For a period, every schoolchild in India would have learnt about Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi, an icon of democracy who stood up to the military junta that ruled her country of Myanmar, endured 15 years in house arrest. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. However, her actions since her party came to power in Myanmar in 2015, while not diminishing her accomplishments or courage, have certainly dimmed her halo.
Myanmar’s Rohingya — a name of selfidentification; in Myanmar they are viewed as “Bengalis” — have long been persecuted and oppressed. The minority community is not recognised as an ethnic group but as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Myanmar’s laws restrict the community’s rights of freedom, movement, marriage and even reproduction. Since clashes in 2012, scores have fl ed to Bangladesh, India and Malaysia among other nations. An estimated 1 lakh live in camps in Myanmar under restrictive conditions. The victory of an icon of human rights and democracy, then, was considered a cause for relief. The US, for instance, eased sanctions on the country.
And yet, the situation of the Rohingya remains as dire as ever. In October, following an attack on police, a military crackdown was initiated against the Rohingya. Reputed aid agencies said entire villages had been burnt to the ground and civilians were murdered, raped and looted. The government — and Suu Kyi — have denied the allegations, even as aid workers have not been permitted to visit the area. On Sunday, Malaysia, a Muslimmajority country that has taken in thousands of Rohingya, held a rally led by its Prime Minister. Suu Kyi has called for the international community not to interfere. But with a humanitarian crisis unfolding and spilling over into neighbouring countries, Suu Kyi needs to look beyond prejudice and politics to stop the violence and recognise the rights of the Rohingya. The human rights icon needs to act.