Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Joe Biden: the future of US-Myanmar Relations

The success of President-elect Joe Biden in the U.S. presidential elections mirrors an eerily similar situation in Myanmar; the 8th of November marked the second election in Myanmar since the end of military rule in 2015 and final results are still trickling in. Nonetheless, a clear winner emerged. Like in the United States, Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s flagship party, appear to have won an absolute majority of seats in parliament and with this, they will begin their second five-year term in power.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has most likely mixed feelings about the U.S. elections; on one hand, like President-elect Biden, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also faces an opponent unwilling to concede defeat. The army-backed party, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), refuses to accept her victory, calling for a military-managed re-run of the election – they accuse the NLD of bribing voters and electoral fraud. Mr. Biden as president could also put Myanmar back on the map in terms of foreign policy (President Trump notoriously responded with “where is that?” when a Rohingya refugee asked about his plan to help return Rohingya refugees to Myanmar) and economic engagement, as Myanmar continues to flourish economically after decades in isolation.

However, being back on the map may not be all it’s cracked out to be; Myanmar’s dismal human rights record and genocidal tendencies have been harshly criticised and even sanctioned by many states, and Mr. Biden may decide to shift the United States back to the role of the “world’s policeman”. However, this is unlikely to be more than a mild reprimand in the face of more pressing U.S. domestic issues such as the global pandemic, attempts to keep a shaky economy afloat, and a deepening political polarisation. A mixed bag, but one that is unlikely to change much in Myanmar’s political landscape.

Include the Rohingya in Elections

The following has been submitted in the format of an Oral Statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Right’s Council, and was prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officer, Grace Cornish.

The Next Century Foundation asks the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to re-enfranchise the Rohingya minority in time for the upcoming elections on November 8 2020. By doing so, they would grant the Rohingya the status of a legally recognized ethnic minority. 

At present, the Citizenship Act of 1982 prohibits some 600,000 Rohingya from legal recognition, reinforcing their marginalization. 

The Next Century Foundation recognises the difficulties faced by the Myanmar government in dealing with Buddhist nationalist opposition to the assimilation of the Rohingya. In 2010, the Rohingya were briefly enfranchised, but only if they registered as Bengali at the cost of their ethnic identity.

We note the passing of the ‘Race and Religion Protection Laws’ in 2014, which reduced the autonomy of Rohingya to marry freely, have children and determine their lifestyle.

Underlining which, the inability to influence legislative outcomes has compromised the ability of the Rohingya to enjoy their social human rights. 

Taking note of the 2020 ruling by the International Court of Justice in “Gambia v. Myanmar”, the Next Century Foundation welcomes the consequent military reforms, but encourages the Myanmar government to implement all aspects of the ruling. 

Bearing in mind that UN General Assembly Resolution 69/248, adopted in 2014, demanded ‘equal access to full citizenship of the Rohingya minority’, we ask that Myanmar ratify the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons. This recognises the right to a nationality provided for by Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Myanmar is a signatory. 

The Next Century Foundation endorses the words of UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand De Vareness, ‘Without citizenship, people who are stateless become humans without rights’. 

We ask that the Rohingya be given their due electoral rights. 

Burma: Two steps backward for one step forward

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 4 Clustered Interactive Dialogue on 12th March 2018, the Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar:

Mr. President. The Next Century Foundation regards the Republic of the Union of Myanmar as having made great progress in terms of the democratic empowerment of its people and in terms of access given to the wider world. The Government of Myanmar is to be commended in this regard.

However, the rights of minorities still leave something to be desired.

Non-Buddhist minorities such as the Christians and others make up a total of some 13 percent of the population, but are often not allowed promotion to the higher levels of employment, particularly in government offices.

There are also concerns about the treatment of the people from Karen state who though predominantly Buddhist are ethnolinguistically different from the majority. When military posted to predominantly minority areas are underpaid they have a tendency to take their grievance out on the indigenous minorities.

Contrast other nations with multicultural societies. The Kingdom of Bahrain for example formerly had a Christian ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and currently has a Jewish ambassador to0 the United States of America. Minorities deserve our special concern.

Myanmar could be more tolerant of its minorities. Most particularly of its Muslim minority. The treatment of Rohingyas is a case in point. But there are other areas of historic concern such as the pockets of predominantly Muslim communities South of Mandalay.

If Myanmar fails to adopt more inclusive policies we may see the emergence of more radical ISIS style insurgencies as a force in Myanmar.

We call upon Myanmar to embrace an approach that promotes greater inclusivity. Thank you.