Burma and the Rohingya, late September 2017

Lately, the western press is acting like they put Aung San Suu Kyi in office and that she has failed them. The feeling seems to be “we built you up, and now we can do the opposite.”

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of the founder of the modern Burmese army, though he was still killed for that fact when she was very young. Here in the United States, she would be called an army brat.

Far from our fancy of a great leader, she has fallen short on her commitment to human rights. In a dazzling reverse, she has stunned the world with her coldness and lack of empathy for the Rohingya and their stateless plight. The Rohingya have been in Burma for centuries. History has the facts of their presence in Burma and they have participated in the life of that nation for many, many years.

Today, their villages are being burnt. Tens of thousands are on the run to escape from rape, starvation and destruction of their old and young. The sea is a harsh ally, but thousands are trying that route to flee from the government sponsored violence. An uncountable many have drowned in the attempt. Bangladesh is offering shelter for those that choose the land route, but resources are strained in the face of growing numbers of refugees.

Smallish Rohingya attacks have given the Burmese army a cover to overplay their military might. Troublemakers will be making their way to the Rohingya leadership, if they haven’t already. I hope the leaders on both sides will reject politics via the gun barrel. The Rohingya must act as the peacemakers in this conflict. The Burmese military love fighting their own in their own country and all minority communities there have felt the burn of a multitude of human rights abuses against their communities.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spoken to the Rohingya issue, but it was a disappointing talk if there ever was one. In some ways, she is the leader in Burma, but in other, meaningful ways, she is not. The military holds 25% of the seats in parliament by constitutional rule, so it is not as though she is in a position to lead the nation with a free hand.

Most of us who campaigned for her release from house arrest did so for her, but, more importantly, the campaign was to secure civilian ruled government for the country. A return to the steel fist of the military would be a terrible loss for democracy in Asia.

Kofi Annan has supplied some suggestions and perhaps she will listen to him. Annan’s proposals lack a big solution to what is becoming an intractable problem.

I believe the answer is simple and it is one that the international community could get behind. Forget asking Aung San Suu Kyi to give up her Nobel Peace Prize. That is silly stuff and a pointless gesture because many of the Nobel winners would have to do the same. Instead, I humbly suggest that an immediate process needs to be started to provide passports to the Rohingya people who can prove they have been there for years – say, at least two generations. For those who can establish long term residency, demand that the Burmese government grant Burmese passports to the Rohingya. Begin immediately to prove the good faith of the government to the rest of the world. If this process begins in earnest, then the international community can breathe a bit and know the change is real.

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