Myanmar and a Blind-Eyed Leader

Let’s take a step back and unpack the Rohingya crisis. The Rohingya — a majority-Muslim ethnic living in Buddhist Myanmar and dubbed “the world’s most persecuted minority” by Al Jazeera — have been pouring into Bangladesh in hopes of fleeing the Burmese military. Regardless of the heightened intensification of the crisis, discrimination of the Rohingya is nothing new. Legally, the Burmese government does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, claiming that the Rohingya, located predominantly in the Rakhine State on Burma’s western border, were artificially tacked on to the Burmese state through the imperial antics of the British Empire.

However, according to John Knaus from the National Endowment for Democracy, “the answer to that [claim] is highly contested,” because some Rohingya have declared themselves Burmese since the eighth century. Despite the contention between whether the Rohingya are considered to be citizens, this heavily marginalized community has been left increasingly helpless and vulnerable as attacks have increased in their frequency and their severity. The United Nations called the persecution of the Rohingya “ethnic cleansing.” As of late November, the United States Refugee Agency has reported that more than 600,000 people have fled Burma since August 24, 2017, and even more continue to flee.

With a growing number of refugees fleeing Burma and increasing concerns about human rights, Aung San Suu Kyi has had no choice but to address the Rohingya crisis. On September 19, 2017, Suu Kyi gave a speech detailing her stances on the refugee crisis. In her speech, Suu Kyi sidestepped the crisis, making baseless excuses for her lack of action. Suu Kyi passively claimed that the Burmese government needed time to figure out the real problems.

In fact, when reading articles about her speech, I noticed that Suu Kyi only mentioned the group by name when discussing how ARSA, the Arkan Rohingya Salvation Army, a Rohingya insurgent group, promoted acts of domestic terrorism. By only mentioning the Rohingya by name once (and in such negative connotation), Suu Kyi evaded the crisis. Her speech should have been spent discussing the ways in which the Rohingya crisis has unfolded and criticizing the atrocities in her country. As a leader, she should take a stance whenever possible, but Suu Kyi's ambiguity in this situation reflected a neutrality which cannot be completely justified in the face of injustice. Although Aung San Suu Kyi faces a tough situation as well — she cannot fully speak up for fear of the military retaliation, since her hold on power is fragile — in not speaking up, she tarnishes her global reputation.

With Aung San Suu Kyi’s ambiguity and tough position in the crisis, other countries must all step up to address the Rohingya crisis. Fortunately, the Canadian government has already stepped up its humanitarian efforts regarding the crisis: according to the Minister of International Development Marie Claude Bibeau, “[he] invite[s] all Canadians to be generous... donations will save lives and help more than 900000 refugees recover a sense of dignity.” Currently, the international community is the only body willing and able to quell the catastrophe; Suu Kyi must step up to the plate.

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