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The courage of Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, the young woman who sacrificed her bed of roses while on a sojourn to Yangon to her ill mother.

When she saw young people in the streets revolting to demand democratic reform, she then entered politics to join the revolution against the dictator General Ne Win; because she had never forgotten the Burmese people, she had never forgotten the fight that her father had led.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese politician, diplomat, and author. She is the daughter of Aung San, a revolutionary Burmese politician who fought for the independence of Burma, and Khin Kyi, ambassador of India and Nepal in 1960.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi’s father?

Aung San Suu Kyi’s father is the one who founded Myanmar Armed Forces in 1948. Myanmar Army is the largest army in Southeast Asia after the Vietnam Army. Its main responsibility is to conduct land and military operations. Aung San was the leader of Burma’s independence from British colonial rule.

In the late 1930s in Myanmar, during the period of British rule, groups constituted an alliance which they called Burma’s Htwer-Yet (Liberation). One of the groups, the Dobama Asiayone, commonly referred to as Thakins, was a Burmese nationalist group formed in the 1930s of disaffected young intellectuals; most were students.

The party, created by Ba Thaung, was built on traditional Buddhist aspects and new political ideals. The slogan of the association was: ‘Burma (Myanmar) is our country; Burmese literature is our literature; the Burmese language is our language. Love our country, raise the standard of our literature, respect our language.’

Aung San was a student. His peers described him as charismatic and passionate about politics. In 1936, he was expelled from the university because he refused to denounce the author of an article he had published in the student newspaper, which criticised a senior university official. The university students, therefore, launched a strike that lasted three months, until Aung San was reinstated at the university.

This event turned Aung San’s future upside down: during the strike, his name was published in newspapers across the country, and he became a revolutionary student figurehead nationwide.

In 1938, he became president of the Union of Burma Students, and of the University of Rangoon, where he studied law to enter politics. These commitments do not leave him enough time to study and he fails his exam. He then renounces the pursuit of a conventional career and enters into revolutionary politics.

Aung San was anti-British and anti-imperialist. He joined the Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans Association) and became Thakin. Thakin means, lord or master, a title used informally for Westerners in Burma, but Burmese used it to mean that Burmese were the true masters of their country.

In 1939, Dobama Asiayone called for a national uprising against British rule. Aung San travels to China with a partner to find associates. As most of the members of the association were Communists, they sought help from the Chinese Communists, but they were detected by the Japanese authorities, who offered their cooperation. Aung San formed a secret intelligence force with the Japanese called Minami Kikan and directed by Colonel Suzuki. The plan was to close the road to Burma and support the Burmese Homeland Rebellion.

Aung San returns to Burma and enlists twenty-nine young men for military training under the Japanese army on the island of Hainan in China. The 30 men would later become known as the ‘Thirty Comrades of Myanmar History’ and were seen as the beginning of Myanmar’s modern army.

Once the Japanese invasion was ready, the soldiers recruited Burmese in Thailand and founded the Burmese Independence Army (BIA). The Japanese army and the Burma Independence Army unit ousted the British Empire and China from Burma, and in August 1943, the Japanese declared the sovereignty of the Burma state. Yet, the Burmese government held no power over the country. Many Burmese had felt that the Japanese had no intention of giving them independence and that they were being manipulated.

Anticipating the Japanese occupation, Aung San organised the Burmese Independence Army (BIA) in 1942. The BIA initially consisted of 227 Burmese and 74 Japanese, later expanded by large numbers of volunteers and recruits. He connected with communist leaders Thakin Than Tun and Thakin Soe and socialist leaders Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein, and developed the Anti-Fascist Organisation (AFO) in 1944; after relabelled the Anti-Fascist League for Personal Freedom (AFPFL). Aung San aspired for a fairer and egalitarian society.

In 1945, the Burmese army with the succour of the allies drove out the Japanese, and after World War II, Aung San reached an agreement on Burma’s independence from Britain under ‘the Aung San-Attlee Agreement’.

Aung San was the 5th Prime Minister of the British Crown Colony of Burma from 1946 to 1947. He conducted his party, the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, to victory in the 1947 Burmese general election, before being assassinated with almost all of his cabinet.

Aung San was murdered when Aung San Suu Kyi was only two years old. For his work towards Burmese independence and the unification of the country, Aung San was revered as the father of the nation and the national hero of modern Burma. On 4 January 1948, a few months after the assassination of Aung San, Burma obtained its independence.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Picture

In 1960, Aung San Suu Kyi went to India with her mother, Khin Kyi, who had been appointed Myanmar ambassador to Delhi. After graduating from the University of Delhi in 1964, she went to the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, where she studied philosophy, politics, and economics. There, she meets her husband, the academic Michael Aris. In 1968, she worked at the United Nations for three years, she married in 1972 and had two children.

She lived and worked in Japan and Bhutan. Then she moved to the UK with her boys, Alexander and Kim.

When she returns to Yangon in 1988 to care for her gravely ill mother, Myanmar is in the midst of political upheaval. Thousands of students, office workers and monks are on the streets demanding democratic reform.

Then begins her fight. She turned out a leader in the revolt against the then-dictator, General Ne Win.

She had never forgotten the Burmese people…

She said in a speech in Yangon on August 1988: ‘I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on‘.


Aung San was assassinated by rivals under the leadership of U Saw, a Burmese Politician who served as Prime Minister of British Burma during the colonial era; but gained independence under U Nu, a leading Burmese statesman and nationalist politician, first Prime Minister of Burma under the Constitution of Burma 1947.

The civilian government formed under U Nu mismanaged to maintain the country together, there were internal problems such as corruption and ethnic insurrections which took up arms against each other.

In 1958, a division within the Anti-Fascist League for Personal Freedom (AFPFL) menaced to cause a seizure of power by the army. To circumvent this, U Nu called the military to form an interim government.

At first, the interim government seemed to seek to build a competent state: it reduced corruption, improved bureaucratic efficiency and succeeded in managing pocket armies. Pocket armies or militias is a term that emerged in the 1940s to refer to the use of militias by politicians as their own armed forces. These so-called anti-insurgency militias were made up of soldiers from armed ethnic groups who were in fact, rural villagers. In 1948, President U Nu permitted the introduction of paramilitary police reserve units known as the Sitwundan (literally ‘military load carrier’) to fight against communists and Burmese insurgents, (the Karens) but government officials were found to be incapable to dominate some of these divisions.

The coup of Etat of 1962

According to Ne Win, U Nu menaced the national integration of the country and it was his so-called incompetence to protect the country that motivated his coup in 1962. After the ousting, the constitution was ended and the Union Revolutionary Council (URC) was introduced by a decree named ‘The Law Protecting National Unity’. All political parties apart from the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) founded by Ne Win were expunged; the sole ruling party in Burma from 1962 to 1988.

The army overthrew the AFPFL civilian government of U Nu with the URC of Ne Win. The first period was ‘the direct military rule’ from 1962 to 1974 and the second was that of ‘constitutional dictatorship’ from 1974 to 1988. The government was half civil-military to 18 September 1988.

Ne Win was in authority of Burma as a dictator both as President and Prime Minister of the BSSP, or head of state and head of government of the country. His politic in Burma was typified by isolationism, totalitarianism, superstition, xenophobia, and non-acceptance of Cold War political views.

The military coup of 1988

The crowd pro-democracy protests in 1988, well known as ‘the 8888 Uprising’, put pressure on BSPP officials and Ne Win to surrender and approve a multi-party system, but on 18 September 1988, the Tatmadaw realised an upheaval against the BSPP. It terminated the demonstrations and established a new military junta, the Council for the Restoration of Public Order (SLORC).

Public support of the army had been augmented when the army respected the authority of the elected civilian government, the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL), commanded by U Nu in 1960; the public saw the elected government as corrupted and unable to run the country and return public order, with ever-growing criminal violence incidences. The military was felt as vital to ensuring the security of the country, which was crucial for the Burmese people following years of colonialism and the Second World War.

The decree ‘The Law Protecting National Unity’ was abrogated consequently the SLORC usurped power in the military uprising, later passed on to the Solidarity and Development Party of the Union, the newly put in power government, managed by its former member and Prime Minister, President Thein Sein.

The military junta had authority for 23 years until 2011. Even if the military government acceded to Burma’s totalitarian eradication of socialism, it is the same junta which opposed the score of the 1990 elections and hold prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Saga

Political strategy

Aung San Suu Kyi was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s use of non-violence. She was also guided by Buddhism.

First steps

Aung San Suu Kyi undertook politics to come to the nation’s rescue the democratisation of the country.

She contributed to the National League for Democracy (NLD) in September 1988, an observer group to the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.

She presided over mass meetings in all parts of the country, sued for peaceful democratic reform and free elections, and it was at this time that the army made its regime change.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s first incarceration

Next to this, Aung San Suu Kyi was put in prison in July 1989. The Burmese government said that Aung San Suu Kyi had been imprisoned because she was considered likely ‘to undermine the peace and stability of the country’s community, under Sections 10(a) and 10(b) of the State Protection Act 1975’ which empowers the Burmese government to hold people prisoners for up to five years without trial, and article 22 ‘protecting the State against the dangers of those who wish to provoke subversive acts’.

At that moment, when it was proposed to deliver her, on the condition that she quit Burma and never come again, she said in response: ‘As a mother, the greatest sacrifice was to give up my sons, but I was always aware that others gave up more than me. My colleagues are in jail and suffer not only physically, but also mentally for their families who have no security outside in the big Burmese prison under an authoritarian regime’.

Aung San Suu Kiy Nobel Prozes

While under house arrest, she was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Aung San Suu Kyi for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, looking at her battle as ‘one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades and an important symbol in the fight against oppression.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s sons, Alexander and Kim, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in her name. With $1.3 million from the Nobel Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi built a health and education trust for the inhabitants of Burma.

On December 2007, the United States House of Representatives voted unanimously (400 to 0) for decorating Aung San Suu Kyi with the Congressional Gold Medal.

She was the first honoree in American history to be given the distinction in prison.

While under house arrest, she received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s second detention

In 1990, the military government brought on national elections. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), attained 59% of the vote, which ensured the NLD 80% of the seats in parliament; but the victory was negated and the military withheld dominance.

Aung San Suu Kyi was thrown in jail. She rested under house arrest for 6 years and was liberated on July 1995.

Attempted Murder

Aung Sang Suu Kyi was the object of an act of aggression by the Burmese government in 1996: 200 men attacked the rally equipped with chains and metal truncheons, stones and other weapons.

Criminals were rumoured to have been recompensed 500 Kyats (@US$ 0.50) each to take part.

The NLD submitted a complaint to the police, but no pursuit was instigated.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s third imprisonment

Aung San Suu Kyi defied to cross to the city of Mandalay, breaching travel restrictions. She was for that reason again restrained at home in Rangoon.

She appealed against her detention. Many nations and personalities pushed for her liberation, plus that of 2,100 other political prisoners in the country.

In May 2002, the United Nations (UN) covertly coped with the military junta for the acquittal of Aung San Suu Kyi. A government spokesman then declared,’ she was free to move because we are convinced that we can trust each other.’

She was discharged the same month after 19 months of imprisonment.

Second attempt to kill

But in May 2003, she encountered an identical assault to the 1996’s. Her caravan was assailed by a state-owned mob in the northern village of Depayin.

Many of her supporters were massacred or wounded. Aung San Suu Kyi was contented to run away thanks to the assistance of her driver, but she was halted on reaching Ye-U. Many of her supporters were massacred or wounded.

The government sent her to prison at Insein in Rangoon, and in 2007, her captivity was increased for a year, in defiance of the intervention of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan with the junta.

Aung San stays brave

In 2008, Aung San Suu Kyi met the NLD leadership. She passes a message to the population, saying: ‘We must hope for the best and prepare ourselves for the worst.’

Aung San Suu Kyi’s fourth incarceration

On May 2009, Aung San Suu Kyi was apprehended for disobeying the parameters of her residence permit forbidding visitors: John Yettaw, an American, got at Aung San Suu Kyi’s home swimming Inya Lake. Yettaw gave an explication of he swam Aung San Suu Kyi’s home urged by a divine vision demanding him to apprise her of a threatening terrorist assassination plot and alert her that her life was ‘in peril’; and that he had tried to effectuate the same enterprise two years before, but that he had been rebuffed. Yettaw was captured three days after, during the time he ran through the round trip again.

On 13 May, Aung San Suu Kyi was seized for approving John Mettaw to rest at her place for two days before essaying to carry on swimming because he claimed to be exhausted. She was again put into detention at Insein Prison, where she risked a five-year sentence for breaking the law.

Her incarceration and lawsuit were opposed globally by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN Security Council, Western governments in Europe, Australia, North and South America, India, Israel, South Africa, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.

Her internment was also attacked by Burma’s neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Burma is an adherent, particularly in Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore. Indonesia influenced China to impel Burma to amend, and Malaysia forewarned Burma that it exposed itself to its exclusion from ASEAN because of the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Burmese government riposted by stating that ‘this umpteenth intervention created an ‘unhealthy tradition’; and condemned Thailand for its interference in their internal affairs.

The Hatoyama government Japanese promoted the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi in time for elections and to persevere in the direction of democracy and the rule of law.

China and Russia were not as critical of the state. They were specific about only wishing to talk about economic issues. Similarly, Vietnam did not espouse the cause of other ASEAN member states for Myanmar to set free Aung San Suu Kyi; it considered that this was the country’s domestic affairs and had no reproof of Myanmar’s ruling to keep Aung San Suu Kyi restrained for 18 months, triumphantly thwarting her from the elections planned for 2010; but nevertheless, ‘hoped that it would continue to implement the ‘road map to democracy’ defined by its government’.

On December 2008, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution censuring the human rights situation in Burma advocating the country work towards multiethnic national reconcilement, the reinstatement of democracy and complete acknowledgement of human rights. Eighty countries voted for the resolution, twenty-five against and forty-five abstentions.

Her trial and that of two of his servants began on May 18. Aung San Suu Kyi pleaded innocent but in August, she was sentenced to three years in prison with forced labour. She appealed on the basis that her conviction was unfair, but the appeal was dismissed in October 2009. Her sentence was reduced by military leaders to 18 months.

It was promised that Aung San Suu Kyi would be unfettered in advance of the general elections of 2010 so that she can organise her party, but in October 2010, the government announced that she would be let go on 13 November, or the day after the elections which were held on 12 October.

Once the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won the elections, Aung San Suu Kyi was released.

After 20 years of being destitute of the will of the people, a public vote was run in which Aung San Suu Kyi was precluded from standing as a candidate.

2012 legislative elections

Myanmar by-elections were driven in 2012. The elections purposed to fill 46 of the empty parliamentary seats: 6 seats in the House of Nationalities (Amyotha Hluttaw), and 40 seats in the House of Representatives (Pyithu Hluttaw).

Myanmar has a bicameral People’s Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw) consisting of the House of Nationalities (Amyotha Hluttaw) with 224 seats and the House of Representatives (Pyithu Hluttaw) with 440 seats. In the House of Nationalities (Amyotha Hluttaw), 168 members are elected by absolute majority vote in single-member constituencies and 56 members are reserved by the military. In the House of Representatives (Pyithu Hluttaw), 330 members are elected by absolute majority vote in single-member constituencies to serve 5-year terms and 110 members are appointed by the military to serve 4-year terms.

On April 2012, Aung San ran and she and her party succeeded. After state oppression against her party and 15 years of house arrest for her peaceful political activities, it was revolutionary that Aung San Suu Kyi was able to run for office in Burma since her loyalty to this crusade.

Although her party acquired most of the available seats, it still represented a minority in the Burmese parliament. The legislative elections did not demonstrate that the government was decided to institute free and fair elections. The elections were held peacefully, but party candidates had been harassed and intimidated by officials and posters had been damaged or destroyed. There were also fears of vote rigging like in the 2010 election.

Aung San said on March 2012, ‘I don’t think we can consider this truly honest and neutral if we look at what has happened over the past few months’; she decried a number of irregularities as ‘that local officials had retained the names of deceased persons on the voter rolls and excluded eligible voters’.

2015 General Elections

Myanmar effectuated general elections in November 2015. It was also the first general election in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s and her party the National League for Democracy (NLD) participated since the annulment of their victory in the 1990 elections.

The NLD procured 77.1% of the seats in the elections, 255 out of 330 in the lower house, and 135 out of 168 in the upper house. Thus, even if Myanmar’s constitution grants 25% of seats to appoint military personnel, this outcome afforded the NLD an absolute majority in both houses of parliament: 58% in the lower house, and 60% in the upper house and so to command the parliament and choose the president. The elections presented the party and its leaders with another opportunity to break off the decennaries of direct and indirect military rule.

Unluckily, Aung San Suu Kyi was authorised to become president in accordance with the rules of the army-drafted constitution because her children were not citizens of Myanmar, and it is Htin Kyaw Win Myint who was appointed as president. Nonetheless, Aung San Suu Kyi swore to govern ‘above the president’.

Aung San Suu Kyi imposes herself

A post of State Councillor was created by Htin Kyaw Win Myint specifically for Aung San Suu Kyi in April 2016. The post of Councillor is equivalent to the post of Prime Minister, which meant that she could work in both executive and legislative government. Myanmar’s military lawmakers opposed the bill to create a powerful new presidential advisory role for Aung San Suu Kyi and refused to vote in the lower house of parliament because exercising both executive and legislative powers was contrary to constitutional provisions, according to Brigadier General Maung, a military officer in the lower house.

Despite this, she became Minister of the Presidency, Foreign Affairs, Education and Electric Power. Later, she renounced the last two ministries. Her first initiative as a state councillor was to pardon students arrested for opposing the national education bill and to announce the creation of a commission on Rakhine State. Rakhine State had a long history of persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority. Aung San concentrated on seeking peace with the many armed ethnic organisations in the country, about 20 of which were engaged in active insurgencies.

The scandal of Rohingya

In 2016 and 2017, Rohingya militants attacked security installations, following which the army and the police embarked on a brutal campaign against the whole group. They were accused of committing human rights violations and pushing large numbers of Rohingya to flee the country.

In 2012 there were riots due to a series of conflicts between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. The riots began after the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three Rohingya Muslim teenagers. The police arrested the three suspects who were sent to Yanbye Prison. But on 3 June, a mob attacked a bus in Taungu, believing those responsible for the murder to be inside.

Ten Muslims were killed in the attack, activating protests by Burmese Muslims in the capital Yangon. The government appointed a minister and a senior police official for a commission of inquiry. On 2 July, 30 people were arrested for the murder of Muslims.

A state of emergency was proclaimed in Rakhine. The army commanded the region. In August 2012 there were 88 victims, 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists.

On March 1997, looting, burning of religious books, acts of sacrilege and vandalism of establishments belonging to Muslims had already taken place in Mandalay: a thousand Buddhist monks shouted anti-Muslim slogans and destroyed mosques, shops, and vehicles. Three people had been killed, and a hundred monks arrested. The turmoil in Mandalay is also said to have started after Muslim men tried to rape a girl. Myanmar’s ruling military junta turned a blind eye to the chaos, and monks were not deterred from destroying mosques.

President Thein Sein asked the UN to resettle 1,000,000 Rohingya Muslims in refugee camps in Bangladesh or another country. Non Profit Organisations (NGOs) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it was government discrimination against the Rohingya. Several human rights groups disapproved of this project, supported by the United States and the European Union.

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority who practice a Sufi variant of Sunni Islam. An estimated 3.5 million Rohingyas are scattered around the world. The Rohingya in Myanmar are a Muslim minority, ethnically linked to the Bengali people living in the neighbouring district of Chittagong in Bangladesh. They make up 90% of the one million people living in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, which borders Bangladesh and includes the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. The Rohingya are predominantly Muslim, while northerners of the Rakhine ethnicity are chiefly Buddhist and compose the greater number of the state’s three million people.

The Burmese government and historians advance that the Rohingya are in actual fact Bengali Muslims who migrated from Bengal to Rakhine State in Myanmar during and after the British colonial era of 1824-1948.

Other scholars say they have been present in the area since the 15th century, and experts from outside Myanmar assert that the Rohingya have resided in Rakhine State since at least the 15th century and perhaps as early as the 7th century.

The Rohingya insist on being descendants of Arakan Arab traders who settled in the zone in the 15th and 16th centuries. Although the etymological root of the word disagrees, the generally accepted theory is that ‘Rohang’ stems from the word ‘Arakan’ in the Rohingya dialect, and that ‘ga’ or ‘gya’ signifies ‘of’. By naming as Rohingya, the Muslim ethnic group protects its ties to the land that was formerly under the control of the Arakan Kingdom, as reported by Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a Thailand-based advocacy group.

Leaders, who rejected recognise the term ‘Rohingya’, believe the Rohingya are a political movement that set about in the 1950s to build ‘an independent Muslim sector in Rakhine. Prime Minister U Nu’s government, when Burma was a democracy from 1948 to 1962, used the term ‘Rohingya’ in radio speeches as part of a peacebuilding effort in the Mayu border region. Neither the central government nor the dominant Rakhine Buddhist ethnic group, known as the Rakhine, concede the label ‘Rohingya’. As a result, they are seen as a source of uncertainty in the country. The history of the Rohingya people is as a matter of course connected to the history of Myanmar. The country’s history helps out ‘explicate’ the persecution of the Rohingya people today.

Myanmar’s history

Myanmar is ethnically diverse. The government lists 135 national ‘races’ or ‘types of people’ in Burmese translation, categorised by ethnicity and dialect. The majority ethnic group is the Burmese, representing 68% of the population, distinct from the term ‘Burmese’ which designates all the citizens of Myanmar. The Burmese reside principally in the centre of the country, the other biggest groups, which are Burman, Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan, inhabit mainly the outer border regions of the country, also called the border areas; many of these ethnic minority groups live on both sides of Myanmar’s border with bordering countries, and a few unconsidered ones, among whom the Rohingyas.

The population of the western coastal province of Rakhine State is mainly Buddhist Rakhine, around 2 million people, while the Rohingya, around 1 million people, are generally Muslim. The Burmese authorities consider them foreigners and do not recognise them as citizens or as an ethnic group.

The persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has a long narrative:

In 1942-1945, Japan invaded British-occupied Burma during World War II. The British did not trust the Burmese, so they put together the Burmese army with minority groups separated into ethnic units, and during the war, the two groups combatted on different sides, the Burmese with the Japanese and the minority groups with the British. Muslim Rohingyas are battling alongside the British, and many Rakhine Buddhists were on the side of the Japanese. Tens of thousands of people ran away from the violence in what is now Bangladesh.

In 1947, the Burmese government and the Shan, Chin and Kachin ethnic groups ratified the Panglong Agreement, which promised ‘full autonomy in the internal administration of border areas’. The constitution also submitted the possibility of independence for ethnic minorities after ten years. In defiance of these promises, the Accord was never totally applied. Shortly after its ratification, the military began to rule the ethnic areas by force. Ethnic groups regarded the Burma Army as an occupying force rather than a government since it positioned troops in their areas, but did not afford schools, health care, or other public goods.

In 1948 Burma turned into an independent republic. The new Parliament enacted the law on citizenship of the Union. It granted that all citizens were equal, encompassing the Rohingya and other minority groups. In 1949 Burma instituted its first form of national identification. The government released registration cards to all citizens, inclusive of Rohingya. Between 1951 and 1960, Burma conducted three general elections. All citizens had the right to vote, including Rohingya. Voters elected several Rohingya as members of parliament. In 1958, the ethnic groups realised that they would not be accorded the autonomy pledged in 1947’s constitution and took up arms in retaliation.

The situation changed with the 1962’s Burmese coup d’état. While a few continued to be employed by, most Christians and Muslims were excluded from positions in the government and army. Between 1970 and 1980, when the Burmese army led by General Ne Win dethroned the elected government and built a military regime, citizenship was then withdrawn from the Rohingya.

In 1974, the government passed the Emergency Immigration Act, limiting the rights of individuals considered ‘foreigners’ from Bangladesh, China, and India. Authorities commenced confiscating Rohingya national registration cards.

In 1978 Burmese authorities introduced Operation Naga Min, or ‘Dragon King’ to register and validate the status of citizens and people considered ‘foreigners’. Soldiers assaulted and put fright on Rohingya.

In 1982 the government limited citizenship to Rohingya by passing a new three-tier law establishing citizenship based on ethnicity in Burma: 1. Full Citizens, Burmese, members of indigenous ethnic/linguistic groups, and those who can demonstrate they were Burmese descendants before 1823; 2. Associated Citizens, those born in the country after 1823; 3. Naturalised Citizens are those who can provide proof that they or their parents entered and resided in Burma before independence in 1948, or have a parent with one of three types of citizenship.

In 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations developed throughout Burma, including in Rakhine State. This triggered a brutal clampdown by the army in 1989. The government demanded everyone to apply for new identity cards, named citizenship control cards, but the Rohingya never received the new identity cards.

In 1990 and 1991, the violence was targeted against the Rohingya. The Burmese army launched Operation Pyi Thaya, or ‘Clean and Beautiful Nation’, during which soldiers commit considerable violence. Around 250,000 Rohingya deserted Bangladesh.

In 1991–1992, the government designed a special border security force, called NaSaKa, to pester and oppress the Rohingya. In 1992 around 150,000 Rohingya from Bangladesh returned to Burma.

In 1994 the government started to decline birth certificates for Rohingya children. In 1995 the government issued the Rohingya a new form of identification, known as the temporary registration card or ‘white card’ which was not proof of citizenship.

The legacy of colonialism, like the fear of foreign control over the country, is thoroughly implanted in Burmese minds. This fear influenced the course of Myanmar’s history, particularly its policies of socialism and strict military rule within the government.

While the government has played a significant role in oppressing the Rohingya, it has not been without the help of Burmese citizens. The colonial era created divisions between Burmese and minority ethnic groups, toughening the separation and suspicion between races. The government is employing the Rohingyas to unify the Burmese people of their disdain for the Rohingya. It manipulates and uses Rohingya history to achieve its own goals. The Burmese government has infused this disdain in its citizens, using dislike for the Rohingya as a means of gaining approval.  

Along the November 2015 elections, President Thein Sein promulgated the passage of numerous unfair laws as evidence that he is a strong leader and should be re-elected for another term. His campaign is charged, at least in part, by anti-Muslim discourses. When the government operated its first census in 30 years, there was no possibility to enrol as Rohingya; Rohingya had to enter as ‘Bengali’.

The military government used Buddhism to reinforce its authority and legitimacy. It couples Buddhism to the Burmese national identity, and therefore whoever opposes Buddhism thus likewise opposes the government. Rakhine Buddhists are calling for more internments and deportations of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh or the Bay of Bengal who cannot prove three generations of legal residency or the nearly one million Muslims in the state.

Although the Rohingya are a distinct ethnicity with their own language and culture, they aver have a long historical connection with Rakhine State. The Rohingya are stateless, detested in their own country and obliged to live in awful living conditions.

Since the 2012 violence, more than 87,000 Rohingya have fled the country on rickety boats. Other Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, have been affected by the influx of Rohingya escaping Myanmar, increasing tensions between local residents and the Rohingya, generated by competition for scarce resources and jobs. Each of these countries has, voluntarily or not, hosted Rohingya refugees. For the most part, they were reluctant to let Rohingya into their country, trying to dissuade them from entering or actively preventing their entry.

Between January and May 2015, religious intolerance and growing discrimination caused 30,000 Rohingya to leave Myanmar and Bangladesh. They were blocked and forced back to sea by order of the Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian governments. About 8,000 people were abandoned at sea and 370 of them died of disease and starvation.

It was only after the situation had spiralled for weeks and engendered international pressure that Indonesia and Malaysia changed their posture. On May 2015, the two countries announced that they would no longer push the boats out to sea and would provide temporary shelter for refugees. This offer was made on the condition that the international community supply assistance to the Rohingya refugees as well as financial support for their treatment and resettlement within one year.

‘Survivors recounted how they went away of persecution in Burma only to come to be held by traffickers and extortionists, in many cases witnessing death and suffering abuse and starvation, said Brad Adams, director of the Asian Division of Human Rights Watch. Interviews with officials and others exposed that these networks have government collaborators in Burma, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Since the last quarter of the 20th, there has been a continual succession of Rohingya leaving Myanmar and then returning by wish or constraint. The Rohingya are in a very difficult situation. They are entangled with no rights and nowhere to go. The Rohingya were the most persecuted group under Myanmar’s military rule, followed by the Kachin, the American Baptists. The Rohingya situation is a harsh suggestion of Jews in Nazi Germany or apartheid-era South Africa.

Burmese Army’s role in the persecution of Rohingya

Even if recent reforms intended to lessen its power, the army has played a prevailing part in political life since the 1962 coup.

Since 1948, successive governments have carried out 13 military operations against the Rohingya, particularly in 1989, 1991-1992 and 2002. During these operations, Myanmar security forces tracked the Rohingya from their land, burned down their mosques and committed wide-ranging acts; pillage, firebombing, and rape of Rohingya Muslims. Apart from these military raids, the Rohingya are repeatedly victims of robbery and extortion by the authorities and put through forced labour. Land from Rohingya Muslims was seized and redistributed to local Buddhists.

On 28 May 2015, a Health Care Population Control Act structured a birth interval of 36 months for women due to fears that minority groups will have more children than the Buddhist majority, which scared Rohingya couples that the law could control the population or ease the way for contraception, abortions or obliged sterilisation by the state.

In August 2015, the government already passed laws on race and religion, which makes it much more difficult to convert to another religion or hinder marriages between Buddhist women and non-Buddhist men; laws are seen as specifically targeting Muslims, as well as women’s rights.

In the October 2016’s episode, a small group of Rohingya men attacked several Burmese police stations in Rakhine State and nine policemen were killed. In response, the Burmese army activates a ‘demining operation’, killing people, raping women and destroying Rohingya villages throughout North Rakhine.

After a Rohingya rebel group known as ARSA attacked many military posts in Rakhine, the Myanmar military set about an excessive attack on the Rohingya. Soldiers demolish several hundred Rohingya villages and more than 700,000 Rohingya flee to Bangladesh. It is estimated that more than 9,000 Rohingya were killed in the violence.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) called on the rioters to stop. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi cautioned that the violence will continue unless the ‘rule of law’ is reinstated. She disapproved of ‘hate of any kind’ in the interview. Many minority groups raise the Panglong Accord in their demands, asking the government to respect the accord.

Some local analysts think the tumults and discord were instigated by the military, with the purpose of hampering Aung San Suu Kyi on her European tour, reaffirming their own authority, or sidetracking other conflicts involving ethnic minorities across the country.

In December 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi attended the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where she encountered allegations of genocide against the Rohingya. In her speech, Aung San Suu Kyi did not once use the term ‘Rohingya’ to evoke the ethnic group. She said, ‘it was actually a Burmese military response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. Aung San commented she wanted to work on reconciliation. She could not take sides because the violence had been committed on both sides.

Foreign human rights lobbyists have been perplexed by her incapability to take a clear position in the interest of the Rohingya minority, and there were international remonstrances for her failure to address their condition. Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership style was commented on as ‘imperious’, ‘distracted’, and ‘out of touch’.

Some activists criticised Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence on the 2012 Rakhine State riots and her indifference to the plight of Rohingyas in the 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis. Yet on 25 July 2012, when Aung San Suu Kyi gave his first speech in parliament, she called for laws to protect the rights of ethnic minorities, saying that, ‘violence would continue if minorities’ rights were not respected.’

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prizes taken back

In 2017, critics called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Prize to be rescinded, specifying her silence on the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar.

In October 2017, Oxford City Council issued that following a unanimous all-party vote, the city’s Freedom Honour, offered in 1997 in recognition of its ‘long struggle for democracy’, was to be withdrawn following evidence from the United Nations, which meant that it was; no longer worthy of that honour’. A few days later, Munsur Ali, an adviser to the City of London Corporation, presented a motion to overturn the Freedom of the City of London: the motion was seconded by Catherine McGuinness, Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee of the company, which expressed its ‘distress… at the situation in Burma and the atrocities committed by the Burmese military’.

On 13 November 2017, Bob Geldof returned his Dublin City Freedom Award in a complaint that Aung San Suu Kyi also holds the honour, stating that he ‘does not in any way wish to be associated with any individual currently engaged in mass ethnicity’ cleansing of the Rohingya people of northwest Burma’. Calling Aung San Suu Kyi a ‘handmaiden of genocide’, Geldof added that, ‘he would be proud to have his award restored if it were taken from her first’. Dublin City Council voted 59 to 2 (with one abstention) to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s City Freedom Award for Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya in December 2017; the mayor negated that the decision was incited by protests by Geldof and members of U2. At the same meeting, councillors voted 37-7 (with 5 abstentions) to remove Geldof’s name from the honorary freeman roll.

In March 2018, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum repealed Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘2012 Elie Wiesel Award’, saying again her defeat to ‘condemn and stop the army’s brutal campaign’ against Rohingya Muslims.

In May 2018, Aung San Suu Kyi was considered conniving in crimes against the Rohingya in a report by the UK Committee for International Development.

In August 2018, it was communicated that Aung San Suu Kyi would be dispossessed of her Edinburgh Freedom Award for her refusal to speak out against crimes against the Rohingya. She earned the award in 2005 for promoting peace and democracy in Burma. This will only be the second time someone had the award taken away after Charles Stewart Parnell lost it in 1890 due to a salacious affair. Also in August, a UN report, while describing the violence as genocide, accused Aung San Suu Kyi, saying, ‘she had done as little as possible to prevent it’.

In early October 2018, the Canadian Senate and its House of Commons chose unanimously to deprive Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary citizenship. This decision was accelerated by the Canadian government’s resolution that the Myanmar government’s treatment of the Rohingya amounted to genocide.

On 11 November 2018, Amnesty International announced that it was cancelling its Ambassador of Conscience award.

Does Myanmar actually have a government?

During Myanmar’s most recent election, the NLD won the majority of the country’s parliamentary seats. As the leader of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi is Myanmar’s de facto leader, officially named ‘State Counsellor’. But that doesn’t mean Aung San Suu Kyi can rein in her country, which is a military one. The military had established power years before her election and doesn’t have to answer to her. The military is guaranteed the right to appoint 25 per cent of Myanmar’s parliamentary seats, giving it veto power over constitutional amendments. As a result, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are forbidden from moving the military under civilian control.

Aung San Suu Kyi trapped

In the legislative elections on 8 November 2020, the NLD won a majority of seats in both legislative houses and was close to forming the next government. Her victory was alleged as being forged.

The newly elected parliament was due to hold its first session on 1 February 2021, but the military took power.

The military said it acted because of immense cheating in the November 2020 general election, but independent poll-watchers groups advocate there was slight evidence of this. Her supporters and rights groups say the lawsuits against her were perpetrated by the military to justify her takeover and prevent her from returning to politics.

The military takeover prevented Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party from starting a second five-year term in power.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial

Two days later, Aung San Suu Kyi was apprehended and impeached by the Burmese military, along with other leaders of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), after the Burmese military proclaimed the results of the November 2020 general election deceitful.

On 1 February 2021, a court order authorised her detention for 15 days, stating that soldiers searching his villa in Naypyidaw had discovered communications equipment. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest the same evening and, on 3 February, was charged with illegally importing at least ten walkie-talkies. She faced up to three years in prison for these charges.

On 1 April 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi was indicted for the fifth misdemeanour, a British-era colonial statute of breaching the Official Secrets Act. On 12 April, she was hit with another charge, ‘under Section 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Act’.

On 21 May 2021, a military junta commission was formed to dissolve Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) on grounds of election fraud in the November 2020 election.

On 24 May 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in person in court for the first time since the coup to face the ‘incitement to sedition’ charge against her. During the 30-minute hearing, she was interrogated on the possibility of her party’s imposed dissolution, she answered, ‘ as our party grew out of the people, so it will exist as long as people support it’.

On 2 June 2021, it was disclosed that the military had moved her and Win Myint from their homes to an unknown location.

On 10 June 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with corruption. Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers say the allegations are made to withdraw her.

On 14 June 2021, the trial against Aung San Suu Kyi began. Any conviction would frustrate her from running for office again.

On 13 September 2021, court proceedings were to reopen, but it was adjourned due to Aung San Suu Kyi presenting ‘minor health issues’ that hindered her from sitting in on the court in person.

On 4 October 2021, Suu Kyi asked the judge to reduce her times of court attendance because of her enfeeblement. Suu Kyi depicted her health as ‘strained’.

In November 2021, the Myanmar courts suspended the first verdicts in the trial without more explanation or notify a period. During that month, she was sued with another charge of corruption, corresponding to the purchase and rental of a helicopter, and of ‘incitement to dissent and violation of COVID-19 protocols’, amounting to nearly a dozen charges.

On 6 December 2021, Suu Kyi was convicted of 11 years in jail.

New accusation charges

Police lodged a corruption charge against Aung San Suu Kyi for supposedly receiving a $550,000 donation to a charitable foundation under the name of her mother. She was also blamed for misappropriating money allotted for charitable donations to build a residence, and for abusing her position to acquire rental properties at below-market prices. The state’s Anti-Corruption Commission said many of the actions stripped the state of revenue it would otherwise have collected.

A bribery charge was in addition to going to trial. Attesting as a civilian witness, U Phyo Min Thein, the former chief minister of Yangon and senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, and the regime accused Aung San Suu Kyi of corruption of accepting cash and gold bars in 2017-2018. U Phyo Min Thein said he paid $600,000 and 7 visses (11.4 kg) of gold to Aung San Suu Kyi. He set forth he met Aung San at least three times to give her silver and gold between December 2017 and March 2018. But the video has ignited suspicion from the audience because the Chief Minister’s lip movements were out of sync with the audio.

Numerous other former officials face similar charges of corruption and bribery, while Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest during previous periods of military rule.

Aung San Suu Kyi has responded not guilty. She said, ‘I didn’t take anything, and he didn’t pay her the gold or the dollars’. She expressed an opinion,’ U Phyo Min Thein was likely to have been forced by the junta to say so under detention’. She declared untrue all the corruption allegations against her and termed them ‘ridiculous’.

She was sentenced to an additional six years imprisonment.

‘Safe from domestic and international indignation, the punishment trials against Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters are plotted to expunge the democratic past’, independent Myanmar analyst David Mathieson told, and to prevent Aung San Suu Kyi from coming again to politics and participating in a new election that the military has assured by 2023.

‘Their intent is clear to everyone it seems, everyone but the international community.’

Since the coup

In the weeks following the coup, colossal numbers of people took to the streets for demonstrations. The military retorted with moral violence and inflicted a campaign of terror, foraying into homes and capturing anybody believed of supporting democracy.

More than 2 000 civilians are dead, and 17 000 people have been arrested since September 2022, a figure that continues to go up. Reports of torture in prisons are common.

Dozens of people, forming ‘People’s Defence Forces’ have taken arms to fight the junta. In some cases, anti-coup groups are supported by established ethnic armed organisations that have fought against the military for decades.

On July 2022, the junta added fuel on the fire when it killed Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former lawmaker from League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, for offences under anti-terrorism laws.

Suu Kyi has heard tell of the execution at a pre-trial hearing but has yet to speak on the event.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the deprived angel

In October 2021 Aung San Suu Kyi’s bittered older brother, Aung San Oo, an engineer who lives in the US, lodged an appeal at the supreme court in the capital, Naypyidaw, for the auction of the home and on how to split the family property the siblings were willed.

Khin Kyi, their mother, was honoured by the government with a two-acre (0.8-hectare) property after their father, the independence hero General Aung San, was murdered in 1947.

Aung San Suu Kyi was held in the villa in 1989 for 15 years, until 2010. Disconnected from the world, she would listen to BBC radio for hours each day, read books and meditate. At weekends, she would deliver pro-democracy talks from the villa, standing on top of a table to address vast crowds amassed outside the enclosure door. Hundreds or even thousands would meet to listen to her discourses.

The property, which was once one of Yangon’s most luxurious homes, was kept simple, sombre and frugal by Aung San Suu Kyi during her time living there under house arrest. She vended most of her parents’ furniture to be able to buy food while she was confined.

The legal action is not the premier Aung San Oo made a claim on the family estate. He first pursued Aung San Suu Kyi for the property in 2000. The case was dismissed by the courts, but he then presented a new application, demanding joint ownership.

In 2016, after, a Yangon court pronounced that the main house belonged to Aung San Suu Kyi while another building on the property and some of the adjoining land be owned by her brother.

He is at present contesting that judgment as ‘biased’. ‘They gave her more than half and so I am not satisfied and I am asking this right now’, Aung San Oo let knew Reuters. ‘I already let her live for free for 12 years. There is a limitation.’

He insisted that the building he had been given in the 2016 settlement had ‘collapsed’ and was uninhabitable, unlike the main villa given to his younger sister. While the two-storey villa has long since fallen into disuse, Aung San Oo’s lawyer said it was evaluated at $90m (£69m).

Aung San Oo said that: ‘The money earned from putting the house and compound up for auction would be divided equally between us.’ Local media informed the court had ordained in Aung San Oo’s favour.

There was worldwide theorising that the military, which has persistently tormented¹ Suu Kyi, has pushed his lawsuits.

End August 2022, the National Unity Government (NUG), which was founded by elected lawmakers and civil society activists in opposition to the coup, said it had declared the house a site of national heritage. It would save its sale or destruction. Nevertheless, such a statement cannot be implemented until the military junta is overthrown.

‘This is not just a house or property, this is the place where Aung San Suu Kyi was locked up for more than 15 years in her life’, said Dr Sasa, a spokesperson for the NUG. ‘This is a powerful symbol of hope for the people of Myanmar’.

Nyi Nyi, a member of the NLD and the Yangon regional parliament, said he would raise funds to fight Aung San Oo in court.

‘It will become a historical place of a leader who fought for democracy and therefore, as a citizen, even if I am not rich, I cannot lose the compound,’ he said.

Aung San Oo objected that it was a noteworthy historical location.

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