Why Aung San Suu Kyi’s genocide denial is so important

By Doctor Michael Herron

In response to photographs posted on Twitter by Turkey’s deputy prime minister that were alleged to be of dead Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma) but were actually taken elsewhere, Aung San Suu Kyi referred to these as fake news photographs. She continued “That kind of fake information…..was simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation,” that was aimed to promote the interests of a group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army that killed twelve members of the Burmese security forces in August.

Given the statements by the UN’s most senior human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein describing what is occurring to the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing and Bangladesh’s foreign minister AH Mahmood Ali defining it as genocide, Aung San Suu Kyi’s statements amount to genocide denial.

This denial makes Aung San Suu Kyi complicit in the atrocities committed by Burmese troops that have included mass killings and burning of villages forcing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee their homes to Bangladesh. To understand why this is the case it is important to comprehend how integral denial is to the crime of genocide.

Gregory Stanton in particular has argued that genocide denial is the final stage of genocide. However, Stanton has stated that it exists throughout all the stages of genocide. Perpetrators deny they are about to commit genocide, they deny it when the genocide is underway and they deny it when it has been completed.

According to Lawrence Douglas also, “it is an act fully consonant with the methods of the perpetrators.” As Douglas observed even when the perpetrators commit genocide they often attempt to disguise the intent behind euphemisms, for example in the case of the Holocaust, the Nazis described it as “The Final Solution” or “Resettlement in the East.” (In the Armenian case it was characterised as “Relocation” to another part of the Ottoman Empire, namely the Syrian desert)

As George Monbiot amongst others has argued by failing to speak out against those who are perpetrating this ethnic cleansing/ genocide and by describing accounts of such atrocities as ‘misinformation’ Aung San Suu Kyi has in effect facilitated those who are performing such acts in the name of her government. It is in this context that demands for her to have her Nobel Peace Prize revoked are understandable.

It is ironic that it has been the exchange with the Turkish deputy minister that has resulted in Aung San Suu Kyi resorting to genocide denial since Turkey has been one of the greatest proponents of genocide denial with regards to the Armenian genocide.

It is also interesting that the Burmese are using some of the same arguments as those used by Turkish nationalist historians to explain Ottoman actions against the Armenians. The Burmese argue that they are simply trying to suppress an insurgency and that they are targeting militants not civilians. Turkish nationalist historians have argued that the Ottoman government had to deport the Armenians from Eastern Anatolia because the Armenians were collaborating with the invading Russian army and they had rebelled against the Ottoman authorities principally in the city of Van. Armenian historians, conversely, have argued that the genocide was already underway and the Armenians were only trying to protect themselves.

This appears to have parallels with the Burmese case since the Rohingya have been recognised as the ‘world’s most persecuted minority’ for a number of years and the insurgency appears to have been a relatively recent development. In any case the Burmese government has used this insurgency as an excuse to target not only insurgents but the civilian Rohingya population and to expel them from Myanmar (Burma).

Aside from Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese generals, questions need to be asked about the role of the British military in all this. As highlighted in a Guardian editorial the British army have trained the Burmese military. What has been the extent of this training? What exactly has the British army trained the Burmese army to do? What has been the methodology of the British army trainers?

In conclusion, there has been an academic debate about the role of the German army advisers to the Ottoman army during the First World War and their possible participation in the Armenian genocide. Scholars have ultimately resolved that any German role was limited and the German officers were largely involved in military operations against the Entente of Britain, Russia and France as it attacked the Ottoman Empire. There is no similar external threat to Myanmar (Burma) so what is the British army doing in Burma? As with the British government’s complicity in Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide as outlined by Geoffrey Robertson, QC, is Britain’s role in Myanmar going to aid Burmese denial of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya? We await the answer to that question.


Michael Safi, Emma Graham-Harrison “Fake news: Suu Kyi decries reports on Rohingya violence” The Guardian 07.09.17

Michael Safi “Rohingya are facing ethnic cleansing says UN” The Guardian 12.09.17

Gregory Stanton “The Eight Stages of Genocide” Yale Genocide Studies, February 1998

Lawrence Douglas “From Trying the Perpetrator to Trying the Denier and Back Again Some Reflections” in Ludovic Hennebel and Thomas Hochmann (eds.) Genocide Denials and the Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011)

George Monbiot “Take away her Nobel Peace Prize she no longer deserves it” The Guardian 6 September 2017

Doctor Michael Herron The Unburied Past: Denial of the Armenian Genocide in American and French Politics, Blurb Books.com, 2105

Editorial: “Mynamar. The Lady has failed the Rohingya. The military does much worse.” The Guardian 8 September 2017

Geoffrey Robertson, QC, An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians? Biteback Publishing 2014