More than 100,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh as persecution and violence against them escalated. Shirin Ebadi, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner has voiced her objection to Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, to stand for the rights of the Muslim minority.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Shirin Ebadi

Since August 25, Myanmar military has been avenging attacks on police outposts by Rohingya insurgents; but the military is attacking Muslim civilians instead, killing and displacing them from their cities, villages and homes.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority from the Rakhine state in the Buddhist majority country of Myanmar that have been subject to violence for years as they are denied citizenship and status in this country.

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner, called upon Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar and the country’s effective leader, to object the violent treatment of this minority group.

In December 2016 Ebadi along with other Nobel laureates called the persecution of Muslim in Myanmar “a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”. In a 20 June 2016 piece for Wall Street Journal Ebadi wrote: “Those of us who spoke up for Aung San Suu Kyi those many years when her human rights were being violated are deeply pained that she won’t extend the same respect for human rights to Burma’s more than one million Rohingya.”

In an interview with Zamaneh Media, Ebadi further criticized Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence saying that her failure to condemn the violent killing of the Rohingya Muslims makes her complicit in the crimes.

Read Zamaneh Media’s interview with Shirin Ebadi about killing and displacement of Rohingya people:

It is expected of your fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to voice her concern against the unjust treatment of Muslim minority in her country. However, she has not yet shown any reaction. Is her silence a sign of her agreement with the violence? What is your criticism towards Aung San Suu Kyi?

Shirin Ebadi – When human rights violations take place anywhere, silence is an endorsement for the act of cruelty by the government – especially if one has an official position in the government that is violating human rights. Let us not forget that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is actually the effective leader of Burma or Myanmar. Her silence is an endorsement of violence.

It is meaningful and important that Aung San Suu Kyi does not regard Rohingya people as a Myanmarian ethnic minority. She always refers to Rohingya people as Muslims residing in Rakhine State. This means ignoring the first demand of the Rohingya people: their citizenship.

In objection to Aung San Suu Kyi’s treatment of Rohingya people I wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal and the translation of that article became available in many Persian media. In addition, several other Nobel Peace Prize winners, including the Dalai Lama (who is the spiritual leader of Buddhists) issued an open letter objecting Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence. I signed that open letter a few months ago voicing my concern. Unfortunately – because of political concerns – Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has ignored all international objections and protests.

Some argue that Aung San Suu Kyi is the “national leader” but that she has no control over the military and cannot do much against the military. Is this an excuse for San Suu Kyi’s inability to object to violence and her silence against this effective genocide?

This argument is merely an excuse to justify her actions. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been a close associate and an ally of the armed forces in Myanmar. She has partnered with the armed forces in the division of power in her country.

In response to those who believe that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has no power, I must say suppose this is true, she can at least express her opposition to the violent treatment of the oppressed Muslim minority in a few interviews.

We have seen many times that the behavior of individuals change from when they are under the pressure of power to when they stand themselves in power. Put yourself in Aung San Suu Kyi’s shoes, what would you promise yourself? What do you put forward as a political system so that one does not forget one’s commitment to the protection of minority rights while pledging to freedoms and human rights?

Human rights defender should not be part of the political establishment or power. They should always stand outside of the circle of political power in order to monitor the performance of the governments; in order to be able to advise or criticize in a timely manner.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was never a human rights defender; she was the leader of a political party that was struggling for her party to gain power and she endured years of imprisonment for this.

What is your message for Aung San Suu Kyi?

Many times I have spoken and many times I have found out that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi will not respond. For the last time I would like remind her to honor and respect the Nobel Peace Prize she holds in her hands.