Myanmar's Suu Kyi faces heavy criticism over Rohingya issue
YANGONJan 19, 2017 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Jan 19, 2017 12:00 am
For decades, Aung San Suu Kyi was revered like a saint for her struggle against Myanmar's brutal military regime. But in recent months, as 65,000 Muslim Rohingya minorities have fled the country, the Noble Peace Prize laureate's image has suffered drastically.
Reality in Myanmar can feel like a dark movie plot these days as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who once fought for decades against a military dictatorship, now provides political cover for atrocities committed by the army.
The humanitarian crisis that began unfolding several years ago in Myanmar's western Rakhine State is the biggest challenge so far for Aung San Suu Kyi's democratically elected government.
When nine border police officers were killed in an attack in October, the army launched a clearance operation that human rights watchdogs say has spiraled out of control. Soldiers are accused of arson, rape and murder. At least 65,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority have fled across the border to Bangladesh, the International Organization for Migration says.
The U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Yanghee Lee was in Myanmar on Wednesday as part of a 12-day visit to assess the country's human rights situation. During the trip, Lee also spent time inside the conflict zone in Rakhine.
Most Rohingyas, despite having lived in Myanmar for generations, are technically stateless, with restricted access to health care, education and jobs. The U.N. has described them as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
Since an outbreak of violence in 2012, Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine State have mostly lived apart from one another, in many cases in squalid camps.
Even before the recent outbreak of violence, Suu Kyi, who serves as foreign minister and state counselor and is constitutionally barred from being president, was being sharply criticized for not speaking out in defense of the minority group.
Since her administration took power in April, there have been numerous complaints as fighting has flared up across the country. Meanwhile, investors have been disappointed with the slow pace of development and people still complain of being subjected to repressive junta-era laws.
However, international observers consider the crisis in Rakhine State to be the low point in Suu Kyi's tenure so far. In December, 13 fellow Nobel laureates publicly criticized the 71-year-old for not standing up for the persecuted Rohingya.
The events in Rakhine State, where humanitarian aid was blocked from the conflict zone for weeks, amounts to "ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity," they said in an open letter to the U.N. Security Council in December.
Meanwhile, Suu Kyi's government essentially denies allegations that soldiers have committed human rights violations. Her office instead blames the Rohingya, saying they burned down their own houses to attract international attention and support. While state media continues to deliver military propaganda, the government criticizes the foreign presses, who aren't allowed into the conflict zone, for publishing "fake news."