The Liverpool Guild of Students is currently in the process of choosing a new name for what was formerly known as the Aung San Suu Kyi Room. This is due to a recent Change It petition which requested that the name of the room be changed because of Suu Kyi’s inaction over the persecution of the Rohingya in her native Burma.
The Rohingya people of Burma are often said to be the world’s most persecuted minority. Living in Arakan, also known as the Rakhine state in west Burma, the Rohingya have suffered severe human rights injustices. Being a Muslim minority in a Buddhist majority country, the Rohingya are subjected to fierce discrimination and brutal acts of violence. However, somehow the world remains silent and their plight goes largely unreported.
Making up over one million of Burma’s total 50 million population, they are somehow still not regarded as one of the country’s staggering number of 135 official ethnic groups. They cannot vote, and if somehow they manage to navigate institutionally enforced barriers to citizenship, they then have to identify as “naturalised” (as opposed to being Rohingya) and limits are placed on them entering certain professions such as medicine, law or running for political office. The Rohingya differ from the majority of Burmese people. For instance, they are darker in appearance and follow the Islam. The view propagated in the vast majority of Burma is that the Rohingya are a people who migrated from Bangladesh after 1826.
In recent years, Arakan has seen a spike in brutality and violence against the Rohingya with homes and entire villages set on fire by anti-Muslim mobs. Just last month alone, it was reported that over 1000 Rohingya were killed in a so-called ‘army crackdown’ in Rakhine State. Over a 135,000 Rohingya are now displaced in refugee camps, with another 80,000 fleeing to Bangladesh in the last 3 months, thus 20% of its population have been displaced.
The deafening silence from the Burmese State Counsellor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi on the atrocities against the Rohingya in Arakan is troublesome. Despite her popularity during the 1988 uprisings and becoming a prominent political prisoner under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi’s has dodged the media’s pressurising questions on the conflict. The silence from the so-called “example of power of the powerless” in the face of the media has led to speculations into the legitimacy of Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership which has rightfully been condemned by global leaders. The Nobel Peace prize winner, Suu Kyi, has been criticised and condemned by almost a dozen Nobel Laureates for “not taking enough initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingya”. In a damning open letter to the UN, the Laureates stated that “the violence in the country’s Rakhine state is to have the hallmarks of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, as well as ethnic cleansing in Sudan’s western Darfur region, Bosnia and Kosovo.”
The woman who once gave profound speeches on human rights stood on rickety tables, looking over the gate of her house whilst under house arrest, has been long forgotten by the international community. The UN has condemned her silence and called for her to “listen to her inner voice and halt the violence”. All the while in the face of the media, Suu Kyi has expressed her anger about being interviewed by a Muslim reporter from the BBC who asked her to condemn the anti-Islamic sentiment and massacre. It has even gone as far as Suu Kyi asking the United States government to not call them “Rohingya”, implying she has the stance that they are illegal immigrants.
Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly dismissed the countless documentation of Myanmar’s military committing human rights abuses. The word “fabrication” and phrases like “fake rape” have been plastered on Suu Kyi’s official Facebook account to dismiss the claims. Meanwhile, a United Nations report detailed “devastating cruelty against the Rohingya” condemning the actions of the Burmese forces. A UN official even stated that the Rohingya in Burma are being ethnically cleansed and a UN report cited a “pattern of gross human rights violations” against the Rohingya. In another report, a UN official also stated that Burma looks to expel all the Rohingya from the Rakhine state.
The Guild has a long history of standing up against injustices. For example, it started protests from as early as the 1960’s against issues such as apartheid, nuclear testing and US policy in Vietnam. For the Guild keep a room named after Aung San Suu Kyi after her inaction, with its rich progressive history, was a stain on the Guild’s pro-human rights reputation. A room is named after Nelson Mandala, for example, because he is the type of individual that we as students respect and aspire to be. These are people who have led great lives in the face of adversity and took a stand against injustices of all kinds. Aung San Suu Kyi is not one of those individuals. From being criticised by other Nobel laureates to being condemned by the UN, Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya is something that could no longer be dismissed by the Guild. Following the Change It idea that was put forward to the Guild Student Officers, it was clear as to why the name of the room should be changed. The Guild should choose a replacement which is more appropriate; someone who is respected and celebrated by the student population, someone who have a made a positive contribution to the world.
If you would like to contribute to relief efforts in support of the Rohingya people, please visit: www.justgiving.com/Rohingya2017