Veteran U.S. diplomat and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson abruptly resigned on Wednesday from an international panel established to advise Myanmar on its explosive Rohingya crisis, decrying the country’s lack of “moral leadership” in a scornful letter.
“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,” he wrote. “In initial meetings with members of the Advisory Board and [Myanmar’s civil leader Aung San Suu Kyi], it has become clear that I cannot in good conscience serve in this role.”
Richardson, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton, told Reuters that the panel had become “a whitewash.” A scheduled trip by its members to Myanmar’s border “just seemed like a big photo-op,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.
His remarks come as Suu Kyi has faced mounting international criticism as hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled Myanmar to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate and former political prisoner, has actively denied and downplayed damning reports of state-sanctioned abuse against the minority Muslims.
Many of these reported assaults by state officials ― including rape, arson, shootings, beatings and torture ― amount to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, according to international rights organizations.
Richardson said that in the advisory panel’s initial meeting with Suu Kyi, “I was taken aback by the vigor with which the media, the United Nations, human rights groups, and in general the international community were disparaged.”
Richardson, who noted that he has known Suu Kyi for decades and visited her when she was a political prisoner, also lambasted her “furious response” to his concerns about two journalists who have been detained in Myanmar for more than a month.
Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe, who both covered the Rohingya crisis extensively from within the country, were taken into custody in December for allegedly intending “to send important security documents regarding security forces in Rakhine State to foreign agencies abroad,” according to Myanmar’s information ministry. They face charges under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, with a maximum jail sentence of 14 years.
Their arrests attest to “the erosion of press freedom in the country,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said shortly after the pair was detained. “Probably the reason why these journalists were arrested is because they were reporting on what they have seen in relation to this massive human tragedy.”