Burma's Rohingya Muslims: Aung San Suu Kyi's blind spot

They suffer appalling violence and discrimination, but so far Aung San Suu Kyi has been notably silent on their plight

Aung San Suu Kyi's continued silence on the plight of Burma's Rohingya Muslims is sparking concern that the Nobel Peace Prize winner is failing to live up to her stature as one of the world's most celebrated pro-democracy campaigners.

Scores of people have been killed and tens of thousands have been made homeless during three months of inter-communal rioting between Buddhist and Muslim gangs in western Burma. Although there have been deaths on all sides, the Rohingya Muslims have been hit disproportionately hard in a state where they are already routinely discriminated against.

Throughout her two decades in jail and under house arrest, Ms Suu Kyi earned herself worldwide adoration for her refusal to bend to Burma's military junta and her steadfast criticism of all human rights abuses inside her country.

But "The Lady" has remained uncharacteristically silent on the persecution of Burma's Rohingya, knowing that speaking out would risk alienating many of her political allies who are vehemently opposed to them.

Diplomats and human rights groups have grown increasingly dismayed by her silence. One senior British minister told The Independent: "Frankly, I would expect her to provide moral leadership on this subject but she hasn't really spoken about it at all. She has great moral authority in Burma and while it might be politically difficult for her to take a supportive stance towards the Rohingya, it is the right thing to do."

During her visit to Britain in June, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, privately urged Ms Suu Kyi to take a more proactive role in seeking reconciliation. The Independent understands that the matter was raised again by officials in Rangoon after Ms Suu Kyi was appointed chair of a committee dealing with the rule of law, peace and security. But so far their pleadings have fallen on deaf ears.

The Rohingya are a deeply unpopular cause inside Burma, where much of the country's majority Buddhist population view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The UN tells a different story and describes them as among the world's most persecuted people. Despite having lived in Burma for generations they are denied citizenship, need permission to marry or have more than two children and must notify the authorities if they wish to travel outside their villages.

Such policies were enforced by Burma's military but there is also little support for the Rohingya among Burma's pro-democracy opposition groups, with some of the so-called Generation 88 leaders among the most outspoken Rohingya critics.

Western Burma has long simmered with inter-ethnic tensions between the region's 800,000 Rohingya and their Arakanese Buddhist neighbours, but things came to a head in early June following a spate of tit-for-tat killings. The violence was initially sparked by allegations that a gang of Rohingya men had raped an Arakanese woman. Ten Muslims were lynched in response, sparking days of rioting. There have been strong suggestions that Burma's security forces actively encouraged – or at least turned a blind eye – as Rohingya were burned out of their homes. Journalists who have recently travelled there say the Rohingya have suffered the worst of the violence, with scores killed and an estimated 68,000 living in appalling conditions after they were forced out of their homes.

Whether Ms Suu Kyi will heed calls to use her influence in stemming the violence is difficult to predict.

"Politically, Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from opening her mouth on this," Maung Zarni, a Burma expert and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, told the Associated Press. "She is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She's a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote."

Anna Roberts, the executive director of Burma Campaign UK, said: "This is an incredibly serious situation and it continues to deteriorate at a very fast rate.

"There has not been anything like the international response that would be expected for a crisis on this scale."

Rohingya: The persecuted

For more than 30 years the Burmese government has denied citizenship to the 800,000 Rohingya people living within its borders, leaving them without a country of their own and leading the UN to describe them as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Legend holds that they are the descendants of Arab traders shipwrecked on the coast of Burma in the 8th century, and their dispersal across southeast Asia points to some kind of seafaring heritage in centuries past. Now, thanks to their language—a Bengali dialect similar to one spoken in southeast Bangladesh—the Rohingya are seen as illegal immigrants by Rangoon and many ordinary Burmese, prompting many to attempt to flee to third countries in rickety boats.

Tens of thousands have sought refuge in makeshift camps along the border with Bangladesh following clashes with Buddhist locals, sparked by reports that an Arakan Buddhist woman had been raped by three Rohingya men.

Julius Cavendish

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn