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Jakarta Post

Megawati can help Aung San Suu Kyi face genocide charges

  • Kornelius Purba

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, December 10, 2019   /   08:32 am
Megawati can help Aung San Suu Kyi face genocide charges Close talks: President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. (JP/Haeril Halim)

It is highly regrettable that ASEAN, especially its largest member Indonesia, has been totally mute, at least in public, since Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi announced her readiness to face charges of genocide targeting Rohingya Muslims at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Tuesday.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should not have let her face the serious charges alone, although it is quite clear that Indonesia strongly condemns gross human rights violations. He should convince Suu Kyi to admit the atrocities are real and to work hard to end the crimes for the interest of her nation.

Jokowi needs a special envoy with a strong mandate to hold talks with Myanmar’s leader. Former president Megawati Soekarnoputri is the perfect candidate for the job, because of shared similarities between the two strong women.

ASEAN has clearly distanced itself from Myanmar as the latter is set to face the international court. The leaders of the regional bloc have acted cowardly through their silence about the charges pressed by the Gambia on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

As reported by Agence France-Presse, the Gambia will demand that the ICJ stop Myanmar’s “genocidal acts” by “mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses”.

Do ASEAN leaders agree that Myanmar should be punished for the alleged gross human rights abuses, or are they just afraid they could face the same accusation in the future?

The ICJ hearing will last three days, but it could take longer. The hearing, which commences on International Human Rights Day, may deal a major blow to the reputation of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Many feel confused about her decision. Does she intend to win praises from the military and from the Buddhist majority nation? Or does she believe the charges are baseless?

Anyway, I would strongly suggest that President Jokowi take decisive action on Myanmar.

First, he needs to assert Indonesia’s condemnation of the allegedly systematic crimes against humanity targeting the minority Rohingya. Not just because the victims are Muslims, but more importantly because of the loss of innocent lives.

Those found responsible for the mass killings should be brought to justice. The ordeal of the Rohingya, who are rejected by both Myanmar and Bangladesh, needs serious attention from Indonesia and ASEAN. Unfortunately, people here are more interested in the Palestine issue than the grievances of the Muslim Rohingya.

Second, this is an opportunity for the President to implement a major diplomacy policy as de facto leader of ASEAN. It is not an easy job at all. Myanmar has a long history of self-isolation. Evidently Suu Kyi is rather hostile to Indonesia, refusing to make an introductory visit to Jakarta since her election as state counselor of Myanmar in 2015.

Demonstrations or statements to condemn her will only strengthen her perception that Indonesia is only interested in protecting fellow Muslims.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has been active in her “constructive engagement” diplomacy to persuade Myanmar to be more visionary in overcoming the complex issue, because the prolonged suffering of the Rohingya will create fertile ground for terrorism.

So far the Myanmarese do not see the benefit of reconciliation with the minority Muslims. Most citizens seem to share the military’s view that the Rohingya are troublemakers.

It is an irony that Suu Kyi, a former democracy icon, stands to defend a very serious crime allegedly committed by the military. It was the military that had detained her for years and denied her constitutional right to become the president of Myanmar after winning two general elections.

Third, Jokowi needs to ask Megawati’s help because she has a deep, historic and emotional connection with Suu Kyi. Both are daughters of founding fathers of their respective nations and were once victims of military oppression.

They have also won credentials as democracy icons. Megawati is reportedly obsessed with playing a key role in mediating the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula because of her personal memory about North Korea. Her father Sukarno was a close friend of the late Kim Il-sung, who introduced her to his son Kim Jong-il. She apparently hopes she has a good position in dealing with Kim Jong-un. But so far concrete action has yet to emerge.

For Megawati, this is the right time to help Suu Kyi in facing this very emotional and complex issue. They will likely find some chemistry.

Of course it is a next-to-impossible mission. Many doubt Megawati will manage to convince Suu Kyi to make true peace with the minority Muslims. But who else can do it better than Megawati?