The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner’s reputation as a defender of human rights has suffered in recent years, ironically — and deservedly — because she apologized for the military’s abuses against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya. She did this while in a power-sharing arrangement with the generals prior to 2020 but seemed willing nonetheless. Yet no one deserves the patently lawless treatment she and her colleagues in the National League of Democracy party are receiving. And by neutralizing Aung San Suu Kyi, the military is eliminating the one person in Myanmar, also known as Burma, who could, even at this late date, help negotiate some sort of national reconciliation.
Reconciliation seems to be the last thing on the military’s mind. Security forces killed hundreds of people who surged into the streets to protest the February coup, a bloodbath that convinced many in the opposition that their only choice left was to take up arms. A low-level insurgency has spread throughout Myanmar, to which the junta’s response has been high-level violence.
The latest evidence of just how extensive and brutal the reprisals have been comes from an Associated Press investigation published on Dec. 30. The Associated Press documented what it called as a “strategy of massacres,” which have claimed dozens of lives and left villages wholly or partly in ruins. In the typical scenario, troops use a nearby insurgent attack as a pretext for collective punishment. Since September, they have burned more than 580 buildings in the northwestern town of Thantlang, according to satellite images. In a place called Done Taw, about 50 soldiers chased down and killed 10 villagers on Dec. 7, apparently in retaliation for an earlier roadside bomb explosion.
No effective sanctions have been forthcoming from the United States, though the Biden administration has at least condemned the regime. As for regional diplomacy, Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia — chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year — recently visited Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, ostensibly to promote ASEAN’s mediation plan.
Having ruled his country for 37 iron-fisted years, Hun Sen is no democrat, and hundreds of people braved the crackdown to protest the legitimacy his visit — the first visit by an outside leader since the coup — conferred on the junta. Whereas Myanmar had been barred from a previous ASEAN conference for denying an ASEAN special envoy access to Aung San Suu Kyi, Hun Sen came and went without even insisting on such a meeting. For the time being, the junta has the advantage over the opposition — and every intention of pressing it.