Outgoing UN envoy to Myanmar 'utterly disappointed' with Suu Kyi

Yanghee Lee says Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi failed to live up to her reputation as an icon of human rights.

The United Nations’ outgoing human rights envoy for Myanmar has told Al Jazeera that the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has failed to live up to her reputation as a humanitarian.

Yanghee Lee’s time in the role has been especially dominated by Myanmar’s bloody crackdown in Rakhine state in 2017, when 750,000 people, mostly Rohingya Muslims, fled across the border to Bangladesh.

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Aung San Suu Kyi has been widely criticised for remaining mostly silent on accusations of anti-Rohingya violence, and Lee told Al Jazeera on Wednesday she believed the Myanmar leader’s inaction was “utterly disappointing”.

“We all knew that she was put on a pedestal or portrayed as the icon of democracy and human rights, but ever since [her party] has taken office [after a 2015 election] and ever since she took the office of the state councillor, all of her actions and her words, statements point otherwise,” said Lee, whose requests to enter Myanmar were repeatedly denied by the government.

“I would still like to believe that she can change how she’s been doing, but perhaps the world didn’t really know who she was,” she added.

Aung San Suu Kyi became a democracy icon during Myanmar’s decades of military dictatorship when she spent some 15 years under house arrest.

In December last year, the Nobel Peace Prize winner defended Myanmar’s military against allegations of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In her speech, during which she did not use the word Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi told the court that the 2017 exodus of hundreds of thousands of people to neighbouring Bangladesh was the unfortunate result of a battle with armed fighters.

The ICJ case, filed by The Gambia, accuses Myanmar of violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in relation to the 2017 crackdown. UN agencies and human rights groups have extensively documented atrocities.

The government and army have consistently denied the accusation.

Asked about the case, Lee said: “I can’t come out with a conclusion before the court (International Criminal Court) that is mandated to deal with genocide … but I say it bears the hallmarks of genocide.”

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