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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Archbishop Desmond Tutu urges Suu Kyi to speak up over Rohingya crisis

South African Nobel laureate joins international chorus of criticism over Myanmar leader's silence on atrocities against Muslim miniority

A placard with a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi, accusing her of crimes against humanity, is seen at a rally near the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta on September 8, 2017 to protest against the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority by the Myanmar government. Darren Whiteside / Reuters
A placard with a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi, accusing her of crimes against humanity, is seen at a rally near the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta on September 8, 2017 to protest against the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority by the Myanmar government. Darren Whiteside / Reuters

South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu has urged fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to speak up over her government's treatment of Rohingya Muslims and to intervene in the crisis.

"If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep," Archbishop Tutu said in an open letter released on Thursday.

"It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain," he said.

"The images we are seeing of the suffering of the Rohingya fill us with pain and dread."

The United Nations says that nearly 164,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past two weeks to escape a massive security sweep and alleged atrocities by the country's security forces and Buddhist mobs.

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Suu Kyi, feted for her years of peaceful opposition to Myanmar's military rulers, has been urged to speak up for the Rohingya, with Muslim nations and the UN leading condemnation of her government.

In his letter Archbishop Tutu, who helped dismantle apartheid in South Africa and became the moral voice of the nation, said: "As we witness the unfolding horror we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again … for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people."

The Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, another Nobel laureate, also criticised Suu Kyi this week for remaining silent over her country's treatment of the Rohingya.

"Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment," Ms Yousafzai said in a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday. "I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same. The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting."

Witnesses in Myanmar's Rakhine state say entire villages have been burned to the ground since Rohingya militants launched a series of co-ordinated attacks on August 25, prompting a military-led crackdown that is believed to have left at least 400 Rohingya dead.

The Myanmar government, led by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, has rejected the accusations of atrocities against the Rohingya community, who are denied citizenship despite living in the Buddhist majority country for generations.

Nearly a quarter of Myanmar's 1.1 million Rohingya have fled the country since October, when the military launched a crackdown in response to attacks on three border outposts in Rakhine.