Illustration: Sheri Kim

The Rohingya of Myanmar have no place to call home. A military crackdown begun in late August 2017 has left members of the ethnic minority facing destitution, disease, and death, forcing more than 600 000 Rohingya Muslims to seek refuge in Bangladesh and other countries [1]. While the government’s ban on foreign investigation makes it difficult to establish exact figures, first-hand accounts from victims paint a gruesome picture. Although the massacres have been condemned by the international community, Myanmar’s own government has done little to criticize, much less prevent, the genocide, leading to numerous calls for the retraction of Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize.

On 25 August 2017, militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in Northern Rakhine State killed ten police officers, a soldier, and an immigration official. In response, the military conducted a massive crackdown on the Rohingya, decimating entire villages and torturing, killing, and raping many innocent civilians. The destruction is so widespread that large swathes of smouldering villages in Rakhine State are clearly visible by satellite imaging.

Aung San Suu Kyi became the de facto leader of Myanmar in 2015, forming the nation’s first democratic government after five decades of authoritarian rule [2]. Despite her political triumph, Suu Kyi has, for the most part, ignored the plight of her nation. Granted, certain aspects of the Myanmarese military are beyond the Prime Minister’s control; however, Suu Kyi should have at the very least taken a public stance on her nation’s military. Instead, in her only televised appearance since the beginning of the crisis, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient used the term “Rohingya” just once – and only when referring to the ARSA militant group [3].

The Rohingya migrated to Myanmar in the early 19th century during the rule of the British Empire. However, to this day, they continue to be persecuted and are wrongly considered “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.” As the crisis looms over the lives of hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees, Suu Kyi still clings to her ignorance and cold feet by not defending the very foundation  of her country.

When Suu Kyi finally delivered a speech and broke her silence on the crisis, her words were discredited as a “mix of untruths and victim-blaming” by Amnesty International. Even though the crisis fits the definition of ethnic cleansing to a tee, Suu Kyi tactfully steered away from the criticism, stating that “As a responsible member of the community of nations, Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny” [3]. Her evasive statements on the subject appear to show that she puts political expediency ahead of her principles and integrity. Either way, she has failed to uphold the very values she championed when she was elected.

Suu Kyi recently visited the remains of some villages in the Rakhine State, walking over the rubble of the people she was supposed to defend, still without a word of acknowledgement—a clear act of insensitivity on her part. Ironically, her government recently offered to “repatriate” any displaced Rohingya who are able to confirm that they were residents of the Rakhine State [4]. Interestingly, they seemed to have overlooked the fact that the Rohingya were ousted from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back, let alone valid ID. Suu Kyi and her administration’s superficial fixes do nothing but add fuel to the fire and make the crisis more painful for those affected by it.

The attack on the Rohingya constitutes a breach of human rights, and bores a hole through the purported ideals of the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi’s party [5]. Democracy in Myanmar will not be achieved until each and every citizen – including the Rohingya – receives the most basic of human rights. Until the NLD acknowledges the rights of these individuals, Myanmar has little right to call itself a democracy. The international community for its part, continues to trade with Myanmar. Although there have been a few sanctions, Myanmar’s economy is projected to grow regardless, rendering them largely ineffective. The UN continues to refer to the crisis as an “ethnic cleansing”, even as it escalates into full-scale genocide. This is because defining it as a genocide would force the UN to send in their peacekeeping forces [6]. The unwillingness of other nations to intervene is a great moral failing, and although inevitably human, nonetheless very tragic. In the meantime, those interested in helping these people who The Economist has dubbed “The most persecuted people on Earth” [7] can contribute by donating to the following charities:


Action Against Hunger


Doctors Without Borders


Works Cited