A Nobel Peace Prize recipient who defied Myanmar’s military dictatorship is now presiding over what U.N. officials call “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing” against a religious and ethnic minority.
Human rights groups accuse Aung San Suu Kyi, a national icon who is currently the state counselor to Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy, of remaining silent as the government persecutes hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims.
Nearly 300,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since fighting broke out in August in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, according to reports from human rights groups in the area. The government’s crackdown indiscriminately targets innocent women and children in addition to militants within the Rohingya population, the U.N.’s top human rights official said Monday.
“We have received multiple reports and satellite imagery of security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages, and consistent accounts of extrajudicial killings, including shooting fleeing civilians,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the U.N. Human Rights Council, according to Reuters.
“I call on the government to end its current cruel military operation, with accountability for all violations that have occurred, and to reverse the pattern of severe and widespread discrimination against the Rohingya population,” he added.
Rohingya Muslims are a hated minority group in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. The government considers them to be Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, while Bangladesh says they are Burmese. In 2016, about 85,000 Rohingya poured into Bangladesh, fleeing rape, torture and murder at the hands of Myanmar security forces.
The latest conflict began on Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants killed 12 security officers in attacks on border posts, according to Myanmar state media. The Myanmar military responded with a campaign to of “clearance operations” against what it called Rohingya “terrorists.”
Once revered in the West as a champion of democracy and human rights, Suu Kyi has recently come under fire from human rights watchers for her non-response to the conflict. They accuse her of standing by as the crackdown on militants has expanded into a brutal ethnic cleansing of the entire Rohingya population in Myanmar. Some are now calling for Suu Kyi to be stripped of the Nobel Prize she won in 1991 for resisting Myanmar’s military junta.
Derek Mitchell, a former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, told NPR that Suu Kyi’s comments on the situation have not been helpful — she referred to some reports on atrocities as “fake news” — but that she has little ability to influence Myanmar’s military operations against the Rohingya.
“I certainly don’t think it’s illegitimate to ask that she be more vocal in her compassion for this really beleaguered population, but she inherited an absolutely awful situation of Rakhine State,” he said. “And, in fact, the current crisis was spurred by an attack by a militant group acting in the name of the Rohingya. So the military had made the response. She doesn’t control the military.”
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