Aung San Suu Kyi says Myanmar does not fear global scrutiny over Rohingya crisis
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday condemned all human rights violations in her first public address since the Rohingya refugee crisis began, but said her country did not fear international scrutiny.
Anyone responsible for abuses in troubled Rakhine State would face the law, she said, adding that she felt deeply for the suffering of everyone caught up in conflict there.
It was the de facto Myanmar leader's first address to the nation since attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on August 25 sparked a military response that has forced more than 410,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.
The United Nations has branded the military operation in the western Myanmar state ethnic cleansing. Aung San Suu Kyi did not address accusations of ethnic cleansing but said her government condemned rights violations and was committed to a return to peace.
"We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence. We are committed to the restoration of peace and stability and rule of law throughout the state," the former democracy activist and Nobel peace prize winner added in her address in the capital, Naypyitaw.
Amnesty International responded to the speech, saying Aung San Suu Kyi and her government were "burying their heads in the sand" and criticised the Myanmar leader for failing to use her address to condemn the army for its alleged abuses.
"Refugees who have fled to Bangladesh cannot return to this appalling status quo," the rights group said, adding "at times her speech amounted to little more than a mix of untruths and victim blaming".
Long feted in the West for her role as champion of Myanmar’s democratic opposition in the Buddhist-majority country during years of military rule and house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi has faced growing criticism for saying little about the abuses faced by the Rohingya.
"Human rights violations and all other acts that impair stability and harmony and undermine the rule of law will be addressed in accordance with strict laws and justice," she said.
"We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people caught up in the conflict."
The United States urged the Myanmar government on Monday to end military operations in Rakhine state, grant humanitarian access, and commit to aiding the safe return of civilians to their homes.
Myanmar's powerful military remains in full charge of security and Aung San Suu Kyi did not comment on the military operations in her speech on Tuesday except to say that since September 5, there had been "no armed clashes and there have been no clearance operations".
"Nevertheless, we are concerned to hear that numbers of Muslims are fleeing across the border to Bangladesh," she said.
"We want to find out why this exodus is happening. We would like to talk to those who have fled as well as those who have stayed. I think it is very little known [that] a great majority of Muslims in the Rakhine state have not joined the exodus."
She said her government had been making every effort to restore peace and stability and to promote harmony between Rakhine's Muslim minority and Buddhist majority communities.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 72, is banned from the presidency by the military-drafted constitution because her children have British citizenship. She holds offices of the state counsellor and minister for foreign affairs, and is the de facto leader of the governing administration.
In her address on Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi did not use the term “Rohingya” to refer to the Muslim minority in Rakhine State.
Members of the 1.1 million minority Rohingya group are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh rather than an ethnic Myanmar group.
Most Rohingya do not have Myanmar citizenship.
Aung San Suu Kyi's speech came as the head of a UN investigation into violence in Myanmar since 2011 asked for more time to look into allegations of mass killings of Rohingya, as well as torture, sexual violence and the burning of villages.
Marzuki Darusman, whose team started its work last month, told his sponsors in the UN Human Rights Council that the time left until his current March 2018 deadline was "utterly insufficient" and asked for a six-month extension.
"Now facing an escalating situation in northern Rakhine that is increasing our workload exponentially, we are deeply concerned about our ability to verify the facts necessary to produce a report of the depth and quality that is expected of us by March," he said.
He also told the Geneva-based council he was still waiting for Myanmar's permission to enter the country, though he was hopeful there would be progress soon.