The persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar is back in news, thanks to the complaint lodged by Gambia at the International Court of Justice.
In short, the case of the Rohingyas, their never-ending plight plus the atrocities committed by the Myanmar army, was put before the court.
Myanmar, represented by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi tried to refute the allegations, stressing that the military action in Rakhine was not carried out with the intent of genocide but to root out insurgents who had attacked Myanmar army posts earlier.
We all know this, but Suu Kyi’s impassive face when the detailed account of the mistreatment of the Rohingyas was being read out, shows that even after so much condemnation all over, they have yet to realise or acknowledge that what happened in Rakhine was wrong.
Time and again, Suu Kyi plus the military have harped on the issue of fighting insurgents in Myanmar, sidelining the systematic relegation of the Rohingyas carried out for decades.
Suu Kyi presented several points to divert attention from the allegation with the sole motive of proving that the military action was mainly to root out subverts and, that in that drive some civilians may have been killed or injured inadvertently.
But there were too many flaws in her argument; to be frank, at times, she seemed glib and disingenuous.
Let’s look at a few statements she made which cannot be defended in any way and will crumble under the most superficial scrutiny. Call this a rebuttal of sorts if you want.
Rakhine is a strife torn state with insurgency
She called Rakhine a place of unrest though she never responded as to why it is a restive region in Myanmar. Suu Kyi went on to elaborate how the Rohingyas had helped the British during WW2 and hinted that in return, they could have been promised a separate land by the British.
During that war, the role of her father, Bogyoke Aung San, was dubious who supported the Japanese at first against an imperial power and then when the tide turned, conveniently switched sides and joined the British.
There is a belief that Rohingyas had been oppressed since the late-1940s because they had sided with the British during the war. If that is the case, then Suu Kyi's father is also guilty of the same crime, or something even more ignominious, because he changed colours during the war.
Whatever the case, Suu Kyi should have explained why Rakhine is in ferment. In her speech, she also said that the region is the most deprived and least developed. What she did not mention is that the efforts to improve lives in that part, create employment and social security had never been the government’s major priority.
Military operation was not carried out with genocide intent
She categorically denied charges of mass killings, rape and torture, stating assertively that the military’s main purpose was to uproot members of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). She went on to say that in these operations, the military could have killed some civilians but that was certainly not the intention.
In a list of vacuous and feeble defence statements, this will possibly be on top. If the army’s main target was the insurgents then why did hundreds of thousands of people suddenly decide to leave their homeland, their livelihoods and rush into Bangladesh?
Relevant to Note, the ARSA has regularly been termed a militant outfit though there is no record of the outfit carrying out attacks at religious sites or spots which are frequented by foreigners in Myanmar. Reportedly, the group was formed to defend the rights of the Rohingyas who had faced decades of tyranny.
It’s common sense that unless general people are facing death or tyranny they would never leave their homeland. An analogy can be drawn with the situation in 1971 when millions of Bangladeshis left to find refuge in India.
At that time, the Pakistanis army’s main objective was not only to suppress the revolutionary and nationalistic zeal in East Pakistan but to inject a sense of terror among the masses.
Myanmar did exactly the same thing; even if the operation was to cleanse the area of insurgents, they made sure that the common people also fled in fear carrying terrible (read indelible) experiences of the army’s wrath.
But this is not the first time that Bangladesh has taken waves of Rohingyas fleeing oppression in Myanmar. The entry of Rohingyas goes back to the late 1970s.
Suu Kyi did not underline as to why Rohingyas had always fled their homes to find security at refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Nothing about securing Rakhine for dignified return of Rohingyas
Suu Kyi made little or vague comments about the return of the Rohingyas and what Myanmar has done to ensure that the people who go back will be given security, respect and a chance to live with self- esteem.
Myanmar claims that large camps have been constructed though as per an international new agency, these camps were constructed on flattened Rohingya villages.
Coming back to Suu Kyi’s earlier statement that the army did not carry out coordinated atrocities, if we take that to be the truth, then why is it that no Rohingya living in Cox’s Bazar wants to return voluntarily?
Bangladesh prepared the stage for the return but not a single person turned out because the experiences of horror are still vivid in their minds.
Why is Myanmar not cooperating to take back the displaced?
Even if we accept the profoundly flawed arguments placed by Suu Kyi, the last question remains, if Myanmar did not carry out a systematic cleansing of the Rohingyas through brutal military action then why are they constantly equivocating on the matter of repatriation?
It’s also puzzling that Suu Kyi, as spokesperson for a military-dictated civil administration, fails to send out a clear message to the Rohingyas about coming back to Rakhine.
In the end, it's evident that Myanmar is still not contrite about what happened. They resorted to barbaric tactics to drive out the Rohingyas and to justify their action, seem determined to concoct explanations, no matter how implausible they sound.
This is being done with never ending obfuscation, obscurantism and chicanery.
Of course, Suu Kyi is feted by the Buddhist majority at home and she will possibly go on to win the next general elections though she will hardly be termed a democracy icon by the world.
She received global acclaim by espousing rights for the masses but now is a voice for the army accused of genocide.
But then, changing sides to suit one’s interest is in her blood … her father did just that; so maybe, instead of democracy icon she should be known as the queen of deception.
Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.