Amnesty International has accused Aung San 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 in Burma.
The charity 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”.
In a live address on Burmese television, Ms Suu Kyi defended her country from international criticism and 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”.
Although Ms Suu Kyi is nominally the de facto ruler of Burma since 2016, she is ineligible for the presidency and her regime is still at the mercy of the military junta which has controlled the country since the 1962 coup. The military still continues the majority of seats in the Burmese parliament and can block an attempts to reform the constitution or rein them in.
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.”
Mr Gomez said the Rohingya had been “trapped in a cycle of abuse and derivation for decades” and were “essentially segregated in Rakhine State, effectively denied citizenship and face severe barriers in accessing health care and other basic services”.
The Buddhist-majority in Burma tend to be hostile to the Rohingya and they are dismissed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though most Rohingya have ancestors who have lived in the country for centuries,