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Will Aung San Suu Kyi Ever Address The Rohingya Issue?

August 17, 2016

There’s no denying that there can’t be a quick fix for the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. But how much more time does the new government need to, at the very least, acknowledge it?

The transition from long-standing authoritarian, military administration to a democratic one was, of course, never expected to be an easy task for the new rulers, especially when their predecessors have left them with challenges, including failing economy, flourishing drug trade and fragile peace with ethnic minorities.

Yet, Myanmar’s people had many hopes when their country’s human rights champion and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party National League for Democracy (NLD) won a parliamentary majority last November.

While Suu Kyi was constitutionally barred from becoming president, she nevertheless became the de facto ruler as she assumed the responsibilities of minister of foreign affairs of Myanmar and the minister of president's office.

So far, she has touched upon issues from economic development to illegal cross-border trade. But the one problem she appears to be hesitant to tackle is that of the persecution of religious-ethnic minority Rohingya.

Myanmar is a 53 million-strong Buddhist majority country that includes a diverse set of ethnic minorities – but the Rohingya people, despite being a population of nearly 1.3 million people and living there for centuries, are not one of them.

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are officially stateless. The government regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. On the other hand Bangladesh has refused to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992.

The situation grew uglier for them in 2012, when Ashin Wirathu launched an anti-Muslim genocidal campaign, which set off a wave of bloodshed, resulting in hundreds of deaths of Rohingya Muslims, leaving more than 140,000 left homeless and over 100,000 forced to flee.

It became worse due to former Burmese President Thein Sein’s criminal silence over the actions of extremist Buddhists.

Many believed things would change for the better after Suu Kyi’s ascension to power. After all, she is someone who spent 15 years under house arrest for her pro-democracy stance and human rights activism.

But things have not changed, and by the looks of it, they are not going to change anytime soon either.

Granted, expecting a quick fix for a problem of this magnitude is naïve and impractical. However, the problem with Suu Kyi, when it comes to the Rohingya issue, is that she seems as disinterested to solve it as her Thein Sein, which would yield the same disastrous results from his rule.

Hopes for any betterment dimmed even further when she banned the term “Rohingya” and instead asked foreigners to refer to them as “people who believe in Islam in Rakhine state.” By doing so, she essentially gave a major victory to all the Buddhist nationalists and extremists who want to get rid of the Rohingya from Myanmar.

Thein Sein was a military ruler who believed in appeasing Buddhist extremists to maintain his power, rather than focusing on human rights abuses being committed against an unwanted people.

But why is Aung San Suu Kyi adopting the same callous approach? What is her excuse?

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