It is time to get tough on Aung San Suu Kyi and refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court
REPORTS from parliamentary select committees are usually mild affairs. Often a consensus is forged out of competing party-political interests. Few committee members want to rock the boat too much. This makes the report on the Rohingya crisis out on May 22nd from Britain’s International Development Committee even more striking. “Bangladesh, Burma and the Rohingya crisis” is as direct and hard-hitting at it gets. In the words of Stephen Twigg, the committee chairman, the report calls for “a decisive shift” in Britain’s relations with Myanmar. It is a damning indictment on the Burmese government and Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the country.
When Myanmar seemed to be undergoing a dramatic democratic transformation in 2012 Britain was one of the first to embrace the former military dictatorship. It is the second biggest aid-donor to the country after America. As the old colonial power it retains an outsize influence on the country’s politics. And as Ms Suu Kyi was married to a Brit and lived for many years in Oxford, the British government is supposed to have privileged access to the top.
This makes the committee’s report particularly striking. And they do not hold back. The committee argues that the process of turning the country into a democracy has proved to be largely illusory, and that in some respects the country is going backwards. The report also refers to the “deliberate, state-sanctioned, long-term ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people” which “some argue [is] genocide”. This falls just short of calling the fate of the Rohingya people a genocide. But it is not far off. Mr Twigg says he agrees with the UN special rapporteur that it bears the “hallmarks of genocide”.
Consequently, the report argues that Britain should use its membership of the United Nations Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC). So far the British government has refused to do this on the grounds that the UNSC would be very unlikely to reach a consensus on supporting this, so there is no point in trying. Rubbish, says the report. It is likely that a referral to the ICC would also, at the very least, make Myanmar’s generals pause before they launch any more barbaric attacks on the Rohingya. At the moment, they are acting with complete impunity.
More controversially, the report fingers Ms Suu Kyi herself. Her defenders argue that although she is the leader of the country she has little control over the army, and so cannot be held accountable for what has happened. Again, rubbish. She has chosen to defend the army’s actions, to deny human-rights violations and to ban human-rights investigators from entering the country, so she is complicit. “There needs to be a realisation and acknowledgment by the government of Burma”, the report says, “that there are consequences for such human-rights violations. There also needs to be a recognition by the UK government that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi herself is now becoming part of the problem.”
In short, the report shatters any remaining illusions about Myanmar’s so-called “transformation”. In contrast to the excoriation of Myanmar, the report praises Bangladesh’s hosting of the Rohingya. Hundreds of thousands of them are holed up in squalid refugee camps just inside the Bangladeshi border, to where they fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The report identifies this as a “public good”. But more money is needed. Britain currently gives £129m of humanitarian aid to Bangladesh and the Rohingya, but the UN says that they need about £1bn a year.
The monsoon rains are coming. Thousands of babies conceived in rape are expected to be born soon in the camps, nine months on from the height of the Myanmar army’s violent expulsion of the Rohingya from Rakhine state. The misery of the Rohingya continues. As this report lays out in damning prose, those who were responsible for their plight in Myanmar must be held to account, and soon.