Contact: Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
AUNG SAN SUU KYI AND HUMAN RIGHTS
September 29, 2012
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Aung San Suu Kyi has now visited America. She has been treated by politicians and the media as nothing less than a saint. She is being revered if not deified.
The reason for this exaltation is her role as a human rights champion for Burma. She is considered to be wholly responsible, and is receiving all the credit, for what is perceived to be a dramatic improvement in human rights in the country, and the now viewed as inevitable achievement of real freedom and democracy.
We can imagine President Obama's private words: "Well done Aung San Suu Kyi! You are a hero for the ages and your nation's savior. Thank you also very, very much for changing your mind on economic sanctions, so our companies can now race into Burma to profiteer from its new Gold Rush, alongside China, Thailand, Japan, Singapore and Europe."
Views from Burma though on Suu Kyi's role, particularly on human rights, are not so unanimous. In Burma, people pay close attention to what she says and does, and to what is really happening on the ground.
There are a number of problems here:
The Burma Army has been committing crimes against humanity against the country's ethnic minorities. The crimes have been underway for decades, and are exceedingly well documented. In a recent iteration, since June last year the Army has been attacking the Kachin people. It has actually been suffering huge casualties from the Kachin resistance, and has retaliated viciously against Kachin villagers. There are now some 70,000 Kachin refugees, who have fled scorched earth Army campaigns that have reduced their villages to rubble, and where all Kachin are at risk of execution, and all women of being raped.
One of the latest atrocities: Four male villagers were arrested, and then forced to have sex with each other for the entertainment of regime soldiers. The soldiers then burned the villagers' genitals using candles.
The Kachin crisis in turn is but a drop in the bucket. Hundreds of thousands - maybe a million or more - ethnic villagers have been driven from their homes to become internally displaced persons, or refugees in neighboring countries. For the refugees alone, this includes huge populations of Karen, Karenni, Shan and Mon in Thailand; Kachin in China; Chin in Malaysia; and Rohingya in Bangladesh.
There is no question about what is behind this. The answer is Burma's military dictatorship, which is run by generals from the country's largest ethnic group, the Burmans, and who are racist and who have been persecuting the ethnic minorities.
Aung San Suu Kyi is Burman, and while no one in the pro-democracy movement has been willing to accuse her overtly of being a racist, she has consistently backed the generals.
She has said that she has a "soft spot" for them. She also said that "resolving conflict is not about condemnation, it is about finding out the root, the cause of the conflict."
Kachin people took great affront at this. To repeat, there is no question at all that it is the regime that is the cause of the conflict. In protest of her position, Kachin invitees boycotted the ceremony in Washington where she was given the Congressional Gold Medal.
Another controversy occurred during her visit to Queens College in New York. At this forum, she was asked why she wouldn't speak out against the Burma Army's brutal war against the Kachin. She aggressively responded that if there were human rights violations, she would of course condemn them. She then refused to do just that, leaving everyone to conclude that as far as she is concerned there are no regime human rights violations against the Kachin, or Burma's other ethnic groups for that matter.
Discussion of this incident has erupted on the Internet, and she is now openly being called a racist.
Further, this past June, a new ethnic crisis developed, this time in Western Burma. Following a series of criminal actions, and which are still the subject of dispute, interethnic clashes broke out between the Rakhine and Rohingya peoples. Analysis of the crisis revealed that it was both motivated and orchestrated by regime organs, and that it led to the full scale ethnic cleansing of many Rohingya townships. (There are as many as 100,000 new Rohingya IDPs and refugees.) When pressed on the issue, Suu Kyi also refused to describe it as a human rights concern. (Of note, she refuses to even use the words Kachin or Rohingya in her English language comments.) She effectively threw her support behind President Thein Sein, and other senior leaders in her National League for Democracy, who have argued that the only real "solution" to the "Rohingya problem" is to intern them all in camps or deport them to any country that is willing to take them.
On her behalf, her supporters argue that Suu Kyi is not willing to blame the regime - for anything - so as not to antagonize the generals. What she doesn't appear to understand is that by not confronting them, she is definitely irritating the ethnic groups.
(Some people also believe that it is unfair to criticize her, while she works her magic. The problem with this is that Burma is not a dry, academic issue. Regime soldiers and police are committing murder. Democracy demands uncensored communications, and this is paramount when lives are at stake.)
Suu Kyi appears to believe that the only way to accomplish change is to flatter and cajole. The fallacy of her approach however is that it is dependent on "hope." She is not calling for any pressure at all. The problem here is that there are two power centers in Burma, the Army and Thein Sein. It is absolutely certain that the Army has power, the power of the gun. It is not clear if Thein Sein has any real power at all - many people believe he is Senior General Than Shwe's puppet, and that the scenario in Burma now is but carefully orchestrated political theatre. Hope as a means to influence the Army is absurd. It won't - it cannot - work. Indeed, this writer believes that the only reason there has been any change in Burma is the generals' reaction to the large losses they have suffered at the hands of the ethnic forces. Suu Kyi deserves no credit at all for the "reform" that is underway.
(The top unspoken story in the country now is the number of Burma Army soldiers who have been killed in the regime's civil war against the ethnic groups - at least 4-5,000 and perhaps 10,000 or more in the last two years, and with a similar number of wounded. The generals are covering up their losses, by letting the bodies rot on the battlefield and through rapid cremations.)
The ethnic groups despise the regime, and they are extremely suspicious of Burmans in general. Suu Kyi was the only Burman leader who had any of their trust. This trust is eroding, and being being replaced with hostility. Suu Kyi is also 67. She doesn't have many years left where she will be able to play a hands on role, and in any case under the Constitution, which she swore to uphold, she cannot run for President. Even more, if she loses her reputation with the ethnic groups, she will not even be able to serve as an elder statesperson, as personified by such people as the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.
Suu Kyi is trying to play politics, and she is making a fatal mistake. The Burma military regime is a gang of serial killers. By not condemning them, she is empowering them. It is not too much of a stretch to say that she has become their accomplice. Because of her position, her reluctance to demand - among other things - that the regime end its war against the Kachin - more ethnic people will die. I am not the first person to say it: She has blood on her hands.
Moreover, she may succeed in splitting Burma such that ethnic reconciliation becomes impossible.
Nations in the West have learned a number of hard lessons from history, which lessons Suu Kyi does not recognize. The United States has been damaged by its own record of slavery and racism. Europe stood by when the Germans committed the worst case of genocide ever. What we learned from these unspeakable tragedies is that in the face of crimes against humanity, you cannot be silent. You cannot sacrifice your principles, and become a politician.
(It is beyond words that Germany, perpetrator of the Jewish genocide, is the leader of the European corporate assault on Burma. Berlin is so greedy for Burma lucre that it is not even willing to wait until the crimes are stopped.)
Suu Kyi, by not condemning the Burma Army's human rights abuses, is sabotaging the country. She has shown that she does not understand, and is not even an advocate for, human rights, and freedom, and democracy. She is undeserving of both the Congressional Gold Medal and the Nobel Peace Prize. It is difficult to see how Burma is going to recover from her "leadership."