Suu Kyi’s visit to Singapore, the largest investor in Myanmar, coincides with the renewal of brutal repression on the Rohingyas, a stateless minority segment that has been buffeted from shore to shore… relentlessly wandering in search of a home in bordering Bangladesh. The leader, though not the President, of the present dispensation was anxious to play to the diplomatic gallery when, after a spell of conspicuous silence, she appealed for “achieving stability and rule of law”… without specifying the Rohingyas. Both Singapore and China, the other major investor – not to forget the democratic West – are aware that “stability and rule of law” remain scarce commodities in Myanmar that is now, at least theoretically, helmed by the lodestar of democracy – Aung San Suu Kyi. It is more than merely coincidental that in parallel to Suu Kyi’s calculatedly oblique reference to the minorities issue, the UN has warned that a crackdown on the Muslim Rohingyas might constitute crimes against humanity. For the elected government in Naypidaw, this was a mite embarrassing during Suu Kyi’s offshore expressions of concern, however guarded. She has stopped short of naming the community.
The concern articulated abroad chimes oddly with her decidedly intriguing silence at home. Ergo, it is doubtful if her hosts in Singapore will be convinced with her indirect effusions of sympathy for the restive minorities. The caveat of the United Nations, that resonated at the business forum in Singapore, comes in the wake of growing international criticism of a brutal crackdown on the Rohingya minority. “It is essential that the government ensures its attempts to restore security are firmly grounded in international human rights laws and standards, and that this is recognized by the affected population,” the UNHCR has said.
It is a measure of the brutality that thousands have sought refuge in Bangladesh over the past few days, reinforcing their status as a helpless, “nowhere group”. The latest bout of persecution by a predominantly Buddhist military recalls the repression during Suu Kyi’s incarceration. Before the landmark elections in November last year, she had to be circumspect not to rock the junta boat. No such underpinning ought now to deter action. Also coinciding with her essentially business mission to Singapore, the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, as the head of the Rakhine Commission, which aims to mend ethnic and religious divides in the state, has expressed “deep concern” over the violence, which has displaced an estimated 30,000 people in the latest series of attacks. After analysing satellite images, Human Rights Watch found that hundreds of buildings in Rohingya villages had been razed. The warnings by international entities suggest a measure of calculated malevolence. It’s time for Suu Kyi to act, not the least to preserve and protect her democratic credentials.