhere did she use the word Rohingya) are intact. Though there is no unfettered access to Rakhine for journalists and other observers, it is impossible to verify an exact percentage of destruction. As per the Human Rights Watch report, 214 villages have been almost completely destroyed. The destruction of Rohingya villages has been systematic and seemingly indiscriminate across a large area.
In response to Suu Kyi’s blatant attitude, the Oxford University took down her portrait and also stripped her of the Freedom of Oxford honour. Oxford Council’s leader Bob Price was quoted by the BBC as saying that evidence coming out of the UN meant Suu Kyi was “no longer worthy” of the council’s honour, which would be formally taken away at a special meeting in November. Suu Kyi was awarded the Freedom of Oxford in 1997 and received an honorary degree from the university in 2012. Other organisations are considering withdrawing honours given to the 72-year-old Nobel laureate who has failed to condemn her country’s military for atrocities against the persecuted Rohingya, the BBC’s world affairs editor John Simpson was quoted as saying.
Suu Kyi’s silence reminds one of her quote: “It is often in the name of cultural integrity as well as social military Government stability and national security that democratic reforms based on human rights are resisted by authoritarian Governments.” Has the junta rule really ended in Myanmar?
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