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Obama-era human rights envoy says U.N. must investigate Myanmar
February 27, 2017 / 7:06 AM / 8 months ago

Obama-era human rights envoy says U.N. must investigate Myanmar

Keith Harper (R) pauses before the start of the Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, May 11, 2015. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Files

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council must set up a commission of inquiry into Myanmar’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 U.S. human rights envoy said on Monday.

Keith Harper, who served as U.S. President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the Geneva-based council from 2014 to January this year, said Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi had “utterly failed” to address the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

But he said Western diplomats and human rights advocates saw her as a hero and might let Myanmar off the hook, and he feared the new U.S. 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 Myanmar 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 U.N. human rights office, based on testimony of Rohingya Muslims who had fled to Bangladesh, said Myanamar’s security forces had probably committed crimes against humanity with a campaign of killings and gang rape.

Senior U.N. 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 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 utilize her considerable bully pulpit which would undoubtedly be impactful,” he wrote.

Reporting by Tom Miles

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