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Yvonne Ridley: Democracy, death and dictatorship under Aung San Suu Kyi

By Yvonne Ridley
November 25, 2016

CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley says campaigners and the international community must apply pressure on Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi

SHOCKING new satellite pictures from Myanmar have exposed evidence of widespread ethnic cleansing in the troubled Rakhine State, according to human rights groups.

The news is a further blow to the tens of thousands of us around the world who campaigned for years to have pro democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi set free from the house arrest enforced by the ruling military junta in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

For the uncomfortable truth is there is little to separate the diminutive Suu Kyi from the dictatorship which was globally reviled because of its treatment towards her and her vast army of supporters. She was swept to power on a peaceful, non violent campaign but her hands are now stained by the blood of innocents.

Oh how we all celebrated at Myanmar's elections last year, hailing them as historic, the birth of a new era of democracy and political freedom in a country which had been in the grip of the awful military junta.

Edinburgh was among many to offer the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) the freedom of the city while universities and other institutions feted her with accolades and awards as she did a global lap of honour after being released.

However, we must now accept that the fragrant, charismatic Suu Kyi is morphing into a dictator who is beginning to mirror the old regime she so despised. The generals of the Myanmar military who were forced into embracing a sliver of democracy by the international community or endanger their own lucrative, global business arrangements must be both bemused and delighted by the transition of the world's most famous house arrest prisoner.

For the truth is Suu Kyi has built her political reform of Myanmar around a frenzy of ultra-nationalism and Islamophobia. Her supporters might grudgingly admit this was the price she had to pay for democracy but the reality is she made a calculated decision on the backs of those who needed her most ... the Rohingya people.

Nearly a million of the ethnic minority group were were banned from voting as the NLD swept to power in Myanmar. Her vast network of influence from the NLD and countless NGOs was created and supported by billions of dollars from the fat cats who dominated Wall Street and London's Square Mile. 

Of course, the support of the banksters has not been unconditional given that foreign investment into the country's industry and infrastructure was promised to the big corporations and institutions which invested so heavily in Suu Kyi’s rise to power.

Since it was British and US taxpayers money that helped fuel the 'Saffron Revolution' of 2007 as thousands of Bhuddists (the cornerstone of the NLD) took to the streets it is highly unlikely a Westminster government will freely intervene. 

The immense show of people power was largely bought and paid for by the West and it ensured Suu Kyi’s uncontested victory in recent elections. Although the generals moved swiftly to ensure she could not become president of Myanmar she still vowed to make all decisions even though a close ally was appointed over her.

Under the constitution, drawn up by the generals, anyone with foreign children is barred from becoming president, and she has two British sons. However, she sneered at the rule book declaring: "If I’m required to field a president who meets the requirements of section F of the constitution, alright then we’ll find one. But that won’t stop me making all the decisions as the leader of the winning party."

Now the petitions are being drawn up again, but this time against Suu Kyi. It is vitally important that those of us who supported her yank her chains and remind her and the military junta that no one is above the law. This latest petition aimed at Westminster urges the British government to suspend the Myanmar ambassador in London.

Although still held back by the London-based government, the human rights abuses should provoke statements and alarm from within Holyrood including those who supported and feted Suu Kyi when she last visited Scotland.

Although her supporters are partly responsible for creating this monster, Myanmar is still susceptible to international pressure and the threat of suspending an ambassador in London will send a chill wind through the corridors of power. The last thing the corrupt generals want is a threat to their money-making enterprises overseas.

So how bad is the persecution of the Rohingya people? The high resolution images show that between November 10 and 18, 820 buildings were destroyed in five villages in the jungles of the remote state. The damage is in addition to earlier reports by the human rights group of around 430 demolished buildings, along with evidence of multiple fires.

In 2013, Human Rights Watch accused the Burmese authorities of "ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingyas. The region of Maungdaw, northern Rakhine, is now seeing the biggest upsurge of violence against the minority in four years. 

Yale's Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic analysed research conducted by Fortify Rights and Al Jazeera, to see if genocide had been committed as defined by the 1948 United Nations. 

There is clear evidence that four acts of the 1948 UN convention on genocide had been committed and atrocities include:

- The Rohingya, who have their own distinctive language, culture, history and traditions, have been killed by security forces, or by the local Rakhine population as security forces stood by without intervening

- Some have been subjected to rape, torture, arbitrary detention and other crimes

- Inflicting conditions to destroy the group

- Preventing births within the group as well as restricting and/or blocking marriages

"What we want Burma to do is allow for a UN-assisted investigation into what’s happened on the ground in these districts," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division.

In the meantime Suu Kyi, once hailed as a female version of Nelson Mandela, who secured a landslide in the November 2015 elections, remains silent as do her biggest supporters in Washington and Westminster. Only the Chinese defence ministry has urged calm and restraint. Oh the irony.

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