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The UN Human Rights Council must set up a commission of inquiry into Burma’s human rights record, as it has done for North Korea and Eritrea, and not spare its leader because of her iconic status, a former US human rights envoy said on Monday.
Keith Harper, who served as US President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the Geneva-based council from 2014 to January this year, said Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi had “utterly failed” to address the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Arakan State.
But he said Western diplomats and human rights advocates saw her as a hero and might let Burma off the hook, and he feared the new US administration, which has not yet named his replacement in Geneva, might seek to play down the situation.
“For far too many, her iconic status as pro-democracy crusader makes it difficult to hold accountable a Suu Kyi-led government no matter the well-documented human rights violations,” Harper wrote.
“Her Nobel Prize has become a most awful kind of shield from proper scrutiny.”
The Human Rights Council is expected to debate Burma during a three-week session starting on Monday, and Harper said it should order a full inquiry, which he described as “heavy medicine reserved for the most horrendous human rights cases.”
A report by the UN human rights office, based on testimony of Rohingya Muslims who had fled to Bangladesh, said Burma’s security forces had probably committed crimes against humanity with a campaign of killings and gang rape.
Senior UN officials later told Reuters they believed more than 1,000 people had been killed.
Harper, writing on the Just Security online forum, said many had hoped Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, would tackle the human rights crisis when she took power a year ago.
But it had become clear that although she was happy to be lauded as a pro-democracy icon, she was not prepared to stand up for an unpopular and persecuted Muslim minority, and it would be wrong to spare her from scrutiny.
“Even accepting that Suu Kyi does not sufficiently control the military, she has utterly failed to utilise her considerable bully pulpit, which would undoubtedly be impactful,” he wrote.