There was a portrait hung in my grandpa’s house that was bewitching and fascinating to me as a child. It was flower-beaded around the tiny rigid frame. In the portrait was a woman with an unruly fringe falling across black eyebrows, a flower in hair coiled in a cylindrical bun.
The woman looked charming and radiantly attractive. Who could the woman in the portrait be? She didn’t have a headscarf like my mother, nor a nose-ring like my grandma.
The portrait glistened like a full moon inside my dim room. The older I became, the deeper my heart became etched with the face of The Lady. The portrait on the wall became a milestone in my heart.
In 1991, I was born to Rohingya parents in Maungdaw, in the second-poorest state in Myanmar, Rakhine. That same year, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Like all Burmese, every Rohingya in our area was filled with joy, and rejoiced at her honor as if it were our own.
But that same lady would come to rule Myanmar and then turn her back on my people when we were slaughtered and expelled from the country.
This year, The Gambia brought a genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). At the same time, a Universal Jurisdiction case was filed in Argentina for crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar. The lawsuit demands accountability from top Myanmar military and political leaders, including army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Aung San Suu Kyi. It was the first time the Nobel laureate had been legally targeted over the crisis.
From December 10 to 13, Suu Kyi led the defense of her country at the ICJ in The Hague, where Myanmar stood accused by The Gambia of violating the Genocide Convention. The Lady, who has never visited Cox’s Bazar to see the situation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, now is defending the Myanmar military, the perpetrator of Rohingya genocide.
When I was growing up, my grandfather always spoke of Aung San Suu Kyi. All the members of my family were drawn to her by her powerful voice and her movement for democracy. Like other Burmese, Suu Kyi was Myanmar’s Nelson Mandela for us. Through grandpa and my parents, I came to adore The Lady. She was my inspiration. She was my childhood hero.
My family always supported Suu Kyi, all of us fighting for her in different ways. My grandpa was a member of her National League for Democracy. During the 1990s general election, he welcomed the NLD’s campaigners in our area, invited them into his home and provided them with hospitality by slaughtering cows and goats. He toured other villages to persuade their people to vote for the NLD.
During the 1988 general strikes of students in Myanmar, my eldest brother and my uncle demonstrated to defend Suu Kyi. After the strikes, my uncle was arrested twice by the military and was detained and tortured for days. This story became famous in the area because my uncle had to leave Myanmar afterward to escape arrest by the military.
The general election in 2015 brought an end to 25 years of dictatorship in my country. Suu Kyi visited from place to place conducting a nationwide election campaign. People everywhere, including Rohingya, were happy to see her running in the election.
My parents and I were eager to vote for her. We put our hope in Suu Kyi. We believed in democracy. Democracy would save us, power would belong to the people now. Once The Lady is in power, I thought, I can become a writer and schoolteacher. I could represent my country. I could enjoy the freedom and equal rights that I had never enjoyed in our country.
On November 8, 2015, the general election was held. Rohingya people who held temporary White Card IDs were not allowed to vote. Suu Kyi pushed Muslim representatives out of her party. It was the first sign of her political cowardice. Rohingya lost hope. The coin of Aung San Suu Kyi was turning from the head to the tail for the decades-long-persecuted Rohingya people in the country. And now her government is pushing the National Verification Card process, which strips Rohingya of their right to be called “Rohingya” – instead, on the card we are called “Bengalis.”
However, the NLD won a landslide victory in the election. Suu Kyi came to power. A few months later, the military launched “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine state. Under the operation, hundreds of Rohingya civilians were killed and women and young girls were gang-raped by the military – this was a genocide.
Despite widespread international condemnation, The Lady denied the crimes that the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, committed against Rohingya. In December 2016, Suu Kyi laughed out loud while saying that accusations of rape against Rohingya women by military personnel were just “fabrications.” Now, the lady who once actively condemned the use of rape as a weapon by the Myanmar military was shielding the perpetrators of it.
Moreover, Suu Kyi even refused to refer to us as “Rohingya,” an accurate term that represents the ethnicity of my people – an indigenous people of Rakhine.
During the violence in August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh haunted by the stories of slaughter, mass rape, arson attacks and burning kids to death. I was just one of those who fled.
But it’s not just the Rohingya. Suu Kyi does not even care about the situation of other minorities in Myanmar. Today, the minorities are scattered along several borders. Shan are displaced along the Thai border. Kachin are displaced near the Chinese border, and Rohingya now beyond the border, in Bangladesh.
We Rohingya are happy about the courageous move by The Gambia. For the first time, we feel that we are equal human beings on this Earth. Our pain is remembered. Our suffering is recognized. Our fate as the forgotten is now finally remembered.
However, Suu Kyi at the ICJ lied to the world, saying all newborns in Rakhine state received birth certificates. This is not true. Rohingya still do not always receive birth certificates. My own birth certificate was confiscated in 1992 by the NaSaKa paramilitary linked to the Tatmadaw.
Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen her path, that’s clear for everyone to see. Now, for the millions of Rohingya displaced around the world, her name is synonymous with those of the countless tyrants and dictators that came before her in Myanmar. This is the other side of Aung San Suu Kyi, who once was the Nelson Mandela of Asia.
Aung San Suu Kyi is a fallen hero. She is no longer my hero. She is no longer my Mandela.