By Roseanne Gerin
Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday blamed what she called “hate narratives” from abroad for driving wedges between ethnically and religiously diverse communities in the Southeast Asian nation’s troubled Rakhine state.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who governs Myanmar in her capacity as state counselor, had her second meeting with Christine Schraner Burgener, who was appointed as special envoy by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in April, at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Naypyidaw, where the Nobel laureate also serves as foreign affairs minister.
Burgener was wrapping up a nine-day visit to the country during which she met with government officials, civil society organizations, and residents of communities affected by the violence in northern Rakhine state where a brutal military crackdown that began last August targeted Rohingya Muslims.
During their meeting, Aung San Suu Kyi told Burgener that the U.N. must support the government’s efforts to build confidence between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine, adding that mistrust between the two groups has existed for decades and was intensified by deadly communal violence in 2012 and “terrorist attacks” by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in 2016 and 2017.
Aung San Suu Kyi “pointed out that the people dare not commute in Rakhine state due to the lack of security, not because of the lack of freedom of movement, and the government, therefore, has been focusing on rule of law and development in Rakhine state,” according to a statement on the state counselor’s Facebook page.
“The state counselor also pointed out that the hate narratives from outside the country [have] driven the two communities further apart and stressed the need to focus on how to resolve the issue with [a] forward-looking approach,” it said.
Visit to IDP camps
Burgener also visited internally displaced persons (IDP) camps outside Rakhine’s capital Sittwe and in Maungdaw township and makeshift settlements along the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Government soldiers and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs carried out indiscriminate killings, torture, rape, and arson in Rohingya communities, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and driving about 700,000 Muslims to safety in nearby Bangladesh, where they live in sprawling displacement camps.
Myanmar has defended the crackdown as a counterinsurgency against terrorists who also claimed responsibility for another deadly attack in the region in October 2016 and denied credible evidence by rights groups and the U.N. which indicates that security forces committed widespread atrocities against the Rohingya.
Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and subjects them to systematic discrimination, including denied access to basic services and freedom of movement.
The U.N. and United States have said that the crackdown on the Rohingya amounts to ethnic cleansing, and the U.N.’s outgoing human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Monday that attacks have continued against the Rohingya “amounting possibly to acts of genocide.”
Myanmar is in the process of repatriating Rohingya refugees who want to return to Rakhine state after fleeing the crackdown in response to deadly attacks on police posts by a Muslim militant group.
On June 6, the government signed an agreement with the U.N.’s development and refugee agencies to help with the voluntary return and reintegration of displaced Rohingya, assess conditions in Rakhine state for those who are contemplating returns, and support programs that benefit all communities in the multiethnic state.
Neither Myanmar nor the U.N. agencies have disclosed details of the agreement, raising concerns among refugees and the NGOs that support them.
Addressing the root causes
With regard to Rakhine state, Burgener during her visit to Myanmar stressed the need for the country to implement the recommendations of a previous commission on Rakhine state headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan as a requisite for the return of Rohingya refugees.
A statement issued Thursday by the U.N. Secretary-General’s Office said: “While noting the complexities of the situation on the ground, she expressed the hope that current efforts aimed at addressing the root causes, including through the implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state — in particular ending restrictions on freedom of movement and granting citizenship to those eligible — would soon lead to an environment that would be conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of the IDPs and refugees to their place of origin or choice.”
The statement also said that in her discussions with all parties, Burgener “underlined the importance of accountability, which she highlighted was essential for genuine reconciliation.”
“She urged for credible fact-finding measures, and highlighted the readiness on the part of the United Nations and the international community to cooperate in this regard,” it said.
The government has refused to let a U.N.-mandated commission into the country to investigate the situation in Rakhine and barred Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s human rights rapporteur for Myanmar, from visiting because of her criticism of its handling of the crackdown.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government, which governs under a constitution that gives the military control over security and police affairs, has argued that investigations by its own officials and the military determined that soldiers did nothing wrong in most cases during the campaign.
Critics say the government has repeatedly tried to whitewash army atrocities.
Burgener previously met with Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, the speakers of parliament, and other government officials during the start of her visit.
She now heads to Bangladesh where she will visit Rohingya refugee camps in the southeastern part of the country.