The View From Asia

Will The Lady break her silence on the Rohingya issue?

Asia News Network commentators urge Aung San Suu Kyi to act. Here are excerpts:

Myanmar's Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the 71st United Nations General Assembly, on Sept 21, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

'Iron Lady' is just flesh and blood

Tulsathit Taptim

The Nation, Thailand

Can Ms Aung San Suu Kyi ever be herself ? Ever since she was born, she has lived under the shadow of "dictators". At first it was her father's national status as independence hero. Then it was her own status as democracy hero, which threatened her marriage, shattered her family and brought years of house arrest. Then came the huge weight of expectation conferred by the Nobel Peace Prize.

You may argue that she brought some of this on herself, for example by choosing house arrest over exile. The truth, though, is that she is just a woman, placed by history in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't corner. She may not be perfect - none of us is - but people who are now calling her a disgrace have never spent years of their lives confined to their homes.

The Rohingya crisis in her country is a highly controversial and highly complicated issue. We can't expect one person, let alone someone who was once persecuted herself and whose political position is now uniquely precarious, to wave a magic wand and bring a fairy-tale ending. Sacrifices, understanding and cooperation are needed from everyone in Myanmar, including the ethnic minorities and the stateless Rohingya themselves.

But the writing was on the wall from day one. Many observers realised, when she was freed from her home and allowed to play a semblance of "normal" politics, that the Rohingya issue was going to be her downfall. Why? Because the majority in Myanmar have a very different view of the issue than the one held by the who's who of world politics.

To put it another way, while the Myanmar people and world leaders called in unison for Ms Suu Kyi to be released, the former expected her to take one course of action on the Rohingya thereafter, but the latter demanded another. Intensifying persecution of the stateless minority group in western Rakhine state has made things worse.

As the elected representative of her people, who should Ms Suu Kyi listen to? According to the critics, she is not listening to the people of Myanmar but kowtowing to the military, even repeating its propaganda that reports of rape, murder and ethnic cleansing are "fake" news. So the mainstream international media is doing its "duty" in reporting the persecution, condemning it and accusing her of lacking a moral conscience.

Much of the international criticism is justified, but much of it is also uncomprehending of her precarious position.

The noble and the Nobel

Rafia Zakaria

Dawn (US), Pakistan

"Suffering degrades and embitters and enrages." The words were spoken by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012 in a speech delivered in Norway.

Things have changed, it seems, and so has Ms Suu Kyi. As newspapers around the world have decried, Ms Suu Kyi along with the rest of Myanmar's government are now presiding over a massacre of Burmese Rohingya Muslims.

On Monday, the UN secretary for human rights called it "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing". Ms Suu Kyi and her ministry, however, stayed quiet. If they did speak it was to push the propaganda that the Rohingya, almost 400,000 of whom are now fleeing to save their lives, were burning their own homes.

Ms Suu Kyi's fellow Nobel laureates, including Ms Malala Yousafzai, have questioned the silence. Surely being honoured with a peace prize is meant to impute a certain moral standard, some moral duty to speak when others are undergoing the suffering that, in Ms Suu Kyi's words, degrades and embitters and enrages.

When her husband was dying abroad, Ms Suu Kyi did not leave Myanmar. She stayed. Now others are being forced to leave and she is silent.

The delusion of power

Bunn Nagara

The Star, Malaysia

Myanmar is wallowing in the throes of a hideous anniversary again - the violent persecution of its Rohingya population.

Just 10 days ago, another 40,000 were reportedly fleeing for their lives. By Thursday, UN figures reached 164,000 and, by the weekend, exceeded 250,000.

The government rejects unfavourable reports as "false news", relying on a few lame excuses unworthy of even a decrepit failed state.

After many years of not fighting back, some Rohingya are resisting through groups like the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. If militancy grows, Ms Suu Kyi will have her share of the blame. Before taking "high office", she boasted that as party leader and incoming State Counsellor she would be "more powerful than the president".

Perhaps that had some traction when she still had a cause and the personal credibility to go with it.

Today, that seems so long ago, along with notions of dignity, decency and self-respect.

Perhaps she should ask herself how and why the junta had given up power so easily if she could effectively wield power at all. Another crucial question is how long more will her international backers extend her line of political credit.

They have banked on her and invested substantially in "her government" as a budding independent Myanmar not necessarily beholden to China. But they must also know that everything has its limits. With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Beijing would not be so dependent on Myanmar for access to the Indian Ocean anyway.

Suu Kyi's Nobel - what it means


The Statesman, India

While Ms Suu Kyi's Nobel prize is safe, the development has sparked an international debate, chiefly on whether the committee should retain responsibility for the prizes it awards, and withdraw them if its laureates later violate the principles for which they were recognised.

The matter does call for more profound reflection.

Ms Suu Kyi's silence has been deeply intriguing. Both the awardee and the award are now at the core of a controversy that is embedded in man's inhumanity to man.

The other critical development which ought to stir Ms Suu Kyi's conscience is the spirited appeal by fellow Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu. He has called on the perceived icon of democracy to end the military-led operations against the Rohingya. It has been a remarkably emotive appeal by the 85-year-old archbishop who has advanced a message to Ms Suu Kyi and the world, saying the "unfolding horror" and "ethnic cleansing" in the country's Rakhine region had forced him to speak out against the woman he admired and considered "a dearly beloved sister".

Mr Tutu has urged his fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner to intervene. "I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness," he wrote in a letter posted on social media. "You symbolised righteousness. If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep."

It is the tragedy of purportedly democratic Myanmar that Ms Suu Kyi remains unmoved.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media entities.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2017, with the headline 'Will The Lady break her silence on the Rohingya issue?'. Subscribe