Activists cling to hope Myanmar leader will step in on ethnic cleansing

Last week Myanmar’s de facto head of state Aung San Suu Kyi again failed to address the international communities’ concerns on the plight of the displaced Rohingya ethnic group in her country. The onetime democratic activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate seemed unaware or unwilling to acknowledge the mass exodus of the Muslim minority in the mostly Buddhist country, leading human rights officials to debate their next step in the unfolding tragedy.

In one month, more than 422,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee their home in the country’s northern Rakhine State as the Myanmar military reportedly conducts “clearance operations” that have been deemed “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein.

Rights groups have been pressuring diplomats to redirect their attention and issue targeted economic sanctions against the leaders of the campaign and the country’s true power, the military.

After decades of martial law, Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy (NLD) took control of the government in 2016 as the face of Myanmar’s long-delayed shift to democracy. But since then, she has been a “profound disappointment,” says Human Right’s Watch Asia advocacy director John Sifton, for failing to condemn the same army generals who kept her under house arrest for 15 years.

Still, he says, she may be the international communities’ only hope to halt the continuing atrocities.

Although Suu Kyi rightfully won Myanmar’s election, her formal title is state counsellor, a position she created for herself to get around the constitution’s prohibition on anyone with a foreign spouse or children from holding the presidency. Suu Kyi’s two children are British citizens, as was her late husband.

Still, she is widely recognized as the country’s leader, with the president, U Htin Kyaw, serving as a close confidant. But the Constitution allots 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military and allows the armed forces to overrule the president in the event a “state of emergency arises” or any time the army deems newly established rights are interfering with their ability to protect the state’s sovereignty.

“They realized they could manage a transition to ‘democracy’ in which she would run a civilian government, but they would continue to essentially run the national security and foreign affairs of the state,” says Sifton.

The Myanmar Army began its most recent crackdown on…

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