Myanmar State Counselor Says Int’l Condemnation of Country Over Rohingya Crisis Is Unfounded

By San Yamin Aung 23 January 2020

YANGON—State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has criticized the international condemnation of Myanmar over the Rohingya issue, saying it has had a negative effect on the country’s endeavors to bring stability and progress to Rakhine State.

In a very rare opinion piece published in the Financial Times on Thursday, she wrote that the international community presented a distorted picture of Myanmar and that this had affected the country’s diplomatic relations.

“Should countries with even fewer resources than Myanmar be similarly condemned, the consequences for them could be dire,” the State Counselor said.

Myanmar has faced heavy international condemnation since late 2017 following the killings and displacement of Rohingya in Rakhine State. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh after the government’s security forces launched clearance operations in northern Rakhine State in response to a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police outposts in the area in August 2017.

Those who fled recalled arbitrary killings, rape and arson against their property by Myanmar security forces. UN investigators said the operations had “genocidal intent”. Both the Myanmar government and military have denied the accusation.

Cases have been brought against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, and a private lawsuit has been brought in Argentina accusing the country of committing genocide against the Rohingya.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said “all the cases [against the country] rely extensively on a fact-finding mission by the UN Human Rights Council, which is precariously dependent on statements by refugees in camps in Bangladesh.” 

The State Counselor said a comprehensive inquiry into the 2017 violence and mass displacement in Rakhine was conducted by the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE), which was established on the orders of her government. The commission presented its final report to the President on Monday.

She said the ICOE reported that some refugees may have provided inaccurate or exaggerated information. She wrote that “the voice of victims must be heard and must always touch our hearts. But it is equally important that fact-finders are vigilant in their search for truth.”

“While this is understandable, we have to recognize that there is a systemic challenge. The international justice system may not yet be equipped to filter out misleading information before shadows of incrimination are cast over entire nations and governments.”

Human rights groups have condemned Myanmar based on unproven statements without the due process of criminal investigation, the State Counselor said.

She said that to provide the strongest protection for human rights, it was necessary to reform the ways in which unsubstantiated narratives are relied upon by the UN and non-governmental organizations.

The ICOE concluded that war crimes were committed during the internal armed conflict with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army by members of Myanmar’s security forces and civilians, and recommended further domestic investigation and prosecution. Myanmar’s government has promised to act on the commission’s recommendations.

The report details killings of civilians, disproportionate use of force, looting of property, and destruction of homes abandoned by Rohingya, but denied that the crimes against the Rohingya had genocidal intent, contradicting the findings of UN investigators.

In the article, the State Counselor again promised investigations of civilians accused of looting or burning villages, adding that war crimes that may have been committed by members of the defense services will be prosecuted through the military justice system. But she acknowledged that ensuring accountability on the part of the armed forces wouldn’t be easy.

“It is never easy for armed forces to recognize the self-interest in accountability for their members, and then follow through with actual investigations and prosecutions. This is a common challenge around the world,” she said.

But the country’s de facto leader said that does not mean that international justice should immediately come into play, and urged that Myanmar be given more time.

“An informed assessment of Myanmar’s ability to address the issue of violations in Rakhine can only be made if adequate time is given for domestic justice to run its course. Justice can help us overcome distrust and fear, prejudice and hate, and end longstanding cycles of intercommunal violence. This has always been my goal,” she said.

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