OPINION - Aung San Suu Kyi drives final nail in Myanmar’s moral coffin
Once seen as saintly human rights advocate as daughter of Burma's revered founder, Aung San Suu Kyi now defends genocide
Wearing a shawl that resembles the flag of the Netherlands, Aung San Suu Kyi arrived at Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam, flanked with her senior deputies including the Minister for the State Counsellor Office, Kyaw Tint Swe, and the Minister for International Cooperation, Kyaw Tint. I can not help thinking what might be going through the Myanmar leader’s mind. But I can speculate that she may be deluding herself as the daughter journeying in her father's footsteps. Her father, Gen. Aung San was considered by the majority of Burmese to be the founder of modern Myanmar.
Once the world's most admired Burmese heroine, Suu Kyi reportedly told the press that she often talked to her father's larger-than-life portrait hanging in her colonial mansion saying: "Father, it's down to just you and me [against the repressive military rulers]". That was during the 15 years of on-and-off house arrest under the military dictatorship in the late 1980s and 1990s.
For a politician who has more often than not invoked her father's revered name and his legacy as a unifying nation-builder, it is not far-fetched to speculate that Suu Kyi might be drawing in her mind a historic parallel between the journey her father made to India and England in 1947 to negotiate Burmese independence, and her own journey this week to the Netherlands where she is leading Myanmar's legal team in her government's attempt to deny and dismiss the allegations of genocide by Gambia at the International Court of Justice. However, the missions could not be more different. Whereas Aung San offered Muslims of Northern Arakan (Rakhine) full and equal citizenship in a newly independent Myanmar, the daughter largely claims them to be "illegal Bengalis" hell-bent on taking a slice of Myanmar through terrorism.
In January 1947, when Suu Kyi was barely a toddler, her now-martyred father Aung San accepted the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee's invitation to come to London for a meeting discuss and negotiate the terms and timetable for the Burmese independence with the British Labour leader and Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Aung San made a stop in Karachi in the pre-partition colonial India to meet and discuss the issue of Muslims in Arakan with the Muslim league leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah on Jan. 7. Arakan, now known as Rakhine, was the Burmese province that bordered with East Bengal. In one sitting, Aung San and Jinnah were able to resolve the issue concerning the future citizenship status of Arakan's Muslims – most of whom are now referred to as Rohingya. Jinnah assured his Burmese nationalist counterpart -- and officially declared -- that "the Muslim League has no intention of raising the question concerning the annexation of Maungdaw (Northern Rakhine) in Burma in the Pakistan scheme. Muslim league has never put forward such a claim, nor do we intend to do so."
In response, Aung San, the Vice Chairman of the Burmese Executive Council in Rangoon (Yangon), told the local press: "I have had a frank talk with Mr. Jinnah regarding the press reports of the claim being made by some people for inclusion of Maungdaw in the scheme of Pakistan, I was completely satisfied with what he told me. I hope that the people of Burma will not get uneasy in any way on account of such press reports, and will continue to maintain friendly relationship and augment the mutual cooperation and goodwill between the Burmese and Muslims, or, for that matter, between the Burmese and Indians."
This peaceful and frank meeting was reported by Reuters news on Jan. 8, 1947, and Aung San went on to London where he succeeded in signing the Independence Treaty with British Labour leader Mr. Attlee. While the negotiations were going on at 10 Downing Street, Burmese nationalists back in colonial Burma were holding public rallies in support of Aung San as the sole and true representative of the soon-to-be independent Burma.
Fast-forward to Dec. 11 this week in the Gambia versus Myanmar legal dispute at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where Suu Kyi, his daughter, will be delivering her own official defense, as Foreign Minister and de facto head of state, against genocide allegations. The evidence is well-documented in the widely accepted genocide findings by the UN international independent fact-finding mission.
Tragically for the people of Myanmar today who have been holding rallies in full support of their "Mother of the People", her sole task appears to be to offer Trumpian "Alternative Facts", or "the real truths about 'Bengali' situation" before the ICJ panel of judges in the full view of the world press. She is expected to use her fading glories as the former icon of human rights, liberalism and dissent. In the eyes of the Myanmar public at home, Suu Kyi is commonly viewed as "the world’s most courageous and morally upright politician," selflessly defending the national interests of Myanmar. This view cuts across class lines among the majority Burmese Buddhists while many a national minorities are less devotional. But Kachin, Karen, Ta'ang, Rakhine, etc. are openly critical of Suu Kyi and her defense of the indefensible at the ICJ.
However much Suu Kyi may imagine herself as the daughter who is striving at all cost to complete her father's unfinished mission of building a peaceful, harmonious and democratic Union of Myanmar, their historic journeys -- and corresponding mass rallies at home -- have very little in common.
Aung San's journey to the West and Karachi was very much in line with the de-colonization processes among many other colonies struggling to shake off the yokes of racist and exploitative European colonial rule. Aung San and his Muslim counterpart, Jinnah, were able to resolve the rumoured Pakistan scheme, having ended the violent conflicts between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine that flared up in 1942 as a part of World War II. In sharp contrast, Suu Kyi’s journey to the Hague is shockingly unprecedented in that the Nobel Peace Laureate and the saintly-figure of human rights world travelled to the West to deny and dismiss the credible allegations of Myanmar's genocide of Rohingya that has been stoked by the country’s military, spiritual and civil society institutions and leaders themselves.
As a patriotic young man I grew up holding Aung San, the martyred revolutionary, as my role model. I then transferred my reverence to his daughter, Suu Kyi, when she arrived on the Burmese political scene. She seemed to be the "rightful heir" to his leadership -- with all the right credentials -- an Oxford education, years of international experience and exposure, liberal soundbites and versed in human rights discourse. All those delusions have passed. Instead, on Wednesday I will be hearing Myanmar's "Alternative Truths" straight from her mouth as I sit across the aisle near Gambia's legal team. As a veteran activist, I am left reflecting what a farce "Myanmar's struggle for human rights" has been! What an utter tragedy -- not just for the Rohingya and the minorities but also for the whole genocidal Buddhist nation!
[Maung Zarni is a Burmese coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition and a fellow of the (Genocide) Documentation Center – Cambodia.]
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