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Oh Snap! Hillary’s Burmese Heroine Just Might Be A War Criminal

REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fawned over Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s pro-democracy campaigner and helped her to win office, but the female Burmese leader is now being regarded as a war criminal for her government’s scorched-earth military operation that so far has created 410,000 refugees.

Clinton worked tirelessly to help Suu Kyi behind the scenes, culminating in Suu Kyi’s 2015 election to a post called “state counselor,” the equivalent of prime minister.

In her 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton breathlessly endorsed Suu Kyi, comparing her to some of the most heralded statesmen of our time.

“She exhibited qualities I had glimpsed before” Clinton wrote, “including Nelson Mandela and Václav Havel. Like them, she carried the hopes of a nation on her shoulders.” Havel was a Czech dissident and the Czech Republic’s first president after the fall of communism.

“You have been an inspiration, I told Suu Kyi,” Clinton wrote. “You are standing for all the people of your country who deserve the same rights and freedoms of people everywhere.”

Looking back at her years as U.S. secretary of state, Clinton was self-congratulatory about her personal diplomacy, proclaiming she helped Burma. “Now the country was on the brink of a new era,” Clinton exclaimed.

But in all Clinton’s efforts on behalf of Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — the former secretary of state ignored decades of persecution of ethnic minorities and gave short shrift to the Rohingyas, who today are being ravaged by Suu Kyi’s government.

It was only on the last page of chapter 6, “The Lady and Her Generals” — a chapter filled with glowing with praise for Suu Kyi —  that she mentions the Rohingya.

Clinton said she deplored the “spasms of mob violence against the Rohingya, an ethnic community of Muslims.” But nowhere did she ever place blame on the government.

Today, Hillary’s heroine, Suu Kyi, is facing worldwide condemnation about her government’s atrocities. The military’s effort against 1.3 million Rohingya is being compared to “ethnic cleansing.” Officially, the Burmese military call it a “clearing operation.”

Over the last month nearly 410,000 people – one third of the country’s Rohingya population — have fled the military’s violence and are desperately seeking shelter in neighboring Bangladesh.

Reports of drownings, mass rapes, child deaths and other atrocities have been trickling out of the closed society.

At one time, human rights groups praised Suu Kyi and she won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her pro-democracy efforts.

But that has dramatically changed. Today, the liberal web site “Change.org” has gone so far as to launch an online petition asking the Nobel Prize Committee to take away her award. More than 425,000 have signed the petition.

“The de facto ruler of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has done virtually nothing to stop this crime against humanity in her country,” the petition states.

The Burmese army and vigilantes began wholesale attacks against the Rohingya civilian population after Aug. 25, when a local, armed group attacked a number of police and military bases.

This month, Amnesty International described the government’s retaliation: the utter burning and looting of Rohingya villages by the military and its vigilante groups.

The human rights group reported a “mass-scale scorched-earth campaign” where Myanmar security forces and vigilante mobs “are burning down entire Rohingya villages and shooting people at random as they try to flee.”

“The evidence is irrefutable,” Amnesty International Crisis Response Director Tirana Hassan asserted. “Make no mistake: This is ethnic cleansing.”

At one time, Suu Kyi was happy to meet with international leaders who supported her. Yet she has refused to attend this week’s U.N. General Assembly meeting

In reality, the Obama administration and Clinton minimized the overt hostility Suu Kyi and her political party, the National League for Democracy, demonstrated toward the Rohingya.

The Burmese leader’s complicity in the ethnic cleansing campaign was apparent even before the latest “clearing operation” was underway. Last May, she urged the U.S. ambassador to stop using the name “Rohingya,” according to The New York Times.

The government officially does not regard the Rohingya as citizens, even though they have lived in the country since the 8th century. The U.N. high commissioner for human rights reported in 2016 that the Rohingya are one of the largest groups of “stateless” people on earth.

Clinton was criticized for her posturing on Burma after she released her book. Four months after her book came out, the liberal Foreign Policy Magazine slammed her with an article titled “Hillary’s Burma Problem.”

The authors ridiculed Clinton for calling her Burmese policy “a triumph.” Clinton’s Burmese work “has been widely viewed as the ‘one clear cut triumph’ of her tenure as secretary of state,’ the magazine’s authors wrote.

But even in 2014, the magazine warned her “triumph” could vanish. “Now, as the civilian regime that replaced Myanmar’s military junta embraces increasingly brutal tactics against Muslim minority populations, the jewel in the crown of Clinton’s tenure risks vanishing into thin air.”

The Burmese military regularly launched attacks on the Rohingya. One single 2014 military attack generated 200,000 refugees who also fled to Bangladesh.

Rachael Burton, the deputy director at the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank involved in security and policy solutions in East Asia, told TheDCNF that Clinton and the Obama administration “marginalized” the issue of the government’s persecution of its minorities.

The Obama foreign policy “marginalized some of the ethnic issues that are still occurring,” she said.

“I have not seen the U.S. government work with any of the ethnic organizations,” she added

Burma has 135 “national races” and eight major ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya, according to the the Transnational Institute, a sister institute of the liberal Institute for Policy Studies in Washington in Washington, D.C. Minorities make up 40 percent of the population,

Olivia Enos, a policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, told TheDCNF in an interview that one of the of the cardinal Obama mistakes was his decision to lift all economic sanctions against the brutal military regime once Suu Kyi was elected.

Obama ended the economic sanctions, imposed in 1997, in September 2016 during the waning days of his administration. Like many of Obama’s acts, this one was done by executive order.

Enos said the administration “sacrificed a lot of leverage” by lifting sanctions against the Burma military. She called the move “a huge mistake.”

Burma’s military is among the most vicious on earth. For decades, the generals enjoyed a close military alliance with North Korea. North Korea exported its weapons and North Korean personnel still work in the country, according to Reuters.

The sanctions were “really Aung San Suu Kyi’s last sort of stick or leverage that she could hold over the military,” Enos said.

It’s rarely reported in the West that Suu Kyi’s own political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been hostile towards a good deal of the many ethnic groups in Burma.

The NLD had an opportunity to include the country’s minorities on its list of candidates, but did not, according to Burton.

“Go into the country and talk to the different ethnic parties that were not able to run their own candidates in their ethnic states because the NLD Party ended up running their own candidates that were not ethnic minorities,” charged Burton, who has been on the ground in Burma.

On Tuesday, Suu Kyi gave her first public statement on the crisis, but did not blame the army nor address the charges of ethnic cleansing. Amnesty International said she was “burying her head in the sand.”

With the 200,000 who arrived in 2014 and other exoduses, today, about 700,000 Rohingya languish in Bangladesh living in makeshift, government camps, according to the Bangladesh government.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to accurately reflect the Transnational Institute is not a part of Institute for
Policy Studies. 

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