Marise Payne urged to 'step up' at Aung San Suu Kyi meeting in Myanmar


Amnesty International Australia has called on Australia's foreign affairs minister to act on the Rohingya crisis, as she visits Myanmar this week.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne begins her two-day visit to Myanmar, Amnesty International Australia has urged her to "step up and show leadership" at a meeting with controversial leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ms Payne is in the Southeast Asian nation on Wednesday and Thursday and will meet with senior government ministers, including the embattled State Counsellor.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Ms Payne said Australia "is committed to working with Myanmar and regional and other partners towards a long-term and durable solution to the crisis in Rakhine State".

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, left, and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

Since 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar's Rakhine State over the border into Bangladesh, following horrific reports of widespread murder, rape and arson at the hands of the Myanmar military.

Diana Sayed, crisis response campaigner at Amnesty International Australia, told SBS News Ms Payne must "raise the atrocities" with Ms Suu Kyi "and apply political pressure to act".

"Australia is one of the largest aid donors to Myanmar – so our government's opinion matters," she said.

"Ms Payne must call for an immediate end to the ongoing violence against the Rohingya people and justice and accountability for the crimes committed to date. This includes referring the military leaders accountable for these crimes, who the UN say have genocidal intent, to the International Criminal Court.

"It is time for the Australian Government to step up and show leadership on this human rights crisis."

Rohingya refugees walk from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017.
Rohingya refugees walk from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017.

Ms Sayed said Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize winner who had been lionised for her commitment to human rights, had "betrayed the values she once stood for".

"Rather than use her political and moral authority to safeguard human rights, justice and equality she has failed to protect the Rohingya population in Rakhine State and speak out against the military atrocities against them," she said.

On 25 August 2017, a group of Rohingya militants carried out deadly attacks against a small number of Myanmar forces in Rakhine state. The Myanmar military responded with a widespread crackdown against nearly all the Rohingya population in the area.

Human Rights Watch claims the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military during the operation "include mass killings, sexual violence, and widespread arson, amount[ing] to crimes against humanity".

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled into Bangladesh and now live in refugee camps. Most are crowded into makeshift bamboo houses with only plastic sheets to protect them from the elements. 

Visiting Rakhine State

In the Tuesday statement, Ms Payne said "Australia has previously raised our serious concerns in relation to the situation in Rakhine State".

"I will discuss Australia's contribution to supporting the basic needs of the 129,000 internally displaced Rohingya," she added, referring to Rohingya who languish in displacement camps within Myanmar.

The Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.
The Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh.

The camps are located in and around Rakhine's capital Sittwe, which is on Ms Payne's travel schedule.

According to material from Amnesty International Australia, movement, access to healthcare, work and education is severely restricted for those living in the camps. 

"The crisis is far from over. We know that Rohingya people continue to flee and violations continue inside Rakhine State. As villages continue to burn and men, women and children flee for their lives into bordering Bangladesh Aung San Suu Kyi has a moral, ethical and political responsibility to act now," Ms Sayed said.

Additional reporting: AFP

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