Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar—a position equivalent to Prime Minister—will testify in international court this week to deny allegations that the Burmese government committed atrocities of genocide against the Rohingya people. The case is being brought to the UN by The Gambia, a small African country situated between parts of Senegal on the Atlantic coast.
The sordid history between Myanmar and its Rohingya population goes back decades but became particularly dangerous in 2016. The Rohingya represent a small Muslim population in Buddhist Myanmar. What was initially a claim that the Burmese government was responding to threats of extremism quickly became unjust after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people were displaced by 2017.
In Buddhist-majority Myanmar (also called Burma), the small population of Islamic Rohingya people in the Rakhine state of Southwestern Myanmar represent the marginalized community. Years of animosity toward the Rohingya people from the Burmese fueled hate crimes and military persecution against the group of people. Since 2016, more than 20,000 Rohingya have been killed in Myanmar while more than 700,000 have fled the country to neighboring Bangladesh and beyond. In Bangladesh, though, the populations have not been met with open arms.
Issues With Refuge-Seeking Rohingya In Bangladesh
Today as nearly one million Rohingya remain displaced after seeking refuge in Bangladesh, poverty, famine, and a lack of resources has become a major issue. Nearly 400,000 Rohingya children have been denied education in Bangladesh in an effort from the Bangdladeshi government to discourage them from remaining in the country.
Among the skills that the children are denied access to are things like the local language and curriculum, making it even harder for the communities to integrate with Bangladeshi society. Today, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya live in refugee camps scattered throughout the country. The Bangladeshi government has forbidden outside forces and humanitarian efforts from providing the displaced children with access to education.
Aung San Suu Kyi: From Icon of Peace to Controversial Leader
Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her political work in Myanmar, became the leader of the country in early 2016. Shortly after becoming leader the Burmese military began prosecuting the Rohingya people. Suu Kyi holds no control over the military in Myanmar.
Because many Burmese citizens support the acts of violence against the Rohingya—a movement that was fueled by disinformation, mainly through Facebook—Suu Kyi remains in a complicated situation. She cannot outwardly condemn the military over the risk of losing the support of the people.
This week Suu Kyi will face the UN in international court to deny allegations of genocide committed in Myanmar under her rule. Suu Kyi herself is not being charged, but remains the point of contact for Myanmar as the leader of the local government.
The charges have been brought upon Myanmar by The Gambia, which is asking that the UN put in measures of protection for the Rohingya people to slow the acts of violence until real action can be made. Separately, though, the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into Myanmar’s act of genocide, which the UN has described as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on December 10, 2019.