Ko Ni: can you advise Aung San Suu Kyi & still be considered a human rights lawyer?

Ko Ni ( Phyo Thiha Cho:Myanmar Now via REUTERS) Feb 1 2017

The assassination of Ko Ni in Myanmar is heinous, especially since he was holding his small grandchild when he was shot at point blank range. Ko Nay Win, the taxi driver who chased the gunman, was also shot & killed. A suspect has been arrested by police. Prosecuting the perpetrator will be significant since no one has been held accountable in numerous assassinations of journalists, environmentalists, & those opposing regime land grabs.

Media reports say Ko Ni was a human rights defender. He did participate in the massive pro-democracy protests in 1988 against the military junta known as the 8888 Uprising. But so did millions of other Burmese. After 6 months of protest, a general strike across Burma began on August 8th, 1988 involving workers, farmers, students, Buddhists, Muslims across the country. When the generals saw power being wrested from them, they unleashed terror, opening fire on protesters, shooting down medical personnel treating the wounded, By August 12th, 10,000 were dead & thousands more beaten, arrested, tortured, & jailed. The generals regained control of the country by September 21st & thousands of student activists fled for their lives to other countries. Some time after this Ko Ni was reportedly arrested & jailed but when & for how long is not reported.

Aung San Suu Kyi had been out of the country for schooling & work since 1960, living in India, the US, & England, where she married & had kids. In 1988 she returned to care for her ailing mother & got involved in the 8888 Uprising, not as an organizer but as a rally speaker where unwarranted prestige is often gained. She was recruited to help found the National League for Democracy (NLD) on September 27th, 1988. The other founding officers were former high level generals in the military junta, some of whom were involved in bloody crackdowns on student demonstrators in the 1960s & 70s. This would make the NLD’s political pedigree & agenda somewhat questionable, to say the least. It isn’t certain if Ko Ni was part of founding the NLD or when he became its legal advisor & associated with Suu Kyi.

As adviser to Suu Kyi & the NLD in power, media reports that Ko Ni proposed ways to get around statutes in the constitution which allowed the junta to run the country behind the scenes. No one would underestimate the difficulty of opposing the junta in Myanmar but advising the government fronting for the military might not be the best place to do that.

Media also reports Ko Ni was an advocate for the Muslim minority in Myanmar. That apparently did not include speaking out against the genocide of Rohingya defended brazenly in international forums by Suu Kyi who Ko Ni advised. Unspeakable human rights crimes are being committed in Arakan; 67,000 Rohingya have fled for their lives. Instead of addressing that, his obituaries say he was a voice for religious harmony as if persecution of Rohingya & other Muslims is a matter of intolerance rather than a junta policy of ethnic cleansing.
All this quite conservative resistance probably required courage & may have earned Ko Ni the hatred of the generals & nationalist Buddhist monks but it does not rise to the level of outspoken human rights advocate. Not if he remained silent on genocide & was part of the regime executing it.

The NLD publicly denounced Ko Ni’s assassination but Suu Kyi has not spoken publicly about it, did not extend condolences to the family, & did not attend his funeral on Monday. That isn’t just troubling but suspicious. Is she aware of forces within her own party led by retired generals or of forces within the junta who might be involved in the murder? Silence against monstrous crimes is a political pattern with Suu Kyi which does not signify indifference but collusion.

May Ko Ni Rest In Peace. May his life stand as a warning to choose ones allies more wisely.

(Photo is Ko Ni by Phyo Thiha Cho/Myanmar Now via Reuters)