NEW YORK – Following weeks of silence in the face of claims of ethnic cleansing against Burma’s Rohingya population, the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has delivered a controversial speech in the UN, drawing condemnation from world leaders.
“We have told Myanmar [Burma], they are your citizens, you must take them back, keep them safe, give them shelter,” Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the UN General Assembly.
Hasina renewed her call for Burma to take back the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled to her country.
She said the Rohingya were facing an “unbearable human catastrophe.”
In her address to the UN, Aung San Suu Kyi said “it is not the intention of the Myanmar [Burma] government to apportion blame or to abnegate responsibility”, adding that Burma does not fear “international scrutiny” over the Rohingya crisis.
“The security forces have been instructed to adhere strictly to the code of conduct in carrying out security operations, to exercise all due restraint and to take full measures to avoid collateral damages and the harming of innocent civilians,” she said.
While Aung San Suu Kyi does not have control over the military, she had been criticized over her silence about the violence in Rakhine.
“Human rights violations and all other acts that impair stability and harmony and undermine the rule of law will be addressed with strict norms of justice,” she said.
Nearly 410,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority have fled from western Rakhine state to Bangladesh to escape a military offensive that the United Nations has branded a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
More than 1,000 people may already have been killed in Burma, mostly minority Rohingya Muslims, a senior United Nations representative told AFP last week.
Leaders and diplomats from several countries have since expressed strong disappointment with her stance.
Speaking to the UN Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron said: “the military operation must stop, humanitarian access must be guaranteed and the rule of law restored in the face of what we know is ethnic cleansing”.
He also said he would start a Security Council initiative to ensure humanitarian access and an end to the violence.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also urged Burma to “end the military operations” and “address the grievances of the Rohingyas, whose status has been left unresolved for far too long”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the international community to act on the crisis warning that “unless the tragedy taking place in Myanmar is brought to a halt, humanity will have to live with the shame of another dark stain in its history”.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May also said the military action in Rakhine had to stop. The UK is suspending training courses for the Myanmar military in light of the violence.
Amnesty International said Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech was “little more than a mix of untruths and victim blaming”, and accused her of “burying her head in the sand” by ignoring the abuses by the army.
Described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, Burma’s ethnic-Bengali Muslims, generally known as the Rohingya, are facing a catalog of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants.
Burma’s government, as well as the Buddhist majority, refuse to recognize the term “Rohingya,” referring to them as “Bengalis.”
Construction of mosques and religious schools in the region was banned in 1962 when military rule was first established in the country.