Yesterday, Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in court at The Hague for the start of a hearing in which she will defend her country’s military against accusations of genocide.
Suu Kyi was once lauded as a defender of human rights. She won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and spent 15 years under house arrest for campaigning against human rights and democratic abuses by the ruling military junta at the time. Having been released from house arrest in 2010, she went on to become State Counsellor (equivalent to Prime Minister) in a landslide victory for her party.
Many are, therefore, highly disappointed in her handling of the Rohingya Muslim population in Myanmar, as many as 700,000 of which were forced to flee to Bangladesh and seek asylum. The Rohingya are deemed illegal immigrants and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar. The ‘military clearances’ overseen and supported by Suu Kyi have devastated the Rohingya people.
Among those in the court were several Rohingya survivors who had flown in from Kutapalong refugee camp, the largest outside Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.
Hamida Khatun, Yousuf Ali and Hasina Begum were supported by the human rights organisation Legal Action Worldwide, which was founded by a former UN investigator of the violence, Antonia Mulvey.
“This is a momentous occasion. They have travelled a long way to be here,” Mulvey said outside the court. “They are seeking justice and this is the first and most important step.
“They are the representatives from their community. For them it’s a powerful moment to see Aung San Suu Kyi present in court. They have been shocked to see her defending the military.
“Aung San Suu Kyi did nothing to stop the killing. She could have asked for help from the international community at the time. And now, as the final insult, she’s defending the army’s behaviour in court.”
As we are about to embark on our own elections, this seemed a particularly powerful reminder of one simple point. As disenfranchisement of the electorate seems on the rise, and disillusionment with the political class feels about as low as it has ever been, as the frothing rage that seems to accompany elections these days gets into full flow, let’s just remember than none of our politicians are even close to flipping expectations in the way Aung San Suu Kyi has done.
Many of my Iranian friends are currently raising their voice in protest against the Iranian regimes treatment of their people back home. A protest by the Iranian people against the ruling elite led the country’s leadership to kill many of the protestors. They are doing their best to raise their voice against these atrocities using the relative freedom their refugee status in the UK affords them.
It pays to remember my friends. It is worth thinking about what is going on in Myanmar. Not because we want a race to the bottom with competitive suffering, but because it offers us a bit of perspective on our own elections. Whoever gets in will not be attempting to systematically wipe out minorities. Nobody will be installing a dictatorship nor will they be imprisoning those who dare to protest against them. We will be as free to criticise our government on Friday, whoever they happen to be, as we are today and were yesterday.
As we mentioned on our recent podcast, Jesus will remain on the throne come what may. For most people in my community, regardless of who gets in, very little will change in practice. Most of the same endemic problems they have faced for decades will still be there on Friday and are unlikely to be addressed adequately in the parliament to come. But the highly uninspiring choice between various shades of terrible party leaders and platforms, dispiriting as that may be, is not the faux-choice my Iranian friends are offered nor the genocide that Rohingya Muslims have suffered in Myanmar. That is a perspective we would do well to keep in mind.