It is not enough to fight for justice and equality when in office, a true politician and supporter of human rights must respond to injustice where it exists and use their influence to help end it
Aung San Suu Kyi became a symbol of hope to those that lived in desperate situations without the protection of democratic rights. She stood in opposition to the Myanmar military dictatorship and was considered a threat, as exemplified by the fact that between the periods of 1989 to 2010 she was condemned to house arrest. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and in 2011 stood for a candidacy in a by-election. However, her greatest legacy, a supporter of the oppressed, could become her greatest failure.
The Rohingya people, a Muslim ethnic group of approximately 1.3 million, face severe persecution. They are not recognized as citizens (due to the highly discriminatory 1982 citizenship law) of Myanmar and as a result they lack access to education, healthcare and basic human rights. They are persistently viewed as outsiders and illegitimate ‘Bengali citizens’ by the Buddhist majority and have been attacked by some extremist Buddhist monks. The politicians, including Ms Suu Kyi, remain reluctant to address their plight and raise the debate of granting them equal citizenship.
The main issue is that supporting the Rohingya people remains politically unpopular, therefore, for the democratic process to continue Ms Suu Kyi must be rational and proceed to support policies which are popular.
However, this is unrealistic and cruel. The Rohingya have few options when it comes to fleeing Myanmar since being refused entry as refugees by the governments of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Human Rights Watch have referred to this crisis as ‘human ping-pong’, where each state refuses to accept responsibility, leading to thousands of desperate refugees at sea. According to the International Organization for Migration, 8,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis remain at sea.
Under international pressure, the above mentioned countries have agreed to allow them entry for a year, but ultimately they must be repatriated. When progress was made by the introduction of temporary identity cards, due to widespread opposition by local majorities, the law was repealed and the Rohingyas have once again become stateless.
Myanmar is an infant state, in its first years of the democratic experiment; however, democracy cannot occur if the rights of all citizens are not respected.
The majority of Rohingya people remain in dire conditions; they cannot access the same rights as others and so most continue to live in poverty with little chance of making social and economic progress. The Myanmar Government will not take any action that may prove unpopular; however, it continues to assure the international community that it will allow the Rohingyas to stay.
Ms Suu Kyi has continued to assert she is simply a politician. And yet, the continued suffering of the Rohigya people should not be ignored. A state cannot become a democracy by neglecting its ethnic minorities.
The international community has continued to pressurize the Myanmar Government, however, true change can only occur if a politician who was seen as the beacon of hope for Myanmar’s future speaks out against existing suffering.
Politics is not simply about adhering to the public’s demands. It is about comprehending that the search for justice does not end with one’s last days in office and that sometimes, unpopular decision must be implemented for the betterment of all.
The highly unpopular decision of supporting the Rohingya people will lead to greater progress in the future. The Rohingya are not the only group to face isolation in Myanmar, other ethnic minorities such as the Rakhine people also face similar discrimination. However, it is hoped that if the largest group were to be given citizenship then it would allow for smaller ethnic minorities to be granted similar rights.