Nobel Peace Prize winner and the de facto leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi finally broke her silence on her country’s Rohingya crisis on Tuesday — but the highly anticipated message was not what many had hoped for.
The kindest take is Aung San Suu Kyi genuinely has no clue what's going on. The alternative is she deliberately lied and tried to mislead.— Mark Farmaner (@MarkFarmaner) September 19, 2017
@BBCYaldaHakim Isn't is strange that Aung San Suu Kyi is saying she doesn't know why Rohingya Muslims are fleeing Myanmar?— Chijioke Izundu (@CjIzundu) September 19, 2017
Tuesday’s speech marks the first time Suu Kyi has directly addressed the Rohingya crisis, which has been growing increasingly worse over the last month, with more than 400,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh since violent clashes occurred Aug. 25.
Suu Kyi expressed concern over reports about the “number of Muslims are fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.”
“We would like to find out why this exodus is happening,” she said.
The reasons the Rohingya are fleeing have been well documented by groups like Human Rights Watch, which has used satellite data to track the devastation the Burmese army has wrought on Rohingya villages, and through refugees’ accounts of violence and discrimination.
Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing to Bangladesh since 2012, but recent violence has caused a surge in refugees trying to cross the border. Amnesty International has accused Suu Kyi and the Burmese government of being untruthful about the ongoing violence and “burying their heads in the sand.”
The Burmese army has been shooting unarmed people, systematically raping women and girls, and setting fire to the homes of Rohingya in the state of Rakhine, according to The New York Times.
Suu Kyi said the government of Myanmar is ready to take back refugees “at any time,” after a verification process. However, it is unclear what this might mean and how many Rohingya would be repatriated, as the country has not recognized Rohingya as citizens of Myanmar for several decades.
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The international community has been watching Suu Kyi for weeks and hoping for a strong statement condemning the violence.
Today I spoke with Aung San Suu Kyi to convey Canada's deep concerns for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Details: https://t.co/R3jMdZwhQg— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 13, 2017
Many are disappointed by her speech on Tuesday, which people have been eagerly awaiting since she announced last week that she would not be attending the UN General Assembly and would instead return home to handle Myanmar’s ongoing crisis.
In her speech, Suu Kyi lamented the international community’s narrow focus on the plight of the Rohingya, saying that this is just one of many problems the country is trying to address.
Notably, she referred to the Rohingya as such only once during her 30-minute speech. In Myanmar, many people call Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refer to them as “Bengalis,” which the Rohingya widely consider an insult.
Suu Kyi’s sole use of the world “Rohingya” during her speech was in reference to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a small militant group. However, the term “Rohingya” actually encompasses people of a wider ethnic and religious demographic.
The Nobel Prize winner also said "since the fifth of September, there have been no armed clashes and there have been no clearance operations." But fires and burning villages can be spotted in satellite imagery as recently as Sept. 11.
Within her own country, Suu Kyi appears to retain a strong support base.
We love our leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We stand with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. pic.twitter.com/CuKRVkZrGj— Kyaw Zaya (@KyawZay90219768) September 19, 2017
We stand with you, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. pic.twitter.com/QqJ2lotq1g— luthit (@luthit) September 19, 2017