Parsing the Riddle of Aung San Suu Kyi: The Long, Troubling Fall of a Human Rights Icon

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for decades enjoyed the status of an icon of the international human rights movement. During 15 years under house arrest, Sui Kyi became the symbol of peaceful democratic opposition to authoritarian military governments which have ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, for 30 years.  Those days are over. 

Suu Kyi is now reviled for her perceived failure as Myanmar’s defacto political leader to speak out against a vicious scorched earth campaign of targeted mass killings, sexual violence and forced exile by Myanmar's military against the country’s Muslim minority Rohingya population. Suu Kyi has been silent while the Myanmar military has perpetrated what the United Nations has described as “textbook ethnic cleansing” and other acts indicative of crimes against humanity. As more than half a million Rohingya have taken refuge over the border in neighboring Bangladesh, Suu Kyi has been singled out for withering criticism for failing to defend the rights of the Rohingya and accused of passive complicity with in their plight. 

Whatever happened to Aung San Suu Kyi? Did she even deserve the mantle of international human rights symbol and does it matter that she can’t or won’t intervene to support the rights of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority? Hunter College adjunct professor Phelim Kine parses the riddle of Aung San Suu Kyi and her role in Asia’s worst humanitarian disaster in decades.

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