Monday, September 04, 2017

Ethnic Cleansing & Crimes against Humanity in Myanmar

The following is from an online petition being circulated by Avaaz.org:

“Aung San Suu Kyi is an apologist for genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass rape. For the past year, Aung San Suu Kyi has been State Counselor, or de facto head of government, in Myanmar, where members of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the northern Rakhine state have been shot, stabbed, starved, robbed, raped and driven from their homes in the hundreds of thousands. In December, while the world focused on the fall of Aleppo, more than a dozen Nobel Laureates published an open letter warning of a tragedy in Rakhine ‘amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.’

In February, a report by the United Nations documented how the Burmese army’s attacks on the Rohingya were ‘widespread as well as systematic’ thus ‘indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.’ More than half of the 101 Rohingya women interviewed by UN investigators across the border in Bangladesh said they had suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence at the hands of security forces. ‘They beat and killed my husband with a knife,’ one survivor recalled. ‘Five of them took off my clothes and raped me. My eight‐month old son was crying of hunger when they were in my house because he wanted to breastfeed, so to silence him they killed him too with a knife.’

And the response of Aung San Suu Kyi? This once‐proud campaigner against wartime rape and human rights abuses by the Burmese military has opted to borrow from the Donald Trump playbook of denial and deflection. Her office accused Rohingya women of fabricating stories of sexual violence and put the words ‘fake rape’ — in the form of a banner headline, no less — on its official website. A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry — also controlled directly by Aung San Suu Kyi — dismissed ‘made‐up stories, blown out of proportion.’ In February, the State Counselor herself reportedly told the Archbishop of Yangon, Charles Bo, that the international community is exaggerating the Rohingya issue.”

The latest article from The Guardian [sans hyperlinks] about what is happening to the Rohingya Muslim community notes that Myanmar has blocked all UN aid to civilians at the heart of Rohingya crisis

“Myanmar has blocked all United Nations aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of desperate civilians at the centre of a bloody military campaign in Myanmar, the Guardian has learned. The world body halted distributions in northern Rakhine state after militants attacked government forces on 25 August [only recently, after years of and State-led violence and Buddhist-led pogroms against the Rohingya did some of their members resort to violence in organized self-defense against the government], and the army responded with a counteroffensive that has killed hundreds.

The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar told the Guardian that deliveries were suspended ‘because the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance,’ suggesting authorities were not providing permission to operate. ‘The UN is in close contact with authorities to ensure that humanitarian operations can resume as soon as possible,’ it said. Aid was being delivered to other parts of Rakhine state, it added.
In the deadliest violence for decades in the area, the military is accused of atrocities against the persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority, tens of thousands of whom have fled burning villages to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds.

Staff from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), have not conducted any field work in northern Rakhine for more than a week, a dangerous halt in life-saving relief that will affect poor Buddhist residents as well as Rohingya. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it also had to suspend distributions to other parts of the state, leaving a quarter of a million people without regular food access. Sixteen major non-government aid organisations – including Oxfam and Save the Children – have also complained that the government has restricted access to the conflict area. [….]

Refugees who have made it to Bangladesh during the past week have told horrific stories of ‘massacres’ in villages that they say were raided and burned by soldiers. Along miles of the border, thick black smoke can be seen rising from small settlements surrounded by green fields. The government blames rebels for burning their own homes and accuses them of killing Buddhists and Hindus, a claim repeated by some residents.

Although the Rohingya have suffered oppression for decades, the recent bout of violence is seen as a dangerous escalation because it was sparked by a new Rohingya militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The military says 400 people have been killed, the vast majority of them ‘terrorists,’ although a government block on access to Rakhine makes it impossible to verify official figures.

An estimated 1.1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, which refuses to grant them citizenship and has been internationally condemned for its treatment of the ethnic minority. Hardline religious leaders in majority Buddhist Myanmar have fuelled anti-Muslim sentiment and accuse relief workers of a pro-Rohingya bias. Aid offices were ransacked during 2014 riots in Rakhine’s state capital, Sittwe.
Leader Aung San Suu Kyi has also forged an increasingly antagonistic relationship with humanitarian organisations in Myanmar. Her office accused aid workers last week of helping ‘terrorists,’ a claim that prompted fears for their safety.

More than 100,000 Rohingya who have lived in displacement camps in Rakhine since 2012 when violence between Muslims and Buddhists forced them out of their homes, also stopped receiving assistance last week.” [….]
Aung San Suu Kyi has had many opportunities to speak out, truthfully, about what is happening to the Rohingya Muslims yet has failed to do so. It is simply inexcusable. In particular, she should have spoken to the two principal forms of nationalism responsible as the primary ideologies rationalizing and sanctioning this ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide: Buddhist and militarist. It appears at this juncture as if members of both groups are acting as co-principals of one kind or another (e.g., full joint wrongdoing, conspiracy, co-operation, or collusion) in the acts of coercion and violence. By rescinding the Peace Prize the Nobel Committee could bring absolutely necessary and urgent attention to what is happening in Myanmar/Burma and remove the stain of utter hypocrisy and contradiction now attached to her award.

On Facebook, Chris Bertram writes, “Well, Kissinger, Obama could also be stripped I suppose. And posthumously Wilson and Begin (and that’s just off the top of my head). Agree that she should lose it, but maybe the whole thing should be abandoned.” And I agree with Chris, although in this case the loss is designed to have some immediate impact on the events in question. But, yes, there are more than a few Nobel Peace Prize winners who were not deserving of the prize in the first place (and a few that perhaps we would rescind now given what we later learned). More importantly, perhaps, I think we should indeed scrap the prize altogether. I can live with (pun intended) the Right Livelihood Award garnering the displaced acclaim and attention.
  • Please see the full article here.
  • For an earlier post by yours truly on this conflict in particular and on Buddhists and violence generally, please see “When Buddhists Resort to Violence.”
  • For an independent legal analysis of the question of whether or not the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar amounts to genocide, please see the paper produced by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School, in October of 2015, the introduction to which is here, and the publication itself, here.
  • Please take a moment to sign the petition here.

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