When Aung San Suu Kyi was finally able to collect her Nobel peace prize in 2012, the committee’s chairman described how her “firmness of principle” in the struggle for human rights and democracy had made her “a moral leader for the whole world”. Since taking power in Myanmar, the former political prisoner’s moral credibility has been vastly diminished if not demolished by her failure to even acknowledge the brutal persecution of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state. A dozen fellow Nobel peace laureates have lamented her inaction faced with “a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.
On Tuesday, the increasing gulf between her and her long-time international supporters was exposed again when she appeared alongside the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. The EU rightly backs the United Nations human rights council’s decision to dispatch a fact-finding mission over allegations of murder, rape and torture by military and security forces. She insisted the decision was “not in keeping with what is really happening on the ground” and would make matters worse.
The stateless Rohingya population, who are Muslim, have been abused and suppressed for decades. In 2012, massacres killed more than 200 people and displaced around 140,000 to what are effectively detention camps. In 2015, the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London concluded that Myanmar was coordinating with ethnic Rakhine ultra-nationalists, racist Buddhist monks and its own security forces in a campaign of genocide. It fears that process may be escalating. In October, military “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine state following attacks on border police posts by Rohingya militants forced tens of thousands to flee; a UN report details allegations of atrocities including gang rape and child murder.