By Lucy Beach (BA History)
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has come under scrutiny in recent months from the international community over the violence of the army towards the Rohingya people of the Rakhine state in Myanmar.
Ethnic tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Rohingya have always been taut, and violence is not a new issue, dating back to the end of the Second World War when the Union Government refused to grant the Rohingya people citizenship, though the last few months have seen an increased international awareness of the conflict.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, many fleeing the country for refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. Those who survived are now sheltering in the vast camps that have become an all-too-common sight in a conflict-ridden world.
The military has claimed that it is the Rohingya themselves who have been carrying out the violence in the Rakhine region, but the evidence is highly dubious. When questioned by correspondents from the BBC, photos were presented supposedly depicting Rohingya burning down houses of Buddhist monks in the village of Maungdaw. However, these seem to have been faked, and poorly so, with ‘lacy tablecloths’ used as headscarves and some of the supposed Rohingya recognisable to the journalists as people they had just met in the village.
The situation of government in Myanmar has improved, if slowly, over the last few decades since Suu Kyi’s civil government took on the governing of the country, after the 70-year period under military rule.
However, the military still retains a significant measure of constitutional power, meaning that democratic reform in the country has been painstakingly slow. In 2015 MPs voted against the removal of the military’s constitutional veto, a major setback to reform. As such, some have argued that Ms Suu Kyi can’t move too far against the army due to threat of another military takeover that would dash all hopes of reform.
However, it is questionable as to whether Suu Kyi’s civil government is doing all it can to help alleviate the violence towards the Rakhine Muslims.
In a recent speech, Suu Kyi finally detailed relief plans announcing to the press that measures would be put into place to help repatriate those who have been forced to flee the country, commenting on how she believed that many would not have the documentation that would allow them over the border, which is seemingly still in the hands of the military.
But it is difficult not to question why it has taken so long for these plans to be put into motion in a humanitarian crisis that has been developing for several years.
One of Ms Suu Kyi’s advisers has claimed that she is very much concerned about the violence against the Rakhine and is dedicated to solving the problem at hand as opposed to addressing the cause. But only by dealing with the roots of the ethnic divides in Myanmar is the violence going to be brought to its long sought-after conclusion.