One year after Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in Myanmar, the country has come under fresh criticism over the plight and persecution of Rohingya Muslims.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
Narration: One year after Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in Myanmar, the country has come under fresh criticism over the plight and persecution of Rohingya Muslims. Addressing the human rights council in Geneva, the UN Special rapporteur for Myanmar warned that the government of Myanmar may be trying to expel the ethnic Muslim population as a whole.
SOUNDBITE [English] Yanghee Lee,UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar: “I also continue to receive reports of serious human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict, including torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, sexual- and gender-based violence, arbitrary killings, and abductions, all of which frequently go uninvestigated. I heard allegation after allegation of horrific events like these - slitting of throats, indiscriminate shootings, setting alight houses with people tied up inside and throwing very young children into the fire, as well as gang rapes and other sexual violence. The international community must come together in expressing a strong and single voice in this regard, regardless of varying interests of individual member states.”
Narration: U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein had already said treatment of the Rohingya merits a U.N. commission of inquiry.
SOUNDBITE [English] Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: “The severity of the reported violations, against a backdrop of severe and longstanding persecution, appears to me to amount to possible commission of crimes against humanity, which warrants the attention of the International Criminal Court.”
SOUNDBITE [English] Htin Lynn, Myanmar Ambassador to the UN: “Firstly, Myanmar does not accept the idea of a commission of inquiry, as we are seriously addressing the allegations nationally. We dismiss the term "crime against humanity" as it is envisaged based on unverified, intentional, and one-sided allegations. It should be used with great prudence and wisdom and can only be founded on legal and judicial determinations. However, our objection of a commission of inquiry does not mean that we condone impunity.”
Narration: Aung San Suu Kyi, once the darling of the human rights has dashed hopes by mishandling the situation. She came to power last year amid a transition from military rule as a “state counselor”. Although she does not oversee the military, she has been criticized for failing to stand up for the more than 1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.
Some 75,000 Rohingya fled northwestern Rakhine state to Bangladesh late last year after the Myanmar army carried out a security operation in response to attacks allegedly by Rohingya insurgents. More than 200,000 Rohingya had already fled to Bangladesh, many living in official and makeshift camps. The failure of the government to acknowledge and properly investigate recent atrocities by the Myanmar army against Rohingya Muslim civilians in Rakhine State prompted the UN to establish the mission, although many consider it as too late.
Rather than welcome it, Aung San Suu Kyi told in a press conference with Sweden's Prime Minister that the fact-finding mission "would create greater hostility within the different communities" adding "We did not feel it was in keeping with the needs of the region in which we are trying to establish harmony and understanding, and to remove the fears that have kept the two communities apart for so long." She had previously announced that the government of Myanmar "disassociated" itself from the resolution.
SOUNDBITE [English] Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counselor, Myanmar: “We have disassociated ourselves from the resolution because we do not think that the resolution is in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground. If we think that the recommendations are in keeping with the real needs of the region we would be happy to accept them but those recommendations which will divide further the two communities in Rakhine we will not accept because it will not help us to resolve the problems that are arising all the time.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
Narration: Suu Kyi’s decision is sure to be greeted by outrage from the usual suspects in the human rights community, who longed for a golden age of humanitarian enlightenment after the Nobel Peace Prize winner took office. But Suu Kyi's defense of Myanmar's security forces who away from international eyes are committing whatever crimes they wish is no longer tenable.
SOUNDBITE [English] Ravina Shamdasani, Un Human Rights Spokeswoman: “Mass gang-rapes, killings, including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by Myanmar security forces in a sealed-off area north of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State have been detailed in the report that our team has put together. Of the 204 people individually interviewed, the vast majority reported witnessing killings, and almost half of them reported having a family member who was killed, as well as family members who were missing.”
Narration: Perhaps, Suu Kyi understands that her survival as a political leader depends on good relations with the army. That's why she is so reluctant to press them over the Rohingya issue. She also knows that siding with the Rohingya over Burmese nationalists would be political suicide. Suu Kyi has been painfully silent on the major human rights violations in both northern Myanmar and Rakhine State. Her quasi-civilian government has, along with the military, restricted humanitarian access to the more than 98,000 people displaced by the conflict in northern Myanmar, in particular to the tens of thousands who live in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups. This has needlessly compounded the suffering of an already vulnerable population.
INTERVIEW [English] Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counselor, Myanmar: “- Can I come to the issue that has caused most international concern and which has led to turnabout in the way that you are perceived internationally. You’re aware of this; you've seen in the newspaper headlines, you've seen the comments from international figures, condemning how you've handled the issue of the Rohingya Muslims.
- What exactly is it that they have condemned?
- They want you to allow fact-finding mission into Rakhine state.
- That is just now. That is just what they asked for it last month. But what is it that they have been condemning over the last year.
- Many many people including those who've been sympathetic to you look at the situation and say, "Why hasn’t she spoken out; she is an icon of human rights.”
Narration: No matter how poor Suu Kyi's conduct has been in defending human rights, she has always enjoyed supports in the West. As Walter Russell Mead, Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College, puts it, “Aung San Suu Kyi was the beautiful princess guarded by the evil dragon of a military junta; the Western human rights community was the golden hero who freed the princess so that Burma could live happily ever after with Rohingyas and Buddhist monks reconciling under the spell of Western liberal ideology.” Although Suu Kyi has disappointed and outraged the world over humanitarian issues, she is still being endorsed by the West. Earlier in May, she received the award at the Guildhall, after meeting with Queen Elizabeth II and heir to the throne Prince Charles. The award was ironically in recognition of "her steadfast dedication to create a society where people can live in peace, security and freedom". This provoked anger and protests among those who have a better understanding of the situation back in Myanmar.
VOXPOP [English] People: “She's now a despotic leader unfortunately and she's astray. Money is far more important than the rights of people.
It's very shocking, it's very distressing to see that now she has power, now she has control that she's actually denying rape, she's denying ethnic cleansing and she's denying the genocide that's taking place in her own country.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Shame on you…
Aung San Suu Kyi, Shame on you…”
Narration: Once a champion of human rights, Suu Kyi seems to have become a puppet of the military at home and self-interested states abroad.