On Monday evening I was interviewed on Al Jazeera news and asked to comment on the human rights violations that have lead to the humanitarian crisis and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. Here are my answers:
1: Bob Geldof has returned his Freedom of Dublin, in protest of Aung San Suu Kyi receiving the award. Does action like his throw any weight to the argument and put pressure on others handing back their awards?
High profile private initiatives like Bob Geldof’s are good because they draw attention to serious human rights violations that have given rise to a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. A lot of people, including world leaders, listen to celebrities. We’re talking about his actions here now.
However, let’s make sure this is a story about the more than 600 000 refugees and the hundreds of thousands of others whose rights are violated in Rakhine and across Myanmar. Ironically, it was not so long ago that giving Aung San Suu Kyi awards was a method to draw attention to a human rights crisis; now stripping her of awards and others handing back theirs is drawing attention to a human rights crisis.
2: Does it seem like Myanmer is now lower on our radar, and we’ve become immune to the abuse?
Well, if we have become immune to systematic and widespread human rights abuse it does not bode well for humanity.
Unfortunately the international community has been so desperate for good news story and to believe the prevailing narrative that Myanmar is ‘open for business’ that they refused to see the human rights violations predicted to give rise to the situation with the Rohingya. They deemed engagement, particularly economic through trade and investment, worth not pressing Myanmar’s government to hard on human rights. They avoided confronting the issues that human rights organisations on the ground have been pointing out.
Even worse, neighbouring states seem totally uninterested in the treatment of ethnic minorities and human rights law as part of their international relations with Myanmar, particularly if they have vested interests and investment in the country. ASEAN has no mechanism to deal with this type of crisis and has no interest in developing one. While they want harmonisation of trade and investment laws, they do not want human rights laws. The increasingly authoritarian bent of Myanmar’s neighbours doe not provide good examples for a nascent democracy to aspire.
3: Is Aung San Suu Kyi Ain a position that she can’t speak out against the military, hence why she is still very quiet on the matter?
Aung San Suu Kyi is indeed in a difficult position: the NLD has placed a priority on and spent much of its time in power trying to build trust with the military to promote peace and development. Many in the NLD government are former political prisoners themselves. The NLD does not control the military or key departments of the government. The Judiciary is not independent and cannot review the actions of the military. The military may be very pleased with the situation as they conduct ‘clearance operations’ against ethnic minorities with he usual impunity while Aung San Suu Kyi takes the blame.
The NLD’s attempt to engage and build trust with the military has resulted in the sacrifice of human rights. This inturn has undermined the goal of peace and stability. Many national and international organisations warned the NLD leadership that sacrificing human rights would undermine their goals in the long term.
Aung San Su Kyi and the NLD should use their tremendous moral authority to encourage the people of Myanmar to consider a more inclusive national identity based on the rule of law and human rights. But the time for that may have passed. The catastrophic results of silence may have already occurred. Failure to address humanitarian access, safe, dignified, voluntary and sustained returns, as well as true reconciliation between communities will ensure that human rights abuse continues to fuel the Rohingya crisis.