Is Aung San Suu Kyi throwing Burma's ethnic minorities under the bus?

A prominent Burma activist takes the Nobel laureate to task.

Roland Watson, who runs Dictator Watch, is one of the most trenchant Burma and activists and observers. On October 27 he posted an article with the, uh, provocative title: “Worst person in Burma.” Surely, he was referring to long-time junta leader Gen. Than Shwe, who still retains influence, or perhaps even current president Thein Sein, despite his reforms. In fact, counterintuitively enough, to Watson, the “worst person in Burma” is Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and now member of Burma’s parliament. Why?

“The reason for this is that, while she isn’t raping and killing people herself,” writes Watson, referring to the Burmese army as well as “Rakhine madmen” who persecute and kill Rohingya Muslims in Western Burma, “she is nevertheless directly responsible for the carnage because she is the only person in Burma who has the ability to stop it, or at a minimum to reduce its scale.”

By way of background for Watson’s article, here’s an excerpt from a previous post of mine.

In his most recent report, Burma’s Semi-Freedom Scorecard, [Watson] writes: “There are clearly winners, but also losers, from the new status quo,” by which he means victims of the organs of the “dictatorship’s oppression apparatus.” … What makes it worse, Watson writes, is that these victims will never

… receive justice. Daw Suu and [her National League for Democracy party] made a political calculation that justice must be sacrificed, that there should not be an international investigation into the regime’s crimes against humanity, or a tribunal for them, much less the ability to bring a case to a local court.

Watson has no interest in dishonoring Daw Suu (as Aung San Suu Kyi is often known to Burma’s people).

I do not mean to begrudge Daw Suu her due. She has suffered tremendously [and] maintained her courage and commitment throughout years of hardship and sacrifice.

But-t-t Suu Kyi

… has ignored the ethnic nationality plight for years. (She traditionally focused almost exclusively on the nation’s political prisoners.) Through doing this she turned a blind eye to what is Burma’s core social issue: Racism against the ethnic nationalities by the country’s Burman generals.

Why does Watson think Daw Suu threw the ethnic nationalities … under the bus? [He speculates.]

She didn’t know how bad the [Burmese army] was treating the ethnic groups; … she censored herself; she thinks the problems that the ethnic nationalities have are their own fault (as many Burmans believe) … or, she noticed that since the international community ignored the atrocities it was safe for her to do so as well.

What has made Watson double-down on his condemnation of Suu Kyi?

 Suu Kyi is the only person with real moral authority over the Burmans, of which the Army and police are comprised, and the Rakhines. Were she to call loudly and repeatedly for the attacks [by the Burmese army and by Rakhines on Rohingya] to end … the violence would subside. (She should ask to speak on national television, and make just such an announcement. If refused permission, she should make a statement to foreign media.)

Equally importantly, the International Community would no longer be able to avoid the subject. … If she spoke out, they would also be forced to condemn the atrocities, and even to support action such as the introduction of a peacekeeping force.

Watson sums up.

History will remember Suu Kyi as the the leader of a pro-democracy movement who changed her mind and surrendered, who ignored barbaric violence, who helped split a nation, and who opened it to rapacious corporate development. This will be her real legacy. This is why she is indeed the worst person in Burma.

As you can imagine, Watson’s article generated a backlash. In his “Response to Critics of ‘The Worst Person in Burma’,” he adds that Suu Kyi

… does not understand the process of social change. You cannot change a society from a dictatorship to a democracy through reform. There has to be a break: a revolution. One way or another, the dictators have to be deposed. Only then can you really move forward.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.