The UN Special Envoy on Human Rights in Myanmar has claimed that State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could be complicit in the systematic persecution of Rohingya Muslims.
In an interview with Channel 4 News posted to the British broadcaster’s website on Wednesday, Yanghee Lee said there were grounds for bringing Myanmar’s de facto leader before an international tribunal for failing to intervene in the military’s “clearance operation” in Rahkine state following attacks by ARSA militants in August that killed 11 security personnel.
She also said she had personally been told that more mass graves were likely to be discovered in the country, though she did not offer details.
Lee said the military’s clearance operation, which has seen upwards of 650,000 Rohingya flee to neighboring Bangladesh, bears “all the hallmarks” of genocide.
Asked about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s role, Lee said, “I think that she’s either denying [what’s happening], or she’s really far removed.” She added that the State Counselor “can’t be not accountable,” adding that she believed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was guilty of “complicity or neglecting to do anything to halt this….I’m afraid so.”
She added that the chances of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi actually appearing before some sort of tribunal were “very small”. Myanmar is not a party to the International Criminal Court, and China’s status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council meant it was unlikely that the body would declare the Myanmar military’s actions against the Rohingya as genocide, Lee said.
In December, the government of Myanmar informed Lee that she had been barred from returning to the country and that cooperation would be withdrawn for the duration of her tenure. The government and military had complained that Lee’s reporting on the situation in Myanmar had been biased for about six months leading up to the ban.
Lee also told Channel 4 she’d received many death threats and was even warned of a planned assassination attempt.
Asked about the ongoing detention of two Reuters journalist under the Official Secrets act, Lee said the pair were “getting too close” to the truth in their coverage of issues in Rakhine, adding that the military had effectively implemented a “national gag order,” saying “people are just afraid to speak out anymore.”
She added that she had personally received more indications that more mass graves would be found in Myanmar, though she did not offer further details in the interview.
In December, U Zaw Htay, director of the Myanmar President’s Office, said in a text message to the Irrawaddy that Lee was neither impartial nor objective in her work.
“There is no trust on her. Therefore, we informed through Myanmar Permanent Mission in NY and Geneva UNSG Office in NY and OHCHR in Geneva,” U Zaw Htay wrote in his text message.
The special rapporteur’s mandate requires two visits to Myanmar a year, in order to report to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. Since taking up the mandate in June 2014, Ms. Lee has visited Myanmar six times.
The government has repeatedly denied human rights violations are occurring throughout Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State.