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IPRI # 26, 12 October 2019

Myanmar
Will prosecuting Suu Kyi resolve the Rohingya problem?

  Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Aparupa Bhattacherjee is a PhD scholar at the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme at NIAS.

In September 2019, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar called for the prosecution of Aung San Suu Kyi. The panel's report 'Detailed findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar', was submitted to the Human Rights Council. This report elaborates on the atrocities of the army on Rohingya and other minorities. 

The Chairman of the fact-finding mission stated that the Myanmar army has been continuing its "policies and practices" against the Rohingya community since 2017. He mentioned "Impunity continues. Discrimination continues. Hate speech continues. Persecution continues." Hence the panel recommended the prosecution of Suu Kyi for her in-action. 

Should Aung San Suu Kyi be prosecuted? Will her prosecution resolve the problem?

Should Suu Kyi be prosecuted?

Though the Arakan army and Tatmadaw are the perpetrators of the crime, the report states, Suu Kyi could have controlled the army. She is the leader of the National League of Democracy (NLD) which has 60 per cent seats in the Parliament, could have introduced a law to take action against the military atrocities. As an elected leader, she should have taken the responsibility to address the condition in the Rakhine State and stop violence against other minorities. 

According to Yanghee Lee, a United Nations expert monitoring development in Myanmar, Suu Kyi's government has fared worse than previous Thein Sein government. There is an increased number of arrests of reporters and others who have expressed their views against the government, under her reign.

The above argument is correct to an extent, but the ground reality is different. The army still retains a substantial role in Myanmarese politics. They have a two-third reservation in the Parliament; the Ministers of Home Affairs, Border Affairs, and Defense are also appointed by them. Even though the 2015 election has established a government elected by people, the power is shared with the army. Hence, expecting Suu Kyi to resolve the issue by introducing a bill in the Parliament and making a change is far-fetched. 

Unfortunately, the entire country is unanimous on the Rohingya; the latter is considered as Bengali and not Myanmarese. Such a national sentiment makes speaking on behalf of the Rohingya or refuting the prevalent notion detrimental for her political career. Suu Kyi is a politician, and she needs to appease her vote bank to work towards her upcoming elections. Additionally, she is part of the same societal construct; to expect her to have a different belief is not a practical one.

Moreover, the Rohingya crisis is not the only issue in Myanmar, which is marred with ethnic armed conflicts. Since coming to power, Suu Kyi's primary goal has been signing the National Ceasefire Agreement with all ethnic armed groups and the army. After five years in power, she may not succeed in her goal but have made an effort to work with the army for the same. This is remarkable given their history. Therefore, her silence on the Rohingya crisis could be a small sacrifice for the larger objective. 

Blaming Suu Kyi: What about the others? 

There are other perpetrators, Suu Kyi is not the only one to be blamed. First, the military. If Sui Kyi prosecuted, it might pave the way for the military to return to power. Recently, the US imposed a travel ban on four topmost military officials including the current Commander-in-Chief. But such bans remain ineffective.

Second, the larger problem is society. It should share the blame equally. The Burmese (the biggest ethnic group) and other ethnic groups who are fighting against the Burmese are united in their strong stand against the Rohingya. The term 'Rohingya' is not used by anyone apart from the Rohingyas within Myanmar. It is believed that they migrated to Myanmar from erstwhile colonial India's Bengal Province. The difference in complexion, language, and culture are cited as evidence of the Rohingyas not being from Myanmar. Rohingyas might be a crisis for the rest of the world; but for Myanmar, they are receiving undeserved attention. 

Finally, the regional actors. Should they not share the blame for doing nothing? The ASEAN members have been discussing this issue in their summits; but they have taken no steps to resolve it. Indonesia and Malaysia have been vocal for the Rohingyas, but no other steps were taken. 

Hence, prosecuting Suu Kyi cannot be a solution. She may be just an easy target. Also, punishing Suu Kyi will not pull down Myanmar: rather, it would consider as an unjust step taken for people who do not belong to their country. It will deteriorate the situation rather than helping the Rohingyas. 

By arrangement with the Global Politics

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