Aung San Suu Kyi: from greatness to misery

Translated by Meyriam Bouali, proofread by Natacha Perrin

On 11 December, 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi defended Myanmar at the International court of justice, minimized the Rohingya’s genocide allegations and justified army’s abuses. How could we explain Aung San Suu Kyi position, which for a long time was praised for her human rights defense?

Aung San Suu Kyi was 2 years-old when her dad and his 7 Secretaries were murdered in 1947.He is considered a hero for his fight against Japanese occupier during the war, and imposed himself as a legitimate representative to negotiate independence with the British. This murder marked the beginning of the army’s stranglehold over the government. In 1962, a coup entrenched the country in a military dictatorship, which still lasts. The country has then isolated itself from the outside world for nearly 50 years.

In 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) came back to her country after 24 years of exile, and entered into politics. Since then, she never stopped being an activist, with the National league for democracy, against the military regime. Her opposition to the military junta and her pugnacity to defend human rights made her the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner. This prestigious award contributed to a strong renown worldwide, which was more and more constraining for the national army. She remained under house arrest for 15 years between 1990 and 2010.

The year 2011 saw the country opening on the international stage. The junta dissolved itself, and the new President hosted ASSK, who accepted to renew a dialogue with the government. In 2016, the “Lady” – so called by her compatriots – becomes the Minister of Foreign Affairs and State Counsellor, and was de facto the Prime minister of Myanmar. But those democratic advances were mainly an outward appearance: 25% of Parliament seats and key positions from the government (Defense, Domestic policy, Border management) have been kept for the military forces.

Did you say genocide?

Since 2017, Aung San Suu Kyi’s image has been damaged at international level due to her silence regarding Rohingya genocide . On December 11, 2019, she defended Myanmar at the International court of justice and justified the army action claiming it was a counterinsurgency mission, by mentioning the “internal armed conflict”.

Why such a behaviour from the woman who embodied human rights’ defense? First of all, it is for political reasons that ASSK dispraised the acts of violence against the Rohingyas. Indeed, she wants to win her people’s favour. A people which includes 90% of Buddhists, widely hostile to the Muslim minority. “The Rohingyas kill the Buddhists, they are violent; they want to marry the Buddhists” to colonize the country. This speech has been recently heard during a stay in Burma (Myanmar), and revealed a popular feeling towards the ethnic minority. ASSK may have ruined her reputation in the West, but has full popular support in her country.

Another explanatory factor is the union with the army. ASSK’s rise to power is the result of unlikely union with her former persecutors. She has consequently a very short leeway and needs to deal country issues with the army. In her opinion, not to sentence the acts of violence from the army would be then the necessary compromise to keep the democratization process. But as the South-African archbishop Desmond Tutu well argued, he who is a figure of anti-apartheid struggle and the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner; “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

Aung San Suu Kyi during her hearing at the ICJ, (Frank van Beek, image)

To know more about the genocide, please refer to the excellent documentary of Gwenlaouen Le Gouil : Rohingya, la mécanique du crime (Rohingya: Crime mechanics). More than 700 000 Rohingyas went into exile in the neighboring Bangladesh.

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