Dear Noble Laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi
You, our icon of peace and democratic freedoms, have broken your silence on the Myanmar government’s creation of the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis resulting in the panic flight of more than 421,000 Rohingya Muslims, the world’s most persecuted minority.
You glibly hold out the prospect of ‘return’ for the hundreds of thousands who fled the military crackdown, the killings, the rape and the torching of their villages. They sought an uncertain refuge in Bangladesh’s web of overwhelmed border camps.
But 'return' hinges upon the refugees passing a ‘verification process’. Even if in flight there was the likelihood of some salvaging some documents, what would qualify as valid proof of Myanmar identity, when their Temporary Residence Cards were cancelled a couple of years ago?
Do you remember the Bhutanese authorities making a similar empty promise of ‘return’ to 100,000 Lhotsampas refugees languishing for two decades in camps in Nepal? Then too the ‘verification process’ proved a farce and eventually was abandoned.
Not a single Bhutanese of Nepali origin returned. They could not prove they had been forcibly expelled, and thus had not lost their citizenship. Return as ‘voluntary migrants’ would have made it impossible to access citizenship in Bhutan. (Third-country settlement was enabled.)
In Myanmar, too, what 'normalcy' would the 'Bengalis' -- disenfranchised, disowned and dispossessed -- return to?
Daw Suu Kyi , your claims of ignorance about why there has been such an exodus? You insinuate a conspiracy: For why otherwise, you asks has the ‘majority’ of the ‘Bengalis’ in the Rakhine state conflict zone stayed back. After all, 50% of their villages are still intact. Are you acknowledging that 50% of their villages have been torched and destroyed?
An international news channel reporting on the mass exodus of the Rohingyas grimly predicted that Myanmar’s ‘historic problem’ would soon be over. Of a reported population of 1 million nearly half of the Rohingyas are fleeing.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described the treatment of Rohingya Muslims as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres concurred, “When one-third of the Rohingya population have to flee a country, can you find a better word (ethnic cleansing) to describe it?”
Is the beacon of freedom, who mutely stood at her gate year after year in Yangon, resolute in her conviction of speaking truth to power, still protesting against an “iceberg of misinformation”? Do you still believe the Rohingyas set fire to their own homes?
Does she believe that the images -- of a rickety son shouldering a bamboo pole with two baskets hanging at the ends carrying his too-frail-to-walk parents; a pregnant women struggling to walk in the mud to a camp; one-day old twins being carried in a coir basket to safety -- are fake? Are they ‘voluntary migrants’, or worse, in league with ‘terrorists?
Dear Suu Kyi, you have pulled back from going to the UN General Assembly this year. Your absence at the world body will be filled by the echoes of the words of peace you spoke last year, when you were heard with rapt attention about “our planet as a place to be shared by all.”
Fellow Nobel laureates have appealed to you to step in and protect the persecuted Rohingyas, to push for a peace process in the Rakhine state. Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguire, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman signed a letter, asking “How many Rohingya have to die; how many Rohingya women will be raped; how many communities will be razed before you raise your voice in defence of those who have no voice?”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, came out of retirement to reach out to you, his sister, “if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
In the peace movement, we still remember the inspiring words of your Noble Peace Prize lecture when you said: “Ultimately our aim should be to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless, a world of which each and every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.”
Who better than you, in many respects a refugee yourself, knows what it is to flee from persecution. After your father Aung Sang’s assassination and the years of political upheaval and military takeover in Myanmar, your mother Khin Kyi and you were given refuge in India and enabled a life with dignity. The Rohingyas deserve that same chance of a life of dignity and justice. Do not fail yourself.
Edited by Joyjeet Das