Following her release from house arrest in 2010 Aung San Suu Kyi was a gold plated darling of the Western political world. Politicians from around the world journeyed to her home country of Myanmar to talk with Kyi, and of course, to be seen with her. Kyi’s name became synonymous with women’s rights, and pro-democracy movements. In April, 2016 she became the state counsellor of Myanmar, a position similar to a prime minister.
So imagine the irony when some of the same people who championed her cause in the past began accusing her of ethnic cleansing last week.
Kyi is under increasing pressure to halt the army offensive that has uprooted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and forced them to flee across the border to Bangladesh and beyond. The Rohingya people are a minority group in Myanmar, made up of roughly 1 million men, women, and children. The majority of Rohingya are Muslims and most live in the northern Rakhine State. They have been pushing for their own nation-state for decades without success. The government has cracked down on Rohingya civilians following the start of a renewed insurgency last year.
The current crisis was sparked by attacks on police stations in northern Rakhine by Rohingya militants, which killed twelve security personnel. Myanmar responded with a military offensive that has reportedly resulted in burned out Rohingya villages and attacks on civilians. The purpose of the offensive is to drive them out of Myanmar. So far, that is what has been happening. Bangladesh is feeling the pain from a surge of refugees across its border since late August. The nation is taking steps to limit the influx of Rohingya and has placed restrictions on their ability to travel around Bangladesh. The hope of the Bangladeshi government is that the Rohingya will be permitted to return home in the near future.
Judging by events over the last week or so that does not appear as if it will happen. Myanmar has shown no signs of letting up on its efforts to drive the Rohingya out. Even with international pressure increasing, Kyi is not backing down. She will not be attending the UN General Assembly session and has blamed the global media for working to increase tensions with biased news coverage that portrays Rohingya entirely as persecuted civilians. It will be interesting to see if any resolution comes out of New York this week and whether or not Kyi will bow to international pressure and stop the military offensive.