Dublin City Council
Civic Office, Wood Quay
November 30, 2017
The Rohingya community from Ireland is writing to your honourable offices on the issue surrounding the ‘Freedom of the City of Dublin’ bestowed on Aung San Suu Kyi.
In May 2009, a small number of the Rohingya community was resettled in Ireland by the government of Ireland. We came from two refugee camps in Bangladesh where most of the members of the community spent over 17 years. We fled from the 1991 ethnic cleansing campaign named “Operation Clean Nation” under the former military junta. We have now resettled in Ireland and are happy to call Ireland our home. We feel part of both the Rohingya community and the Irish community where we and our children are working to become part of Irish society. We are working in our communities with volunteers, neighbours, local schools and colleges and governmental and non-governmental organizations for further integration in Irish society while also remembering where we came from, our identity and the family and friends that we left behind.
We share in the values of Irish society, a belief in freedom, solidarity, the protection of human rights, fairness, social justice and equality, all of the values which Irish society as a whole represents and of course, Dublin City Council.
Ireland has had a long history of protection of human rights and for acknowledging individuals and groups who work towards social justice. Our community joined hundreds of Dubliners and human rights activists across the country on June 18, 2012 to give Aung San Suu Kyi a ‘céad míle fáilte’ in Dublin city when she was handed one of the most prestigious freedom award for her time under the house-arrest and for her outspoken words against the military regime at that time. On accepting the award, Aung San Suu Kyi said “This will be one of the unforgettable days of my life. I’ve been welcomed to Ireland as though I belong to you and thank you with all my heart. To receive this award is to remind me that 24 years ago, I took on duties from which I have never been relieved”.
In her acceptance speech, she made promises to the Burmese people and gave a special mention to the Rohingya community in front of the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.
However, since entering politics and forming her government after the landslide victory in 2015, she has rescinded on her promises. Not only that, she had now become the perpetrator of horrendous abuses directed at the Rohingya people. When questioned about the human rights abuses in Myanmar she claims that she is now a politician and not a human rights defender.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s systematic persecution and clearance operations of the Rohingya is clearly a form of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’. Many countries including the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom called the recent atrocities “the most profound human rights tragedies on the 21st century”. The United Nations labelled “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. International experts on genocide coined it “the slow-burning genocide” entering into its final stages, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum and many other organizations found “strong-evidence of genocide” against Rohingya. The evidence is clear in terms of the atrocities and human rights abuses against the Rohingya.
Furthermore, more than 877,000 Rohingya have been expelled from their birthplace since she became a politician in 2012, and over 712,000 (1.35-times the population of Dublin City) since she became the State-counsellor of Burma in April 2016. More than 625,000 of our people found refuge in the neighbouring Bangladesh since August 25th 2017 after fleeing the campaign of genocide in the country governed by her government.
Mairead Maguire, the Irish Nobel Peace Laureate said, “It is morally wrong to treat Rohingya as non-citizens on their own lands. The plight of Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma) has worsened since 2012. Right now, they have two equally risky options; to stay and die in Myanmar or leave by boat.”
Seven fellow Nobel Peace Laureates warned Aung San Suu Kyi in May 2015 that “What Rohingya are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous community is being systematically wipe out by the Burmese government.”
Despite the repeated calls from human rights groups and individuals, and the strong evidence of the atrocities, Aung San Suu Kyi remains silent and defends the military which is known for its heinous crimes and human rights abuses over the past 50 years. She is in denial and refuses to acknowledge what is happening saying “no, no, it is not ethnic cleaning” and “ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening”.
Aung San Suu Kyi has become complicit in the actions by the Burmese military and refuses to acknowledge and condemn the military operations of genocide. As mentioned, she has been condemned internationally but continues to guard the military and refuses to instigate any slowing down of the atrocities.
Buddhist nationalism and the actions of the Burmese government is a blatant attack on our community and is an example of acute Islamophobia where the Rohingya people are being persecuted despite international condemnation. It is not only the Rohingya community that are suffering but all other religious minorities. As a sitting member of parliament, she has neither attempted to protest against four “Race and Religion Protection Laws” adopted at the end of military-backed government. Nor has she any concerns as the State-counsellor in promoting divisive and inflammatory comments from Thura Aung Ko, the minister of religious affairs. She had failed to condemn members of her cabinet whom have labelled all Muslims living in Burma as “associate citizens”. In other words, we are simply second-class citizens.
Aung San Suu Kyi has called for the history of Burma to be rewritten which sets out to completely erase the residue of the existence of the “Rohingya” in the country’s historical documentations issued by the former democratically elected governments prior to General Ne Win’s coup d’état in March 1962.
Aung San Suu Kyi has also appointed ex-major Zaw Htay, one of the most racists and culprits in the incitement of hatred and violence against Rohingya which erupted the 2012 campaign of genocide, as the Director-general of her State-counsellor’s Office. He has served as former President Thein Sein’s spokesperson, and remains as the main source of misinformation and propaganda which is constantly fed to her.
For her Minster of Information, she has picked Pe Myint, a Rakhine nationalist who is responsible in the assertion of widespread fake, biased, unethical and anti-Rohingya propaganda. Through the ministry she has instructed the entire Burmese media outlets to use “terrorist” whenever covering the situations of “Bengali” – the term her official Facebook Page “Information Committee” often uses to refer to the Rohingya.
Thaung Tun, a military junta-era diplomat who once warned Aung San Suu Kyi “must not rock the boat” after her NLD (National League for Democracy) Party boycotted the junta’s constitution convention, is appointed in the new National Security Advisor post to defend her government like he had done for the junta on the international platform.
Aung San Suu Kyi has also dispatched a group of diplomats or High Commissioners across the world who have mastered in victim-blaming, pointing the finger at insurgents in Burma. The letter that Lord Mayor of Dublin Micheál Mac Donncha received on September 11, 2017 from Burmese Ambassador in UK Kyaw Zwar Minn, in response to the Freedom of the City of Dublin award is a classic example of propaganda filled with anti-Rohingya rhetoric and outright lies. Below is an extract from the letter.
“It should be noted that, our security forces are fighting the extremist terrorists to safeguard Myanmar’s sovereignty. Terrorism today has become a global problem and it is a menace to the civilized world. Terrorism incidents in any part of the world, whether in Myanmar or in any other country should be treated the same as dangerous and dealt with accordingly.”
The letter further states that “terrorists and their lobbyists are working together to wrongfully portray Myanmar’s image by making up stories to incite anger and promote misunderstandings…… Accusations of ethnic cleansing and genocide are totally false”. When the Irish government funded, Irish Centre for Human Rights’ published their report “Crimes against Humanity in Western Burma: The Situation of the Rohingyas”, documented the systematic persecution and the policies of discrimination implemented by the military. It gave particular attention to the 1982 Citizenship Law which is the foundation of all the persecution and discrimination – stripping of citizenship, denying freedom of religion, movement, marriage, education, healthcare, livelihood, etc.., and subjected to torture, arbitrary arrest, forced-disappearance, rape and sexual violence, forced labour, taxation and land confiscation.
It is also mentioned in the letter that Aung San Suu Kyi’s government supports the recommendations of Kofi Annan’s Commission, and the commission according to her spokesperson Zaw Htay, serves “as a shield” against “accusation from the international community”.
The tone and rhetoric of the letter highlights Aung San Suu Kyi’s Islamophobiac view. It gives the green-light to the military to collectively punish the entire community under the name of counter-terrorism campaign. Further atrocities occurred following the August clash with Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) who were forced to defend themselves by taking sticks, machetes and stolen arms to fight against the over 4-decade of institutionalised persecution and systematic campaign of slow-genocide.
Kofi Annan’s commission had made recommendations, among them is providing citizenship to Rohingya. However, as the letter reads, the government supports “Citizenship verification pilot projects” which “the Muslim community leaders asked their people not to cooperate”. The pilot project is entirely a campaign to undermine the ethnic identity of Rohingya and to forcefully issue cards known as National Verification Cards (NVCs) to Rohingya civilians under the name of “Bengali” – the term seen by Rohingya as the cultural genocide or forced ethnic-reclassification. Her government along with the security forces have launched the smear campaign threatening the remaining Rohingya civilian to hold the cards or face mass-starvation through preventing farming, fishing and livelihood, and/or expulsion from the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi has clearly instructed the European Union, the United State of America, other countries and agencies to refrain from using the word “Rohingya”. The commission report has also briefly highlighted that she has requested to avoid using ‘Rohingya’. As the first female de factor leader, she has forgotten or ignored the widespread use of the term by Burma’s statesmen following the country’s Independence.
The first elected Prime Minister of Burma U NU told the nation on September 25, 1954, “The people living in northern Arakan (now Rakhine State) are our national brethren. They are called Rohingyas. They are on the same par in the status of nationality with Kachin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan… They are one ethnic people living within the Union of Burma.” And so did the second Prime Minister of Burma U Ba Swe on November 4, 1959, “The Rohingya has equal status of nationality with Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan.”
Furthermore, “Rohingya leaders asked us not to call the Rohingya ‘Khaw Taw’, nor ‘Bengali’, nor ‘Chittagonian Kalar, nor ‘Rakhine Muslims’. Instead the Rohingya leaders said their self-referential ethnic name was the Arabic word Rohingya,” Vice Chief of Staff of Burma Armed Forced Brigadier Aung Gyi proclaimed on November 15, 1951.
Now Aung San Suu Kyi denies the right to self-identification of Rohingya community, and at the same time, has instructed to use “Muslims” or “the Muslim community in Rakhine”. On many occasions, she has refused to talk with diplomats who used “Rohingya” or told foreign delegates to refrain using “Rohingya”.
In her much-anticipated speech delivered on September 19, she used “Rohingya” once when associating Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s actions with “acts of terrorism”. “A new FM radio channel has been set up… broadcasts in Rakhine, Bengali and Myanmar languages,” described the choice of “Bengali” language for Rohingya during the speech.
She also lied that “All people living in the Rakhine State have access to education and healthcare services without discrimination” when there is absolutely no tertiary education nor primary healthcare services – there was only 1 doctor for 140,000 Rohingya compare to 1 for 681 Rakhine prior to the ongoing genocidal campaign which leaves no Rohingya doctors in Northern Rakhine State.
After the mounting criticism of not setting foot on Rakhine State, she visited the state on November 2. She was accompanied by a number of previously U.S. blacklisted military cronies and tycoons to survey for potential international investment on the Rohingya lands, which, according to her Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Minister Win Myat Aye, are the government properties. She visited just 2 of over 300 Rohingya villages completely destroyed under her watch since August 25, and met the military-handpicked Rohingya who cannot speak the Burmese language to portray Rohingya in the local media as “illegal Bengali” who don’t speak the national language. Before she left for capital Naypyidaw, she told the communities not “to quarrel” and “praise the security forces” for following “the Code of Conduct” that she reportedly instructed to adhere, told during her September Speech.
To further avoid or divert international condemnation and prosecution for her complicity in the genocide, she reached an agreement with Bangladesh on November 23 to repatriate the Rohingya refugees without providing the citizenship, the security, the international observers and the resettlement to their places of origin. Instead, her government proposed to build temporary camps, similar to Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps in Sittwe and other townships of Rakhine State where more than 120,000 Rohingya are still confined without basic movement, education, healthcare, livelihood since 2012. According to the government, the temporary camps are to host the refugees until they are being resettled back to their villages which seems extremely suspicious due to the calls from various nationalist groups including Buddhist monks and her own party members to permanently segregate the entire population by means of camps and heavily-guarded ghettos.
On November 27, Oxford, the city where she has pursued her education, the place where she has met her late husband Michael Aris and the home where her two sons Alexander Aris and Kim Aris, were raised, stripped her of “Freedom of Oxford” bestowed in 1997, for “her inaction in the face of oppression of the minority Rohingya population… denial of any ethnic cleansing and dismissal of numerous sexual violence against Rohingya women as ‘fake rape’”.
In a similar action of protest, St Hugh’s College, Oxford University where she obtained B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1968, has pull down her portrait from its entrance and removed her name from its common room. The London School of Economics, cities of Sheffield and Glasgow and the Canadian trade union Unifor, are some of the growing list of cities, institutions and agencies which feel compelled to withdraw their honours for her lack of values, integrity and moral responsibilities.
She becomes a leader, more precisely political leader who doesn’t want to compromise for the power which corrupts her absolutely.
The abject cowardice she has shown to stand up against the world’s most persecuted people, the moral failure she has demonstrated to condemn the atrocious actions of military, and the vicious denial she has forged to label the well-documented crimes against humanity as “fake” including rape – which she bravely said on May 23, 2011, “Rape is rife. Rape is used in my country as a weapon by Armed Forces against those who only want to assert the basic human rights”, all invariably indicate the downfall of once-considered the Beacon of Hope or the Champion of Freedom.
When the members of Rohingya community visited the Mansion House in the heart of city on September 19, the Lord Mayor of Dublin showed the plate hung in the house. It strikes us deep in our heart with the extreme example of solidarity, generosity, kindness and compassion that the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma showed towards the victims of “An Gorta Mor” – Irish Great Famine of 1847 by donating 710 Dollars, despite enduring the Trail of Tears after the series of forced removal from their ancestral homes.
Ireland has since become a nation which respects and stands for human rights, and becomes an exemplary champion of human rights.
Now is the time for this great city to forge another unbreakable bond with another persecuted people who face the mirror-image of “Trail of Tears”, and it is time to show the world that this historical city still carries the honour, the freedom and the hope which is instilled for the deprived groups of people like the Rohingyas.
Thank you for being patient in reading this long letter from a community which still carries untold sufferings of over four decades which has intensified in recent months. We feel strongly the Dublin City Council need to know the full facts and the lived experience of the suffering of our brothers and sisters.
We hope that Dublin City Council will follow other major cities in condemning the actions of Aung San Suu Kyi and to remove her from ‘the freedom of Dublin’ honours list.
We look forward in great hope.
The European Rohingya Council (ERC)
Rohingya Community Ireland (RCI)