Defending the Indefensible
A sight that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the human rights and democracy icon of Myanmar, will stand at the International Court of Justice at the Hague as the agent representing the State of Myanmar to respond to charges of genocide committed against the Rohingya by the Myanmar military. Unless she surprises the world by condemning the actions of the Myanmar military, her fall from grace will be complete, at least in international eyes and in the eyes of people in Myanmar who take a stand for justice and accountability. Meanwhile, it is saddening that her decision to represent Myanmar is drawing support from sections of the public in Myanmar, cheering on a genocide denier. Yet statements from ethnic nationality communities – themselves victims of the persecution and violence of the Myanmar State, especially the Myanmar military – demonstrate that outside a Bamar chauvinist mindset, her halo is not as strong, despite misleading press reports.
On 10 – 12 December 2019, the State of Myanmar will participate in oral hearings regarding the charges of genocide brought to the international court of justice by the State of Gambia on behalf of the Office for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The case is based on Myanmar’s breach of the 1948 Genocide Convention in relation to the two waves of mass violence committed by the Myanmar military in ‘clearance operations’ in 2016 and 2017 that forced nearly one million Rohingyas out of their homeland to seek refuge in Bangladesh. The UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM), based on its investigation, recommended that “senior generals of the Myanmar military should be investigated and prosecuted in an international criminal tribunal for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.” Based on the findings such as those of the IIFFMM, Gambia was able to file this case at the ICJ. While Myanmar has consistently rejected the legitimacy of the IIFFMM, as a state party to the Genocide Convention, it is engaging in proceedings, hence the decision made by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Laureate, to appear at the ICJ’s court in the Hague, Netherlands, to defend the indefensible.
Unfortunately, sections of the Myanmar public are in full support of Amay Suu. Loyalty is a virtue, but can also be blind. Facebook profiles are being changed in support of her, while rallies are being planned to publicly display support for her decision to defend the interests of the nation. While this reflects the vitriol that dominates society in terms of the Rohingya, it also represents a success for the propaganda departments and cyberwarfare teams of the Myanmar military, that has been behind the spread of hate-speech misinformation, and rumor aimed at building public support for their violence. Furthermore, such hate-mongering has succeeded in dividing the country, and elevating the military’s own image as the defender of both the nation and its Buddhist identity against the illegal, ‘Bengali’ Muslim immigrants that are converting Buddhist women, having too many children, and instigating an Islamic takeover of Myanmar. Sadly, as in other parts of the world, such ideas have gained traction, with fear and hatred dominating public discourse on the Rohingya, even among individuals working among so-called human rights organizations.
However, many people, especially those from non-Bamar ethnic communities are fully aware of the lies, machinations, and political games of the state organs of Myanmar as they defend their actions on the international stage. Public denials at the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council are a hallmark of military dictatorship, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is simply following a well-trodden path that has included, in the past, current Chairperson of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, U Win Mra. Thus, Karen National Union, urged the Government to “uphold and abide by international humanitarian norms and principles,” adding that “The pattern of the military operation is similar to what we have faced,” reminiscent of the “four cuts” campaign employed by the Myanmar military against Karen and other ethnic communities. A joint statement of Nationalities Alliance of Burma (USA), Canadian Burma Ethnic Nationalities Organization (CBENO) and Coalition of Burma Ethnics, Malaysia (COBEM) also welcomed the move.
The reason why ethnic groups have come out in support of the case is because they themselves have faced decades of violence and persecution that have been deemed violations of international criminal, human rights and humanitarian law. While many in central parts of Myanmar have faced hardship, poverty, and persecution based on their political beliefs or support for democracy, they have not had violence inflicted upon them due to their identity as the Ta’ang, Shan, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Rakhine, Rohingya and many more ethnic groups have. As the above joint statement outlined, “Like the Rohingya, other ethnic nationalities of Burma suffer from serious and persistent violations of basic human rights, and are subjected to violent persecution under military rule.”
While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was not the one who inflicted the violence against the Rohingya, she is defending those who did, acting as the most effective shield for the worst excesses of the Myanmar military. She, and her supporters are on the wrong side of history and humanity, and it is the Myanmar military, their longtime opponents, which are reaping the rewards.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
Resources from the past week
Statements and Press Releases
By 22 Civil Society Organizations
By 9th Civil Society Network for Peace – Kachin
By Amnesty International , ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
By Human Rights Watch
By International Court of Justice
By International Criminal Court
By Karen National Union
By Karen National Union
By Nationalities Alliance of Burma (USA), Canadian Burma Ethnic Nationalities Organization (CBENO), Coalition of Burma Ethnics, Malaysia (COBEM)
By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
By Talong Villagers
By World Kachin Congress
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”