MUMBAI, India – Myanmar’s top Catholic official has reiterated his strong support for Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s embattled State Counselor.
The Nobel laureate has drawn international criticism for Myanmar’s campaign against the Rohingya, a Muslim-minority residing in the country’s Rakhine State.
Last year, the country’s security forces began a “clearance operation” in the state after Rohingya militants attacked several police stations.
The U.N. and the U.S. both described the military campaign as “ethnic cleansing.”
While this campaign continued, Suu Kyi was attacked for not condemning the actions of the military and ignoring the human rights abuses taking place.
Bo said this is an unfair assessment.
“Aung San Suu Kyi embodies a message of coherence, strength, unity. Of responsibility for her country. A mission,” the cardinal said.
“The reasons and magnitude of her silence are not important for the Western media, for many of them they are not worth the effort of being interpreted,” he continued. “But her silence is not mute, it speaks in a calm way, perhaps in a Burmese way, of the respect for a history of fight and pain she knows very well: It is her life, her family, her history.”
The cardinal was referring to the fact that Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, considered the Father of the Nation and assassinated by his rivals in 1947. She spent years under house arrest for her promotion of democracy, only being permanently released in 2010.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is Myanmar. Such a strong identification that goes beyond the politics. Rare in the world,” Bo said.
“She has suffered as her people, she has suffered with her people. She has been not bent by the suffering, rather she has turned it into a fight for freedom, into hope for a change,” he told Crux. “Through the non-violence, more through the silence than words, through the responsible action that also respects the times of history in order not to increase its pain to not go back into the fear, dictatorship, violence.”
Last week, Myanmar and U.N. agencies signed an agreement to create a “framework of cooperation” designed to create conditions for “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable” repatriation of some of the the estimated 700,000 Rohingya that fled to neighboring Bangladesh over the past 18 months.
“We live the painful story of conflicts, which today is brought to light of the world: Especially in the Rakhine with the Muslims displaced and fled to Bangladesh, and between the army and the ethnic groups along the borders as in the Kachin, where Christians are hit,” Bo said, referring to another ethnic conflict in the country.
“The thousands and hundreds of thousands of people afflicted by any kind of violence are before our troubled, worried eyes,” the cardinal told Crux.
However, he noted that the nation’s democracy is still young, fragile, and incomplete.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won Myanmar’s 2015 general elections, which took place after decades of military rule.
The army still controls much of the state apparatus, and wrote the country’s constitution, which even has a clause preventing Suu Kyi from becoming president. Her role as “state counselor” is analogous to being prime minister.
(However, Myanmar’s president,Win Myint, is a Suu Kyi loyalist who in practice answers to the state counselor.)
We are “in the difficult balance between the democracy still unaccomplished and the political role of the army,” Bo said.
“We follow the efforts of the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi for the repatriation of the Muslims into Rakhine; the ceasefire in the conflicts with the army; the process of reconciliation and peace with the Panglong Conference of 21st Century, promptly convened by her; the encouraging to dialogue and religious pluralism; the choice of a sustainable development and federalism that promotes the autonomy,” the cardinal continued.
The 21st Century Panglong Conference, which took place in 2016, brought together the government and several ethnic militant groups in an effort to end the numerous conflicts taking place in Myanmar.
Bo said for Suu Kyi, the primary commitment is for peace in Myanmar, adding this doesn’t just concern his country, “but rather the entire world.”
The cardinal said much depends on the state counselor.
“This profound communion between Aung San Suu Kyi and her people is a connection of great sharing. All problems, including conflicts, and the tensions among religions and their political displays live in this single fate,” he said.
“This is the woman, Aung San Suu Kyi, the world has exalted for decades in the name of human rights,” Bo continued.
“Now, in the name of those rights violated in Rakhine, the same world destroys it – especially the media, which we do not talk of the geopolitical strategies and the economic interests involved. While they blame her silence, as the silence falls before the difficult, complex balance – which is not only political, but also existential of Myanmar,” he said.
“Let’s analyze how she exerts her power. She walks with her people and the friends giving her their hand in silence. Perhaps silence is the only true word still left to her to express the entire suffering and hope that cross their lives,” Bo said.
The cardinal said that right now, Myanmar and Suu Kyi are a “symbol of contradiction.”
Bo said Suu Kyi represents a “spiritual strength” that faces the violence of power.
He noted the problems facing the country are difficult but insisted “peace in Myanmar is unavoidable.”
“A revolution of the spirit – as Aung San Suu Kyi states – is the only one capable of changing politics and history. The action of the spirit changes history.”