Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi File picture: Aung Shine Oo/AP
South Africa’s Roelf Meyer has been appointed as one of a select group of international advisers to Myanmar’s President Aung San Suu Kyi on the Rohingya crisis. 

This is the latest in a long line of conflict resolution work undertaken by Meyer and is a difficult job given the scorched earth policy that has been exacted on Rohingya communities by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine state.

But if Meyer could succeed as a driving force with Cyril Ramaphosa in the negotiations that led to a free-and-fair democratic South Africa, then no conflict is so intractable that a solution cannot be found.

Suu Kyi hand selected Meyer, along with the former deputy prime minister of Thailand, the speaker of the Swedish parliament, Lord Derzi from the UK’s Privy Council Office, the chair of Myanmar’s Human Rights Commission, and a retired UN assistant secretary- general.

But the members of this high-powered group have no intention of their role being part of a whitewash to shore up Suu Kyi’s credibility in the eyes of the international community. They have made it clear that they expect her to listen to their advice as their own credibility is on the line.

But one member of the advisory board who has now quit - veteran US politician Bill Richardson (who was heavily involved in the Balkans and Iraq) - called the advisory board a whitewash and a cheerleading team for the policies of the Myanmar government.

The decades-long relationship between Richardson and Suu Kyi soured when he confronted her about the detention of two Reuters journalists by the Myanmar military who had been working on a report about the massacre by security forces of 10 men who were shot and thrown into a mass grave.

Even though the army admitted to the extrajudicial killings, the journalists are still being held and are facing up to 14 years in prison.

According to Richardson, Suu Kyi got very angry when he confronted her on the issue and claimed it was not part of his mandate.

From Richardson’s perspective, if the advisory board was supposed to look at the implementation of the recom- mendations in Kofi Annan’s August 2017 report, then freedom of the press was part of those recommendations. Richardson left the board and has since been highly critical of Suu Kyi as being arrogant and intolerant of criticism. Some have gone as far as to say that Suu Kyi is providing the military with political cover.

But for all the criticism of Suu Kyi’s ethics, she remains Myanmar’s head of state, presiding over what is becoming an unspeakable human tragedy. This makes Meyer's and the rest of the advi- sory board’s task all the more urgent and critical.

They will need to remain true to the courage of their convictions and be brutally honest with her, and she will need to start listening.

Yanghee Lee, the UN special envoy on human rights, has said the killings and disposal of bodies by the Myanmar military had all the hallmarks of a genocide. This will need to be addressed by the board, and Suu Kyi will need to confront this reality head-on and stop trying to sweep it under the carpet.

Around 700000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution and devastation, but the tragedy continues to unfold as the security forces attempt to make life so intolerable for those that remain that they will be compelled to flee the country.

According to Amnesty International many of those currently fleeing are doing so due to a shortage of food - a situation created by the Myanmar security forces who are blocking the Rohingya from accessing rice fields, markets and humanitarian aid.

It would seem that the Myanmar security forces have gone from killing, raping and burning villages to employing subtler measures to make life intolerable for the Rohingya.

The advisory board members have already held three meetings and gone on a one-day tour of the affected areas in Rakhine state, meeting with Buddhists, Muslim minorities and Hindus.

It was impossible for the authorities to hide the devastation exacted on Rak- hine villages as the group flew over the burnt out villages. In one day it would have been impossible to do a comprehensive assessment of the situation on the ground.

Given the complexities of the situation and the need for a proper indepen- dent investigation, the advisory board has issued a statement making perti- nent recommendations which include: the need for proper consultations with the communities involved; the need to appoint an independent investigation team; the need for access by the international community to affected areas in Rakhine and the need for media and humanitarian access.

Meyer is not one to pull his punches and will no doubt persuade Suu Kyi to implement the advisory board’s recommendations.

* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Foreign Editor.

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