Veteran US diplomat Bill Richardson has quit an international panel set up by Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to advise on the Rohingya refugee crisis, calling it a “cheerleading squad for government policy” that fails to address the problem.
In a scathing statement released on Thursday, former US ambassador to the UN Richardson claimed the panel was a “whitewash” and accused Myanmar’s state counsellor Suu Kyi of lacking “moral leadership” on the issue, CNN reported.
The advisory board on Rakhine state was created in 2017 to help the government implement the recommendations of a fact-finding commission helmed by former UN Secretary-Genera Kofi Annan.
“It appears that the board is likely to become a cheerleading squad for government policy as opposed to proposing genuine policy changes that are desperately needed to assure peace, stability and development in Rakhine state,” Richardson said.
Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay told CNN: “We are very sorry about Richardson’s resignation.” He denied accusations that Suu Kyi believed there was a concerted international effort against Myanmar.
More than 700,000 Muslim Rohingyas fled to neighbouring Bangladesh last year in the face of a military crackdown and widespread reports of military-backed mass rape, murder and the burning down of entire villages.
The UN and the US labelled the violence against the mainly Muslim Rohingyas as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Richardson said “the main reason I am resigning is that this advisory board is a whitewash”.
The diplomat, who has supported Suu Kyi since she was put under house arrest by the Myanmar military junta, was “very upset” at the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s attitude during a board meeting on January 22.
“In the advisory board’s initial meeting with (Suu Kyi), I was taken aback by the vigour with which the media, the UN, human rights groups and in general the international community were disparaged,” he said.
“While it is important to recognize that the military still wields significant power and that they are primarily to blame for the recent exodus of refugees in the wake of (Rohingya militant group) ARSA attacks, the absence of (Suu Kyi’s) moral leadership on this critical issue is of great concern.”
He also denounced the board’s apparent lack of sincerity towards the issue as well as Suu Kyi’s “furious response” to his suggestions regarding the two journalists who were detained while investigating the crisis in Rakhine state.
The diplomat, one of the five foreigners on the 10-member committee, also criticized the lack of commitment of the Chairman of the Advisory Board, Surakiart Sathirathai from Thailand, and his “general desire to avoid the real issues at the risk of confronting our Myanmar hosts”.
The Myanmar military denies committing human rights abuses in Rakhine. The country does not recognise Rohingyas as citizens and considers them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.