BANGKOK – United States diplomat Bill Richardson has resigned from an international advisory board created by the Myanmar government to address the Rohingya refugee crisis, criticizing the country’s state counselor and de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Advisory Board on Rakhine State was created to implement the recommendations of a commission led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to address the ethnic violence and discrimination against the mostly Muslim minority community in the western Rakhine State.
The commission had delivered its report one day before a Rohingya insurgent group carried out an armed attack on government outposts, triggering a Myanmar army response that led to an exodus of over 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. The ongoing military action has been described by the UN as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
Former US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson, who has supported Suu Kyi since she was put under house arrest by the Myanmar military junta, was “very upset” at the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s attitude during a board meeting on Jan. 22.
“It appears that the Board is likely to become a cheerleading squad for government policy as opposed to proposing genuine policy changes that are desperately needed to assure peace, stability and development in Rakhine State,” Richardson said in a statement.
The former governor of New Mexico criticized how the meeting had focused on disparaging the role of the media, the United Nations and human rights groups “with vigor.”
He also denounced the Board’s apparent lack of sincerity towards the issue of the Rohingya Muslims’ lack of citizenship, as well as Suu Kyi’s “furious response” to his suggestions regarding the two Reuters journalists who were detained while investigating the crisis in Rakhine State.
“I cannot in good conscience serve in this role,” Richardson said as he announced his resignation “with great disappointment.”
“While it is important to recognize that the military still wields significant power and that they are primarily to blame for the recent exodus of refugees in the wake of ARSA attacks, the absence of Daw Suu’s moral leadership in this critical issue is of great concern,” he said.
The diplomat, one of the five foreigners on the 10-member committee, also criticized the lack of commitment of the Chairman of the Advisory Board, Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai from Thailand, and his “general desire to avoid the real issues at the risk of confronting our Myanmar hosts.”
Bangladesh has postponed the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, which had been scheduled to start on Tuesday.
The Myanmar military, which still wields significant influence in the civilian government, denies committing human rights abuses during its operations in Rakhine, which according to Médecins Sans Frontières have caused the death of at least 6,700 Rohingya villagers.
Myanmar does not recognize Rohingyas as citizens, considering them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and imposes restrictions on their freedom of movement.