In recent weeks, nations around the world have laid into Burma’s military, which has overseen a massive campaign of violence in Rakhine State against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group. While the violence dates back to 2012, since August, over 500,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled into Bangladesh.
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister, recently spoke to Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces, to note Canadians’ “extreme concern for human rights violations against [the] Rohingya.” At a late-September UN Security Council briefing on Burma—the first such briefing in eight years, and the first to focus on Rakhine State—Britain’s representative also called out Min Aung Hlaing for the violence. Earlier in the month, Senator John McCain had declared his intention to pull language in the annual defense authorization bill that would have boosted military-to-military ties with the Burmese army. At a meeting on Monday in Luxembourg, the foreign ministers of the European Union struck a relatively tough tone on the Burmese military. They pledged to suspend any existing invitations to its leaders, and to review any other defense cooperation with the country.
Tougher action against the country’s military is certainly warranted—although any unified UN action is unlikely, given that its patron, China, sits on the Security Council. While Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and de facto leader of Burma, certainly bears moral responsibility for ignoring the Rakhine crisis, the country’s military is directly responsible: It is the army’s commander, not Suu Kyi, who controls the country’s three security ministries. (Under the country’s constitution, the commander-in-chief appoints the heads of the home, defense and border security ministries.) And it would be almost impossible for Suu Kyi to remove the army commander, whose forces have a decades-long record for brutality in ethnic-minority regions of the country.