Suu Kyi Backs Govt to Diffuse Arakan Tensions

By Lalit K Jha 19 September 2012

WASHINGTON DC—The National League for Democracy (NLD) wants to allow the government to diffuse the explosive situation in Arakan (Rakhine) State to bring about a peaceful settlement, party leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday.

While declaring that the NLD does not want to make political capital out of the volatile atmosphere in western Burma, the Nobel Laureate emphasized that there must be respect for human rights.

“There must be respect for human rights and there must be rule of law,” she said. “This is the way in which we can diffuse the tensions that created the communal violence which took place as recently as a few weeks ago. The government has formed a commission to look into the situation in the Rakhine.

“We do not want to criticize the government just for the sake of making political capital. We want to help the government in any way possible to bring about peace and harmony in the Rakhine State. Whatever help is asked from us, we are prepared to give if it is within our ability to do so.”

The NLD, she added, is not in a position to decide what to do and how to operate because it is not the party in power. “I think this has to be understood by those who wish the NLD to do more. What we can do is to declare our principles and our preparedness to help in every way we can,” Suu Kyi told an event organized by the Asia Society, US Institute of Peace and the State Department in the US capital.

“Human rights and the rule of law—these cannot be ignored if we are to resolve all of these communal problems. And that, I think, has to be accepted by all responsible parties. To ignore either human rights or rule of law, or to insist in human rights and pretend and rule of law is a different matter, will not work. Nor will it work the other way around,” she insisted.

Responding to a question which the organizers received via the internet, Suu Kyi refuted that she had ever claimed that the Arakan issue was a of matter citizenship. “To begin with, I didn’t say that it was just to do with citizenship. I was talking about rule of law. And there are many aspects to rule of law. First and foremost, of course, it was a question of keeping peace in the area,” she said.

Violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims exploded in June, leaving more 80 people dead and thousands of homes burned to the ground. Human rights groups say around 100,000 people were displaced during the conflict.

“The very first crime that was committed a few months back, if that had been handled in accordance with rule of law principles, that is to say action should have been taken quickly and then justice should not only have been done, but seen to be done,” Suu Kyi said referring to the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman which sparked the initial violence.

“That would have diffused the situation. But because from the very beginning the basic norms of rule of law were not observed, the whole thing escalated and became worse and worse,” she added.

But the 67-year-old then conceded that citizenship was a factor which must be examined in the future.

“And looking at it in the long term, citizenship laws come into it. We have to know who are citizens of Burma in accordance with our citizenship laws,” she said. “On the other hand, we also have to examine our citizenship laws to find out if they are in line with international standards and with basic human rights requirements.”

Spelling out her vision of the future US-Burma relationship, Suu Kyi used her first major speech on US soil to say this should be based on mutual respect, understanding and genuine friendship and argued that this is not a one-way business.

“We have a long way to go. I’m very hopeful that Burma will get to the point when we can say, ‘Now we are a society firmly rooted in democratic values and democratic institutions,’” she said in a speech marked with several round of applause.

“To begin with, the first American to become well known in Burma was Judson, who was a missionary. He was a missionary who came to Burma in the early 19th century. He wrote the first Burmese/English dictionary and he was widely respected. He lived in Burma many years and died just off the coast of Moulmein when he had started out on an ocean voyage,” said Suu Kyi.

“After independence, we expanded our cultural and educational ties with the United States and because of the communist insurgencies that started soon after we achieved independence, we also had military relations with your country. But after 1962, these relations dwindled to almost nothing. It was not just with the United States but with the West in general that the military regime did not wish to deal.”