Aung San Suu Kyi has been tasked with steering the country away from military rule—but on her watch minority communities face appalling violence, while the UN is barred from interveningby Francis Wade / August 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
In January this year the United Nations dispatched a team of investigators to the southeastern tip of Bangladesh, close to where the Naf River marks the border with Myanmar. Over the three months prior, tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims had crossed that river from Myanmar and holed up in camps and villages around the town of Teknaf. They left behind them razed villages and family members too sick or maimed to leave, and they told the investigators of a litany of crimes allegedly committed by Myanmar troops as they swept through northern Rakhine State—of the torching of houses, the gang-rape of women and the execution of children by soldiers seemingly unbridled by the laws governing armed combat.
But eight months on, it is the UN that has become the target of ire from the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government, and not the military. The accounts given to the UN by escapees begin in October last year, when the army had ordered a “clearance operation” aimed at weeding out perpetrators of an attack on a police outpost by members of a Rohingya armed group. The government asserted that soldiers deployed there had acted “with restraint,” but the UN thought otherwise. This hadn’t been a precision operation; rather, by the year’s end, upwards of 65,000 Rohingya—a stateless minority that populates western Myanmar—had fled apparently indiscriminate beatings and killings, jailings and disappearances. The UN then warned that what had occurred in that corner of Myanmar could amount to crimes against humanity.
Since coming to office in April last year, Myanmar’s National League for Democracy has evinced a hostility towards its critics that has taken many by surprise. Rather than engage with concerns about the conduct of troops, it has instead served as something of a PR mechanism for the army, steadfastly rejecting allegations of abuse and sending a message to external parties that the military’s behaviour in Rakhine State—and in other sights of conflict elsewhere in the country—is within the bounds of law. A government-formed inquiry into the events of late last year in northern Rakhine State returned with its findings in early August. Not only were the UN’s claims of abuse by troops groundless, it said, but were part of a “smear campaign by external forces” that sought to exaggerate the death toll and to tarnish the country’s image abroad. The UN’s own efforts to send a team to Myanmar to independently investigate had been thwarted by the government, who in June denied them visas. In short, the world was told, this is no business of yours.