Myanmar’s State Counselor and de facto leader has been slammed for denying the ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas that has resulted in more than 400,000 Muslims fleeing the country over the last month.
In a live televised speech, the Nobel laureate said she was “aware of the fact that the world’s attention is focused on the situation in Rakhine State” and that Myanmar “does not fear international scrutiny.”
She did not address allegations against the military, saying only that there had been “no armed clashes or clearance operations” since September 5.
She said most Muslims had decided to stay in Rakhine and that indicated the situation may not be so severe.
She said the government had made efforts in recent years to improve living conditions for the Muslims living in Rakhine: providing healthcare, education and infrastructure.
Penny Green, a professor of law at Queen Mary University of London who studies the Rohingya conflict, called out Suu Kyi’s connection of the Rohingya to the ARSA militant group as behavior common among those targeting an ethnic group.
“She (Suu Kyi) chooses to use the word in relation to a terrorist group, that means that is the only identity that Rohingya will be attached to, from her perspective and she hopes from the international perspective,” Green told CNN.
Green called Suu Kyi’s speech “disingenuous” and “filled underlying denials” that she said is “typical of the way in which state criminals behave.”
BBC correspondent Jonathan Head, who is in neighbouring Bangladesh, disputed the claim that there had been no clearance operations since 5 September, pointing out that he had seen villages being burned days after that date.
Another BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher wrote that Suu Kyi “is either completely out of touch or wilfully blind to the realities of what her army is up to.”
“It is simply not credible to say we don’t know why more than 400,000 Rohingya have fled. The evidence is being gathered every day in the testimony of refugees,” he said.
“There were other moments that raised eyebrows. Like when she presented as good news the fact that more than half the Muslims in Rakhine haven’t fled. Or when she said that there had been no clashes in Rakhine for the last two weeks.”
To say as she did that “all people in Rakhine state have access to education and healthcare without discrimination” is simply wrong,” Fisher said.
The Rohingya particularly those in camps around Sittwe have long been denied access to the most basic services, in particular healthcare.
Amnesty International accused Suu Kyi and her government of “burying their heads in the sand” and telling “untruths” over what it described as ethnic cleansing of minority Rohingya Muslims.
The human rights group has denounced the Nobel Prize Laureate over her response to the crisis which has seen at least 400,000 members of the Muslim ethnic minority flee to Bangladesh to escape a brutal crackdown by the military.
Reports have emerged of mass rape and murder by the armed forces and mobs of Buddhist ethnic majority villagers in the western Rakhine state in what the United Nations has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Suu Kyi defended her country from international criticism, saying it does not fear global “scrutiny”. She said “more than half” of Rohingya villages were not affected by the violence and invited diplomats and foreign observers to visit them to see “why they are not at each other’s throats in these particular areas”.
James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said: “Aung San Suu Kyi today demonstrated that she and her government are still burying their heads in the sand over the horrors unfolding in Rakhine State. At times, her speech amounted to little more than a mix of untruths and victim blaming.
“There is overwhelming evidence that security forces are engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. While it was positive to hear Aung San Suu Kyi condemn human rights violations in Rakhine state, she is still silent about the role of the security forces in this.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s claims that her government ‘does not fear international scrutiny’ ring hollow. Myanmar has repeatedly said it will not co-operate with the UN-mandated Fact Finding Mission established earlier this year. If Myanmar has nothing to hide, it should allow UN investigators into the country, including Rakhine State. The government must also urgently allow humanitarian actors full and unfettered access to all areas and people in need in the region.”
Suu Kyi canceled her trip to the United Nations General Assembly this week so she could stay home and handle the situation in Rakhine State.
But some analysts wondered whether Suu Kyi was also trying to avoid the spotlight as she’s come under harsh criticism for ignoring the mass exodus of people from her country.