A new Nobel Peace Prize for Myanmar?


Aung San Suu Kyi, now Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader was held under house arrest by the military junta for 15 years. This followed the overwhelming 1991 election victory of her National League for Democracy, which the defeated generals refused to accept.

NLD members were murdered, jailed, tortured or simply disappeared. Aung San Suu Kyi, however, lived in relative comfort in her lakeside Rangoon home with a small staff and was able to smuggle out communications to her supporters and the international media. One of her core messages was that resistance to the military must be passive. She did not want violence. Yet in 2007, following major government fuel price hikes, there were destructive riots led by Buddhist monks. In widely-shared footage, Aung San Suu Kyi made a brief appearance looking over the top of the gates of her home where she accepted the blessing of the monks, who the international media reported had been marching in support of human rights.

These images of a good-looking, petite, demure and softly-spoken woman with perfect English (she had married a Briton) served to turn her into the world’s most famous political prisoner and an icon for peace and democracy. She attracted increasingly vocal support worldwide. Tens of thousands of well-meaning strangers labored to protest her detention and demand her release. In such circumstances it was not surprising that when the Nobel Committee awarded her its Peace Prize in 1991, it was one of its most widely-acclaimed decisions. It gave her the extra moral authority, which perhaps saved her life. How often might the generals have thought of poisoning or otherwise murdering their dangerous prisoner?

Now it is clear that they need not have bothered. Now it might be suspected that the daughter of Aung San, the general who led the revolt that forced the end of British colonial administration of the country, was always somehow in cahoots with the junta. Her party’s 2015 landslide election victory came under a new constitution, which reserved a fixed bloc of legislators and key ministries to the generals and their cronies. Because of her marriage to a foreigner, Aung San Suu Kyi herself was barred from becoming president. But her international supporters assumed she simply needed time to lever the military out of its remaining positions of power. They were particularly encouraged by the unmuzzling of the media.

But how times have changed. How the “heroic little leader” mask has slipped from Aung San Suu Kyi to reveal at best a cowardly politician who frittered away her moral strength by accommodating the generals, at worst a bigot who could complain about being interviewed by a Muslim BBC reporter and has lifted not a finger to save her country’s Muslim Rohingya community from military-led genocide.

And now she has sat back and watched the phony trial of two local Reuters’ journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who researched and reported the army’s cold-blooded murder of ten Rohingya. Even though a policeman admitted in court the journalists had been the victims of a sting operation, they have been jailed for seven years. The finest snub to Aung San Suu Kyi, the deeply-discredited icon of freedom, peace and democracy would be for the Nobel Committee to award these two journalists next year’s Peace Prize.