Former New Mexico Gov Bill Richardson has resigned from an advisory panel on the massive Rohingya refugee crisis, calling it a “whitewash and a cheerleading operation” for Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The sudden resignation of probably the panel’s most prominent member, a former senior US politician and diplomat who considered Suu Kyi a close friend, raises serious questions about international efforts to deal with the calamitous fallout of Myanmar military operations since August against the Rohingya Muslims that the United Nations has called “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
It also offers possible insight into the thinking of Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate once revered as an icon of human rights whose leadership during the Rohingya crisis has shocked many outsiders.
Richardson, a former US ambassador to the United Nations and President Bill Clinton’s energy secretary, castigated Suu Kyi for blaming outsiders for the crisis instead of looking honestly at military actions that have forced nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee to squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh, where they have spoken of mass killings, rapes and the obliteration of whole villages in Myanmar.
“She believes there’s a concerted international effort against Myanmar, and I believe she is wrong,” Richardson said in an AP interview at his hotel in downtown Yangon, the country’s biggest city.
“She blames all the problems that Myanmar is having on the international media, on the UN, 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.”
Suu Kyi appears to want the 10-member advisory board, which is meant to implement earlier Rohingya recommendations made by a group led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to validate her Rohingya policies, Richardson said.
“The advisory board is mainly a whitewash and a cheerleading operation for the Myanmar government, and I’m not going to be part of it because I think there are serious issues of human rights violations, safety, citizenship, peace and stability that need to be addressed,” Richardson said. “I just felt that my advice and counsel would not be heeded.”
Richardson’s biting criticism of Suu Kyi and his resignation from the panel come as refugees cram camps in Bangladesh rife with crushing poverty, disease and a pervasive air of hopelessness.