When it comes to the issue of minority rights in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi is perhaps more vicious than Donald Trump is with undocumented immigrants.
Despite his draconian plans for Muslims and Latinos, the U.S. Republican presidential front-runner has never refused to use or propose a ban on the terms “Muslim” or “Latino.”
The de facto Burmese leader, on the other hand, doesn’t even want to hear the term “Rohingya.”
There are 135 official ethnic groups in Myanmar, but Rohingya Muslims — despite living there for hundreds of years — are not one of them.
The Buddhist-majority country instead refers to them as "Bengali" or "kalar," which is a pejorative word for people of South Asian descent. Consequently, the Rohingya aren’t recognized as citizens and are deprived of nearly all their basic rights.
The situation took a turn for the worse in 2012, when a wave of bloodshed began under the orders of a so-called influential Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, against imaginary Islamic expansion. Although reports of Rohingya Muslims engaging in violence also emerged, a majority of the victims belonged to the minority community.
Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims died in the following years, with more than 140,000 left homeless and over 100,000 forced to flee.
The former military-led Myanmar government did next to nothing to bring an end to the Rohingya’s plight. In fact, it is believed that former president Thein Sein’s silence over the issue facilitated the conflict in favor of extremist Buddhists.
Many, including the Dalai Lama, hoped things would perhaps change once Aung San Suu Kyi — the Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent 15 years under house arrest for her pro-democracy and human rights activism — ascended to power.
As it turns out, they were all wrong.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration’s first official move over the Rohingya issue was to advise the U.S. ambassador against using the term “Rohingya.”
“We won’t use the term Rohingya because Rohingya are not recognized as among the 135 official ethnic groups,” said U Kyaw Zay Ya, a Foreign Ministry official, at a recent meeting. “Our position is that using the controversial term does not support the national reconciliation process and solving problems.”
How can there be any hope for real change for the Rohingya when the new Myanmar government is as discriminatory against them as the old one?
How can a government, democratic or not, put an end to the persecution of an ethnic minority when it isn’t even ready to acknowledge the name of the beleaguered group?
Clearly, Myanmar’s much-touted first elected civilian president in 50 years is nothing more than old wine in new bottle.
And the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi, a human rights champion, is blatantly ignoring the plight of an ethnic minority to appease the majority, makes her worse than politicians like Donald Trump.