Are Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar Elites Complicit in the Rohingya Ethnocide?


Maung Zarni – TRANSCEND Media Service

Is Burma’s Aung Suu Kyi herself complicit in this Rohingya ethnnocide? is a valid, empirical question that needs to be raised.

Aung San Suu Kyi has firmly exhorted the public that is opposed to the Chinese Arms-industry-owned copper mine at Letpadaung in central Dry Zone of Burma that the people must honor commercial contacts signed between the previous Than Shwe dictatorship and China. Or else there will be no investor confidence in the country.  Consequently, she has earned a new iconic title, “Copper Lady”,  who, as Chair of the official pro-mining report of the government, has advanced the commercial and strategic interests of both China and Burmese military conglomerate vis-a-vis the economically dispossessed Burmese farmers – in the thousands – whose land and livelihoods have been ruined, thanks to the land grabs by the mining joint venture there.

Contrast this to her own ‘willful silence’ over the need to honor the ethnic nationality status and the citizenship both of which the Rohingya enjoyed under the democratic government of Prime Minister U Nu (1948-60), Caretaker Government of General Ne Win and Brigadier Aung Gyi (1960-62) and the early Revolutionary Council Government of General Ne Win (1962-73).

She is obviously not concerned about the fact that the world – save self-interested western powers and corporations – now sees Burma as a country in the grip of popular neo-Nazi Islamophobia encouraged and supported by her partners in power, that is, Burmese president Thein Sein and his military clique.

Suu Kyi is said to have certainly been influenced by her racist co-founder of the NLD, ex-General Tin Oo (now in his 80s) who himself was guilty of forcible expulsion of the Rohingya in Northern Rakhine of Western Burma in the early 1950s.

The question is:

has the Copper Lady joined the neo-Nazi anti-Rohingya chorus with her thunderous and willful silence on the ethnocide of these most wretched people of Burma, whom the UN calls “among the most vulnerable” in the world?

If that’s the case the Oxford-educated Suu Kyi is in good company.

Just this past weekend (12 May), Dr Yin Yin Nwe, ex-daughter in law of the late despot Ne Win and a member of the Thein Sein’s Presidential Inquiry Commission on the Rakhine Sectarian Commission made herself extremely popular with her ethnocidal denial – that the Rohingya were ever an ethnic nationality of the Union of Burma – during a 14 minutes Burmese language interview with the Voice of America Burmese Service based in Washington, DC.  Yin Yin Nwe, a Cambridge PhD in geology and Thein Sein’s adviser on gem mining may be forgiven for not knowing anything about the Rohingya,  beyond rocks and rogue dictators.

But the commission has a group of highly trained historians and social scientists, by its own official statement, the likes of Chairman and Dr Myo Myint (PhD History, Cornell) and Secretary Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing (PhD PoliticalScience, Cornell), both students of Benedict O’G’ Anderson of (nations as) “Imagined Communities” fame.  There are also other Harvard MAs and MPAs who can read historical documents and understand what research means.  And yet these Burma’s highly trained technocratic elites have wittingly committed the ethnocide of the Rohingya, despite all undeniable evidence to the contrary.

In their eyes -and against the mountains of evidence which they obviously refused to look and recognize – the Rohingya are not who they claim they are: but rather mostly illegal immigrants from the neighboring Bangladesh suffering from population pressure.  They cite that these ‘Bengali’ have ethno-linguistic and religious links to the Bengaldeshis peoples across the borders – never mind that peoples in the borderlands were pre-nation-state people who belonged to more than one location or have more than one ethnic identity, self-referential or externally/adminstratively imposed.

The Rakhine and Bamar have similar languages. But neither Bama nor Rakhine would ever identify themselves the geographic other (that is, Rakhine as Bama or Bama as Rakhine). Not only was the Rakhine Kingdom annexed into the Bama Empire in the late 1780s, but the Rakhine ID was subsumed under the Bama ID – during the early phase of ‘culturalist nationalism’ against the British rule: “We the Burmans” included the Rakhines and the Mons as constitutive of the new Bama ID.

But after independence, not only did the Rakhine and the Mon pushed for autonomous state status for their regions but they junked the label “Bama” and re-asserted themselves as “Rakhines” and “Mons”.

Ethnic IDs may be as easily mutable and amendable. To me ethnic IDs are no different from snakes shedding skins.

The Shans or Tai of Shan States speak Tai language not dissimilar to the Siamese or Thai, and they are found on both sides of Burma (and Thailand). The same goes for Jing Hpaw in India and China, who are known in Burma as Kachin. The same goes for the Karens on both sides of the Salween, and the Mons in the South.

Surely, the Rohingya are a made-up self-ethnic ID, but no more made up than the Shan, the Mon, the Rakhine, the Kachin, the Chin, etc.

They may speak a language akin to Bangali and they may even look like Bangalis. But does that mean Bangali and Rohingya are one people or that the Rohingya can never be Rohingya because of their linguistic and physical affinity?

Like I said, not a single Burmese I know will ever conceivably allow others to call them “Rakhine” simply because our languages are similar, our dress code similar, we worship Lord Buddha as “Incomparable God”, as opposed to being practizing Buddhists.

Why should the Burmese reject, out of hatred, fear and mass ignorance, the Rohingya calling themselves Rohingya, by their own chosen name?

After all, they were recognized as a constitutive TAI-YIN-THAR of the Union of Burma – by the media, political parties including the ruling AFPFL of U Nu, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Education – well into 1978. The last official mention of the Rohingya as ‘lumyo’ was in the high school geography text book printed in 1978 – by the Government Printing Corporation.


Dr. Maung Zarni is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, founder and director of the Free Burma Coalition (1995-2004), and a visiting fellow (2011-13) at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, Department of International Development, London School of Economics. His forthcoming book on Burma will be published by Yale University Press. He was educated in the US where he lived and worked for 17 years. Visit his website

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One Response to “Are Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar Elites Complicit in the Rohingya Ethnocide?”

  1. […] the US where he lived and worked for 17 years. Zarni’s article has been republished here from TRANSCEND Media Service. Visit Maung Zarni’s website Go to Original – […]