Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: A Fallen Idol

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: A Fallen Idol

Article excerpt

Few world leaders have fallen from grace as quickly as Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel prize-winner, who also holds the US Congressional Gold Medal for her bravery and peaceful resistance to Burma's military junta, now stands accused of aiding and excusing the suppression -- even the genocide -- of the Rohingya Muslims, more than 400,000 of whom in recent weeks have fled from Burma, which elected her leader nearly two years ago.

There have been calls from her fellow Nobel laureates for her peace prize to be annulled. The UN has described action against the Rohingya as a 'textbook example of ethnic cleansing' and complained that its observers have been denied access to Burma to judge the situation for themselves. Our Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, himself under fire, has weighed in this week, also using the term 'ethnic cleansing'.

The plight of the Rohingya in Burma has been a cause for international concern for decades. Yet their recent treatment at the hands of Buddhist mobs and the military takes their persecution to a new level. What seems baffling to so many is the fact that this horror is happening under Suu Kyi, a human rights campaigner who was herself kept under house arrest for 15 years by the military. How, it's asked, can she now be colluding with her former captors, looking the other way as they use the tactics -- mob violence and murder -- once deployed against her supporters?

The answer is that she is an extreme case of a much-repeated phenomenon -- a campaigner fêted in opposition for admirable principles, but who then takes power and is found wanting.

Suu Kyi said this week that she intends to find out why half of the Rohingya population in Burma have fled. But the satellite images of about 80 burning villages are clear enough. Her spokesmen claim that the Rohingya are burning down their own villages to draw attention to themselves, even planting landmines to draw condemnation against the Burmese army. Her efforts to deny their sudden desperation to leave Burma as 'fake news' fools no one. About half of Burma's Rohingyas have now fled to Bangladesh, most arriving in the past few weeks. Such an exodus does not take place without good reason.

But even if Suu Kyi did want to take on the military, she would probably fail. While she won a mandate in the 2015 election, Burma cannot be said to be democratic in a genuine sense. Her post, that of 'state counsellor', cannot be compared to that of a western president or prime minister. …

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