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Myanmar

Suu Kyi urged to 'open eyes' to Rohingya abuses

UN hints that Myanmar's civilian leader could face prosecution for crimes against humanity

Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
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Suu Kyi urged to 'open eyes' to Rohingya abuses

Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers the opening speech during the Myanmar-Japan-U.S. Forum on Fostering Responsible Investment in Yangon on Aug. 20. (AFP photo)

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A United Nations rights envoy has urged Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to use her moral authority and stop ignoring the plight of thousands of persecuted Rohingya Muslims.

Yanghee Lee, the special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, told the U.N. Human Rights Council that the situation in Myanmar was of extreme concern and not what she and others had hoped to see nearly four years after the election of the National League for Democracy.

“I would like to ask the state counselor [Suu Kyi] if the Myanmar that exists today is what she had truly aspired to bring about throughout the decades of her relentless fight for a free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee said.

She implored Suu Kyi “to open your eyes, listen, feel with your heart and please use your moral authority before it is too late.”

Lee said that despite international condemnation Myanmar had done nothing to dismantle the system of violence and persecution against Rohingya, while the Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State live in the same dire circumstances that they did prior to the events of August 2017.

“They are denied citizenship and recognition, face regular violence, including in the context of the ongoing conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw [military], are unable to move freely and have little access to food, health care, education, livelihoods and services,” she said.

In a damning report released on Sept. 16, U.N. investigators said the deplorable living conditions of an estimated 600,000 Rohingya still inside Myanmar had worsened in the last year and continuing persecution had become a way of life in Rakhine.

On Sept. 17, U.N. investigators hinted that Suu Kyi could face prosecution for crimes against humanity over atrocities against Rohingya and other minorities committed by the military.

The investigators said her civilian government had no control over the actions of the Tatmadaw but her party controlled 60 percent of the seats in Myanmar’s bicameral parliaments and had the power to change every law except the constitution.

“Consequently, she had extensive responsibilities for the prevailing conditions and human rights,” they noted.

Christopher Sidoti, an Australian rights expert consulted by the U.N., told reporters on Sept. 17 that the human rights situation in Myanmar had not improved over the last 12 months and in some ways had become worse.

“The longer this goes on, the more impossible it is for the civilian side of the government to escape international criminal responsibility for the human rights situation in Myanmar,” Sidoti said.

He said Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine are denied access to basic services such as health care and education, which was “one element of the crime against humanity of persecution that we are seeing in Rakhine against Rohingya.”

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the international fact-finding mission (FFM) on Myanmar, said it is still an open-ended question to what extent Suu Kyi might be implicated.

Richard Horsey, a political analyst based in the commercial hub of Yangon, said the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court had already laid the groundwork for investigation of civilian government leaders for international crimes.

“Whatever the legal merits, Suu Kyi remains hugely popular in Myanmar; legal moves against her would inflame popular sentiment,” Horsey, a former senior United Nations official in Myanmar, said on Twitter.

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