Suu Kyi’s image on the line

  • Myanmar
  • Monday, 09 Dec 2019

Staunch supporters: People preparing Myanmar national flags ahead of a rally in support of Suu Kyi at South Dagon township in Yangon. — AFP

Yangon: From democracy champion to defending Myanmar against genocide charges, the shock decision by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to face the UN’s top court risks further damaging her image overseas and deepening the siege mentality at home.

“We stand with you, ” proclaim billboards across Myanmar, sporting beaming portraits of the Nobel laureate as she prepares to face the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the Rohingya crisis.

Suu Kyi’s supporters are printing T-shirts, organising rallies and even signing up to VIP tours to The Hague to offer their backing.

Political parties and even some rebel armed groups have also fallen over themselves to give their support, in a country where the Rohingya garner little sympathy and are widely regarded as illegal immigrants.

Yet overseas, particularly in the West and in Muslim countries, Suu Kyi’s reputation lies in tatters with multiple awards and even an honorary citizenship revoked.

Critics say “The Lady”, once lauded alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, has become an apologist for a murderous military intent on wiping out the country’s Rohingya Muslims.

The spectacle of Suu Kyi standing up in court on behalf of the nation might play well at home but she risks suffering a fatal blow to what remains of her international reputation.

“If she’s only going to use the visit to demonstrate defiance and continue to defend the indefensible, then it only widens the impasse, ” said Yangon-based analyst David Mathieson.

On behalf of 57 Muslim countries, Gambia will call on the ICJ tomorrow to announce interim measures to prevent any further genocide by Myanmar.

It alleges Myanmar breached the UN’s Genocide Convention with its bloody crackdown against its Rohingya community two years ago.

Some 740,000 Rohingya fled into sprawling camps in Bangladesh, bringing with them accounts of widespread murder, rape and arson – violence UN investigators branded as genocide.

Myanmar says the operations were justified to flush out Rohingya militants and insists abuse allegations are under investigation by its own committees. Rights groups say those panels have only whitewashed the atrocities.

The UN team also accused Suu Kyi and her government of complicity in the violence – an astounding fall from grace for the one-time rights icon who endured 15 years of house arrest under the former military junta. She has consistently dismissed criticism of Myanmar’s military, including the damning UN report, insisting the outside world simply does not understand the situation’s complexities.

Observers are divided over why Suu Kyi is now throwing herself into the spotlight to defend the military.

Some say shielding the armed forces will bring concessions over reforms to the military-drafted constitution.

“There will be more negotiation and give-and-take between the government and the military, ” said political analyst Maung Maung Soe.

Others suggest it is a political ploy ahead of elections next year, a vote-winner for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

“The majority of political parties suspect (the NLD) will benefit at the election, ” said Khin Yi from the opposition, military-affiliated USDP party.

Myanmar historian and writer Thant Myint U dismissed notions the move was simply political, saying Suu Kyi believes no genocide was carried out – the position taken by most of the country.

“I think she genuinely feels a great anger at what she sees as an unfair response from the outside world. I think she genuinely wants to have literally her day in court and make this argument, ” he said.

“I think she genuinely believes that there can be no one better to represent the country.” — AFP

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