PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 2:16pm

Suu Kyi's reticence on plight of Rohingya diminishes her


Bonny Schoonakker has worked as a journalist in South Africa, Europe and, now, Asia, reporting on war and peace, and everything in between, for more than 30 years. Despite being in newspapers for an uncomfortable length of time, he feels he still has a lot to learn and cannot shake off the suspicion that you are only as good as your next story, no matter how good your last one. However, he does know that truth is a lie’s best cover, and remains constantly on the alert.


Forgive me if I missed something - despite keeping an eye out - but Myanmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be at a loss for words about wanton acts of cruelty, murder and destruction in her country.

During her inaugural speech to the parliament in Naypyidaw last month she did make a call for laws protecting the country's ethnic minorities, but reports suggest she was referring to Myanmar's minorities in general and not the people trapped between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

"The high poverty rates in ethnic states clearly indicate that development in ethnic regions is not satisfactory," she was quoted as saying, in what news agencies reported was only a brief maiden speech.

"Not satisfactory" does not do justice to the images coming out of Rakhine state, where there seems to be a sustained campaign - call it ethnic cleansing - against the Rohingya.

Last month's fighting left scores dead, according to the major wire services, but what was particularly disturbing was the television footage of Myanmese soldiers standing by as homes were burnt down among the rice paddies. Human Rights Watch referred to the attacks as "atrocities", but the silence on the shore of Yangon's Inya Lake, where many distinguished visitors have paid homage to Aung San Suu Kyi over the years, has been disconcerting.

The enthusiastic welcome that she received on her European tour last month, when she was greeted by the adoring throngs as if she were Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, may have been her due, after decades of principled dissent against military dictatorship. But her inability to say anything, let alone speak out, on behalf of the Rohingya means she falls short of the status of either man.

Like Suu Kyi, Mandela and Gandhi were born in countries created by the retreat of the British empire, when nations were forged out of disparate ethnicities. If she is indeed to be worthy of their stature, she needs to find that voice with which they spoke, on behalf of everyone whom they were destined to lead.

Alex Lo is on leave


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