F ootage which emerged this week shows a large group of villagers in the northern Burmese state of Rakhine seated on the floor while two officers repeatedly beat and kick a young man. It is the most compelling evidence yet of police brutality during a security crackdown in November, and has thrust the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya community back into the full view of the international community.
The crackdown followed an attack on military personnel in Rakhine in October which the government blamed on Rohingya separatists. Bowing to pressure from abroad, Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration set up a commission to investigate abuse claims in December. After it concluded that they had been “fabricated”, human rights groups described the probe as a coverup.
Many Burmese regard the Rohingya as relics of the colonial era, believing they were brought to Myanmar by the British and are therefore illegal immigrants. As a result, they have been denied citizenship and basic rights by successive governments and are considered by human rights groups to be among the most persecuted groups in the world.
The electoral victory of Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in 2015 prompted cautious optimism that conditions might improve for the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. But few observers think much has changed.
As Joseph Mullen, an expert in persecution at the University of Manchester, points out, the NLD has in the past been ambivalent towards ethnic minorities. In addition, he told TWW, the events in Rakhine highlighted the NLD’s “apparent lack of control” over military operations and Buddhist extremism.
All this has reignited the debate over the humanitarian credentials of Ms. Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights". Is there a fundamental lack of desire to help the Rohingya within the NLD, or does the political context bind its hands? The reality may be a toxic combination of the two.