News & Updates
May 29, 2015
Transcribed from Archbishop Tutu’s speech to the Oslo Conference on Rohingyas
The credit that is due to the government of Myanmar for reforms undertaken over the past couple of years does not blind us to the ongoing disavowal and repression of its ethnic minorities, the Rohingya population in particular.
A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country. Freedom is indivisible. All must be invited. All, a part.
The Rohingya people were not consulted when the British drew the Burmese border on the map. With those strokes of a pen, they became a borderland people; people whose ancestral land traverses political boundaries.
Burma’s post-colonial government, elected in 1948, officially recognized the Rohingya as an indigenous community, as did its first military government that ruled from 1962 to 1974.
Manipulation by the military of ethnic minorities in the west of the country dates back to the late 1950s. At first, the military sought to co-opt the Muslim Rohingya to quell the Buddhist Rakhine after Rakhine separatists had been crushed. The military turned only Rohingya.
In 1978, the Far Eastern Economic Review described the Rohingya as the victims of Burmese apartheid. A few years later, a citizenship law left the Rohingya off the list of indigenous people, describing them as Muslim immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
In the context of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, many Buddhists, particularly in Rakhine state, regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants. More than 100,000 Rohingya are trapped in internment camps. They may not leave “for their own protection.” They hold only temporary identity cards. In February, they lost all voting rights.
The government of Myanmar has sought to absolve itself of responsibility for the conflict between the Rakhine and the Rohingya, projecting it as sectarian or communal violence.
I would be more inclined to heed the warnings of eminent scholars and researchers including Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate in economics, who say this is a deliberately false narrative to camouflage the slow genocide being committed against the Rohingya people. There’s evidence, they say, that anti-Rohingya sentiment has been carefully cultivated by the government itself.
Human beings may look and behave differently to one another, but ultimately none of us can claim any kind of supremacy. We are all the same. There are no natural differences between Buddhists and Muslims. It is possible to transplant a Christian heart into a Hindu chest and for a citizen of Israel to donate a kidney to a Palestinian.
We’re born to love—without prejudice, without distrust. Members of one family, the human family—made for each other and for goodness. All of us!
We are taught to discriminate, to dislike and to hate.
As lovers of peace and believers in the right of all members of the family to dignity and security, we have particular responsibilities to the Rohingya. 2015 is a big year for Myanmar, with both a referendum on its constitution and a general election on its calendar.
Even as we seek to encourage the country to build on the reforms it has started, we have a responsibility to ensure that the plight of the Rohingya is not lost. We have a responsibility to hold to account those of our governments and corporations that seek to profit from new relationships with Myanmar to ensure their relationships are established on a sound ethical basis.
We have a responsibility to persuade our international and regional aid and grant making institutions, including the European Union, to adopt a common position making funding the development of Myanmar conditional on the restoration of citizenship, nationality and basic human rights to the Rohingya.
December 2, 2012
Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma, has been gaining an increasing amount of international attention this year. There is great hope that this once stagnant country will navigate the brisk transformation that is currently transpiring. This rapid change is due in part to the Obama administration’s decision to ease the ban on investments in Myanmar. Equally important, however, is the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and once one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners.
Suu Kyi is the only daughter of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, considered by many to be the “father of modern-day Burma” and one of the heroes of the nation’s independence in 1948. Inspired by her father and influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, Suu Kyi entered politics to work for democratization. One of her most famous speeches was Freedom From Fear, which began: “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” Her outspoken protest again the country’s military rule and widespread repression led to her detention in 1989 and she was held under house arrest for nearly two decades until her release in November of 2010.
Suu Kyi’s release was followed by significant change in her country. President U Thein Sein became president in early 2011 and has moved the country swiftly toward democratization, freeing a number of political prisoners and taking steps to liberalize the state-controlled economy. His government also reached out to Suu Kyi. In response, she returned to political life and was elected to Parliament in April 2012. Her party, the National League for Democracy, won nearly every seat in the elections. Following this landslide victory, Suu Kyi stated, “What is important is not how many seats we have won — although of course we are extremely gratified that we have won so many — but the fact that the people are so enthusiastic about participating in the democratic process.”
On the heels of Suu Kyi’s victory the European Union and Australia suspended their sanctions against Myanmar followed by the United States’ suspension of the enforcement of most American sanctions. In September 2012, President Thein Sein publicly praised Suu Kyi, stating, “As a Myanmar citizen, I would like to congratulate her for the honors she has received in this country in recognition of her efforts for democracy.” In another first, Mr. Thein Sein’s speech was broadcast live in Myanmar, allowing the country’s citizens an opportunity to witness the president’s outspoken tribute to Suu Kyi. President Obama paid an historic visit to Myanmar in November to push the country’s leaders to continue their democratic reforms, and announce new trade initiatives between the two nations.
That one woman’s strength in the face of so much repression and suffering can effect so much change in a country in desperate need of hope is a testament to the power of peace.
October 6, 2011
When awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was called “One of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades.” She has said that one of her inspirations was South Africa’s successful struggle to end apartheid led by peacemakers like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and others who never stopped working to make South Africans free from oppression.
At the beginning of this week, on Monday, October 3, 2011, Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s (Myanmar’s) pro-democracy leader, expressed worry about the hope of reaching unity and democracy in her country. She explained that the challenge remains to bring Myanmar’s many diverse ethnic groups together. Like so many other leaders in the non-violent civil disobedience tradition, Suu Kyi has sacrificed much in the cause of bringing Myanmar out of its 20-year isolation into the bright dawn of democracy. After 15 years of detention, she was finally released in late 2010. She also suffered the cruel punishment of not being able to see her beloved husband one last time before he died as the government denied his request to travel from England to Burma in the last few months of his life.
Suu Kyi’s story is one of personal activism in the present-day that is a model for people who value the ultimate goal of worldwide peace, beginning with what they can do within their own cultures to instill the tradition of non-violence. It is not surprising that this daughter of Aung San, Commander of the Burma Independence Army until 1947, would be focused on creating and supporting a democracy in her homeland. Her father was assassinated in 1947 when Suu Kyi was just two years old, and soon after, her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, became active in politics, resulting in her appointment as Burma’s ambassador to India in 1960. It was there that Suu Kyi began a stellar academic career that took her to Oxford University in England for an undergraduate degree and then on to Kyoto University as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. During this time she published significant work in academic literature, met and married her husband, Professor Michael Aris, and started a family with the birth of her two sons.
In 1988 Suu Kyi returned to Rangoon from her home in England to care for her mother who had been stricken by a stroke. While there, she observed the unrest around her and began her public life, making speeches protesting the government’s ban on more than four people gathering for a meeting as well as making arrests without trials. By September 1988 when the National League for Democracy was established, Suu Kyi found herself serving as General-Secretary, with a national platform from which she could support non-violent disobedience as the way toward democracy in Burma. In December of that same year, her beloved mother, Daw Khin Kyi died, and Suu Kyi committed her life to the service of Burma, following in the footsteps of both her mother and father.
Aung San Suu Kyi could easily have stayed in England, as a successful academic contributing important work about the political and economic cultures of Asia, but she chose the more difficult path of personal activism. Instead of staying safely out of harm’s way in England with her husband and children, she took a step requiring a very special kind of courage—to put the good of the many above her own needs, mirroring the commitment her parents demonstrated toward freedom for all within Burma.
When she spoke this week to students in Johannesburg, she asked that the World watch events in Burma closely, and speak out as part of the global community against the atrocities reported to be happening at the hands of the army right now. Aung San Suu Kyi assures us that “We are determined to make a success of our struggle for democracy. We are not just going to sit. We are going to move to get to where we want to go.” Given the great courage Suu Kyi has shown over more than two decades since she returned to Burma to care for her mother, it is safe to say that she is a leader with unwavering purpose. She counts among her friends other great peacemakers like Archbishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, and Gro Harlem Brundtland. Aung San Suu Kyi, like her friends, is an inspirational light shining on the path of peace for us all to take together into the future.