Former New Mexico governor and diplomat Bill Richardson has known Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi for more than 30 years and supported her since her house arrest under the country’s military junta.
But when Richardson quit a human rights panel on Wednesday that Myanmar had convened to investigate the Rohingya crisis, he didn’t hold back. Richardson called the advisory board a “whitewash” and even slammed his old friend Suu Kyi for lacking “moral leadership.”
Expanding on those sentiments, Richardson told VICE News on Thursday that the Suu Kyi he knows had changed.
“She's retreated into the typical bubble that powerful politicians get into,” he said. “She's now head of the government and so she gets surrounded by people that don't give her frank advice. She refuses to listen to criticism.”
International observers have criticized Suu Kyi for failing to condemn the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and refusing to call for the release of two Reuters journalists arrested while reporting on mass graves in the country’s Rakhine state.
“I do think that she has wanted this commission, based on my three days of being a member, as political cover for the policies that she has,” Richardson told VICE News. “Clearly, they are working very closely together to not cause much controversy.”
“The chairman of the commission plans on meeting twice in the whole year right now. How can you possibly make good policy recommendations for change if you're only meeting twice a year?” he added.
The Myanmar government also released a statement on Thursday claiming that it had asked Richardson to leave the panel. He has a different interpretation of what happened.
“The firing is not true. They were begging me the last day to go on this trip to the Rakhine,” Richardson told VICE News.
“I felt I should resign and maybe send a small message to her that she needs to change, that the international community is not the problem,” he added.
Watch VICE News Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on HBO for more of Richardson’s interview.
Cover image: During an interview with the Associated Press, Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said he has resigned from an advisory panel trying to tackle the massive Rohingya refugee crisis on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, in Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Thet Htoo)