When the German transatlantic liner the St. Louis set off with 900 German Jews seeking refuge, it was 1939 and they were trying to escape what became one of the most despicable events in European history. Neither Canada nor the United States offered to help the people on this ship and it sailed on to Cuba.
Seventy-eight years later, almost 400,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the last week of August. In an ethnic cleansing led by the military, they have been driven out, their villages burnt so they have nothing to return to, and, to be doubly certain they stay out, the border peppered with landmines. Their recitation is familiar: killings, rape, torture and individual horrors often too grotesque to describe. The incidents are just the latest in a half-decade long persecution described in horrific detail by a UN report released in February.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has urged Myanmar to end the cruelty. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has affirmed evidence of genocide punishable as a crime.
As a former prime minister of Portugal, Guterres is cognizant of the responsibilities of a head of government. Thus it is with sadness one comes to Aung San Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel PeacePrize, an icon of patience, calm and fortitude who faced with unwavering courage a military dictatorship that had little regard for human rights.
She has labeled the Rohingyas terrorists and done nothing, while Myanmar’s military has determinedly continued its genocide. There is a formal definition of it in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, which in Article II, describes each of the genocidal acts punishable as a crime. The Myanmar military is guilty of all except the last. It’s worse: The February human rights report describes killings such as newborns being stamped to death.
There are other reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International displaying copious evidence that Aung San Suu Kyi continues to ignore, claiming the Rohingya are terrorists. She has been uncooperative with the UN, obstructed aid to the region, even accused aid workers of helping terrorists. Reporters are generally not allowed in the area.
Fellow Nobelists have beseeched Aung San Suu Kyi: Archbishop Desmond Tutu has appealed directly through an open letter, and Malala Yousafzai has repeatedly urged her to protect these vulnerable people. Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguire, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman have jointly signed a letter asking “How many Rohingya have to die; how many Rohingya women will be raped; how many communities will be razed before you raise your voice?” It is not new; they have been trying since 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence has been overwhelming.
In a BBC news report, correspondent Jonathan Head was led around burnt villages by minders claiming the fires had been set by the Rohingya themselves to place the blame on the military and the Buddhist population. By chance, the BBC team came upon a new fire not too far off the road. Stopping their jeep, they jumped out and ran to it, leaving their minders behind. Young Buddhist men carrying machetes had set the fires and freely admitted to working with the military to drive out the Rohingya.
The Rohingya have lived there for centuries. They speak Rohingya or Ruaingga, a distinct dialect. The differences stem from the Second World War, when they supported the British while the majority Buddhists supported the Buddhist Japanese. Following economic failures, the military junta acted against this maligned minority to garner support, revoking their citizenship in 1982 and leaving them stateless. Some historians believe they have lived along the coast in Arakan (now Rakhine) since the 12th century.
It has been several years since the mass expulsions began. For this to go on in the 21st century is an appalling indictment of the world community. For it to go on with a Nobel Peace Prize laureate at the head of a government practicing this genocide would have been unimaginable were it not true. It makes a mockery of the prize. It must not be, hence a petition to revoke it. Please join. It is the least we can do.