Lara Kajs | 4 February 2021 |
On 2 February, there was a coup in Myanmar. If we have not learned anything from disputed elections and disappointing results, it is that staging a coup and threatening democracy is everything you should not do to change the situation. Simply put, when it comes to democracy, the process must play out. Inciting a coup to overthrow the government is never the answer.
The coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to begin in Myanmar. The military claims that there was election fraud after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide, defeating the military-backed opposition, the Union Solidarity and Development party. The election commission, on the other hand, has said there was no evidence of election fraud.
Suu Kyi has been detained along with Myanmar President Win Myint, and her top deputies. In addition to the detentions, lawmakers, cabinet ministers, journalists, and activists, have been reported missing.
The military has issued a state of emergency for one year and power has been transferred to General Min Aung Hlaing. In Yangon (Rangoon), there is a communications blackout, air travel into Myanmar has been stopped, banks are closed, and the military is patrolling the streets.
The coup is a major blow to Myanmar’s decade-long transition from military rule to democracy. The country was ruled by a military dictatorship from 1962 to 2011. In 1988, there was a crackdown on a popular uprising, and thousands were killed. The military changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989.
The Rohingya Crisis
The current situation in Myanmar is a double-edged sword for human rights advocates, especially for those following the Rohingya crisis.
In an investigative report released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), an integral part of the Myanmar government’s policy is increasing the poverty of the Rohingya and blocking their economic development. The policies include restricting Rohingya travel between (and in some cases within) townships within Myanmar.
Reports of checkpoints on roads that specifically target the Rohingya include body searches and extortion of money. Arbitrary taxation, a marriage tax, and a tax on the death of cattle have also been reported. The Rohingya have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and extortion for the release of persons falsely arrested. So, although there was no just cause to detain the individuals, their families still had a pay an extorted fee to have them released.
Since the Rohingya are not recognized as citizens and are labeled as stateless, they do not have any rights, and there are no provisions for government services such as education, health, or infrastructure in the areas in which they live.
Suu Kyi’s Silence
One of the perplexities of the situation is that the 1991 Nobel Laureate has declined to speak out against the persecution of the Rohingya. It seems impossible that a leader with the human rights resume she has would choose not to speak out on the horrible and despicable maltreatment against an ethnic minority.
Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years under house arrest until her release in 2010. She has been called a hero of democracy. But Suu Kyi has not simply remained quiet. Since her ascension to power in 2016, she has taken the side of the government and has been culpable in the persecution of the Rohingya. While she claims that her reasons for not raising a voice have been to prevent escalation of the situation, many have been left to question, if those reasons are truly valid. The persecuted Rohingya have taken to the sea and fled by the millions, to escape the horrors of a country drenched in Islamophobia.
For many, the silence of Suu Kyi seems to be the path that supports her best interest and not necessarily in the best interest of the Rohingya people. Would speaking up change the situation? It is difficult to say, but NOT speaking up against atrocity crimes seems to be the low road. Suu Kyi has told supporters to resist the coup. However human rights observers are concerned that the coup will turn back the clock to a time when the country was dominated by a military dictatorship.
Leaders all around the world, including the newly elected Biden administration, released a statement that the U.S. “stands with the people of Burma and their aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace, and development.” While many world leaders are calling for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, they are also suggesting that she steps down from office stating that she was complicit in the atrocities committed against the Rohingya and that she ignored their suffering.
The 2017 military campaign of ethnic cleansing saw a million Rohingya driven from their homes. Suu Kyi did not just condone the actions, she defended them. In 2019, Suu Kyi was called to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to answer questions regarding the genocide. The Myanmar government denies the charges. During her testimony, she refused to say the word “Rohingya” calling the minority group “terrorist interlopers.” Although many argue for her release, few stand in support of her.
Photo Credit: Peaceful Protest Resisting Coup – 4 February 2021 – Licensed by CC 4.0 International license