By Nicholas Boland-Cairney, Blog Writer
Progress in the international community is rarely an all-or-nothing phenomenon – and nowhere is that more obvious than in Myanmar. Time and again we hear whispers of hope from political actors and commentators, especially in regards to recent parliamentary elections in the country. The election of the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was cited by President Obama as an “important step forward in the nation’s democratic transition”. By electing a party that promised to bring democracy and human rights to Myanmar, it seems the people were finally ready to secure a future without senseless violence.
Yet, bloodshed continues to spill along sectarian fault lines.
A particularly entrenched ethnic conflict in Myanmar involves the Rakhine State’s Rohingya, a minority Muslim community. While living under oppressive and genocidal public policy for decades (namely, being denied citizenship by their own government), they managed to avoid physical conflict en masse well into the 21st century. That changed in 2012 when predominantly Buddhist Rakhine nationalists brought about a series of violent attacks against the Rohingya, fearing that Muslim population growth threatened the Buddhist way of life in Myanmar. Now many Rohingya are forcibly confined to villages and camps unable to return to areas on which their livelihoods depend, a move that has sparked international criticism of the central government. The plight of these individuals should be at the forefront of Suu Kyi’s mind, elected as she was on a platform centered on improving the country’s human rights record. Somehow, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
In the face of her reluctance to speak on the issue, the Dalai Lama made a formal plea to Suu Kyi to finally address the issue. He also specifically appealed to Buddhists living in Rakhine by asking them to throw aside negative feelings towards their Muslim neighbors. He has a good reason for doing so, as the once internal issue is beginning to cause tensions regionally. For example, while Thailand generally welcomes most migrant laborers from Myanmar, the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya has led to border issues including the brutalization of community members while in custody. At the end of the day, all Suu Kyi has really done for the situation in Rakhine is pledge to form a 27-member committee – of which there will be absolutely zero representation for the Rohingya – with the explicit goal to bring stability to the region.
Despite their current plight, the Rohingya are not entirely helpless. With the explicit intention of improving bilateral diplomatic ties, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu of Turkey came to Myanmar on June 11th. He was quoted saying that the Turkish government will support any positive steps the central government of Myanmar may take towards fixing the situation in Rakhine, while also reminding all parties involved of their commitment to providing aid specifically intended for the Rohingya. It should also be noted that while the United States has relaxed some sanctions against Myanmar, there are many sanctions still in place precisely because there are many human rights abuses still occurring. Alas, Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue makes it increasingly obvious that the Rohingya will be excluded from any potential peace process her government may intend to pursue.
It’s tough to predict what is on the horizon for a group that has been called the most oppressed in the world. What’s even more concerning is Suu Kyi’s refusal to even refer to the community by name during a visit with the United States’ Secretary of State John Kerry. Unfortunately, it appears this is symptomatic of things to come – or, rather, a lack of things to come.
To learn more about the situation in Myanmar, see STAND Canada’s comprehensive information guide on Myanmar by clicking here.