Rohingya refugees sit near a house destroyed by Cyclone Mora in Bangladesh on May 31. (Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Advocacy is easy, governance is hard. Yes, the Rohingya people in Burma are being horribly mistreated, but the Aug. 18 editorial “Burma tries to hide its mistreatment of the Rohingya” was aimed at the wrong target. 

The elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi since April 2016 is being denied the ability to govern according to its high principles by the military establishment that ruled the country from 1962 to 2015 and remains a state within the state.

It is the military, not the civilian government, that wants to deny the U.N. fact-finding mission access to the crime scene. And the military’s position is supported by the Buddhist-majority population in which the military has instilled over decades a fear of being displaced by Muslims, such as the Rohingya, and other non-Buddhists.

Instead of railing at the injustice, as the editorial board did, it would be better to educate readers on the intractability of the Rohingya problem and propose actions that could lead to better treatment of this community in the near term. These are more likely to be actions by Burma’s neighbors — especially China and other Southeast Asian nations — than by the U.S. government. Moreover, it may be impossible to resolve the Rohingya problem until the civil war pitting scores of non-Muslim ethnic minorities against the military, uninterrupted since independence in 1948, is ended.

Lex Rieffel, Washington

The writer is a fellow at the
Brookings Institution.