Aung San Suu Kyi breaks silence on Rohingya, sparks storm of criticism

Aung San Suu Kyi breaks silence on Rohingya, sparks storm of criticism

Naypyidaw, Myanmar (CNN)Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi finally broke her silence on the Rohingya refugee crisis enveloping her country Tuesday, but her speech in her nation’s capital of Nyapyidaw has raised more questions than answers.

Suu Kyi, whose official title is State Counselor, did not at any point in the 30-minute televised address denounce the alleged atrocities against the Rohingya community, which the United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.” Instead, she said Myanmar is not “afraid of international scrutiny.”
During the address, Suu Kyi only referred to the Rohingya by name once — and that was in connection to the burgeoning Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group, that she claimed was “responsible for acts of terrorism.”
Particularly baffling were her claims that the government still needed to find out “what the real problems are” — despite the fact that the UN, numerous rights groups and the Myanmar government itself have issued reports detailing the causes behind the inter-ethnic bloodshed and violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which has led to an exodus of over 400,000 Rohingya from the country.
Responding to the speech, Amnesty International accused Suu Kyi and her government of “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,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
The fact that the address was carried out in English has been widely taken to mean that Suu Kyi, who skipped the United Nations General Assembly, was addressing the international community more than her own people.
Her speech, though disappointing to many outside the country who view her as a champion of human rights, was met with applause and cheers from large crowds in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, who had gathered to watch live on large outdoor screens. There was a party atmosphere among the people watching Suu Kyi.

Framing the issue

Suu Kyi began the address by underscoring the delicate nature of Burmese democracy and how little time her own party had been in power.
“After half a century or more of authoritarian rule, now we are in the process of nurturing our nation,” she said, adding that recent violence is just one of many complexities faced by Myanmar.
“We are a young and fragile country facing many problems, but we have to cope with them all,” she said. “We cannot just concentrate on the few.”
Much of the speech appeared intended to frame the crisis as a complex internal issue and contrasted the violence — which she depicted as isolated — with the government’s ongoing development agenda, specifically its efforts to deliver “peace, stability, harmony, and progress” to the country as a whole.
However, her claim that “all people living in Rakhine state have access to education and health care services without discrimination,” was contradicted by CNN correspondent Ivan Watson, who has traveled to Rakhine state and visited Rohingya settlements and who covered the speech at Nyapyidaw.
Watson said Suu Kyi’s claim was “categorically untrue.” He later tried to question Suu Kyi about the allegations of ethnic cleansing, but was ignored by the State Counselor as she left the auditorium where she spoke.
Myanmar watchers speaking to CNN called Suu Kyi a calculating politician, and one who knows speaking out on the Rohingya will only cost her political capital.
“She’s no longer a peace campaigner, she’s evolved and transitioned into a full-time politician,” said Azeem Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide.”
Who is Aung San Suu Kyi? 
Penny Green, a professor of law at Queen Mary University of London who studies the Rohingya conflict, called out Suu Kyi’s connection of the Rohingya to the ARSA militant group as behavior common among those targeting an ethnic group.
“She (Suu Kyi) chooses to use the word in relation to a terrorist group, that means that is the only identity that Rohingya will be attached to, from her perspective and she hopes from the international perspective,” Green said.

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