Friday, August 18, 2017 | ePaper

Suu Kyi doesn't have powers to solve Rohingya crisis

  • Print
José Ramos-Horta and Janelle Saffin :
Human-rights abuses in Myanmar's Rakhine state have led to mounting international condemnation and calls for a United Nations Commission of Inquiry. The atrocities there must be investigated, and their perpetrators held to account. But the situation in Rakhine is now fuelling criticism of Myanmar's de facto head of government, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, in a way that is obscuring the military's responsibility in the crisis. Condemning Suu Kyi, a former dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner, for not using her position as a megaphone to address the problem may be emotionally satisfying, but it does not help those most in need. It is simply wrong to say that Suu Kyi has done nothing in the face of the horrors being perpetrated in Rakhine. One must remember that Myanmar is undergoing a fragile political transition, under a constitution that gives the military a leading role in national politics, while constraining Suu Kyi.
Given that atrocities are still being committed, it would be premature to excuse or defend any of Myanmar's leaders. But we should identify the right targets for criticism. Suu Kyi has been hung out to dry while Myanmar's generals - who misruled the country for decades - have been allowed to step back as the conflict escalates.
And Suu Kyi's critics should recognise that the generals have reserved the capacity to step back in, should she suffer too much political damage. Myanmar's 2008 military-decreed constitution allows them to stage a coup d'état whenever they deem it necessary to restore order. The international community should not let itself be held hostage by this possibility; but it must be borne in mind. Although Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy to an overwhelming victory in the 2015 parliamentary election, she does not have complete authority over the government or the state. The fact that she was barred from occupying the presidency, and forced to accept the title of "State Counsellor," speaks to the inadequacies of Myanmar's constitution. The generals never intended to let a civilian government hold them to account.
As State Counsellor, Suu Kyi has the same responsibilities as other heads of state, but not nearly as much power. The military's commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, meanwhile, has little responsibility, but far more power than Suu Kyi. So, rather than focusing solely on Suu Kyi, the international community should be pressing the military and the Rakhine State parliament to work alongside the government and other parties toward peace. They can start by helping to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Suu Kyi has already committed her government to enacting the commission's recommendations, and it is now time for the military and Rakhine officials to do the same. There is also an urgent need for stronger commitments at the international level: to help provide services, defend the rule of law - in Rakhine and in Myanmar generally - and search for lasting solutions to the crisis. Curtailing development aid, as some of Suu Kyi's critics have proposed, would only serve the military's interests. Simply put, creating a culture that respects human rights and the rule of law - long ignored and violated in Myanmar - won't happen overnight.
That is why the international community should back a long-term strategy of support for Myanmar, while condemning abuses when they occur. International inquiries and fact-finding missions will not put an end to the violence, and could even inflame an already volatile situation. According to the International Crisis Group, developments in Rakhine took a "dangerous turn" in October 2016, when Rohingya Muslim militants - who have been radicalised, armed, and funded from abroad - launched a series of attacks against border-guard outposts. Among all of the stakeholders, Myanmar's military has the most power to end the conflict. Myanmar's government, despite having far less power than the military, has taken action to find long-term solutions that will secure a lasting peace. But achieving peace will be a long, painful process. Rakhine state has not experienced peace or prosperity for more than half a century. After decades of colonisation, military rule, ethnic and religious conflict, and civil wars, Rakhine has been left in a state of abject poverty and division.
This grim history includes the Japanese occupation during World War II, which precipitated the 1942 Arakan massacres - a period of communal violence between British V Force-armed Kamam Muslims (today's Rohingya) and Buddhist Rakhine villagers. Today, against the backdrop of the North Arakan Muslim League's demand for annexation to Pakistan and the Mujahid Party's effort to secure an autonomous state within Rakhine, a separatist Arakanese Independence Movement has been actively, and often violently, pursuing independence.
No UN Commission of Inquiry can unpack this history. Creating a peaceful, prosperous state and society in Rakhine will take slow, deliberate actions that are aimed specifically at building trust and a culture of respect for human rights and the rule of law. Only Hlaing, the military's commander-in-chief, has the power to launch a genuine reconciliation effort. He would do well to ignore Suu Kyi's critics, and to listen to those who are calling on him to work collaboratively with her government. There is no other path to peace.
(José Ramos-Horta is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Janelle Saffin is the Chair of the Australian Labor Party's International Party Development Committee).

More News For this Category

Doctors' must prioritise on their moral and professional obligations first

THE fact that many of our public hospital doctors' work in private clinics for an extra buck is not a new phenomenon, but this widely practiced moonlighting should not

Import is not enough; make sure people get rice at low cost

THE country is apparently facing acute food shortage; which is evident from a government decision to increase food grains import to 20 lakh tonnes this year from earlier announced

Readers’ Forum

Act fast to complete Moghbazar flyover :Traffic jam in Moghbazar and nearby areas has been increased due to the construction of the Moghbazar-Mouchak flyover. The flyover was supposed to

The fight against famine needs more voices

Liz Schrayer :If you were a teenager in the '80s, you remember "We Are the World" - a song that became the fastest-selling American pop single in history. It's

Anti-corruption concerns mobilising global sentiment

John Feffer :In democracies, corruption works in a similar way. The opposition slams the ruling party for all the ways it uses the levers of government power to benefit

Business co-financing : An alternative approach to realise SDG1

Paul Voutier :Sustainable Development Goal One (SDG1) calls for over one billion people to begin earning more than $1.90 a day by 2030. For a household of five, this

Saudi initiative to end Yemen war highly appreciable

SAUDI heir to the throne Mohammed bin Salman reportedly want to end the two-year old war in Yemen is perhaps one of the best news from the region, although

Weak construction of highways and public safety

MOST of the national highways and local roads are severely battered now by torrential recent rains, floods and from lack of regular maintenance. They are in a dilapidated condition

Factory farming: A health threat to global community

Fiona Harvey  :The use of antibiotics in factory farms in Asia is set to more than double in just over a decade, with potentially damaging effects on antibiotic resistance around

Celebrity women as UN Ambassador

Felix Dodds :I realize it's a lot easier saying this now after the film of the same name has come out and has taken over $400 million in US box