UN calls on Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi to halt 'ethnic cleansing' of Rohingya Muslims

In the face of violent purges which have left villages burned, dozens dead and tens of thousands displaced, the Nobel Peace Prize winner has shown little interest in protecting "the world's most persecuted people" 

Matt Broomfield
Friday 09 December 2016 15:07 GMT
 Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and head of Burma's young government, has been called upon by the UN to "listen to her inner voice" and halt the violence against the persecuted Rohingya minority.

At least 10,000 members of the Muslim ethnic group have been driven across the Bangladeshi border by threat of violence in recent weeks.

Rape, arson and the slaughter of dozens of civilians have also been documented, and a closed military zone has been declared in the northern state of Rakhine, which is home to around 1,400,000 Rohingya.

The crackdown was initially launched in response to the killing of nine policemen by Rohingya militants. But its ultimate goal is "the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority in Myanmar", the UN refugee agency's chief in Southern Bangladeshhas said.

Ms Suu Kyi, the feted pro-democracy activist who spent 15 years under house arrest before being elected as Myanmar's State Counsellor in 2015, has failed to visit Rakhine since the outbreak of violence.

Instead, she has repeatedly defended the purges, attacking foreign intervention in the region and demanding: "show me a country without human rights issues.”

"I call upon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to listen to her “inner voice” and speak directly to the people of Myanmar," the Special Adviser of the United Nations Secretary-General on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, responded in a formal statement. "People of all communities in Myanmar must jointly oppose the violence, disunity and division that are being instigated by a small group of criminal elements in the region."

Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma recall the horrors they left

"Furthermore, a reiteration of her promise to address the root causes affecting the local population, namely that of citizenship and status, and to provide relief to the internally displaced since 2012, would go a long way to relieve tension."

After Britain annexed what is now Rakhine in 1826, Muslim labourers were brought over from Bengal to work the land. Land disputes were heightened by ethnic differences, and after the British armed Rohingyan militants to fight during the Burmese war, they ignited a sectarian rebellion which lasted until the 1960s.

Under the military juntas which held the country then known as Burma in an ethnocentrist Buddhist grip for decades, the Rohingyans faced state violence and discrimination on such a scale the UN has called them "the world's most persecuted people."

Following riots in 2015, the Rohingyan 'boat people' fled across South-East Asia. Hundreds drowned, and other refugees found themselves incarcerated in Bangladesh or forcibly deported back to Myanmar.

Effectively stateless, the Rohingya were not allowed to vote in 2015, and looked on as Ms Suu Kyi swept to power in Myanmar's first democratic elections for a quarter-century.

The activist known as 'The Lady' was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means." But she has shown little interest in the scorched villages or shallow mass graves in Muslim regions of her country.

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