Aung San Suu Kyi: The Rise and Fall of Asia's Mandela
CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 9/13/2017, 6:48 a.m.
By Jamie Tarabay, CNN
(CNN) -- For years she was the epitome of the peaceful protester, steadfast in her devotion to democracy in her homeland of Myanmar through non-violent means.
Aung San Suu Kyi was lauded on the global stage, awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, and praised for her refusal to incite violence while under house arrest for 15 years after winning a presidential election the ruling military refused to accept.
Now protesters around the region are torching effigies of the democracy icon, furious at her failure to act while Myanmar's military lays waste to land held by the minority Rohingya Muslims, shooting civilians and sparking a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of people who have been denied citizenship in the Buddhist-dominated country.
"These are mass killings and they're taking place right now and Aung San Suu Kyi's office is not only doing nothing to stop it -- in some ways they're throwing fuel on the fire," said Matthew Smith, founder of human rights groups Fortify Rights, who is currently at Kutupalong Refugee camp in Bangladesh, where many Rohingya have fled.
While it is the country's military that has cracked down on the Rohingya in this latest spasm of violence, Suu Kyi is considered the country's de-facto leader. Her official post is State Counsellor and she is said to be the president's confidante.
Moral face of Myanmar
Her father General Aung San is revered as the country's founder after it gained independence from the British in 1948. And as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for being "an outstanding example of the power of the powerless," the expectation and pressure she faces to be the moral face of Myanmar is undeniable.
Recent Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai has called on her fellow laureate to condemn the "tragic and shameful treatment" of Myanmar's Rohingya population.
Suu Kyi has ostensibly made it her life's work to fight for human rights and democracy, which has made her silence over the Rohingya crisis so grating for her supporters to see. But even before the most recent developments, Suu Kyi had displayed a disconcerting sensibility regarding Muslims in Myanmar.
Her attitude towards some of the ethnic groups which make up Myanmar's population was clear for anyone to see over years of media interviews.
In a 2013 television interview with BBC News she disputed the characterization of the violence being perpetrated against the Rohingya at the time as ethnic cleansing. She was criticized then too, for not standing up for the persecuted minority, who were being kept in internment camps while Buddhist nationalists and firebrand monks spread anti-Muslim sentiment across the country.
"This is what the world needs to understand, that the fear is not just on the side of the Muslims, but on the side of the Buddhists as well," she said. When journalist Mishal Husain argued that the violence had inordinately affected Muslims and caused tens of thousands to flee, Suu Kyi didn't mention Muslims at all in her answer.