For years, Taiwan has been acclaimed as a beacon of democracy, freedom and human rights in Asia. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government led by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has also launched the New Southbound Policy, seeking to increase Taiwan’s cultural, economic, educational, healthcare, scientific and social interactions and cooperation with nations in Southeast and South Asia.
In this context, it is regrettable that the Tsai government, the DPP and the human rights groups in the private sector have failed to show concern regarding the human rights disaster in Myanmar, where Rohingya have been oppressed and slaughtered.
The UN last month expressed concern over the plight of Rohingya, but was unable to go any further.
Whereas Article 1 of the UN Charter states that its purpose is “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” international politics often prevent the UN from fulfilling this and other lofty purposes.
China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and Myanmar’s ally, used its influence to shape the content of the UN statement and forestall any UN actions to help Rohingya.
Rohingya, an ethnic and Muslim minority, have long been belittled and persecuted as outsiders in their own country.
According to Human Rights Watch, Rohingya have been present in Myanmar since the 12th century. After British rule ended in then-Burma in 1948, the new government claimed that Rohingya were illegal migrants from India [now Bangladesh], not legal citizens of the new nation.
Many Rohingya were stripped of citizenship by a law in 1982. In 2015, the government banned hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from voting in national elections.
Burmese Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing justified the army’s attacks on Rohingya by saying that it “has never been an ethnic group in Myanmar,” and claimed that the mass violence that has displaced so many was “an organized attempt of extremist Bengalis in Rakhine State.”
However, independent observers say the Burmese army has burned Rohingya villages and targeted civilians in a campaign of rape and slaughter.
A satellite analysis by Human Rights Watch showed that at least 210 villages have been burned to the ground since the offensive began on Aug. 25.
Bangladeshi officials say that landmines had been planted on the Burmese side of the border, where Rohingya were fleeing.
Burmese State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi — who led Myanmar’s democratization drive and became the nation’s de facto leader after the elections in 2015 — was severely criticized for failing to prevent the persecution of Rohingya.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof issued a scathing attack on Sept. 12, saying it was a shame for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who became the chief apologist for the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been a human rights icon in the international community for decades, but she needs to recast her role as a politician after assuming political power.
Thus on Sept. 19, she declared in front of Burmese government officials and foreign dignitaries that “the security forces have been instructed to adhere strictly to the code of conduct in carrying out security operations, to exercise all due restraint and to take full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians.”
The statement cannot and does not cover up that more than 500,000 Rohingya, long repressed by the Buddhists who dominate Myanmar, have fled a massacre which the UN has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Yet, she expressed uncertainty over why Muslims might be fleeing the nation and sidestepped evidence of widespread abuses by the security forces, saying there had been “allegations and counterallegations.”
Aung San Suu Kyi, 72, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her “nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights,” is going through a stunning about-face as she has to dance with the generals.
The Burmese army still controls the most important levers of power in the nation and effectively limited Aung San Suu Kyi to the post of state counselor by writing a constitution that kept her from the presidency.
Hence, she feels compelled to compromise with and placate the generals who had ousted elected civilian leaders under the pretext of defending national sovereignty.
Her reversal has disappointed fellow Nobel Peace Price laureates and the international human rights community.
In an open letter, South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu told her that “if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, told the New York Times in an interview that “she should not have received a Nobel Peace Prize if she says: ‘Sorry, I’m a politician and the norms of democracy don’t suit me.’ The whole world stood by her for decades, but today she has become the mirror image of Aung San Suu Kyi by destroying human rights and denying citizenship to the Rohingya.”
Rohingya refugees suffer and languish in makeshift camps in Bangladesh, which is unable to cope with the refugee crisis and urgently needs the help of the international community.
The UN Security Council, which is empowered to take action to halt killings and help refugees, cannot act because China, Myanmar’s main patron, has a different political calculus.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) “One Belt, One Road” strategy seeks to expand China’s economic and diplomatic relations with nations in Asia, Africa and Europe, but does not care much for humanitarian causes.
Taiwan’s people and government do care. Indeed, in the international community, Taiwan has a splendid record in promoting humanitarian causes and providing disaster relief and financial aid to Afghan refugees, tsunami victims in Indonesia and earthquake victims in Japan, to name only a few.
The government recently made a large donation to the storm victims in Texas and Florida. It should do the same for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
At least Taiwan’s Red Cross and other humanitarian groups must take the initiative to help salvage the refugee crisis. Taiwan’s support for humanitarian causes in South Asia would also enhance its southbound policy.
Parris Chang is president of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic, Strategic Studies, a former deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council and professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University.
The headline of this article has been changed since it was first published to more accurately reflect the author's argument.
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