The United Nations investigator of human rights abuses in Myanmar expressed deep disappointment Thursday at what she described as an indifferent response by the country’s Nobel laureate leader to the violence raging against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The comments by the investigator, Yanghee Lee of South Korea, a leading child rights expert appointed to her United Nations human rights post in 2014, underscored international frustrations over the behavior of the Myanmar leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, regarding the persecution of the Rohingya.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a hero of democratic rights who endured years of house arrest by Myanmar’s military to become the top civilian politician of her country and de facto head of the government, has not criticized the deadly campaign against the Rohingya, who are widely reviled among the country’s Buddhist majority.
The campaign, carried out by Myanmar’s armed forces and allied militias, has uprooted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from their villages in northern Rakhine State since August. The fallout has created a refugee and public health crisis in Myanmar’s impoverished neighbor, Bangladesh, as more than 600,000 people have fled across the border.
Other top United Nations officials have called the anti-Rohingya purge a campaign of ethnic cleansing or worse. Diplomats of the Security Council are discussing a draft resolution aimed at pressuring the Myanmar military to end the violence. The Trump administration also has threatened to take punitive action.
Speaking to reporters at the United Nations on Thursday, Ms. Lee said “there is so much hatred and hostility against the Rohingya” in Myanmar that few dare speak out against it. Well-documented accounts of killings, rapes, burned villages and forced displacement get no coverage in Myanmar’s news media.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi skipped the annual United Nations General Assembly last month in what was widely viewed as a way to avoid hard questions and confrontations over the Rohingya crisis.
Other leaders have criticized her seemingly insensitive response, including some fellow Nobel laureates. But Ms. Lee’s comments were particularly pointed.
“It has really baffled everyone, and has really baffled me, about Daw Aung’s non-position on this issue,” Ms. Lee said. “She has not ever recognized that there is such a people called Rohingya — that’s a starting point. I’m very disappointed.”
She said if the Myanmar leader were to “reach out to the people and say, ‘Hey, let’s show some humanity,’ I think people will follow her — she’s adored by the public.”
There was no immediate response to Ms. Lee’s comments from Myanmar’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations.
Myanmar officials have previously denied accusations of ethnic cleansing and have asserted that outside depictions of the crisis are distorted or fabricated by pro-Rohingya sympathizers. They have also sharply restricted access to Rakhine State.
Ms. Lee spoke a day after she delivered a sharp critique of Myanmar’s human rights situation to the United Nations General Assembly. Ms. Lee said she was particularly appalled by the anti-Rohingya mood in the country.
“Unfortunately, there seems to be little sympathy, let alone empathy, for the Rohingya people in Myanmar,” she said. “For decades, it has been cultivated in the minds of the Myanmar people that the Rohingya are not indigenous to the country and therefore have no rights whatsoever to which they can apparently claim.”