By Colin Packham and Alison Bevege
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s attorney general said that Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has diplomatic immunity, rejecting a bid by activist lawyers to prosecute her for crimes against humanity over the country’s treatment of minority Rohingya Muslims.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after militant attacks on Aug. 25 last year sparked a crackdown led by security forces in the western state of Rakhine that the United Nations and United States have said constituted ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar denies the charge. It has asked for “clear evidence” of abuses by security forces. After repeated attempts, neither Suu Kyi’s spokesman nor the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was available for comment.
Australian Attorney General Christian Porter said he would not allow the prosecution of Suu Kyi, who arrived in Sydney on Saturday for regional talks, because heads of state cannot be arrested, detained or served with court proceedings.
“Aung San Suu Kyi has complete immunity, including from being served with court documents, because under customary international law, heads of state, heads of government and ministers of foreign affairs are immune from foreign criminal proceedings and are inviolable,” Porter told Reuters by email.
The legal action in Australia coincided with the start of Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings.
Australia is hosting the meetings, despite not being a member of the 10-nation bloc, as it seeks to tighten political and trade ties in the region amid China’s rising influence.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi’s invitation has sparked protests, which included about 100 activists gathering in Sydney’s Hyde Park where they chanted “Aung San Suu Kyi, shame on you”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday he would raise the issue of human rights abuses with Suu Kyi during her three-day visit.
(Additional reporting by James Redmayne, David Gray and Simon Lewis; Editing by Nick Macfie)