As more and more international bodies refer to Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya as genocide, Aung San Suu Kyi did what she does best to distract the international community: she set up another commission. Unfortunately for her, participants in these commission are now growing wise and can see through her whitewash strategy.
The latest casualty comes in the form of Kobsak Chutikul, who was the Thai secretary on international panel of the Rakhine Commission. An experienced ambassador and former member of Thailand’s parliament, he said the panel had been prevented from setting up a permanent office and told to conduct meetings online. Representatives of the army have refused to meet the board.
“Well, what are they doing? Having lavish dinners in Naypyitaw and this and that, flying around,” Kobsak told Reuters. “The danger now is that it’s going to divert attention from the issues, give a false impression that things are being done.”
While the Myanmar army continued to purge the Rohingya off their native lands, Aung San Suu Kyi made it her business to provide them with political cover by setting up commissions, signing deals and treaties, and generally keeping busy and looking like useful things are being doneDr. Azeem Ibrahim
This is not the first casualty of Daw Suu’s commission. Just prior to the flaring up of the latest wave of violence in August last year, the civilian government of Myanmar was attempting to recover buttress the country’s public image by supporting a UN commission on the Rohingya situation led by Kofi Annan.
Agreeing to that commission did get Myanmar substantial sanctions relief. But as soon as the sanctions were lifted, the recommendations of the Annan commission were dismissed out of hand.
After nearly 700,000 Rohingya then fled Myanmar for Bangladesh in the second half of last year, international patience seems to have mostly run out. Nobody seems under any illusions that the former human rights icon will be either willing or able to help with the sustained attacks that the Myanmar military are carrying out against this civilian population.
Nevertheless, as is the duty of every humanitarian to pursue every available avenue available to them, if there is even a slight possibility of helping. In this spirit, Bill Richardson, one of America’s most experienced diplomats, and a man with a remarkable humanitarian history in the Balkans and Iraq, agreed to join an international panel set up by Aung San Suu Kyi to advise on the Rohingya refugee crisis.
But, only weeks later he quit this position, stating that the “advisory board is a whitewash”, and that he did not wish to be “cheerleading” the policies of the Myanmar government. This was to be expected. Bill Richardson is a man of principle, while the political gestures that Aung San Suu Kyi has been making towards the Rohingya situation ever since she has come to power have never had the weight of conviction behind them.
The story of this advisory panel is the same story as the Kofi Annan commission, and the same story as the repatriation agreement with Bangladesh and now the same story as Ambassador Kobsak Chutikul.
While the Myanmar army continued to purge the Rohingya off their native lands, Aung San Suu Kyi made it her business to provide them with political cover by setting up commissions, signing deals and treaties, and generally keeping busy and looking like useful things are being done. But Richardson and Chutikul are highly experienced diplomat, and can spot a stitch-up when they see one. It is hardly surprising that they refused to be complicit in this farce.
On the other hand, this is also a highly significant moment for the relationship between Myanmar and the international community. With their departures, they helped dispel any lingering hopes that Aung San Suu Kyi, or her government, might come around on the Rohingya issue, and might take active measures to help them.
There is no longer any ambiguity behind which the leaders of Myanmar can hide. They are complicit in this genocide, and are happy to serve as enablers for the military commanders who are carrying it out.
What is less clear is whether the international community will now assume responsibility for what is happening in Myanmar. But my bet is that we will stand by and watch, as we have done so many times before.
Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim.