As about 400,000 of Rohingya Muslims flee recent violence in Myanmar and global criticism mounts over the civilian government’s silence on the crisis, the country’s top Catholic leader says that Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi “should have spoken out,” the Time reports.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Catholic archbishop of Yangon, says the people in Rakhine state face “immense” suffering, exacerbated by decades of neglect and mistreatment, for which there is no quick fix.
“The world looks at Suu Kyi with the same lens with which it looked at her during her struggle for democracy,” Bo told Time in an email. “Now she is part of the government, she is a political leader. Surely she should have spoken out.”
Myanmar’s leader, State Counsellor and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has not yet condemned the violence against the Muslim minority in the majority Buddhist country. On Wednesday, Suu Kyi cancelled her planned trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which begins next week, and she has blamed a misinformation campaign and “fake news” for fuelling the crisis.
She plans to give a “state of the union” speech on Tuesday to speak both to her country and to the world. Fellow Nobel laureates the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Malala Yousafzai have all urged her to intervene in the crisis.
Suu Kyi’s position, Bo says, is challenging because democracy in Myanmar remains fragile. Even though Suu Kyi was elected in a landmark democratic election in 2015, the military stills controls key government ministries, including defence, home affairs, and border affairs.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is walking a tight rope walk,” Bo says. “Already dark forces are clamouring for return to army rule.”
“Stigmatising Aung San Suu Kyi and attacking her through media is not a long term solution,” he continues. “A false step will see her out of government and that would be the end of any dream of democracy. We should always remember the army took back democracy three times in the history of Myanmar.”
He adds that Myanmar has problems not just in Rahkine state, but in Karen, Kachin, and Shan. “All these conflicts threw out thousands as IDPs and refugees,” Bo says.
Pope Francis elevated Bo as the country’s top Catholic in 2015, making him the first-ever archbishop from Myanmar to join the Catholic College of Cardinals, the church’s top global body from which popes are selected.
Pope Francis has spoken out regularly in support of the Rohingya Muslim population. In late August, as the violence escalated, Pope Francis announced that he will visit the country in November. He will also visit Bangladesh, where the Muslim refugees are fleeing. The day before the Vatican announced his trip, Pope Francis appealed for the end of “the persecution of the religious minority, our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” and asked for them to be given “their full rights.”