What Happened to Aung San Suu Kyi?

What Happened to Aung San Suu Kyi?

When Ben Rhodes first met Aung San Suu Kyi she exuded the all traits that made her such an international icon for human rights and democracy. It was 2012, and Ben Rhodes, who was the deputy national security advisor, was accompanying Barack Obama in an historic visit to Myanmar. As he puts it, this meeting was the high water mark for her moral authority. There was a hopefulness, surrounding her, he says.

Now seven years later, she has stripped of many international accolades, honors and prizes.  At issue is the fact that as the most powerful civilian leader in Myanmar she refused to intervene against, or even publicly condemn, a genocide committed by the government against a religious and ethnic minority.  Some 700,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled Myanmar amid what a UN official has called a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. All the the while, Aung San Suu Kyi was silent. 

So what happened to Aung San Suu Kyi? How did a Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent decades under house arrest in an elegant pursuit of democracy and justice in Myanmar fall so from grace? And was the international community, including the Obama administration, wrong about her all along? 

Ben Rhodes grapples with these questions and more in a new piece in the Atlantic that combines some of his own self-reflection with fresh reporting. He's on the podcast today to discuss the piece. We kick off setting the historic context for Aung San Suu Kyi's rise to prominence and the circumstances of her persecution and house arrest before having a longer conversation about the causes and implications of her becoming a bystander to genocide. 

I do want to note that next week on the podcast, I'll be doing whole episode more directly focusing on the Rohingya genocide, including ongoing human rights abuses and the current humanitarian challenges facing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. So, stay tuned to that--it will compliment this conversation with Ben Rhodes.

Before I begin: A big thank you to premium subscribers who support the show through recurring monthly contributions on Patreon.com/GlobalDispatches. You help me do what I do and get rewards in return, including bonus episodes. The bonus episode I'm posting this week is my conversation with George Mitchell, a former US Senator from Maine and international peacemaker who is largely responsible for the Northern Ireland peace agreement. You can unlock access to that episode and many more by becoming a premium subscriber. Check out the tiers of support and the rewards you earn, including access to a daily global humanitarian news clips service I run, by going to patreon.com/GlobalDispatches. 


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