When Aung San Suu Kyi led the fight for democracy against Myanmar's despotic military rulers two decades ago, she bristled at the collective reluctance of Southeast Asian governments to intervene in her nation's plight. In a newspaper editorial published in 1999, the former opposition leader slammed the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, saying its "policy of non- interference is just an excuse for not helping." "In this day and age," she wrote in an editorial in Thailand's The Nation newspaper on July 13 of that year, "you cannot avoid interference in the matters of other countries." Today, Suu Kyi leads Myanmar. And when she attends the ASEAN summit in Manila on Monday, she's likely to be counting on the bloc to keep silent while her government engages in a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims using tactics the UN has described as ethnic cleansing to force them to leave the Buddhist-majority country. It's unclear whether the crisis will be on ASEAN's official agenda, although Malaysia and Indonesia are likely to bring it up in talks on the meeting's sidelines. Bangladesh, where more than 600,000 Rohingya have arrived since late August, is not part of ASEAN. But little is expected to be done. "ASEAN summits are not designed to actually construct policy responses to major human rights issues that affect the whole region," said David Mathieson, a former human rights researcher who is now an independent analyst based in Myanmar. "Right now, Suu Kyi's government is benefiting from ASEAN's culture of inaction." The refugee crisis began Aug. 25 after Rohingya insurgents attacked several Myanmar police posts in northern Rakhine state.
Security forces responded with brutal "clearance operations" that human rights groups say killed hundreds of people and left hundreds of Rohingya villages burned to the ground. Survivors have described arson, rape and shootings by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist mobs for the purpose of forcing Rohinya to leave. Myanmar has long denied them citizenship and most people insist the Rohingya are illegal immigrants though they've lived in Myanmar for generations. Suu Kyi was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her "non- violent struggle for democracy and human rights," in the words of the Nobel committee, but has been reluctant to defend the Rohingya. In a September speech, Suu Kyi asked for patience from the international community and suggested the refugees were partly responsible for the crisis. She also tried to play down the gravity of the exodus, saying more than half of the Rohingya villages in Myanmar had not been destroyed.
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