For years, Aung San Suu Kyi was feted as one of the greatest hopes for better human rights around the world.
From the Nobel Peace Prize Committee down to think tanks and city councils, she was celebrated; honoured in a pantheon that includes an exalted few – the likes of Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi.
After a long struggle under house arrest against Burma’s cynical military junta, she was allowed to run in the first elections there in 25 years, and won.
She now stands accused of silence at best and complicity at worst, as her country’s military unleashes a devastating campaign of atrocities on its own people.
She has never acknowledged the catalogue of appalling abuses being carried out by the military against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state, refusing even to visit the area.
A UN report in February listed the abuses:
- Rohingya villages attacked by helicopters
- Mass rape
- The throats of women and children slit in front of their families
- People rounded up and burned alive.
Then, this week, the UN Human Rights Council spelled it out.
After more than 300,000 Rohingya were forced to flee machete-wielding mobs and soldiers armed with machine guns, it accused the Burmese military of “textbook ethnic cleansing”.
Throughout this, a woman hitherto seen as a champion of freedom and human rights has remained silent.
In her only comments, she said the world should be wary of misinformation about what she called Rohingya terrorists
That has caused outrage.
There are explanations, some of them convincing.
She does not control the military. There is still profound mistrust between her and her generals.
There is a danger, were she to speak out too strongly, of being counterproductive.
But to many who know her and once admired her those excuses go only so far.
Paddy Ashdown was chair of Chatham House foreign affairs think tank when it gave Aung San Suu Kyi its annual prize in 2011.
He has little sympathy for her apologists.
“She can certainly be blamed for her silence. For not saying anything,” he told Sky News.
“She has to be speaking out against this, at the very least, and it is tragic, desperately tragic, that she has failed to do so… tragic for her and tragic for all of us who believed she was an icon of what the world wants to see more of.”
Her worst alleged crime is not so much remaining silent but giving cover to the military for what is now a well documented campaign of atrocities, verging on genocide.