Monday, 24 September 2012

Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi - Recognition, and silence

Burmese human rights activist and politician Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged sickening effects of a 2-decade long military rule in Burma as she received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, United States on Wednesday, 19th September.

The pro-democracy opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, ranked as one of the world's greatest female leaders has been receiving awards and acknowledgements in different countries since her release in November 2010. Recognised as one of the world's greatest political prisoners, she had been detained under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 years. She recently took her seat in parliament, seated just opposite the country's 49-year ruling military opposition.

At the Congressional Gold Medal award ceremony hosted at the infamous Rotunda on Capitol Hill, the world leader praised the US Government for their support of her pro-democracy ideology and movement "during the dark years when freedom and justice seemed beyond our reach," and welcomed the US suspension of sanctions on Burma. She emphasised the ongoing social problems faced by the isolated Burma, a sick reality of the iron-fist military rule in Burma for over 20 years.

The prominent host of Republicans, Democrats, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Former First Lady Laura Bush, heard The Lady (as she is commonly known) speak of democratic reforms, unity and peace, before leaving to visit President Obama at the White House. The Telegraph reports that Clinton mentioned that seeing the former political prisoner in the US as a democratically elected member of her country's own parliament was "too delicious to believe."

Speaking in Burma's capital just before her 17-day US tour, Suu Kyi highlighted that child soldiers recruited by the Burmese army, high infant mortality rates, freedom of speech, violence and sex trafficking were some of her greatest concerns, but failed to mention anything relating to the poorly-reported ethnic cleansing of Burmese Rohingya/ Myanmar Muslims.

Buddhist majorities within Burma do not recognise the minority Rohingya Muslims as Burmese. Ongoing clashes between the majority and minority have resulted in hundreds dead, and hundreds of thousands displaced. Despite Rohingya Muslims being present in Burma since the early nineteenth century, they are still regarded as recent illegal immigrants. Having been denied citizenship for decades, Burmese Muslims really have no place to call home.

Faulty reports of death tolls and refugees from within and around Burma make it difficult to effectively report on the situation. Al Jazeera sources claim 400 000 Rohingya Muslims are displaced and living in makeshift camps, while others are missing. Despite having started rejecting refugees, neighbouring Bangladesh (Rohingya Muslim origin: Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh) faces thousands of new refugees every day. Violent protests and shootings have erupted in Bangladesh and India since July, with different politicians being targeted for their silence and lack of action against Burmese ethnic cleansing, or having some links or contacts with Burmese politicians and/ or militants.

Founding member of Suu Kyi's NDL (National League for Democracy), U Win Tin, said that social issues in the Muslim-dominated Rakhine State is a result of foreigners (Rohingya Muslims). He fearlessly stated that they are not citizens of Burma in the least, regarding it as a fact known to all in Burma. Despite calling for democratic reforms and peace, President Thein Sein as well as Win Tin both support Rohingya Muslims being placed in refugee camps and then being deported.

But its Suu Kyi's vague replies and silence that is worrying. When asked if  Rohingya Muslims are Burmese citizens, she replied, "I don't know," and has been especially silent on the matter. Even Hillary Clinton expressed her concerns over the Burmese government's failure to deal with ethnic cleansing responsibly after meeting Suu Kyi on Tuesday in Washington.

Sadly, despite the ongoing criticism she faces, The Lady hasn't spoken out in support of the displaced refugees, and seems rather against their will to live in Burma. With her 43/ 45 prominently dominated parliamentary seating and the NDL's support of Rohingya Muslims being deported, she hasn't done or said much to change the situation, nor the public's confusion of her position regarding the fate of Rohingya Muslims. Whether The Lady will support the Mandela legacy, as she often speaks of, remains a troubling question. The Mandela legacy welcomed immigrants, but Burma remains an isolated, mind-sanctioned country, rejecting the century-old, 4% Rohingya Muslims in the country.