Supporters say she has limited power, while Myanmar public disputes existence of Rohingya.
AFTER MYANMAR’S leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in a national address yesterday that she did not fear global scrutiny over the Rohingya crisis, UN human rights investigators said they needed “full and unfettered” access to Rakhine state to investigate.
“It is important for us to see with our own eyes the sites of these alleged violations,” the head of the UN-backed fact-finding mission, Marzuki Darusman, told the UN Human Rights Council. “There is a grave humanitarian crisis underway that requires urgent attention.”
The mission was set up in March to investigate possible human rights violations across Myanmar, with a particular focus on alleged crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.
In her live televised address from Nay Pyi Taw, Suu Kyi appealed for outside observers to visit Myanmar and see the situation for themselves – despite the severe restrictions her government has placed on access to the conflict zone in Rakhine state.
Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a national address in Naypyidaw on September 19, 2017. Aung San Suu Kyi said on September 19 she "feels deeply" for the suffering of "all people" caught up in conflict scorching through Rakhine state, her first comments on a crisis that also mentioned Muslims displaced by violence. // AFP PHOTO
“We invite you to join us, to talk to us, to discuss with us, to go with us to the problem areas, where we can guarantee security for you,” she said. “We would like you to join us there, see for yourself what is happening, think for yourself, what can you do to remove these problems?”
Conflict in Rakhine state has spiked since late last month after insurgents attacked security outposts, prompting a heavy-handed “clearance operation” by Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, that has forced more than 410,000 Muslim Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh, which had already sheltered more than 300,000 Rohingya who left Myanmar between 2005 and 2015.
“We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people who have been caught up in the conflict,” Suu Kyi said. “Those who have had to flee their homes are many. Not just Muslims and [ethnic] Rakhines, but also small minority groups,” she said, while avoiding using the term “Rohingya”.
Myanmar political elite and much of society have never recognised Rohingya as an ethnic group and have refused them citizenship rights.
Myanmar citizens hold the national flag and placards as they attend a public gathering held to listen to the live speech made by Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in front of City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar, 19 September 2017. // EPA-EFE
The national address was seen as a pre-emptive measure to forestall criticism at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, which Suu Kyi has refused to attend. She delivered her speech in English in front of diplomats and representatives from international organisations, while she called for patience and understanding regarding the unfurling crisis in her “fragile democracy”.
But she offered no solutions to what the UN has called “ethnic cleansing” in Rakhine state, where army-led operations are accused of atrocities and burning Rohingya homes, and she refused to point the finger at the military.
Rights group Amnesty International said the Nobel peace laureate was “burying her head in the sand” over documented army abuses and claims of rape, murder and the systematic clearing of scores of villages.
Inside Myanmar, Suu Kyi’s supporters say the 72-year-old leader lacks the authority to rein in the military, which ran the country for 50 years and only ceded limited powers to the civilian government.
“She is trying to claw back some degree of credibility with the international community, without saying too much that will get her in trouble with the [military] and Burmese people who don’t like the Rohingya in the first place,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.
While the international community expressed disappointment, Suu Kyi’s address was widely welcomed at home as thousands of people gathered in public places in many major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay to show their support for the de facto national leader.
People hold the Myanmar national flag and placards as they attend a public gathering to listen to the live speech of Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in front of City Hall in Yangon on September 19, 2017. // AFP PHOTO
Social media users, particularly on Facebook, changed their profile pictures to show support for Suu Kyi and the government’s stance on the crisis.
A Yangon-based intellectual, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rohingya were not a Myanmar ethnic minority. He said “Bengalis” had crossed the porous border into Rakhine state over many years, adding that in towns close to the border, 98 per cent of the population were “Bengalis”, while ethnic Rakhine had been mistreated.
“This message has never been reported. Now as usual, western countries and media are using this to get attention and make the world know that they are doing great things. It is just one side of the coin, which I view as unfair,” he told The Nation.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, whose administration has aligned its stance with that of Myanmar’s government, said Thailand was ready to provide support on a humanitarian basis. “We have helped them all the time, tell us if they need more help,” he said, responding to reporters asking about Suu Kyi’s speech.