BILL RICHARDSON'S exasperation with Burma's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is understandable. Mr. Richardson was appointed by the Nobel laureate to serve on a commission to deal with the aftermath of the Burmese military's brutal campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. Some 650,000 Rohingya, a long-persecuted minority, were forced to flee to Bangladesh. Mr. Richardson quit the panel this week, saying, "I don't want to be part of a whitewash." Aung San Suu Kyi is encumbered with many restraints about which we have often expressed sympathy. But Mr. Richardson is right: She has temporized in response to atrocity.
Mr. Richardson, the former New Mexico governor who was energy secretary and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, said the 10-member commission chaired by former Thai deputy prime minister Surakiart Sathirathai was "devoid of any meaningful engagement with the local communities in Rakhine, whose people the advisory board is meant to serve." While he joined in hopes of working on a long-term solution to the plight of the Rohingya in Burma, also known as Myanmar, "I discovered that this board was being used as a cheerleading squad for the government." Mr. Richardson told the Associated Press of Aung San Suu Kyi: "She blames all the problems that Myanmar is having on the international media, on the U.N., on human rights groups, on other governments, and I think this is caused by the bubble that is around her, by individuals that are not giving her frank advice."
He is right about the disappointing dynamic. Aung San Suu Kyi came to power as a voice of the oppressed, having spent years as a democracy champion, kept under house arrest by Burma's repressive generals. But she has not acted with the same eloquence and alacrity to the deepening crisis in Rakhine state. The scorched-earth tactics by the Burmese military were in response to an Aug. 25, 2017, attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a small Rohingya militant group, on about 30 security posts. It is true that Aung San Suu Kyi lacks real power over the military, which retains a quarter of seats in parliament and runs other institutions. But that is no excuse for her failure to wield her substantial moral authority to attempt to halt the assaults and seek reconciliation.
A number of government panels and commissions have been appointed, all leading nowhere. A military investigation of itself last year found, incredibly, there was "no death of innocent people." A commission under former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan came up with constructive recommendations, largely unimplemented. Meanwhile, the conflict zone remains closed; the government has refused to allow access to U.N. investigators, foreign media and aid groups. Mr. Richardson said Aung San Suu Kyi "exploded" when he brought up the detainment of two Reuters journalists investigating a mass murder by the Burmese troops and villagers; the reporters were arrested and prosecuted for allegedly violating official secrecy laws.
Aung San Suu Kyi cannot make this crisis go away by closing her eyes. She must find that moral voice that proved so mighty in her earlier struggle, and use it again.
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