Brexit and free movement – the east European elephant

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Art installation: Banksy | Photo: Damian Dovarganese/AP

Rolling post, begun April 2016

Latest: January 2019 | Contents

In which, as a remain voter who thinks the leave result should be respected, I detail the metrocentric liberal elite’s arrogant dismissal of white working-class leave voters’ concerns about unrestricted mass immigration from poor east European countries as ignorant, provincial racism.

Guardian letters: May 2017, June 2017, July 2017, December 2018 and January 2019 (Chris Hughes)


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Contents

2017 🔽 | 2018 🔽 | 2019 🔽

2016

April 2016 | Introduction
May 2016 | Entered the elephant
May 2016 | Labour’s ‘horrible racist’ row
23 June 2016 | Referendum result and immigration
October 2016 | Post-result toxicity
October 2016 | May tackled immigration – accused of xenophobia
December 2016 | By-election blues for Labour
December 2016 | Welsh leader: Labour’s ‘London-centric’ view of immigration could lose votes
December 2016 | Top Labour MP: immigration class divide – shadow home secretary: wrong
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2016 🔼 | 2018 🔽 | 2019 🔽

2017

January 2017 | Ukip’s post-Farage farrago of fiascos disadvantaged the dispossessed
January 2017 | Corbyn waffled about free movement
March 2017 | Shadow home secretary: Labour must defend free movement
April 2017 | May called snap general election
April 2017 | Starmer: Labour would end free movement
May 2017 | Corbyn said it: free movement to end
June 2017 | Labour manifesto: free movement to end
June 2017 | May lost majority
July 2017 | Labour weaved this way and that
July 2017 | Tory cabinet’s free movement squabble
August 2017 | Labour remoaners: defend free movement
August 2017 | Tories got it together, sort of
August 2017 | Labour went soft again
September 2017 | Kofi Annan stuck his oar in
September 2017 | Labour remoaners organised to defend free movement
September 2017 | Corbyn to TUC: free movement to end
September 2017 | Government U-turn
September 2017 | Labour stayed in one piece
October 2017 | Conservatives swerved back to Brexit
October 2017 | Tory minister’s ‘tantrum’ smear
December 2017 | Labour wanted ‘easy movement’
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2016 🔼 | 2017 🔼 | 2019 🔽

2018

March 2018 | May surrendered to Barnier
March 2018 | Labour’s position: no one knew
May 2018 | Tories planned free movement lite
June 2018 | Tory minister backed free movement
July 2018 | Chequers white paper: free movement to end
September 2018 | Abbott immigration speech: nothing on free movement
September 2018 | Belfast legal report: the Irish back door
September 2018 | Migration report: ‘End free movement’
November 2018 | Draft withdrawal agreement – free movement to continue during transition
November 2018 | Draft political declaration: free movement to end – draft documents approved by EU
December 2018 | Plan B touted: ‘Norway plus’ (includes free movement)
December 2018 | May cancelled vote on Brexit deal – then survived Tory confidence vote
December 2018 | May: withdrawal agreement vote in January – Corbyn: no confidence
December 2018 | Immigration white paper: free movement to end, kind of
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2016 🔼 | 2017 🔼 | 2018 🔼

2019

January 2019 | ‘Failing’ Grayling succeeds – in backing the end of free movement
January 2019 | Corbyn: free movement negotiable
January 2019 | Pre-vote summary: the DWA, the DPD and free movement
15 January 2019 | May lost Brexit deal vote – Corbyn tabled no confidence vote

Footnote 1 | A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath


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April 2016

Introduction

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East European rough sleepers in London | Photo: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard

In the UK in 2016 we were facing a referendum on membership of the EU. Disturbing reports about the high number of rough sleepers in London could be seen to have made a good case for the UK leaving.

Most of the rough sleepers were from eastern Europe, part of the recent unrestricted mass immigration to the UK allowed under the EU freedom of movement rule.

Some were working but unable to afford accommodation and not yet eligible for government support. Many were not working. Some had apparently been bussed in by criminal gangs to beg on the street. The police were having to deal with complaints of antisocial behaviour.

The referendum was happening because Conservative prime minister David Cameron had been pressed by Eurosceptics in his party (and by Conservative MPs worried about their seats being threatened by the rise of the populist anti-EU Ukip party) to put it in his manifesto for the 2015 general election.

After his lacklustre Conservative-Liberal coalition term of government, Cameron expected another coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who would have blocked the referendum. When he unexpectedly won a majority with the un-polled votes of ‘shy’ Conservatives (shy leavers?), he tried to avert the referendum by negotiating better terms for the UK with the EU.

Cameron’s negotiations, typically lacklustre, failed. The referendum, which Cameron had never wanted and had never expected to have to implement, was arranged to take place in June 2016.

As a middle-class left-liberal-Green, I had mixed feelings about the EU. I loved the noble internationalist free-trade idea, but disliked the corrupt neo-liberal bureaucratic gravy-train reality.

In my local cafe, here in the UK’s east midlands, I heard the views of two older working-class white women about the EU freedom of movement rule.

They were reluctant to say so, aware that their views might be considered ‘wrong’, but they deeply resented this change, imposed with no consultation. Their quiet, genuine and non-racist strength of feeling made a big impression on me.

What did the UK think would happen when they gave EU freedom of movement to poor east European member countries? Why didn’t the UK restrict access until those countries’ economies had risen to western levels – like Germany did (and still does)?

East European immigrants who weren’t sleeping rough in London were gathering in ghettos elsewhere, mostly working and paying tax, but seen as lowering wages, and putting stress on services such as schools and hospitals.

Economic evidence suggests that migrants make a positive contribution to the public purse and public services. However, perhaps people’s perception to the contrary arose from a direct experience of unfair competition for scarce resources.

Also, since before the referendum, non-EU immigration had been consistently higher than EU immigration. So why had EU immigration become such a contentious issue? Perhaps because most non-EU immigrants needed a visa; whereas most east European immigrants (mostly low-skilled workers and many with no jobs to come to) were allowed almost unrestricted entry to the UK .

This was breeding resentment amongst the indigenous white working class, whose traditional Labour votes were being lost to Ukip. The media debate on the referendum was all about trade and jobs, but the elephant in the room was east European immigration.

People were reluctant to say what they thought about free movement for fear of being considered racist (or – just as bad, in some circles – politically incorrect).

There probably was racism at play here, but much of the blame for it lay with government. Mass immigration imposed without consultation was bound to provoke racism.

(We’re probably all potentially racist, but with awareness we can choose not to indulge it – whatever the provocation. See my analysis of racism, Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct.)

In any case, the referendum would be a secret vote!


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May 2016

Entered the elephant

With the referendum date in sight, east European immigration was in the news, as figures for EU immigrants were hotly disputed.


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May 2016

Labour’s ‘horrible racist’ row

(The Guardian print newspaper didn’t report this, despite a full report on the Guardian website.)

Labour shadow Europe minister Pat Glass had been pre-referendum door-knocking in Sawley, Derbyshire with a BBC local radio reporter. Thinking that she was off-mic*, she said: ‘The very first person I come to is a horrible racist. I’m never coming back to wherever this is.’

The BBC said the man she was referring to later denied being a racist, but said that in his conversation with the MP he’d spoken about a Polish family in the area who he thought were living on benefits, and whom he’d described as ‘spongers’.

Glass’s lazy, right-on metrocentric view showed how she and her bien-pensant political class had ignored – and belittled – the genuine concerns of the white working class about east European immigration. Labour, with its unconvincing Remain campaign, ignored those concerns at the risk of losing support.

Glass later issued a grovelling apology (well, semi-grovelling – note the weaselly use of the bolded word ‘any‘), saying:

‘The comments I made were inappropriate and I regret them. Concerns about immigration are entirely valid and it’s important that politicians engage with them. I apologise to the people living in Sawley for any offence I have caused.’

Glass was promoted to the post of shadow education minister in June 2016, but resigned two days later. She stood down at the 2017 general election, citing the ‘bruising referendum‘ as a major cause. It’s unfortunate that rising star Glass tripped over that ‘bruising’ reality. If she – and her party – had been more aware of the genuine concern about EU mass immigration amongst their voters, Glass might still be an MP.

(* Another off-mic racism-related post-interview comment is described in my blogpost about Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims, ‘Halo Goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis‘. Suu Kyi made a racist off-air comment about BBC Today presenter Mishal Husain after losing her temper during a radio interview when Husain repeatedly asked her to condemn anti-Muslim violence. After the interview, Suu Kyi was heard to say: ‘No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.’)


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23 June 2016

Referendum result and immigration

Metrocentral London: Remain
Most of the rest of country: Leave
(Me: Undecided, but: Remain)

The high turnout (72%) and the Leave result (disconcertingly close at 52-48%) were unexpected. Immigration was a major factor.

Postwar mass immigration from UK colonies and former colonies and the more recent EU free movement were allowed by the government for economic reasons with no consideration for immigrant or host communities – and with no public consultation. The EU referendum was, in effect, the first public consultation on immigration.

Several polls confirmed that immigration was a main reason for voting Leave:

  • An Ipsos MORI poll taken just before the referendum showed that immigration was seen as the biggest issue (48%) that would influence people’s vote. (The economy scored 27%.)
  • A Lord Ashcroft post-referendum poll found that 33% of Leave voters said the main reason was that leaving offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders. (Immigration was second. The highest scoring reason was sovereignty, at 40%.)
  • A July 2016 Economist analysis concluded that high numbers of migrants didn’t bother Britons, but high rates of change did.
  • An April 2018 CSI poll found that 40% of leave voters gave immigration as the main reason.


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October 2016

Post-result toxicity

The post-referendum ‘toxic’ debate inflated as metrocentric Remain intellectuals whined stridently about the supposedly stupid people who’d ignored their advice. The poor whites, they said, were like Trump supporters, incoherently attacking the establishment like, they implied, a zombie mob shuffling out of their northern housing estates towards the ivory towers of metroland.

Those metrocentrics were the stupid ones. They couldn’t accept the truth: that Leave voters had valid concerns about the impact on the UK of EU freedom of movement; and about loss of sovereignty. Being treated with contempt by the political class didn’t help – but their vote wasn’t an semi-coherent act of resentment at being overlooked. It was about issues – issues that the metrocentrics, in their lofty arrogance, chose to ignore.

An April 2018 CSI poll asked Leave voters to rank four reasons for voting Leave. The poll report said:

‘Interestingly, “To teach British politicians a lesson” had by far the lowest average rank, being ranked last by a full 88% of Leave voters. This contradicts the widespread claim that Brexit was a “protest vote”: i.e., that people voted Leave as a way of venting deep-seated grievances.’

(Immigration was the main reason, ranked first of the four reasons by 40% of Leave voters polled.)


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October 2016

PM May tackled immigration – accused of xenophobia

Despite having promised to stay on whatever the result, UK prime minister David Cameron resigned after the referendum. He was replaced as leader of the Conservative Party and as PM by Theresa May.

May had campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, but now promised to implement the leave result. At the post-referendum Conservative Party conference, she acknowledged the immigration elephant in the room, and confronted the metrocentric sneerers.

Pledging to crack down on immigration, May said that some people don’t like to admit that British workers can be out of work or on low wages because of low-skilled immigration.

Predictably, leading metrocentrics lashed back. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that May was fanning the flames of xenophobia and hatred. SNP leader and Scottish assembly first minister Nicola Sturgeon said that May’s speech was the most disgraceful display of reactionary right-wing politics in living memory.

Admittedly, May had form. In her previous post as home affairs minister she implemented a Gradgrind approach to reducing immigration. She set ambitious targets which she then failed to meet. An excellent November 2018 Irish Times article links that policy to her post-referendum enthusiasm for ending free movement.

In 2010, home secretary May promised to cut net immigration. Instead it rose significantly. In 2012, she pledged to create ‘a really hostile environment for illegal migrants‘ and wrongly blamed the Human Rights Act for being unable to go further, earning a rebuke from senior judiciary. She ignored warnings about passport backlogs and chaos at border posts, and put ads on the side of lorries telling people to ‘Go home or face arrest‘. The ads were banned for inaccuracy – very few people could actually be arrested – and because of general public revulsion.

It was May’s incompetent and target-led ‘hostile environment’ that led to the shameful cruelty of the Windrush scandal.

So metrocentrics Corbyn and Sturgess arguably had reason to criticise May’s stance on immigration. However, they pointedly failed to acknowledge that this time, May was also voicing the feelings of Leave voters – many of whom were not Conservative voters – who weren’t necessarily xenophobic, but were genuinely concerned about having mass immigration imposed on them.

(If those influential metrocentrics stopped defending their moral high ground, got off their high horses, and got down to thinking about improving society, they might consider that the problems and concerns experienced by the increasingly large precariat underclass could be resolved by paying all adult citizens an unconditional state income. This would, of course, require effective border control – which we could now have. See my post, Robots could mean leisure.)


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December 2016

By-election blues for Labour

The chickens came home to roost at a by-election in deep-Brexit Lincolnshire. Having previously come second in this safe Conservative seat, Labour trailed fourth – behind Ukip.


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December 2016

Welsh leader: Labour’s ‘London-centric’ view of immigration could lose votes

Welsh assembly first minister Carwyn Jones, the most powerful Labour politician in government, disagreed with the position of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who’d defended freedom of movement.

In a Guardian article, Jones said:

‘The danger is that’s a very London-centric position. That is not the way people see it outside London. London is very different: it is a cosmopolitan city and has high levels of immigration. It has that history. It is not the way many other parts of the UK are.

‘People see it very differently in Labour-supporting areas of the north of England, for example. We have to be very careful that we don’t drive our supporters into the arms of Ukip. When I was on the doorstep in June, a lot of people said: ‘We’re voting out, Mr Jones, but, don’t worry, we’re still Labour.’ What I don’t want is for those people to jump to voting Ukip.’

Exactly. (Except they already were.)


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December 2016

Top Labour MP: immigration class divide – shadow home secretary: wrong

Labour cracks widened on the tricky subject of immigration. Leader Jeremy Corbyn continued to downplay the issue (even as Labour voters continued to drift towards Ukip), but some senior Labour politicians focussed on it.

They included northern Labour MP and political big beast Andy Burnham, former shadow home secretary and the then front-runner for the post of elected mayor – which he subsequently won – of northwest UK region Greater Manchester. Burnham joined Carwyn Jones (see above) in speaking up on the subject.

Writing in the Guardian, Burnham said that Labour’s collective failure to tackle concerns over jobs, wages, housing and education linked to migration contributed to the loss of the referendum.

Burnham spoke of a ‘growing class divide‘, with middle-class Labour Remain voters looking down on those who voted Leave as ‘uneducated or xenophobic‘.

(That’s what I said.)

Stubbornly metrocentric Labour shadow home secretary and close Corbyn ally Diane Abbott then said that Burnham had got it back to front, and was wrong.


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January 2017

Ukip’s post-Farage farrago of fiascos disadvantaged the dispossessed

The only good thing, from Labour’s point of view, was that Ukip, the party most likely to benefit from Labour’s metrocentric stance, was disintegrating following the resignation of leader Nigel Farage (the man the metrocentrics – with some reason – loved to hate).

However, this was a bad thing from the point of view of the dispossessed underclass. Ukip, under Farage’s effective leadership, boosted the Conservative Eurosceptic pressure that forced then prime minister David Cameron to promise the referendum. An effective Ukip could have maintained the necessary pressure to ensure that the intentions of Leave voters were honoured.

Prime minister May seemed to mean well, but without the pressure that an effective Ukip could have provided, she might have followed Cameron into the Brexit bin, and the metrocentric remoaners would then be free to dilute and delay the process – until only a dog’s dinner was left.

However, May held firm. In January 2017 she announced that Britain would leave the single market (the subject of much anguished hand-wringing amongst remoaners) in order to control and strengthen sovereignty. Good for her.


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January 2017

Corbyn waffled about free movement

In a major Brexit speech, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn further toned down his already weak statement that Labour was ‘not wedded’ to free movement by adding that it hadn’t been ruled out.

According to an extract handed out the night before the speech – in Leave-voting Peterborough – Corbyn was due to say that he supported ‘reasonable management‘ of immigration after Brexit. That sounded like something that would happen after the end of free movement (ie, the end of unmanaged immigration). Corbyn was also due to say: ‘Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle.’

That was weak and weaselly. ‘Not wedded to the principle’? (Who wrote that?) Corbyn could just have said that Labour’s position was that free movement would end.

Nevertheless, some thought this was a change of policy by Corbyn, who’d been under pressure from Labour MPs to address the concerns of Labour supporters and swing voters who’d voted Leave.

However, in a round of interviews before the speech Corbyn insisted ‘it’s not a sea change at all’ – and complained that his planned statement had been misinterpreted.

In the actual speech, after acknowledging that many people had expressed deep concern about unregulated migration from the EU, Corbyn said:

Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.‘ [Labour Party’s punctuation]

Corbyn went on to say that EU immigration should be part of the negotiated attempt to keep full access to the EU single market.

Right. That was clear, then. As everyone knew by then, full access to the single market would mean accepting – as non-EU Norway does – EU free movement of people.

So, no misinterpretation possible after that gem of clarity, Jeremy.


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March 2017

Shadow home secretary: Labour must defend free movement

Adding to the confusion, the opposition party’s home affairs minister called for free movement to be defended, in apparent contradiction to her party leader’s apparent position (see above).

In a widely publicised foreword to a book of essays, Free Movement and Beyond – Agenda Setting for Brexit Britain, Labour’s stubbornly metrocentric shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said that freedom of movement was a workers’ right.

In her foreword, Abbott described criticism of EU free movement as reactionary and anti-immigrant. She said that the labour movement couldn’t accept the attack on freedom of movement, and must stand to defend it.

Abbott, whose parents were Jamaican immigrants, clearly cares deeply about historical and recent injustices suffered by immigrants, but she showed no understanding of the concerns of Leave voters about unrestricted immigration from poor east European countries under EU freedom of movement.


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April 2017

May called snap general election

UK prime minister Theresa May was on course for a sensible Brexit, having cruised past various remain obstacles, when she unexpectedly called a snap general election.

She said it was needed to ensure a smooth Brexit, but probably the real reason was that she wanted to take advantage of her party’s big polling lead before the economy – heading for higher inflation and depressed wages – tanked.

Ukip, having achieved Brexit, seemed to have vanished up its own arse, so dispossessed former Labour voters who wanted control over immigration would have to vote – Conservative!


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April 2017

Starmer: Labour would end free movement

The UK opposition party said they’d accept the referendum result, and would end free movement. That’s big of them.

Labour shadow Brexit minister Sir Keir Starmer (human rights lawyer, London MP and arch-remoaner) said (presumably through gritted teeth) that Labour would seek to end free movement. He added that Labour wouldn’t shut the door on the single market, the customs union or participation in EU agencies.

Despite Starmer’s controversial rider, that was clearer than his leader’s mystical miasma of a pronouncement in January.


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May 2017

Corbyn said it: free movement to end

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK opposition Labour Party, said for the first time that under Labour the free movement of citizens between the UK and the EU would end with Brexit.

In January 2017, Corbyn said in a speech, somewhat cryptically, that Labour wasn’t wedded to free movement but it hadn’t been ruled out.

Since then, the prospect of a general election seemed to have concentrated Corbyn’s mind – somewhat, if not wonderfully. He was asked in a TV interview what immigration controls Labour would implement. After some characteristic waffling, Corbyn said:

“Clearly the free movement ends when we leave the European Union but there will be managed migration and it will be fair.”

This confirmed what shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer said in April (see above). Corbyn and Starmer were both said to favour free movement, but had apparently been persuaded to accept that it must end to keep Labour leavers (and swing-voting leavers) sweet. Hence the gritted teeth through which Corbyn’s and Starmer’s concessions were made.


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June 2017

Labour manifesto: free movement to end

The snap general election called by UK premier Theresa May had the benefit of clarifying the opposition Labour party’s position on free movement.

The 2017 Labour manifesto, in chapter 2, Negotiating Bexit, under the heading of Immigration, said:

Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.’


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June 2017

May lost majority

UK Conservative premier Theresa May won her snap general election, getting more seats in parliament than Labour, but she unexpectedly lost her overall parliamentary majority. (Her general election campaign was rubbish, and Labour’s under Jeremy Corbyn was good.)

May managed to get the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, a tiny party in UK country Northern Ireland, to give her a tiny but workable majority. The DUP wanted a ‘soft’ Brexit, including a ‘soft’ land border with NI neighbour and EU member-state Ireland (1). An extra £1bn of spending for NI was part of the deal.

May also needed the parliamentary support of every Tory member, including the many EU remoaners.

With Brexit negotiations due to begin very soon, May’s pre-election ‘hard’ Brexit plan looked likely to be abandoned – and white working class concerns about mass EU immigration seemed once again in danger of being ignored.


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July 2017

Labour weaved this way and that

Jeremy Corbyn, still leader of the Labour Party after his unexpectedly good performance in the general election, surprisingly announced that Labour would leave the EU single market.

This was a change from his previous statement that Labour would push to maintain full access to the single market.

Metrocentric remoaners who wanted the UK to stay in the single market – or who simply wanted to derail Brexit – dominated the vocal section of the party. Perhaps Corbyn was thinking of the silent traditional Labour voters who voted Leave because of their concerns about recent mass immigration. If so, good for him.

Maverick Labour shadow trade minister Barry Gardiner, a remainer in the referendum, but who thought that the result must be honoured (like me!), then wrote a Guardian article backing Corbyn and explaining why: people voted Leave because they wanted UK borders controlled. Hallelujah.

However, Labour metrocentric remoaner MP Heidi Alexander in a Guardian.com article said that Gardiner’s position was wrong, depressing and disingenuous. Alexander’s views were then reported by the remoaning Guardian in the print edition as ‘news‘.


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July 2017

Tory cabinet’s free movement squabble

After UK premier Theresa May’s disastrous snap election, her power had weakened. While she was on holiday, having left no deputy in charge, her ministers were squabbling about Brexit – and about free movement.

Finance minister and arch-remainer Philip Hammond said there should be no immediate change to immigration rules when Britain left the EU.

Trade minister and Brexiter Liam Fox said that allowing free movement after Brexit would not keep faith with the referendum result. He said that the government had not agreed on whether to keep free movement for a transitional period.

A spokesman for May then stepped in to say that free movement would end in March 2019.


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August 2017

Labour remoaners: defend free movement

A Guardian report said that Labour remainer MPs had written an open letter calling for Labour to defend free movement. The report said that although Labour’s official position was that free movement would end at the point of Brexit in March 2019, Corbyn had always supported free movement. Oh dear.


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August 2017

Tories got it together, sort of

After the June general election, weakened prime minister Theresa May couldn’t purge her cabinet as she’d planned. Finance minister and arch-remoaner Philip Hammond escaped the chop – and had been making trouble.

However, all was now sweetness and light as Hammond collaborated with trade minister and arch-Brexiter Liam Fox to write a newspaper article meant to mend fences.

There’d been much discussion about a ‘transitional period’ after Brexit, with some remoaners suggesting a minimum five-year period, during which free movement would continue.

In their joint article, Beavis and Butt-Head announced a time-limited transition period. They also made it clear that after Brexit in 2019, the UK wouldn’t be in the single market or the customs union.

Needless to say, liberal remoaners objected to this sensible announcement. However, May’s ‘hard’ Brexit – amazingly – seemed to be back on track.


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August 2017

Labour went soft again

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn swerved dramatically to the metrocentric remoaner ‘soft’ Brexit side when he allowed his shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer – a London MP and human rights lawyer – to announce that Labour wanted a two-to-four-year transition period after Brexit, during which the UK would fully participate in the EU single market and customs union.

This was the same Jeremy Corbyn who one month ago (see above) announced that Labour would leave the single market after Brexit.

Participation in the single market would mean accepting free movement. In April 2017, Starmer said that Labour would end free movement, but Labour’s new policy would mean up to four years more of free movement after Brexit – possibly until 2023.

With Ukip in shreds, many Labour Leave voters who wanted to end free movement would probably now vote Conservative in the next general election, due in 2022.

Presumably, Corbyn – MP since 1983 for Islington North in the trendy north London heartland of metrocentricity – was happy to abandon those traditional Labour voters in the Midlands and the North.


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September 2017

Kofi Annan stuck his oar in

Influential Nobel Peace Prize winner and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (on a flying visit from his Swiss HQ to northern UK city Hull to give a lecture) said in an interview with UK metrocentric national newspaper the Guardian that the UK should continue EU freedom of movement after Brexit.

Waffling meaninglessly about ‘choice‘, the formerly great man exposed his woefully inadequate understanding of the referendum result.

Annan needed to look at his own recent choice: to head a toothless commission of enquiry into Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. The commission produced a report full of good advice which was effectively shelved by the Myanmar government. It was clearly a cynical attempt to deflect international criticism from formerly saintly fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner and now badly compromised Myanmar government head Aung San Suu Kyi.

(See my rolling blogpost on that subject, Halo Goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis.)


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September 2017

Labour remoaners organised to defend free movement

A campaign for free movement by a group of pro-EU Labour MPs and activists was planning to reinforce Labour’s recent swerve to a soft Brexit. The campaigners had drafted a resolution for the Labour conference, backing the continuation of free movement. They were encouraging local Labour parties to support the resolution.

An article backing the campaign on centre-left website LabourList by prominent Labour leftie Hugh Lanning apparently committed the campaign to free movement from everywhere – not just from the EU!

Left-wing website Left Futures (edited by Momentum founder Jon Lansman) ran a piece by teacher and writer David Pavett effectively demolishing the weird logic of Lanning’s article and the free movement campaign.

The main campaign backers were:

They all have a personal stake in free movement. Lewis’s father emigrated to the UK from Grenada. Lammy’s parents emigrated from Guyana. Siddiq spent most of her childhood in Bangladesh. (Controversial Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed is Siddiq’s aunt.) Cortes moved to the UK from British overseas territory Gibraltar to undertake further and higher education and forge his career.

Fair enough. However, they apparently had no understanding of the concerns of poor working class traditional Labour voters about the unrestricted immigration of even poorer east Europeans.

As Lewis has mixed heritage, Siddiq is South Asian and Lammy is black, they’ll have experienced personal and institutional racism, and will be sensitive to the element of racism in white Labour voters’ opposition to free movement.

However, they should respect those people’s very real non-racist concerns and anxieties about free movement – concerns which made them vote Leave.

In 2016 Lewis said:

‘…free movement of labour hasn’t worked for a lot of people. It hasn’t worked for many of the people in this country, where they’ve been undercut, who feel insecure’.

Lewis’s solution was for employers who bring in EU workers to be obliged to negotiate with a trade union to ensure that wages of local workers aren’t undercut. But he’d apparently abandoned his support for the insecure precariat in favour of blanket metrocentric remoaner obstructionism.

The Labour Party, having survived the Corbyn crisis, may well fall apart over this issue, as both sides of the free movement divide dig in.


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September 2017

Corbyn to TUC: free movement to end

UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that free movement would end on leaving the EU. At the September 2017 annual UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) conference, Corbyn said:

‘When we leave the EU, the current free movement rules will end.’

It wasn’t clear what views – if any – trade unions collectively held on freedom of movement, or how that might have affected the Labour Party. The party was partly created (in 1900) by trade unions. The unions keep close links with the party, and currently provide just under half of its funding through ‘affiliation‘.

Affiliation to the Labour Party used to give unions a block vote on policy and leader selection. The block vote for leadership elections was abolished in 1994, but lives on at the party conference (where votes are split 50:50 between union delegates and constituency Labour parties).

In February 2018, two of the biggest UK unions signed a Brexit statement which called for the UK to stay in the EU’s single market and customs union and called on the government to ‘uphold freedom of movement for skilled workers’.

The TUC, a federation (which isn’t itself affiliated to the Labour Party) of most trade unions in England and Wales, apparently preferred staying in the single market and accepting free movement, but applying previously unused EU controls. Its September 2018 Brexit statement said:

‘If the outcome of negotiations with the EU was for the UK to stay in the single market in the longer-term…the UK should look at other EU countries’ models of free movement, and should use all the domestic powers at its disposal to manage the impact of migration.’


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September 2017

Government U-turn

In a speech in Florence, Italy, UK Conservative prime minister Theresa May turned around on her promise to end free movement when the UK leaves the EU.

In July 2017, May said that free movement would end in March 2019, the scheduled date for Brexit.

However in her Florence speech, she now said that free movement would continue for two years after March 2019 (albeit subject to a Belgian-style registration process).

May, weakened by her disastrous snap election, was either pandering to Conservative remoaners led by finance minister Philip Hammond, or surrendering to unelected EU negotiator Michel Barnier. Or both.


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September 2017

Labour stayed in one piece

The Labour party avoided tearing itself apart over free movement at its annual conference (see above) – by avoiding the subject!

The powerful Corbyn-backing Momentum movement managed to block any debate about Brexit. They apparently thought it would be used to attack their man.


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October 2017

Conservatives swerved back to Brexit

In her recent Florence speech, Conservative UK premier Theresa May said that free movement would continue for at least two years after Brexit in March 2019. (See above.)

However, in a speech at the Conservative annual conference, immigration minister Brandon Lewis (a remainer) said that freedom of movement for EU migrants would end in March 2019.


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October 2017

Tory minister’s ‘tantrum’ smear

Conservative Europe minister and prominent remoaner Alan Duncan insulted Leave voters in a speech in Chicago by saying that the Leave result was caused by campaigners inciting prejudice about immigration. Duncan said that Leave voters ‘were stirred up by an image of immigration, which made them angry and throw a bit of a tantrum‘.

Multi-millionaire Duncan (who was reprimanded by the House of Commons fees office for claiming more than £4,000 over three years in expenses for gardening, including £600 to maintain his ride-on lawnmower) is MP for leave-voting Rutland and Melton. He might have some explaining to do to his constituents.

Some leave campaigners may have tried to stir up anti-immigrant prejudice. But most leave voters weren’t prejudiced and weren’t so stupid that they could be manipulated by bigots.

They had real concerns about unrestricted migration from poor east European countries.

Before unexpectedly switching to the remain side in March 2016, Duncan tried to join the Vote Leave campaign after saying he’d ‘spent 40 years wishing we had never joined the EU’ since voting against membership in the last referendum in 1975.

Before switching, Duncan had said that the question of immigration was ‘far more complicated than many have admitted’. Now that he’s a remoaner, things are much simpler.


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December 2017

Labour wanted ‘easy movement’

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said on TV that Labour backed the ‘easy movement’ of EU workers after Brexit and was also prepared to consider ongoing payments. This would ensure, he said, that the UK kept the full benefits of the single market and the customs union.

Remainer Starmer said:

‘The end of free movement doesn’t mean no movement. Of course we would want people to come from the EU to work here, we would want people who are here to go to work in the EU.’

Asked if that was best described as ‘easy movement if not free‘, Starmer replied, ‘Yes, of course’.

Starmer agreed that Labour was seeking a ‘Norway-style agreement for the 21st century‘. (The modern aspect was apparently a bespoke customs union.)


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March 2018

May surrendered to Barnier

In her September 2017 speech in Florence, UK premier Theresa May said that free movement would continue for at least two years during the transition period after Brexit in March 2019. (See above.) Then in October, immigration minister Brandon Lewis said that freedom of movement would end in March 2019. (See above.)

In her Mansion House speech on 2 March 2018, May confirmed this, saying:

‘We are clear that as we leave the EU, free movement of people will come to an end and we will control the number of people who come to live in our country.’

Then, on 19 March 2018, a draft withdrawal agreement negotiated with unelected EU panjandrum Michel Barnier (and due to be rubber-stamped by the mostly sheep-like 27 member states) said that free movement would continue during the transition period until December 2020.

So once again, precariat leave voters had been overlooked and ignored.

Apparently, the continuation of EU rules including free movement was a quid pro quo for allowing us to negotiate trade agreements during transition. That’s kind of them.

(In any case, do we need trade ‘agreements’? Why don’t we just trade? Did the Phoenicians need trade agreements?)


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March 2018

Labour’s position: no one knew

Meanwhile, did anyone know what the view was of the UK opposition Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn on free movement?

Debate on the issue at Labour’s annual conference last year was smothered by the powerful Corbyn-backing Momentum movement to prevent it being used used to attack their man. (See above.)

in September 2017 (see above), Corbyn told the TUC, ‘When we leave the EU, the current free movement rules will end. Labour wants to see fair rules and management of migration.’

Then in December 2017 (see above), shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer, Labour’s chief remoaner, diluted that commitment by saying on TV that the end of free movement didn’t mean no movement, and that Labour would accept the ‘easy movement‘ of workers to secure the benefits of the single market and customs union.

Starmer also said that Labour was seeking a ‘Norway-style agreement for the 21st century‘. How modern! However, Norway’s agreement with the EU involves acceptance of free movement.

As a blog writer, I asked Labour’s press office to clarify Labour’s position on free movement. I mentioned this post. They said my query had been forwarded to the office of Diane Abbott – the stubbornly metrocentric shadow home secretary. I had no reply.


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May 2018

Tories planned free movement lite

It was reported that the UK Conservative government planned to offer the EU a post-Brexit immigration plan very similar to current free movement rules. The plan would see a high level of access to the UK for EU citizens in the future, but would leave the UK government power to halt it in certain circumstances.

A government insider said that civil servants had been looking at how to give the UK/EU talks some momentum, and dealing with this issue was a way to do it.

However, a government spokesperson said news of the offer wasn’t true, and went on to say: ‘People voted in the referendum to retake control of our borders, and that is the basis we are negotiating on. After we leave the EU, freedom of movement will end and we will be creating an immigration system that delivers control over who comes to the UK, but that welcomes the brightest and best who want to work hard and contribute.’

Hmmm. This is a clash between Brexit minister David Davis and Olly Robbins, Brexit advisor to prime minister Theresa May. Leaver Davis resents being undermined by a remoaner civil servant. May has form for relying on dodgy advice – as in her disastrous 2017 snap election.


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June 2018

Tory minister backed free movement

UK Conservative business minister Greg Clark has warned prime minister Theresa May that restricting the access of EU workers into the UK after Brexit could be as damaging as a hard trade border. He said firms’ fears that a tougher approach to immigration from Europe would affect their operations were being heard ‘loud and clear’ by his department.

Economist Clark’s concern is apparently about UK service industry workers needing to move freely to work in the EU. The UK service industry is worth 80% of UK gross domestic product.

In order to get those UK service workers into Europe, Clark seems willing to accept continuation of EU freedom of movement as a quid pro quo. No doubt that would please other industries that had come to rely on cheap imported labour.

Northerner Clark, son of a milkman, can’t be accused of ingrained metrocentric elitism. Clark added that not enough time had been spent talking about the movement of people compared to that of goods, following Britain’s exit. That’s true. However, in calling for continued free movement of labour, like Labour’s Starmer he’s arrogantly disregarding the genuine concerns about mass EU immigration that underpinned the referendum result.

May had said that free movement would end. (See above.) Clark needed to get back in his box.


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July 2018

Chequers white paper: free movement to end

Following a crunch cabinet meeting at Chequers (during which ministers were required to hand in their mobile phones) Theresa May’s Conservative UK government issued a white paper on Brexit.

The Chequers white paper, under the heading of ‘Immigration’, welcomed the contribution that migrants bring to our economy and society, and went on to say:

‘5.3 However, in the last decade or so, we have seen record levels of long term [sic] net migration in the UK, and that sheer volume has given rise to public concern about pressure on public services, like schools and our infrastructure, especially housing, as well as placing downward pressure on wages for people on the lowest incomes. The public must have confidence in our ability to control immigration. It is simply not possible to control immigration overall when there is unlimited free movement of people to the UK from the EU.

‘5.4 We will design our immigration system to ensure that we are able to control the numbers of people who come here from the EU. In future, therefore, the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law.’

Some aspects of the Chequers agreement upset some cabinet Brexiteers. Political big beast and foreign affairs minister Boris Johnson, and Brexit minister David Davis both resigned.

This was a victory for unelected advisor Olly Robbins. (See above.) Robbins – paid more than the PM – was the key adviser behind the Chequers strategy which led to the resignations of Davis and Johnson. Davis had been working on his own strategy white paper, only to discover that May and Robbins had sidelined him.

Needless to say, remoaners put the boot in. However, in spite of many difficulties, May stuck to her guns: free movement would end.

EU unelected chief negotiator Michel Barnier was likely to also put the boot in, pompously maintaining that freedom of movement was an uncrossable ‘red line’ – despite many EU member states questioning it.

The ‘negotiations’ were an embarrassment. The ‘no deal’ option might cause difficulty and disruption, but would have the benefit of a clean break – and we could take our £40bn football home with us. (The UK might then be sued for the £40bn – but how would the court order be enforced?)


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September 2018

Abbott immigration speech: nothing on free movement

A speech on immigration by the UK opposition home affairs minister managed to completely avoid the toxic topic of free movement.

Labour’s stubbornly metrocentric shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, made a speech in London on 13 September 2018 explaining Labour’s policy on immigration.

In her speech, Abbott announced a reformed work visa policy which would be available to ‘all those we need to come here, whether it is doctors, or scientists, or care workers, or others’.

However, apart from saying that ‘anyone who arrived here under the Freedom of Movement provisions up to the exit date must continue to be accorded those same rights going forward’, Abbott’s speech had no reference at all to free movement, whether ending it or – as she previously advocated – defending it.

However, she referred several times to the possibility of immigration being part of a trade deal with the EU, or with others. She said that Labour’s immigration policy would be ‘Brexit-ready’:

‘Brexit-ready means that our new system can be applied and can accommodate any new trade agreements. That is an agreement either with the EU itself or trade agreements with other countries…If access by our trade partners – and by us – is needed as part of any trade deal, our system can accommodate it. It will be Brexit-ready.’

Perhaps Abbott was hoping that, although it was apparently still Labour party policy to end her beloved free movement, it might be revived as part of some Frankenstein trade deal.


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September 2018

Belfast legal report: the Irish back door

A report published in Northern Ireland addressed the issue of back-door access for EU immigrants.

Brexit, Border Controls and Free Movement, a policy report by BrexitLawNI (a UK government-funded collaboration between two university law schools and a human rights organisation), said that advocates of further migration controls viewed the region as a potential ‘back door’ to the UK after Brexit.

The report said that the UK had ruled out passport controls within the common travel area (CTA) agreed between the UK and Ireland, and intended to rely on ‘in-country‘ controls by, for instance, landlords and employers. This is the disastrous ‘hostile’ environment that caused the Windrush scandal.

Given the risk of ‘in-country’ controls being even more pronounced in NI, and given the potential ‘back-door’ problem, the report recommended that the CTA be legally underpinned and that continued EU freedom of movement into NI and across the CTA should be considered as an option.

However, given the government’s assurance that there’d be no border in the Irish Sea, wouldn’t that be a front door to continued mass EU migration to mainland UK?
bbb
Perhaps the back door – and the front door – could be closed by giving Northern Ireland back to the Irish. The self-styled Unionists – who want to keep Northern Ireland within the UK, but couldn’t actually care less about the UK – would object for a while, but they’d be fine.

Given our brutal history of colonialism in Ireland (1), it’d be fair to give it back. We could have a referendum on it! (Admittedly, it’d be constitutionally challenging. Maybe we could buy the Unionist majority out.)


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September 2018

Migration report: ‘End free movement’

An independent government-sponsored report on the impact of EU immigration to the UK recommended that freedom of movement should end.

The report by the migration advisory committee (MAC), EEA migration in the UK: Final report said, in a foreword by MAC chair Professor Alan Manning:

‘…we recommend moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens.

‘This would mean ending free movement… The problem with free movement is that it leaves migration to the UK solely up to migrants and UK residents have no control over the level and mix of migration. With free movement there can be no guarantee that migration is in the interests of UK residents.’

Well said, Prof. That was a major concern of Leave voters, but the issue had been largely ignored by the political establishment.

Manning made it clear that his recommendation was based on immigration not being part of the negotiations with the EU and the UK deciding its future migration system in isolation. He apparently accepted that ending free movement might be bargained away to get a trade deal.

However, as ending free movement was the current position of the government, the report should have strengthened its negotiating position – and weakened that of pompous obstructionist M Barnier.

Needless to say, business leaders, hooked on cheap east European labour, immediately started squealing. They’d had two and a half years to think about kicking their habit, and their lobbyists had squeezed out a further two-year ‘implementation period‘ during which free movement would pretty much continue. But like the pathetic junkies they are, they’re hurting. Bless.

UK prime minister Theresa May was said to be planning to push the MAC report throught her cabinet, despite opposition from remoaners Philip Hammond (finance minister) and Greg Clark (business minister and lobbyist for the business squealers).


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November 2018

Draft withdrawal agreement – free movement to continue during transition

The Government published a draft withdrawal agreement (DWA) on Brexit, the final result of many months ‘negotiations’. The DWA would require the UK to follow EU rules during the transition period. Apparently, this included the free movement of people.

After getting agreement on the draft from her cabinet, UK premier Theresa May said,

‘When you strip away the detail, the choice before us is clear: this deal, which delivers on the vote of the referendum, which brings back control of our money, laws and borders, ends free movement, protects jobs, security and our union – or leave with no deal. Or no Brexit at all.’

The DWA made no mention of free movement of people (except in a section on Gibraltar). However, it specified that the UK would continue to observe all EU rules during the transition period (or implementation period, as the government calls it).

Apparently, May’s claim that the DWA deal would end free movement merely referred to the DWA kindly allowing us to leave after the transition period, and the UK then being able to take full control of immigration.

Over the last year or so, the government had been consistently inconsistent about exactly when free movement would end.

  • In July 2017 (see above), amid cabinet squabbling, a spokesman for May said that free movement would end in March 2019.
  • In September 2017 (see above), May said that free movement would continue for two years after March 2019, albeit subject to registration.
  • In October 2017 (see above), immigration minister Brandon Lewis said that free movement would end in March 2019.
  • On 2 March 2018 (see above), May said that free movement would end when we left the EU.
  • On 19 March (see above), the government published an interim draft withdrawal agreement which said that free movement would continue during the two-year post-Brexit transition period. This is now apparently the government’s position.

The main stumbling block for the DWA was the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (yawn). The DWA’s compromised solution could apparently result in the UK being permanently stuck in the proposed temporary customs union.

Despite supposed cabinet agreement on the DWA, this contentious issue led to the resignation of several ministers soon afterwards, including Brexit minister Dominic Raab (who’d replaced David Davis for four short months after Davis’s resignation in July – see above).

A government white paper on immigration, awaited for over a year and supposedly due soon, was expected to say that free movement would end.

Unelected panjandrum Michel Barnier, arrogant EU negotiator and obstructionist, was the chief architect of the humiliating DWA. Barnier twisted the knife still further by helpfully suggesting that The UK could extend its transition period by two years, at a cost of about £20bn (on top of the £40bn already agreed).

That would mean four more years of free movement. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur.

May was now – again! – under threat of removal by her own party. Meanwhile, she grimly hung on to the DWA schedule: approval of the DWA by EU states Germany and France and their flock of sheep, followed by a crunch parliamentary vote.

If, as seemed likely (given the oposition to the DWA from almost every side), that vote was to fail, then things would get messy. The options would then include a second referendum, a general election – or ‘no deal‘.

What would ‘no deal’ mean to leave voters concerned about free movement? No pollsters seemed to have asked. (Dear reader, if you know different, leave a Comment.)

‘No deal’ would at least have the merit of shaking things up. As a former anarchist, I find that quite appealing. And we’d survive, somehow.


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November 2018

Draft political declaration: free movement to end – draft documents approved by EU

The government published a full and final version of its draft political declaration (DPD) on Brexit. It confirmed their intention to end free movement, but wasn’t legally binding. This and the draft withdrawal agreement (DWA) – which was legally binding – were approved by the 27 other EU states, and then needed approval by parliament.

When the government published its Brexit DWA (see above), they also published a short DPD, which addressed the future relationship between the EU and the UK. They now published a new 26-page version of the DPD.

The DPD had been agreed by negotiators, and needed to be approved – along with the DWA – by the 27 other EU countries at a Brussels summit on 25 November, and then by the UK parliament in December.

The first, seven-page, DPD mentioned free movement just once, under the heading of ‘Security partnership‘. A very long non-sentence proposed:

‘…reciprocal law enforcement and judicial cooperation…taking into account…the fact that the United Kingdom will be acountry that does not provide for the free movement of persons.’

The new – better written – 26-page version didn’t mention free movement under ‘Security partnership‘. (That section merely said, ‘The [security] partnership will respect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom…’).

However, the new DPD mentioned free movement of people twice elsewhere. In the introduction, it said:

‘The future relationship will be based on a balance of rights and obligations …This balance must ensure…the sovereignty of the United Kingdom…while respecting the result of the 2016 referendum including with regard to…the ending of free movement of people between the Union and the United Kingdom.’

More specifically, under the heading of ‘Mobility‘, the new DPD said:

‘Noting that the United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply, the Parties should establish mobility arrangements…’

However, the DPD, unlike the DWA was not legally binding. At the end of the transition/implementation period in January 2021, that declared policy – that free movement of people would no longer apply – could be changed.

In spite of Spain having a hissy fit about Gibraltar and vainly threatening to derail EU approval, the EU 27 duly rubber-stamped both documents – the DWA and the DPD – at the summit.

The two documents then needed approval by the UK parliament at a vote due in mid-December. Speculation about what might happen if, as expected, it got voted down spiralled into seeming hallucinogenic madness. Welcome to Planet Panic.

In any case, we were legally bound to leave next March. The EU could allow an article 50 extension for a second referendum – but what would the question be?

Suggested format for a second referendum

Please place a tick next to one of the following statements:

1. I’m an intelligent urban liberal who lost last time, but it wasn’t fair, so I’ve demanded a second referendum, and this time I want the obviously correct result: to stay in the EU.

2. I’m allegedly an ignorant provincial racist who supposedly got it wrong last time, but I haven’t changed my mind – and I resent being asked to vote again.

Alternatively, a new referendum might address the Brexit Irish ‘question’ by asking: Should Northern Ireland be unified with Ireland? Yes or No.


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December 2018

Plan B touted: ‘Norway plus’ (includes free movement)

As panic increased in the UK political bubble known as Westminster (the London location of parliament) in advance of the vote on UK premier Theresa May’s Brexit ‘plan’, ie, the draft withdrawal agreement (see above) and the draft political declaration (see above), and as wild flowcharts filled newspaper pages, MPs’ thoughts turned to Plan B.

May was holding firm, echoing former UK premier Margaret Thatcher’s ‘There is no alternative’. However, perhaps with May’s tacit approval, some of her cabinet colleagues (including tax-avoiding minister Amber Rudd) had joined with influential Labour MPs (including Europhile Stephen Kinnock) to tout ‘Norway plus‘, a scenario featuring continued free movement.

Norway isn’t a member of the EU but is in the European Economic Area (EEA), meaning it’s part of the European single market. It contributes to the EU budget, and has to follow most EU rules and laws, including the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital – and people.

Norway isn’t part of the EU customs union, so, to avoid a hard Irish border (yawn), a new customs union with the EU – a ‘Norway plus‘ solution – would be needed.

To get into the EEA, the UK would have to join Efta – the European Free Trade Association, namely Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

The plan was rejected by Heidi Nordby Lunde, an MP in Norway’s governing Conservative party, and leader of Norway’s European movement. Lunde, claiming that her views reflected those of the governing party, said:

‘It is not in my country’s interests to have the UK aboard, and I cannot see how possibly an EEA/Efta agreement could be in the interests of the UK As part of the agreement with the EU we accept migration and free movement, we have our own body of justice, but it is compliant with the European court of justice. We accept the rules and regulations of the single market.’

Kinnock said the Efta court could diverge from the European court of justice, and that the Efta treaty allowed for an emergency brake on migration in exceptional circumstances. Not very convincing, Stephen.

Plan Z, anybody?

Here’s mine. Let parliament:

  1. Implement previously unused immigration controls, as allowed under EU rules
  2. Get a two-month Brexit extension to give time for ref2
  3. Hold a second referendum, and if, as expected now that mass immigration from poor east European countries had been stopped, the referendum delivered a Remain majority, then –
  4. Cancel Article 50 as allowed by a recent EU ruling
  5. Er, that’s it


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December 2018

May cancelled vote on Brexit deal – then survived Tory confidence vote

UK Conservative premier Theresa May called off the crunch vote on her Brexit deal so she could go back to Brussels and ask for changes to it.

May admitted that the deal would be rejected by a significant margin if MPs voted on it. She said she was confident of getting reassurances from the EU on the Northern Ireland border plan.

The following day, a confidence vote was triggered by Conservative MPs angry at May’s Brexit policy, which they said betrayed the 2016 referendum result.

May won the vote by 200 to 117 and is now immune from a leadership challenge for a year. Speaking outside her official residence in Downing Street, she vowed to deliver the Brexit ‘people voted for’ but said she had listened to the concerns of MPs who voted against her.


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December 2018

May: withdrawal agreement vote in January – Corbyn: no confidence

UK prime minister Theresa May announced a date for the postponed vote on the EU withdrawal agreement. Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn then tabled a motion of no confidence in the PM.

A week after cancelling the crunch vote on her Brexit plan, and then surviving a confidence vote by her own Conservative party, UK premier Theresa May announced that the postponed vote on the withdrawal agreement would take place in mid-January.

May said she hoped for ‘further political and legal assurances‘ from the EU before the vote in January. She also urged MPs not to ‘break faith with the British people’ by demanding a second referendum.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that putting off the vote until January was unacceptable. He tabled a motion of no confidence in the PM because of her failure to hold the ‘meaningful vote‘ immediately.

However, the government was able to simply refuse to allow parliamentary time for Corbyn’s motion – because it addressed May personally, not her government. Corbyn’s half-baked motion couldn’t lead to a general election (under the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act), so it was just ignored.


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December 2018

Immigration white paper: free movement to end, kind of

The UK government finally published its much delayed ‘white paper‘ on post-Brexit immigration policy. This policy document said that free movement would end in 2021 after the implementation period (due to end on 31 December, 2020).

However, business squealers hooked on cheap east European labour and their pusher, business minister and lobbyist Greg Clark, had won a shoddy compromise: free movement lite – until at least 2025.

As a ‘transitional measure‘, unlimited numbers of low-skilled migrants from ‘low-risk countries‘ in Europe and elsewhere would be able to come to the UK without a job offer and seek work for up to a year.

The scheme was designed to fill vacancies in sectors such as construction and social care which are heavily dependent on EU labour and which ministers feared could struggle to adapt when free movement ended.

Poor things. Businesses have only had two and a half years so far, and they’ve only got a further two years up to and during the implementation period. It must be a terrible struggle doing absolutely nothing to adapt to the end of cheap foreign labour – for four and a half years.

The government – split over immigration – had caved in completely to the demands of industry while ignoring the strong public desire expressed in the referendum to get immigration down.

The chief winners would be businesses, free to exploit the bonanza of a huge new pool of cheap labour from around the world, while continuing to avoid their responsibility to recruit and train local talent.

Low-skilled immigrants would have to pay an entry fee, wouldn’t get benefits, and wouldn’t be able to bring their family or switch to another migration scheme. There’d be a ‘cooling off period‘ after a year, meaning they’d be expected to leave and not to come again for another year.

However, there’d be no way of making sure that people left after a year. Someone supposed to go back to their home country after a year could easily ‘disappear‘ under the radar, and take another low-paid job.

This scheme would continue the main free movement problem: large numbers of low-paid workers from abroad upsetting the locals and undercutting their wages.

Happy Christmas, dear reader! 🎄


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January 2019

‘Failing’ Grayling succeeds – in backing the end of free movement

In a bid to boost support from Conservative voters (and, therefore, rebel Conservative MPs) for the Brexit withdrawal agreement (see above) ahead of the postponed crunch vote due on 15 January, loyal cabinet minister Chris Grayling gave a warning in right-wing UK newspaper the Daily Mail that if freedom of movement is allowed to continue, people may turn to extremism.

Brexiter Grayling, nicknamed ‘Failing‘ by left-liberal UK newspaper the Guardian because of his disastrous performance as transport secretary (especially with regard to Britain’s rubbish privatised railways), said:

‘If MPs who represent seats that voted 70 per cent to leave say, ‘Sorry guys, we’re still going to have freedom of movement‘, they [leave voters] will turn against the political mainstream … We would see a different tone in our politics – a less tolerant society, a more nationalistic nation … It will open the door to extremist populist political forces in this country of the kind we see in other countries in Europe.’

He could be right – about that, at least.

Happy New Year, dear reader! 🥂


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January 2019

Corbyn: free movement negotiable

Interviewed on BBC TV current affairs programme the Andrew Marr Show, UK opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that free movement should end, but went on to say that it should be negotiable:

‘Many workers that are vital in this country to agriculture, to the care sector, to the NHS and to education have either left or are contemplating leaving. We have 100,000 vacancies in the NHS. Our economy relies on people coming in from other countries. I want to keep that.’

That sounded a bit like the recent government white paper on immigration (see above), which proposed that after Brexit unlimited numbers of low-skilled migrants from Europe and elsewhere could to come to the UK to fill vacancies in sectors such as construction and social care.

Pushed repeatedly by Marr to say whether or not free movement should continue after Brexit, Corbyn eventually said that it should be ‘open to negotiation’. Finally, he invoked Labour’s immigration policy, produced by shadow home secretary and stubborn metrocentric Dianne Abbott (see above), saying, ‘Diane Abbott has made it very clear our migration policy will be based on the needs and rights of people to work in this country’.

In her September 2018 speech explaining Labour’s immigration policy, Abbott made no mention of free movement, but emphasised the possibility of immigration being part of a trade deal with the EU, or with others.


Corbyn’s metrocentric waffle on free movement – the transcript

BBC transcript of that part of Corbyn’s interview by Andrew Marr

AM: Let me ask you about another area which is the free movement of people. Why are you against the free movement of people?

JC: I’m not against the free movement of people. What I want to end is the undercutting of workers’ rights and conditions which has increasingly happened in some parts of western Europe, and I did in the referendum actually make quite a lot about the whole issue of what’s called the posting of workers directive on that issue.

AM: But in your own manifesto, not long ago you said, ‘freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.’ Why?

JC: Because we would not be in the European Union. We would obviously have an immigration based policy which would be based on the rights of people to move in order to contribute to the economy here and obviously what’s happened with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is two things. One is many EU nationals feel deeply uncertain. We would unilaterally legislate straight away to guarantee them all permanent rights of residence in Britain, including the right of family reunion. The second is that many workers that are vital in this country to agriculture, to the care sector, to the NHS and to education have either left or are contemplating leaving. We have 100,000 vacancies in the NHS. Our economy relies in people coming in from other countries. I want to keep that.

AM: It is in your gift right now to say that you would allow the free movement of people from the EU to continue after Brexit. It would make it much easier to negotiate and it’s something you could say and you could do right now.

JC: I think I’ve made it pretty clear the need for workers to go both ways, ‘cause obviously there’s an awful lot of British workers that work in other parts of Europe. I meet them all the time as I’m sure you do.

AM: But you’re not saying that you would allow free movement to continue?

JC: What we’re saying is that we would want –

AM: Why not?

JC: – we’d want that migration to be able to take place, we’d want those conditions to take place, we would not be part of the European Union if we were outside it, so clearly that ..

AM: But you could allow free movement as a non-member of the EU?

JC: It will be open to negotiation but the point has to be about the treatment of EU nationals in this country, which we would radically change straight away. Remember Andy Burnham proposed

AM: You can just say we’re going to end free movement, why not?

JC: Andy Burnham proposed straight after the referendum guarantee rights of all EU nationals here. Government voted that down. They ignored the vote in parliament and then opposed it.

AM: I’m talking about you, not about the government and I’m just saying again, you could say we’re going to allow free movement of people to continue after Brexit. You could say it now, it will be clear – why not?

JC: Diane Abbott has made it very clear our migration policy will be based on the needs and rights of people to work in this country just as much as British people who work overseas and we will guarantee all those rights of EU nationals that are currently here and their rights of permanent residence and of family reunion.

Thanks, Jeremy – clear as mud.


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January 2019

Pre-vote summary: the DWA, the DPD and free movement

The crunch vote on the UK government’s Brexit deal was due on Tuesday evening, 15 January, in UK’s parliament. The deal, widely expected to be voted down, came in the form of two documents: the draft withdrawal agreement (DWA) and the draft political declaration (DPD).

What did those apparently doomed documents say about EU free movement of people (still the elephant in the room)?

May said that the DWA ended free movement. It didn’t – not directly. It said that from January 2021 the UK could set its own rules.

The DPD also didn’t say that free movement would end. Rather, it implied that free movement would have already been ended, saying:

Noting that the United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply, the Parties should establish mobility arrangements…’

Fortunately, the government’s recent white paper on immigration explained their policy: free movement would end in 2021 after the implementation period.

Unfortunately, the white paper also proposed what could be called free movement 2.0: for at least four years after 2021, unlimited numbers of low-skilled migrants from Europe and elsewhere could come to the UK to fill vacancies in sectors such as construction and social care.

So, May’s deal would allow the UK to set its own rules from 2021 and so control immigration. May’s policy is to end free movement in 2021, but then to run free movement 2.0 until at least 2025.


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15 January 2019

May lost Brexit deal vote – Corbyn tabled no confidence vote

As expected, UK premier Theresa May lost the crunch vote on her Brexit deal. She lost by a record-breaking margin of 230 votes (432 to 202). After the vote, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a motion of no confidence.

Unlike the last time, this motion was aimed at the government, meaning that if passed, it would trigger a general election. Corbyn’s motion was thought unlikely to succeed, but if it did, what might the two main parties’ manifestos say on Brexit?

Labour: Er…um…
Conservatives: Um…er…

When May postponed the vote in December, she said she’d go back to Brussels and ask for changes to the draft withdrawal agreement. She said she was confident of getting reassurances from the EU on the Northern Ireland border plan.

However, May only got a weak, waffly letter from unelected obstructionist EU panjandrums Council president Donald Tusk and Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. In their final letter, they offered vague assurances but no real changes.

After the vote, Tusk said that the UK should revoke the decision to leave the EU.

Dzięki, Donald, for your thoughtful suggestion – but perhaps you’ve forgotten how democracy works.

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Contents 🔼 | Back to link 1 🔼 | Back to link 2 🔼

Footnote 1

A brief history of the UK’s brutal colonisation of Ireland, and its troubled aftermath

Centuries of military incursions ended in the 17th-century conquest of Ireland by mass murderer Oliver Cromwell, and Ireland became a British colony. In 1800, it became part of the newly named United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

After several horrific famines and brutally suppressed rebellions, in 1921 Ireland was partitioned. The main part was given independence and became a republic in 1949.

The north chose to stay in the UK, which was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Since the settlement of the consequent Troubles by the 1998 Good Friday agreement, the Unionists in Northern Ireland, mostly Protestants, who want to stay in the UK, have existed in uneasy opposition to the Republicans, mostly Catholics, who want Northern Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland (also known as Éire, and officially known as Ireland).

The Unionists are mostly descendants of settlers forced out of Scotland by the 18th- and 19th-century theft of land known as the Clearances and given land in northern Ireland mostly stolen from the Irish.

(Regarding theft of land by the aristocracy, see my blogpost ‘Law and order‘.)

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Please feel free to comment

Halo goodbye, Suu – the Rohingya crisis

Rolling post started June 2016 | Contents

Last updated December 2018

In which I detail Aung San Suu Kyi’s disgraceful complicity in Myanmar’s ethnic cleasing of the Rohingya Muslims

Photo: Adam Dean / New York Times

‘You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you.’

Megaphone announcement by the Myanmar military to Rohingya villagers. (UN report)

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Contents

Introduction
History
Suu Kyi’s attitude

Updates
1. UN: ‘crimes against humanity’

June 2016

2. Kofi Annan’s commission

August 2016 – August 2017

3. New ethnic cleansing

October 2016 – October 2018…

bbb
Footnotes


Contents 🔺

Introduction

Remember Aung San Suu Kyi, darling of western liberals, heroine of democracy and human rights, under house arrest in Burma for her beliefs for 15 years before being triumphantly elected as her country’s leader? Well, treasure the golden memory – the reality is disappointingly tarnished.

Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun

Suu Kyi’s saintly image suffered badly at an internationally covered election campaign press conference in November 2015. Questioned about the the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (the new name for Burma), she shocked her worldwide fans by saying only that that it was important not to exaggerate.

As the informed watching world knew, it would have been hard to exaggerate the problems faced by the Rohingya people. They’ve been violently persecuted for many years by state-backed Buddhists in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine. They’re one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. (The UN is supposed to have said that. Apparently they didn’t, but in any case it’s evidently true.)

Since then, Suu Kyi’s image has gone from bad to worse. She won the election as expected. She became Myanmar’s State Counselloreffectively its prime minister – and (despite her government being dominated by unelected junta leftovers) was in a postion to help the Rohingya by at least speaking out about their plight.

Instead, as the violence continued, so did Suu Kyi’s shameful indifference. The Nobel peace prize winner didn’t make peace. Known as The Lady, she wasn’t ladylike – she gracelessly and callously did nothing about it, apart from criticising the critics and telling them to give her government ‘space‘.

Myanmar’s Nelson Mandela, she ain’t.

(However…see Update 2 – Kofi Annan’s commission, below, about an advisory commission Suu Kyi set up, chaired by Kofi Annan.)

(But…see Update 3 – New ethnic cleansing, below, about the vicious resumption of ethnic cleansing.)

Rohingya elders | Photo: Nora Rowley

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History

There’s widespread hostility towards the one-million-plus Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in Myanmar, including among some within Suu Kyi’s own party. Myanmar doesn’t recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group. It denies them citizenship and basic rights. The previous military junta called them ‘Bengalis’, implying that they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though the Rohingya have had a well established presence in the country since at least the twelfth century.

The history of the Rohingya is complex and not fully understood. It is the subject of academic disagreement in the region. Some academics support the Myanmar government’s line, claiming that the name ‘Rohingya’ is a political invention by Bengali immigrants who have no particular ethnic identity. Others with more integrity argue that the name dates back to at least the 1700s, and that despite historical migrations to and from what is now Bangladesh, the Rohingya have a long history in Rakhine and a distinct ethnic identity and language.

From the 1870s to the 1930s, many people were persuaded by the British empire to move from what’s now Bangladesh to what’s now Rakhine State for the purpose of increasing rice production to supply India. They weren’t illegal immigrants. They integrated and intermarried with the native Rohingya. That doesn’t make the Rohingya ‘Bengalis‘.

During World War Two, in the area now known as Rhakine State, then known as Arakan, Buddhists backed the Japanese, while the Rohingya Muslims backed the British. Both sides were given arms. As well as fighting their nominal enemies, they fought each other. Thousands died on both sides.

Suu Kyi’s government has continued with the policy of claiming that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants. Min Aung Hlaing, smiling head of Myanmar’s powerful military, said at a 2016 press conference, ‘As we have said before, there are no Rohingya.’

Photo: Htet Naing Zaw / The Irrawaddy

Neighbouring Muslim-majority Bangladesh also doesn’t allow Rohingyas citizenship. In the late 1970s some 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, claiming that the Burmese army had forcibly evicted them, and alleging widespread army brutality, rape and murder. Bangladesh negotiated their return and encouraged it by restricting food supplies.

Then in the early 1990s more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh from forced labour, rape and religious persecution at the hands of the Burmese army. They were brutally repatriated to Burma, a process shamefully overseen by the UN. Respected non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch gives the background and history of these events.

There’s a complex history (2) of conflict over land and resources. In 2012 this led to waves of mob violence against the Rohingya led by hardline Buddhist priests and politicians, and covertly backed by the state. Hundreds of Rohingya were murdered. No one has been prosecuted for the killings.

Buddhist compassion | Photo: Preedee Ponchevin

More than 100,000 Rohingya were forced to flee their homes and live in decrepit internment camps where they are denied medical services and adequate food. Thousands tried to escape to Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand on rickety boats. Many Rohingyas, having reached Malaysia and Thailand, were held in detention centres there.

In 2015, the International State Crime Initiative (4) argued that the violence and forced removal amounted to ethnic cleansing, and had reached stage four of six (5) in the process of genocide.

Also in 2015, Genocide Watch (6) said that the Myanmar regime’s gross human rights abuses and its persecution of the Rohingya persisted alongside a pervasive culture of impunity; and that the situation may have reached stages nine and ten of their ten-stage model of genocide (7).

In March 2017, aid agencies estimated that over one million Rohingya had fled Myanmar in the previous 40 years as a result of persecution. (3)

In July 2017 it was reported that a Thai judge, after a two-year trial, had found dozens of people guilty, including a senior army general and a wealthy businessman and former government official, in the country’s largest ever human trafficking trial following the discovery two years ago of mass graves in a squalid jungle camp where hundreds of migrants had been brutally exploited.

Many Rohingya and Bangladeshis paid people smugglers to reach Malaysia or Thailand. When they arrived, the court heard, they were detained in bamboo pens and had to beg their families to pay a ransom for their release.

The case led to a crackdown on smuggling networks that brought people from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Thailand. Smugglers, fearing arrest, then abandoned boatloads of migrants. The UN refugee agency estimated that hundreds died at sea, mainly as a result of starvation, dehydration and beatings by boat crews.


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Suu Kyi’s attitude

Photo: BBC

Most disappointing of all, Suu Kyi herself seems to be anti-Muslim. In March 2016 she made an off-key off-air comment after being interviewed by Mishal Husain, Muslim presenter of Today, BBC Radio’s flagship UK news and current affairs programme. Suu Kyi lost her temper during the interview when Husain repeatedly asked her to condemn the anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar. Suu Kyi answered angrily and evasively, and after the interview was heard to say, ‘No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.’

In May 2016, Suu Kyi’s ministry of foreign affairs asked the US ambassador to stop using the term ‘Royingya’, which they said was ‘controversial‘. To the USA’s credit, the ambassador said he’d continue to use the term, because that’s what the group calls itself. The European Union, by comparison, has cravenly caved in to Suu Kyi’s demand (see below).

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Photo: Nyein Chan Naing

When US secretary of state John Kerry delicately raised concerns about the issue during a visit in May 2016, Suu Kyi responded: ‘All that we are asking is that people should be aware of the difficulties we are facing and to give us enough space to solve all our problems.’

Weasel words, Suu. Your halo was slipping – off. What would Dave Lee Travis think? What would the world – previously your oyster, thanks to your massive international support – think?

Sadly, the world thinks you’ve gone from saintly reformer to either hypocritical racist or, at best, paralysed pragmatist. The world thinks that your main concern is either to hang on to power or, at best, to preserve Myanmar’s so-called nascent democracy.

You squandered the world’s good will, Suu. The world thinks that, whatever you’ve become and whatever your motives, you’re willingly fronting one of the worst governments in the world, with self-indulgent brutal hatred bordering on racism at its rotten heart.

(I think we’re all racist, and it doesn’t take much to provoke it; but that if we understand the deep roots of our racism, we can choose not to indulge it. See my post about racism, Colour me racist, blame my genes – racism explained as a redundant instinct.)


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Update 1: June 2016

UN: ‘crimes against humanity’

Following its shameful part in the 1990s Bangladesh deportation (see above), the UN partly redeemed itself by issuing a report that urged Suu Kyi’s government to take concrete steps to end the ongoing systemic discrimination and human rights violations against the Rohingya – violations that the UN said could amount to crimes against humanity.

Suu Kyi’s brilliant response was to tell a visiting UN human rights investigator that the Myanmar government wouldn’t use the ‘controversial‘ term ‘Rohingya’.

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Rohingya woman with her malnourished twin babies | Photo: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Sickeningly, European Union ambassador to Myanmar Roland Kobia said in June 2016 that the EU would stop using the term ‘Rohingya’. He pathetically echoed Suu Kyi’s weasel words by adding that Myanmar needed ‘space’ to deal with human rights abuses.

Thank goodness the UK’s leaving the spineless, weaselly EU.

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Contents 🔺

Update 2: August 2016

Kofi Annan’s commission

Suu Kyi responded to international pressure by appointing an Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. She somehow persuaded fellow Nobel peace prize winner and former UN head Kofi Annan to chair it. There were two hardline hate-mongering Rakhine Buddhists on board. There were, of course, no Rohingya representatives – after all, they don’t exist.

The commission was strongly opposed by Myanmar nationalists, so perhaps Suu Kyi actually did something right. It started in September 2016 and was due to report a year later – assuming, presumably, that there might still be some Rohingya left alive by then.

Update 2: March 2017

Annan – interim report

The Annan commission’s interim report called for the closure of Myanmar’s squalid internment camps, where 120,000 Rohingya have lived since the hardline Buddhist violence in 2012.

Nget Chaung internment camp | Photo: CNN

Annan told Reuters:

‘They [should] close the camps and allow the people in the camps, particularly those who have gone through the [citizenship] verification process, access to freedom of movement and all rights of citizenship‘.

Well said, Kofi. You listening, Suu?

But Suu Kyi had stamped her absurd ban on the name ‘Rohingya’ onto the commission. In a section headed ‘Nomenclature‘, the interim report said:

‘In line with the request of the State Counsellor [Suu Kyi], the Commission uses neither the term “Bengali” nor “Rohingya”, who are referred to as “Muslims” or “the Muslim community in Rakhine”. This does not include the Kaman Muslims, who will simply be referred to as “Kaman”.’

So the Kaman Muslims (a smaller ethnic group of Rakhine Muslims recognised as Myanmar citizens) could be called ‘Kaman’, but the Rohingya Muslims couldn’t be called ‘Rohingya’ – because they don’t exist, of course. The quote above contained the only use of the name ‘Rohingya’ in the report.

Disappointingly craven, Kofi. Still, at least Suu Kyi also asked the commission not to use the name ‘Bengali‘ – the name used by the military junta to falsely assert that the Rohingya were illegal Bengali immigrants. Perhaps a tiny spark of conscience remained.

Update 2: August 2017

Annan – final report

In August 2017 the Annan commission published its final report. It pointed out that ‘Muslims in Rakhine’ (ie, the Rohingya – see March 2017, above) constituted the single biggest stateless community in the world.

The commission’s report was overshadowed – probably deliberately (see below) – by a new outbreak of violence. Annan said he was ‘gravely concerned’ by the latest outbreak of fighting.

The report urged the government to:

  • speed up the citizenship verification process
  • ensure freedom of movement for all
  • close the internment camps as soon as possible
  • improve camp conditions immediately
  • allow humanitarian and media access
  • give access to health and education services
  • end hate speech by Buddhists.

The report recommended that the government appoint a minister with special responsibility for Rakhine State.

Myanmar president and Suu Kyi ally Htin Kyaw thanked the commission for its ‘visionary and constructive approach’, and said that he agreed with the recommendations. A press release (which is no longer posted) said:

‘The large majority of the recommendations will be implemented promptly with a view to maximum effectiveness. The implementation of a few will be contingent upon the situation on the ground but we believe there will be speedy progress.’

Suu Kyi’s office said that as an immediate step, the government would immediately form a new minister-led committee to implement the commission’s recommendations. Government ministry representatives would be included on the committee.

The committee would be assisted by an advisory board on Rakhine which would include regional and international experts.

So… Suu Kyi deflected some international criticism by seeking and apparently accepting Annan’s advice. But would she – could she – implement it?


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Contents 🔺

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Update 3: October 2016 – September 2018…

New ethnic cleansing

Contents

October 2016

Insurgency and retaliation

November 2016

War crimes and denial

December 2016

Malaysia / Amnesty: ‘crimes against humanity’ / ASEAN meeting / Annan / Nobel peace laureate

January 2017

More denial / House of Lords debate / Bangladeshi island

February 2017

Human rights violations / The island / UN numbers / ‘Peace’

March 2017

Bangladesh blocked aid / Annan spoke out / EU blocked full UN investigation / UN fact-finding mission agreed

April 2017

Suu Kyi on TV / Indian deportation / ‘Model’ villages / Guardian editorial

June 2017

UN denied entry

July 2017

UN: children ‘wasting’

August 2017

Myanmar whitewash / Annan report / Violence resumed / Myanmar military started it

September 2017

Mass exodus began / Erdoğan spoke / Security council waffled / Suu Kyi petition / ‘Fake’ news / Homes burning / Suu Kyi recommends harmony / Landmines / UN: ‘ethnic cleansing’ / The island / Myanmar to implement Annan / UN SecGen spoke / Security council: end violence / Female Nobel laureates wrote to SK / Amnesty: ‘scorched earth’ / UK stopped military aid / SK speech / Bangladesh tells UN: safe zones needed in Myanmar / US: ‘stop weapons’

October 2017

Myanmar: ‘refugees can return’ / New Cox’s Bazar camp / The island / UN in Myanmar ‘disfunctional’ / Myanmar civilian-led agency / Charity appeal didn’t use the name ‘Rohingya’ / UN: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing / War criminal Hlaing / Estimated number of refugees: 603,000

November 2017

She was a day tripper / Israeli arms sales: ‘war crimes on both sides’ / Security council statement / ASEAN meeting ignored the Rohingya / Repatriation agreement signed / Pope said nothing

December 2017

Report: methodical rape by Myanmar soldiers / At least 6,700 killed / Number of refugees now 647,000 / UN human rights chief: Suu Kyi should face justice / UN Myanmar critic won’t seek second term

January 2018

Awkward silence / A solution: autonomy / Suu Kyi friend resigns / Number of refugees now 688,000

February 2018

The island was back – and was ‘very nice’

March 2018

Report: 43,000 missing, presumed killed / Island costs – no support

April 2018

ICC seeks jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar / Security council visit

June 2018

China ‘to build houses’ in Rakhine State / Amnesty and Reuters: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing

July 2018

Third report: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing

August 2018

Japan: Myanmar agreed to build villages / UN report: ‘genocide’

September 2018

Reuters journalists jailed / ICC: Myanmar can be prosecuted / US report avoids the word ‘genocide’

October 2018

UN fact-finder: genocide continuing

December 2018

Two more groups call it genocide


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New ethnic cleansing – contents 🔺

October 2016

Insurgency and retaliation

It didn’t take long for the Myanmar government to resume its brutal ethnic cleansing. Claiming that nine police officers and five soldiers were killed by insurgents at border posts, Government forces responded by looting and burning villages and carrying out helicopter gunship attacks. At least 100 Rohingya were killed. The government claimed that their forces were attacked by men with guns, spears, machetes and wooden clubs, and that they responded with a ‘clearing’ operaton. Quite.

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Muslim homes burned by security forces in Warpait village, Rakhine State | Photo: Ye Aung Thu / AFP / Getty Images

Images and videos on social media showed women and children among those killed. The army was accused of raping Rohingya women. Unbelievably (in both senses) the government said that the ‘insurgents’ had burned their own homes to discredit the army.


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New ethnic cleansing – contents 🔺

November 2016

War crimes and denial

During the conflict, Slippery Suu avoided journalists and press conferences. However, on a Japanese jaunt to get an honorary doctorate she was challenged by the Japanese foreign minister. Suu Kyi replied that the military in Rakhine were operating according to the ‘rule of law‘. Nice one, Doc.


Satellite images released by Human Rights Watch (an NGO known for its impartial reporting) showed that more than 1,200 homes were razed in Rohingya villages during the military operation. The UN estimated that 30,000 Rohingya were forced to flee their homes into Bangladesh. Bangladesh turned many refugees back from the border, and complained to the Myanmar government.

Rohingya refugees from the military crackdown joined the many thousands who’d fled Myanmar to Bangladesh over the last 40 years . Estimates of the number of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh before the current displacement vary wildly from 35,000 to 500,000. The unreliability of the estimates was a sad indication of the world’s neglect. Most of the refugees in Bangladesh, as with most Rohingya refugees elsewhere, live in squalid camps, lacking adequate food and medical care

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Rohingya children near the Kutupalang refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh | Photo: Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain

The UN called for an investigation into alleged human rights abuses. A senior UN official said that Myanmar was seeking the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya minority from its territory. Suu Kyi announced a government-led investigation. Big deal.


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New ethnic cleansing – Contents 🔺

December 2016
Malaysia
Amnesty: ‘crimes against humanity’
ASEAN meeting
Annan
Nobel peace laureates


December 2016 – Contents 🔺

Malaysia

Muslim-majority Malaysia spoke up, also describing the violence against the Rohingya as ‘ethnic cleansing‘. At a solidarity rally in Kuala Lumpur, prime minister Najib Razak asked the angry crowd, ‘What’s the use of Aung San Suu Kyi having a Nobel prize?’ Good question.


December 2016 – Contents 🔺

Amnesty: ‘crimes against humanity’

Suu Kyi’s government investigation found – surprise, surprise! – that the security forces had followed the law. So that was alright, then. However, a report by Amnesty International accused the Myanmar military of ‘crimes against humanity’. The Amnesty report called on the Myanmar government and Suu Kyi to order a stop to the violence, publically condemn rights violations, allow unimpeded access to Rakhine and launch an impartial investigation with the UN. Yeah, right – dream on.


December 2016 – Contents 🔺

ASEAN meeting

ASEAN regional leaders met in Yangon (Myanmar’s largest city, formerly its capital, also known as Rangoon) for emergency talks on the violence. Pressurised by the intervention of neighbouring Muslim-majority states Indonesia and Malaysia, Suu Kyi reluctantly addressed the meeting – only to repeat her ridiculous assertion that the army action was legitimate.


December 2016 – Contents 🔺

Annan

The Myanmar government invited Kofi Annan’s advisory committee (see above) to look into the situation. Disappointingly, Annan reportedly said that observers should be ‘very, very careful‘ in using the word genocide, and that Suu Kyi’s government should be given ‘a bit of time, space and patience’. Oh dear – there was that weasel word again.

Annan was possibly right to describe ‘genocide’ as an exaggeration, but perhaps the great (now, sadly, late) man should himself have been ‘very, very careful’ – not to blow his credibility. He sounded worryingly like Suu Kyi, with her ‘Don’t exaggerate’, and her ‘Give us space’. At that rate, next thing, Annan would refuse to use the name ‘Rohingya’. (And guess what? He did just that, at Suu Kyi’s request. See above.)

Annan’s views on the conflict were given in the introduction to his commission’s interim report. (See March 2017, below.)


December 2016 – Contents 🔺

Nobel peace laureates

It was widely reported that – for what it was worth (not much) – 23 of the great and good had written an open letter to the (useless) UN security council about it, describing the action as ethnic cleansing, and demanding that the council put it on their to-do list. More than a dozen of Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel laureates signed, including Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai.

The letter was wordy but well meant and heartfelt. Perhaps they hoped to stir the dozy security council into action, or at least add to the embarrassment factor for Suu Kyi. (However, our former human rights heroine seemed unembarrassable.)

December 2016 – Contents 🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents 🔺

January 2017
More denial
House of Lords debate
Bangladeshi island


January 2017 – Contents 🔺

More denial

Suu Kyi’s commission of investigation said that there was no evidence of genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. In its interim report, the commission, led by hardline former regional military ruler and current co-vice president Myint Swe, also said there wasn’t enough evidence to support widespread rape allegations. It didn’t mention claims that security forces had been killing people.

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First Vice President Myint Swe  | Photo: EPA

January 2017 – Contents 🔺

House of Lords debate

The UK’s secondary parliamentary body, the House of Lords, held a debate on a question tabled by activist and Labour peer Baroness Glenys Kinnock about the Rohingya, and the UK government’s response to their current plight. Four baronesses, three lords and one bishop made knowledgeable and compassionate speeches.

UK government minister Baroness Annabel Goldie replied in a similar tone of concern, but spoiled it by saying that the UK government would, in effect, do nothing.

Goldie said that UK ministers had raised this issue in parliament and in direct discussions with the Myanmar government. She said that the UK government was deeply concerned about the recent military action and the lack of humanitarian access.

Goldie said that the government didn’t find Myint Swe’s commission of investigation (see above) credible, and had expressed its concerns to the UN security council. However, she ended by saying that the UK government was wary of doing anything which might impede Myanmar’s legitimate democratic development.

That wasn’t good enough. As elsewhere, the UK bears considerable historical colonial responsibility for the mess left behind. It should have been clear that the diplomatic approach had failed, that the junta-heavy Myanmar government was no democracy, and that the UK government was defending a dictatorship wearing Suu Kyi like a window dressing.

If we accepted our historical and moral responsibility, we’d instead have been actively defending the Rohingya.


January 2017 – Contents 🔺

Bangladeshi island

The Bangladeshi goverment showed great compassion for its opressed Muslim neighbours by planning to forcibly relocate the recently arrived Rohingya refugees to an even more squalid site. A push to attract tourists was the reason for the move, which had the backing of controversial prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed.

The squalid refugee colony, home to the newly exiled Rohingya, is near the world’s longest unbroken beach – and Bangladesh’s largest resort. Officials feared the refugees might put off would-be holidaymakers, and ordered the forced relocation of the Rohingya to a vulnerable island before being repatriated to Myanmar.

The island, flooded by several feet of water at high tide, has no roads or flood defences. It was formed about a decade ago by sediment from a river. Nice. Thanks, Hasina, for your generous hospitality.

(See next island item.)

image
Photo: Nyein Chan Naing

January 2017 – Contents 🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents 🔺

February 2017
Human rights violations
The island
UN numbers
‘Peace’


February 2017 – Contents 🔺

Human rights violations

Mass gang-rape, killings (including of babies and young children), brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by Myanmar security forces were detailed in a UN report based on interviews with victims in Bangladesh.


February 2017 – Contents 🔺

The island

Bangladesh asked the UN and the international community to support its plan to relocate Rohingyas to an uninhabitable island, Thengar Char (see above).

The briefing was attended by some 60 ambassadors, high commissioners, heads of missions and representatives of various diplomatic missions, as well as representatives from the office of UN resident coordinator Robert D. Watkins, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR and other UN agencies.

(See next island item.)


February 2017 – Contents 🔺

UN numbers

UN officials estimated that the death toll from the government ‘clearance’ operation was closer to 1,000. The number who had fled to neighbouring Bangladesh was now thought to be 70,000.


February 2017 – Contents 🔺

‘Peace’

The Myanmar government said that its ‘clearance operation’ had ‘ceased‘. Suu Kyi’s office issued this statement:

‘The situation in northern Rakhine has now stabilised. The clearance operations undertaken by the military have ceased, the curfew has been eased and there remains only a police presence to maintain the peace.’

That was nice, Suu – to describe as ‘peace‘ the aftermath of the army’s 1,000 killings (including the killing of women, children and babies), gang rape, the looting and burning of homes, and the displacement of 70,000 people.

February 2017 – Contents 🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents 🔺

March 2017
Bangladesh blocked aid
Annan spoke out
EU blocked full UN investigation
UN fact-finding mission agreed


March 2017 – Contents 🔺

Bangladesh blocked aid

It was reported that the Bangladesh government strongly discouraged the distribution of aid to Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh banned three NGOs from distributing aid, saying that it would encourage more refugees to cross the border. The Bangladeshi interior and foreign ministries apparently declined to comment.

Bangladesh had form for this. In the 1970s they encouraged the return of 200,000 Rohingya refugees by restricting food supplies (see above).


March 2017 – Contents 🔺

Annan spoke out

Kofi Annan’s advisory commission on Rakhine state (see update 2, above) published its interim report on 16 March. In the introduction, Annan, whose commission was asked in December 2016 to look into the current crisis (see above), said:

‘The nature of the crisis facing Rakhine state has changed due to the attacks of 9 October [2016] and the subsequent security operations … There are steps that can be taken immediately…[including] unimpeded access for humanitarian actors and journalists to the affected areas in Northern Rakhine and for independent and impartial investigation of the allegations of crimes committed on and since 9 October 2016. We strongly believe that perpetrators of these crimes must be held to account.’

Well said, Kofi – that was better than your useless comment in December 2016 (see above). Now try to get the UN to pull its finger out.


March 2017 – Contents 🔺

EU blocked UN investigation

The spineless, weaselly European Union (see the EU decision not to use the name ‘Rohingya’, above) blocked a full UN investigation.

The EU historically takes the lead on issues relating to Myanmar on the UN human rights council, which held its annual session in Switzerland. The UN commissioner for human rights wanted a top-level commission of investigation, but the useless EU wanted to give Myanmar’s discredited internal investigation more time. Bless.

The UK wasn’t much better, I’m sorry to say. Our man at the council said that the international community needed to ‘engage [Myanmar] without damaging the delicate civilian-military balance‘.


March 2017 – Contents 🔺

UN fact-finding mission agreed

The EU submitted its weaselly, watered-down resolution to the UN human rights council, presumably with the support of the UK (see above). The resolution (click on ‘E‘ to download it) on the Rohingya, which did at least use their name, was adopted by the council. The resolution specified a weedy ‘fact-finding mission‘, not the high-powered commission of inquiry needed. Pathetic.

Predictably, Suu Kyi rejected the UN decision. In a televised speech, she said that her government would refuse to accept the fact-finding mission. Myanmar’s military head Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech that the mission was a threat to national security.

Without Myanmar’s cooperation, the UN’s fact-finding mission – already toothless – was likely to become a paper tiger.

image
Paper bag tiger puppet: Amanda Forman

March 2017 – Contents 🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents 🔺

April 2017
Suu Kyi on TV
Indian deportation
‘Model’ villages
Guardian editorial


April 2017 – Contents 🔺

Suu Kyi on TV

Suu Kyi’s first interview this year (with BBC TV) sadly confirmed her shameful indifference to the terrible plight of the Rohingya. Speaking like a cut-price Thatcher, she said that there was no ethnic cleansing, and spoke instead about attacks by Muslims on fellow-Muslims who’d collaborated with the authorities. In a strangely worded comment on the widely alleged troop atrocities, she said that troops had not been ‘free’ to commit crimes. ‘They are not free to rape, pillage and torture,’ she said. ‘They are free to go in and fight.’ Right, thanks, Suu.

Suu Kyi had a sickly, medicated look. Maybe she should consider her legacy, or at least her priorities. Her ambitious programme – to sort out Myanmar’s basket-case economy, make peace amongst the warring factions and bring the military under democratic control – looked unrealistic, but with a change of heart she could have spoken out in support of Myanmar’s opressed Rohingya Muslims; she could have granted them citizenship.

At a stroke, she’d have regained the world’s support – which would have given her leverage to clear out the junta.


April 2017 – Contents 🔺

Indian deportation

India’s right-wing BJP government added to Rohingya misery by backing local moves to deport 8,000 Rohingya refugees from the city of Jammu back to Myanmar. 40,000 refugees fled to India from Myanmar army brutality in 2012.


April 2017 – Contents 🔺

‘Model’ villages

Suu Kyi’s government planned to resettle refugees returning from Bangladesh in ‘model villages‘. The returnees wouldn’t be allowed to permanently rebuild their homes – burnt by security forces – in their villages where they’d farmed and fished.


April 2017 – Contents 🔺

Guardian editorial

A UK Guardian editorial about Suu Kyi said: ‘[Her] moral credibility has been vastly diminished if not demolished by her failure to even acknowledge the brutal persecution of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state’. (That’s what I said – a year ago.)

April 2017 – Contents 🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents 🔺

June 2017

UN denied entry

The Myanmar government refused entry visas to the three members of the UN’s fact-finding mission. It insisted that the domestic investigation headed by former lieutenant general and vice-president Myint Swe (see January 2017, above) was sufficient to look into the allegations of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

Junta spokesperson Kyaw Zeya (permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs, headed by Suu Kyi) said ‘Why do they try to use unwarranted pressure when the domestic mechanisms have not been exhausted? It will not contribute to our efforts to solve the issues in a holistic manner.’ (Sic – and sick.)


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July 2017

UN: children ‘wasting’

Photo: AP

The UN’s World Food Programme warned that more than 80,000 Rohingya children under the age of five in western Myanmar were ‘wasting and would need treatment for acute malnutrition over the next year.

The UN agency report (no longer posted – see below) was based on an assessment of villages in western Rakhine state, where some 75,000 stateless Muslim Rohingya people had fled the army crackdown.

The UN – to its shame – later withdrew the report at the request of the Myanmar government. (See October 2017, below.)


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

August 2017
Myanmar whitewash
Annan report
Violence resumed
Myanmar military started it


August 2017 – Contents🔺

Myanmar whitewash

The final report of the Myanmar government’s rubbish commission of enquiry (see November and December 2016, and January 2017, above) concluded – to no one’s surprise – that no crimes were committed during the recent military action.

Deceptively gormless-looking vice president and junta thug Myint Swe – a notorious former general blacklisted by the USA – headed the enquiry. He said there was no evidence of the crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansingalleged by the UN. Myint Swe also denied that there had been gang rapes by the military – as reported to the UN by refugees in Bangladesh.


August 2017 – Contents🔺

Annan report

The advisory commission on Rakhine State headed by Kofi Annan also published its final report. Amongst his many recommendations, Annan asked the government to allow humanitarian and media access to the affected areas. (See Update 2, above.)


August 2017 – Contents🔺

Violence resumed

The Myanmar president gave Annan’s report a warm welcome, but the love-in didn’t last long. State violence resumed as the military and Buddhist mobs launched a typically disproportionate retaliatory crackdown after attacks on police-posts left twelve members of the security forces dead. There were reports of soldiers burning villages and attacking residents.

Some 400 Rohingya were reported to have been killed. The military claimed that the vast majority of those killed were ‘terrorists’. But refugees said that villagers were indiscriminately beaten, shot or hacked to death; that others were killed after failing to pay the soldiers a ransom; and that many women were raped and killed.

Suu Kyi was quick to smear the Rohingya insurgents as Islamist terrorists. Given the decades of oppression, and the 500,000 Rohingya refugees in Islamist hotbeds Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, insurgency movements with elements of Islamism were inevitable. No doubt there’d been some ‘radicalisation‘.

However, the solution was not a massively disproportionate military crackdown backed by Buddhist mobs – it was to integrate the Myanmar Rohingya into Myanmar. The Islamist mission thrives on despair and anger.

Wierdly, Suu Kyi accused aid workers of supporting terrorism – by supplying biscuits. It was like a mad old lady shouting, ‘You gave them the biscuits! I saw you!’ (Apologies to mad old ladies everywhere.)


August 2017 – Contents🔺

Myanmar military started it

Myanmar claimed that they’d responded to the insurgent attack, but apparently the military had been busy destabilising the area by arming and training local Buddhists in the weeks before Annan’s final report was due. The insurgents claimed that their action was a response to that provocation.

It was clear that the military had no intention of allowing Annan’s recommendations to be implemented. Through intelligence, or the use of planted provacateurs, they must have expected the insurgency that gave them the pretext for the massive ethnic cleansing operation that followed.

(A UN report in October confirmed this.)

August 2017 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

September 2017
(A busy month)
Mass exodus began
Erdoğan spoke
Security council waffled
Suu Kyi petition
‘Fake’ news
Homes burning
Suu Kyi recommends harmony
Landmines
UN: ‘ethnic cleansing’
The island
Myanmar ‘to implement Annan’
UN SecGen spoke
Security council: end violence
Female Nobel laureates wrote to SK
Amnesty: ‘scorched earth’
UK stopped military aid
SK speech
Bangladesh tells UN: safe zones needed in Myanmar
US: ‘stop weapons’


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Mass exodus began

In a clear resumption of ethnic cleansing, an estimated 40,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh after the violence erupted a week ago. (Within a month, the number increased to over 580,000.) Many Rohingya drowned trying to cross a river to reach Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi said in a statement, ‘I would like to commend the members of the police and security forces who have acted with great courage in the face of many challenges’. Wow.

UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that ‘decades of persistent and systematic human rights violations, including the very violent security responses to the attacks since October 2016‘ had contributed to the insurgency that sparked the latest vicious crackdown.

Regime change, anybody?


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Erdoğan spoke

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stuck his oar in, accusing Myanmar of genocide. Erdoğan’s own record on human rights isn’t great. For instance, he’s been accused of orchestrating the genocide of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Erdoğan’s intervention at least helped to keep the story in the news.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Security council waffled

The UN security council met behind closed doors to discuss the violence but there was no formal statement. UN secretary-general António Guterres said in a statement that he was ‘deeply concerned by the reports of excesses during the security operations conducted by Myanmar’s security forces in Rakhine State’.

So far so good, but Guterres’s conclusion was: ‘The current situation underlines the urgency of seeking holistic approaches to addressing the complex root causes of violence.’ Oh-oh, António. That was weak – and weaselly. The situation actually underlined the urgency of helping the Rohingya by stopping the state violence.

The statement’s conclusion may have been a respectful reference to the complex and nuanced recommendations of Annan’s commission (see August 2017, above), but coming from the UN head in that desperate context, it sounded disappointingly like a queasy combination of the weaselly Myanmar government spokesperson speaking of ‘efforts to solve the issues in a holistic manner’ (see June 2017, above) and slippery US president Donald Trump saying that the vehicle-attack murder of a protester by a White Supremacy supporter indicated ‘blame on many sides‘.

The UN may have been unable to intervene on its own account, true, but its secretary-general needed to show some leadership.

The UN increased its estimate of those forced to flee to Bangladesh from 40,000 to 58,000. Then it was 70,000. Then, 87,000. Then over 120,000. Then 160,000. Tens of thousands were said to be stranded near the border.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Suu Kyi petition

A petition was launched, demanding the withdrawal of Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize. (I signed it, dear reader – how about you?)


September 2017 – Contents🔺

‘Fake’ news

Suu Kyi’s office said that in a phone call with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (who’d accused Myanmar of genocide – see above) she claimed that ‘fake news‘ was helping the ‘terrorists’.

(Erdoğan may have sympathised with Suu Kyi’s media problems. He’s had difficulties with the Turkish media. His solution is to jail journalists.)

Apparently, some tweeted photos were from other conflicts. But Myanmar, which continued to ban the media, were responsible for the news vacuum – and, therefore, for any fake news which filled it.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Homes burning

The Myanmar military blamed Muslims for the burning of thousands of homes. But Human Rights Watch, having analysed satellite imagery and accounts from Rohingya refugees, said the Myanmar security forces deliberately set the fires.

Myanmar allowed some journalists an accompanied visit to an affected area. They inadvertently saw new fires in an abandoned village. An ethnic Rakhine villager said that police and Rakhine Buddhists set the fires. About ten Rakhine men with machetes were seen there.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Suu Kyi recommends harmony

Perhaps feeling the pressure, Suu Kyi spoke to the world – and sounded a bit less like a robot. She told Delhi news agency Asian News International:

‘We are implementing recommendations given by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as quickly as possible to create harmony and peace in the Rakhine state. Our recommendation is harmony and we shall be addressing it quickly.’

Needless to say, she spoiled it by continuing to characterise the current vicious ethnic cleansing as a legitimate anti-terrorist clearing operation. She didn’t mention the Rohingya forced to flee their homes.

The UN increased its estimate of the number of Rohingyas who had fled to Bangladesh in the previous two weeks to over 270,000.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Landmines

Respected human rights NGO Amnesty International said it had evidence that Myanmar’s security forces planted internationally banned antipersonnel landmines along its border with Bangladesh.

The landmines seriously injured at least three civilians, including two children, and reportedly killed one man in the past week.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

UN: ‘ethnic cleansing’

UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya appeared to be a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

He denounced the ‘brutal security operation’ against the Rohingya, which he said was ‘clearly disproportionate’ to insurgent attacks carried out last month.

The UN estimate of the number of Rohingyas who had fled to Bangladesh in the previous two weeks increased to 313,000. Then, 370,000. Then 389,000. Then over 400,000.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

The island

Bangladesh still planned to move the refugees to a barren flood-prone island. (See above, January 2017.)

Bangladesh subsequently announced plans to build a massive refugee detention camp near the border with Myanmar. This was apparently planned to be developed concurrently with the island camp.

(See next island item.)

Rohingya refugees come ashore to Bangladesh | Photo: Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

September 2017 – Contents🔺

Myanmar ‘to implement Annan’

Myanmar president and Suu Kyi ally Htin Kyaw has appointed a committee to implement Annan’s recommendedations and to ‘take prompt measures’ in granting citizenship to those eligible in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Law.

Invoking the 1982 law was clearly an obstructive tactic. Regarding that law, a former UN human rights ‘special rapporteur’ said:

‘The Government of Myanmar should consider the revision of the 1982 Citizenship Law to abolish its burdensome requirements for citizenship. The law should not apply its categories of second-class citizenship, which have discriminatory effects on racial or ethnic minorities, particularly the Rakhine Muslim population. It should be brought into line with the principles embodied in the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 30 August 1961.’

Human Rights Watch has urged the Myanmar government to repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law (or else amend it in accordance with the recommendations of the UN special rapporteur) and to grant all Rohingya full citizenship and rights.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

UN SecGen spoke

The UN secretary-general beefed up his comments. At a press conference he called on Myanmar’s authorities to:

‘suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law, and recognise the right of return of all those who had to leave the country.’


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Security council: end violence

The UN security council, which includes Myanmar supporters Russia and China, was reported to have:

‘expressed concern about reports of excessive violence during the security operations and called for immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, de-escalate the situation, re-establish law and order, ensure the protection of civilians, restore normal socio-economic conditions, and resolve the refugee problem.’

(International news agency Reuters reported this as a security council statement. UK ambassador to the UN Michael Rycroft was reported as saying that it was the first time in nine years that the council had agreed a statement on Myanmar. However, I couldn’t find the statement on the security council website. I asked them about it. They said that it wasn’t a formal statement but was in remarks by the UK ambassador after a closed meeting. I asked Rycroft and Reuters about this. They haven’t replied.)


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Female Nobel laureates wrote to SK

Five female Nobel peace prize winners wrote an open letter urging ‘sister’ Suu to defend Rohingya Muslims. They asked her:

‘How many Rohingya have to die; how many Rohingya women will be raped; how many communities will be razed before you raise your voice in defence of those who have no voice?’


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Amnesty: ‘scorched earth’

Amnesty International revealed new evidence of a scorched-earth campaign, with Myanmar security forces and vigilante mobs burning down entire Rohingya villages and shooting people at random as they tried to flee.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

UK stopped military aid

Following intensive pressure from campaign groups, including the excellent (and presumably ironically named) Burma Campaign UK, UK premier Theresa May announced that the UK would suspend the training of Burmese military.

Speaking at the UN general assembly in New York, May said the UK would end all engagement with the Burmese military until military action against civilians in Rakhine state had stopped.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

SK speech

Suu Kyi made a speech about the crisis. The speech was denounced as a ‘mix of untruths and victim-blaming’ by Amnesty International. The UK Guardian published an illuminating fact-check on the speech.

Aid agencies estimated that 480,000 Rohingya refugees had fled to Bangladesh. The UN then estimated the number to be over 500,000.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

Bangladesh tells UN: safe zones needed in Myanmar

Bangladeshi premier Sheikh Hasina, speaking to the UN General Assembly, proposed creating UN-supervised safe zones in Myanmar to ensure the safe return of Rohingya refugees.

Hasina also said that Myanmar must stop the ethnic cleansing, accept the UN fact-finding mission, and abide by Annan’s recommendation of citizenship for the Rohingya.


September 2017 – Contents🔺

US: ‘stop weapons’

The US ambassador to the UN called on countries to suspend weapons supplies to Myanmar until the military had put accountability measures in place.

The ambassador said that Myanmar’s ‘brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority’ meant that ‘those who have been accused of committing abuses should be removed from command responsibilities immediately and prosecuted for wrongdoing.’

The US – apparently keen to counter China’s influence in resource-rich Myanmar – stopped short of threatening to resume the sanctions dropped under the Obama regime.

September 2017 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

October 2017
(Another busy month for ethnic cleansing)
Myanmar: ‘refugees can return’
New Cox’s Bazar camp
The island
UN in Myanmar ‘disfunctional’
Myanmar civilian-led agency
Charity appeal didn’t use the name ‘Rohingya’
UN: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing
War criminal Hlaing
Estimated number of refugees: 603,000


October 2017 – Contents🔺

Myanmar: ‘refugees can return’

Myanmar told the United Nations refugee agency that its – Myanmar’s – top priority was to bring back Rohingyas who’d fled to Bangladesh. A Myanmar government minister said:

‘The repatriation process can start any time for those who wish to return to Myanmar. The verification of refugees will be based on the agreement between the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments in 1993.’

This was presumably a reference to the 250,000 Rohingya refugees who, in the early 1990s, fled to Bangladesh from forced labour, rape and religious persecution at the hands of the Burmese army. They were brutally repatriated to Burma, a process shamefully overseen by the UN.

This time, many refugees fled with nothing, but even if they had verification documents, many were wary about returning without an assurance of full citizenship, without which they’d face the same persecution and curbs they’ve endured for years. A Rohingya refugee said:

‘If we go there, we’ll just have to come back here. If they give us our rights, we will go, but people did this before and they had to return.’

There was also, of course, the little problem of Bangladesh refusing to give official refugee status to the Rohingya refugees.


October 2017 – Contents🔺

New Cox’s Bazar camp

Bangladesh announced that it would build one of the world’s biggest refugee camps to house all the 800,000-plus Rohingya Muslims who’d sought asylum from violence in Myanmar. (This would include the estimated 300,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh during earlier violence.)

Bangladeshi authorities planned to expand a refugee camp at Kutupalong near the border town of Cox’s Bazar to accommodate the Rohingya. 400 hectares (1,000 acres) had been set aside for the new camp next to the existing camp.


October 2017 – Contents🔺

The island

On her return from a UN meeting in New York, Bangladeshi premier Sheikh Hasina Wazed promised to help the Rohingya, offering – somewhat unconvincingly – to eat only one meal a day if necessary.

However, she ruined this saintly image of pity, generosity and self-sacrifice by blithely adding (in confirmation of the announcement made a month ago) that Bangladesh was planning to build temporary shelters for the Rohingya on an island, with the help of international aid agencies. She praised the aid agencies for their support.

The island was Thengar Char (recently renamed Bhasan Char, also known as Char piya). Wazed first planned to forcibly move the Rohingya refugees to this island in January 2017. (See above).

Thengar/Bhasan Char silt ‘island’ | Photo: Reuters / Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Bhasan Char was formed about a decade ago by sediment from a river. With no roads or flood defences, it was used sporadically by fishermen and by farmers seeking to graze their animals. It regularly flooded during the June-September monsoons and, when seas were calm, pirates kidnapped fishermen for ransom.

Really, Hasina?

The Bangladeshi government said a month ago that they’d establish a 2,000-acre camp near Cox’s Bazar to house 250,000 Rohingya. So the 1,000-acre camp now planned will presumably house 125,000 people – not the 800,000 claimed in the recent announcement.

The government was speeding up work at Bhasan Char with a view to building a 10,000-acre facility that could house hundreds of thousands of Rohingya.

As the originally planned 2,000-acre camp near Kutupalong was meant to house 250,000 people, the 10,000-acre camp planned for the island would presumably hold up to 1,250,000 people – that is, all the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

Clearly Bangladesh was planning to move all the Rohingya refugees to the remote and barren island detention camp until such a time as they could be returned to Myanmar (which, the way things were going, looked like never).

Once the troublesome refugees had been moved, Cox’s Bazar, with its world’s longest unbroken beach, could be further developed for tourism. Kerching!

An excellent February 2017 article shed light on this murky plan.

When the island first appeared eleven years ago, it was considered as a possible solution to Bangladesh’s land scarcity. But because most of the island is submerged during the monsoon season; and because trafficking routes converge around the island, and criminals roam its waters, talk of populating it died out.

Then in January 2017, the government issued an order directing officials to relocate Rohingya refugees to the island. A district administrator estimated that the island, about 116 square miles, might support as many as 50,000 Rohingya.

Some officials expressed misgivings. A forestry department official involved in planting mangroves on the island said:

‘The ground is too soft to support sturdy structures, and the weather changes erratically. In my opinion, it is not habitable.’

According to the February 2017 report, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said of the planned relocation:

‘This is a human rights and humanitarian disaster in the making, and the Bangladesh government should be ashamed for even considering it, much less asking for a budget for it from every international donor they come across. What Bangladesh is really proposing is to put the Rohingya out of sight and out of mind on an island, and hope they are forgotten by the international community.’

The February 2017 report also said that UN refugee agency UNHCR recommended that any relocation plan be carried out through a consultative and voluntary process, after its feasibility has been assessed.

UNHCR Bangladesh representative Shinji Kubo said that a better plan would be to simply register and document the Rohingya in Bangladesh no matter where they were. Kubo said:

‘This helps the government to know who is on its soil, and helps humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance to those who need it.’

If Bangladesh’s fascistic plan was to be stopped by aid agency opposition, the opposition of UNHCR would be needed. UNHCR representative Kubo, a proactive hustler for human rights, would perhaps do the right thing, and oppose the plan.

(See next island item.)


October 2017 – Contents🔺

UN in Myanmar ‘disfunctional’

The UN was recently accused of taking a long-term political view in Myanmar and down-playing the urgent Rohigya issue. A leaked memo (there’s always a leaked memo) suggested a central policy creep heading in that direction, making normal UN activity ‘disfunctional’.

The UN’s shortcomings in responding to the Rohingya crisis were a product of long-standing internal squabbles over turf and policy, compounded by a 1977 decision to allow the UN development program (UNDP) to appoint the UN’s top local officials, the resident coordinators.

As an agency that relies on governments’ cooperation to do its work, UNDP has historically avoided confronting governments that commit abuses. That has led to a culture of silence, and to allegations that the UN has been complicit in atrocities, from Myanmar to Sri Lanka.

A UN report, entitled The Role of the United Nations in Rakhine state, was commissioned by (UNDP-appointed) resident coordinator Renata Lok-Dessallien – and was then supressed by her when she didn’t like its conclusions.

Lok-Dessallien was accused of preventing discussion of the Rohingya crisis at UN meetings. The UN closed ranks and responded angrily and defensively to the criticism. However, Lok-Dessallien was conveniently ‘rotated’ out of the way. Or rather she was supposed to be. Several months later Lok-Dessallien was still there, the Myanmar government having rejected her proposed successor.

The UN eventually got Norwegian Knut Ostby accepted as interim resident coordinator. The appointment of a temporary placeholder was expected after Myanmar blocked an upgrade of the UN Myanmar chief from resident coordinator to assistant secretary-general.

Suu Kyi had told diplomats that she was frustrated with the UN’s human rights arm. Bless. Still, she’d be OK with another UNDP placeperson in charge.

Another sign of the UN being too cooperative with Myanmar was the news that the report by the UN food agency that Rohingya children were ‘wasting’ (see July 2017, above) had been shelved at Myanmar’s request.

The July assessment by the World Food Programme warned that more than 80,000 children under the age of five living in majority-Muslim areas were ‘wasting’ — a potentially fatal condition of rapid weight loss.

Anyone wondering why the UN sometimes seems too compliant with the Myanmar government should remember: the USA is the UN’s chief paymaster – and the USA is competing with China to tap into Myanmar’s rich but undeveloped natural resources.


October 2017 – Contents🔺

Myanmar civilian-led agency

Suu Kyi, sounding almost human, announced plans to set up a new Myanmar civilian-led agency which with foreign assistance, she said, would deliver relief and would help to resettle Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, as well as implement projects in the region. Hmmm.


October 2017 – Contents🔺

Charity appeal didn’t use the name ‘Rohingya’

The UK Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella charity for other charities, recently launched an appeal ‘for people fleeing Myanmar’.

The casual viewer of the appeal’s full-page newspaper adverts might have wondered if that was something to do with the 500,000 Rohingya refugees extensively reported in the news.

Myanmar refuses to use the name ‘Rohingya’ – and Bangladesh refuses to give official refugee status to the Rohingya refugees. I asked DEC if that was why the advert didn’t use the words ‘Rohingya’ or ‘refugees’.

DEC said that as they’re an umbrella charity, decisions on appeal names have to be made collectively by all the charities involved – 13 in this case.

DEC said that some member charities, particularly the few allowed to continue operating in Rakhine state, were concerned that naming the Rohingya would cause difficulties.

DEC also said that some member charities had concerns about the word ‘refugee’ – because Bangladesh hadn’t granted many of the displaced people refugee status.

This is design by committee gone mad. DEC told me that decisions are made by consenus. But DEC, whilst posing as a neutral coordinator, is actually more powerful than that. Its umbrella appeals boost money and profile for its member charities.

DEC should have had the balls, the common sense and the integrity to insist on the use of the words ‘Rohingya‘ and ‘refugee‘.

The vast majority of the ‘people fleeing Myanmar’ are Rohingya; and whatever Bangladesh says, they’re clearly all refugees.

Not calling them Rohingya looks like collusion with Myanmar’s pre-genocidal attempt to deny their existence. Not calling them refugees looks like collusion with Bangladesh’s heartless reluctance to grant refugee status.

Also, less well informed potential donors who’d heard about Rohingya refugees in the news might have glanced at the advert, not realised what the appeal was for – and might not have donated.

Nevertheless, dear (UK) reader, please donate. Every little helps.


October 2017 – Contents🔺

UN: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing

A UN report says that the Myanmar military started deliberately destabilising the area before the ‘terrorist insurrection’. (See August 2017, above.) The report highlighted a strategy to instil deep and widespread fear and trauma – physical, emotional and psychological – among the Rohingya population.

After the ‘insurrection’, brutal attacks against Rohingya in northern Rakhine State were well-organised, coordinated and systematic, with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning to their homes.

Efforts were taken to effectively erase signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.

Myanmar security forces targeted teachers, cultural and religious leaders, and other people of influence in the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.

Security forces torched dwellings and entire villages, were responsible for extrajudicial and summary executions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and attacks on places of worship.

Megaphones were used to announce:

‘You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you.’


October 2017 – Contents🔺

War criminal Hlaing

Myanmar military head and de facto dictator Senior General Min Aung Hlaing should clearly be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) – based in the city of The Hague in the Netherlands (also known as Holland) in north-west Europe – only has autonomous jurisdiction in countries that have signed the Rome statute that established the ICC in 1998 – and Myanmar isn’t a signatory.

However, the ICC can also have jurisdiction anywhere – if it’s authorized by the UN security council.

In the 1990s, during the preparatory work by the UN to establish the ICC, the security council established two ad hoc international criminal tribunals.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established in 1993 following massive violations of humanitarian law during fighting in that region. It was the first war-crimes court created by the UN and the first international war-crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals at the end of the Second World War.

The security council also established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1994 to prosecute those responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

US secretary of state (top foreign policy official) Rex Tillerson said that the USA held Myanmar’s military leadership responsible for its harsh crackdown on the Rohingya. He said:

‘The world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area, We really hold the military leadership accountable for what’s happening.’

Fine words, Mr Secretary. But standing idly by was apparently exactly what the USA planned to do. Tillerson stopped short of saying that the USA would take action against Myanmar’s military leaders. The USA has established close ties with Myanmar in the face of competition from strategic rival China.

The USA has form for cosying up to murderous regimes for strategic reasons. Remember US-backed mass-murderer, embezzler and Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet?

In any case, Myanmar allies Russia and China would probably block any move to establish a tribunal for Myanmar, so – for now – war criminal Hlaing goes free.


October 2017 – Contents🔺

Estimated number of refugees: 603,000

The UN said said that an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Rohingya had recently fled, raising the estimate of the number of refugees who’d left Myanmar since 25 August to 582,000 .

The new arrivals were stranded in border wetlands with no shelter or food, waiting for permission from Bangladesh to move on to the camps.

From the Myanmar side, smoke from burning villages continued to be seen, and the sound of gunfire continued to be heard.

The stranded refugees were eventually allowed through. The estimated number of refugees was raised to 603,000. Tens of thousands more were said to be trying to cross to Bangladesh.

The International Rescue Committee estimated that 300,000 more Rohingya were expected to flee to Bangladesh in the coming weeks.

October 2017 – Contents🔺


Top🔺
New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

November 2017
She was a day tripper
Israeli arms sales: ‘war crimes on both sides’
Security Council statement
ASEAN meeting ignored the Rohingya
Repatriation agreement signed
Pope said nothing


November 2017 – Contents🔺

She was a day tripper

A Myanmar government spokesman said that Suu Kyi had gone to Rakhine state capital Sittwe and would go to Maungdaw and Buthiduang. ‘It will be a day trip,’ he added.

Suu Kyi in Sittwe | AFP / Getty Images

This was Suu Kyi’s first visit to Rakhine since taking office. It’s not clear why she went. No press were allowed to accompany her.

There was no progress in starting the process of repatriating Rohingya refugees.


November 2017 – Contents🔺

Israeli arms sales: ‘war crimes on both sides’

Justifying Israeli arms sales to Myanmar, an Israeli New York senior diplomat ridiculously told Jewish human rights group T’ruah (who’d protested against arms sales to a regime carrying out brutal ethnic cleansing against a minority population) that ‘the two sides in the conflict are conducting war crimes‘.

Oh well, that’s alright, then! The diplomat’s response was a wierd combinanation of stupidity, admission and arrogance.

It was stupid in that an attack on armed border posts by a handful of badly armed insurgents can’t by any stretch of imagination be described as a war crime.

The diplomat seemed to be admitting that Israel’s arms customer, the Myanmar military, had committed war crimes.

The diplomat’s response was arrogant in the manner of all Israeli defence pronouncements. Israel will do whatever they need to do – the world can like it or lump it. So one of Israel’s arms customers has committed war crimes – so what?


November 2017 – Contents🔺

Security Council statement

The UN security council finally managed to make a statement about the Rohingya crisis. The statement began:

‘The Security Council strongly condemns the widespread violence that has taken place in Rakhine State, Myanmar, since 25 August, which has led to the mass displacement of more than 607,000 individuals, the vast majority belonging to the Rohingya community.

‘The Security Council further expresses grave concern over reports of human rights violations and abuses in Rakhine State, including by the Myanmar security forces, in particular against persons belonging to the Rohingya community, including those involving the systematic use of force and intimidation, killing of men, women, and children, sexual violence, and including the destruction and burning of homes and property.’

The statement called on the government ‘to ensure no further excessive use of military force in Rakhine state, to restore civilian administration and apply the rule of law.’

The statement was watered down by Myanmar ally China. They weakened the language on citizenship rights and rejected a demand that Myanmar allow a UN human rights mission into the country. But at least they agreed to the highly critical statement – as did Myanmar’s other security council ally, Russia.

Russia was being pressed by its Muslim-majority republic of Chechnya to abandon its military and diplomatic support for the Myanmar regime.

Myannar’s response was to criticise the UN statement, saying that it ‘could potentially and seriously harm the bilateral negotiations between the two countries which have been proceeding smoothly and expeditiously’.

Perhaps any lack of negotiating smoothness is actually due to Myanmar insisting that those returning must be verified, and Bangladesh refusing to register the refugees.

UN paymaster the USA not only agreed the security council statement, but beefed up its own response.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson was due to visit Myanmar this month. Tillerson planned to meet Suu Kyi as well as army chief and war criminal General Min Aung Hlaing.

The US said it was seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis but hadn’t ruled out sanctions.

Also, draft US legislation would reduce military cooperation with Myanmar and impose visa bans on senior Myanmar military officers considered responsible for human rights violations.


November 2017 – Contents🔺

ASEAN meeting ignored the Rohingya

A statement issued after the recent ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Manila attended by Suu Kyi mentioned the importance of humanitarian relief provided for victims of natural disasters in Vietnam and a recent urban battle with Islamist militants in the Philippines, as well as ‘affected communities’ in northern Rakhine state, but made no mention of the exodus of Rohingya Muslims.

However, Suu Kyi did apparently give an assurance about the return of refugees, after two unnamed ASEAN leaders raised the issue during a plenary session. According to a Philippines presidential spokesperson, Suu Kyi said:

‘The process of repatriation of IDPs [internally displaced persons] will conclude within three weeks after a signing of a memorandum of agreement for understanding with Bangladesh.’

Suu Kyi has benefited from ASEAN’s policy of non-interference – but when she led the fight for democracy in Myanmar two decades ago, she opposed that policy.

In a 1999 editorial in Thailand’s The Nation newspaper Suu Kyi said that ASEAN’s policy of non-interference was ‘just an excuse for not helping’. ‘In this day and age,’ she wrote, ‘you cannot avoid interference in the matters of other countries.

How times change, eh, Suu?


November 2017 – Contents🔺

Repatriation agreement signed

Bangladesh signed a deal with Myanmar to return the Rohingya. Myanmar’s conditions of return remained unclear, and many Rohingya were understandably terrified of being sent back.

Myanmar military head and war criminal Min Aung Hlaing told US secretary of state Rex Tillerson that ‘the Bengalis’ could return to Myanmar only if ‘real citizens’ accepted them – meaning Rakhine Buddhists.

A joint working group was due to be set up within three weeks. Bangladesh said that an arrangement for repatriation ‘will be concluded in a speedy manner’ and the return of the refugees should start within two months.

Aid groups scrambled to respond to Myanmar’s controversial plans to create new internment camps for displaced Rohingya.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch called Myanmar’s camp proposal ‘a human rights disaster‘. Robertson said:

‘The international community will rue the day if they decide to go along with this plan…for an open-air Rohingya prison, surrounded by barbed wire, hostile security forces and hateful Rakhine communities. The international community should boycott this proposal and demand that the right to return means going back to the locations where people lived before this latest wave of ethnic cleansing, and rebuilding there.’

A spokesman for the office of the UN resident coordinator in Myanmar said: ‘The return of IDPs and refugees should be voluntary and to the places of origin where they have the highest prospect of rebuilding their lives.’

Fine words, but note the UN representative’s avoidance of the name ‘Rohingya‘, favouring Suu Kyi’s terminology: IDPs (internally displaced persons). It seemed that the new UN resident coordinator was following in the footsteps of his predecessor by downplaying human rights issues and sucking up to the Junta.

The UN’s weak approach had apparently resulted in it being sidelined by Myanmar in their plan to imprison the Rohingya. The worst outcome would be a rerun of the disastrous 1990s scenario: brutally forced repatriation, shamefully overseen by the UN.


November 2017 – Contents🔺

Pope said nothing

Photo: Zarni Phyo

During his visit to Myanmar, Pope Francis, like Suu Kyi, disappointed the watching world by failing to speak up for the Rohingya. He took the advice of weaselly prelates not use the word ‘Rohingya’ in case Myanmar’s catholics might be put at risk.

He made a vague and waffling reference to minorities, but was shamefully silent on the plight of the Rohingya.

Pathetic, your Holiness.

November 2017 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

December 2017
Report: methodical rape by Myanmar soldiers
At least 6,700 killed
Number of refugees now 647,000
UN human rights chief: Suu Kyi should face justice
UN Myanmar critic won’t seek second term


December 2017 – Contents🔺

Report: methodical rape by Myanmar soldiers

The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar security forces was sweeping and methodical, according to a report by Associated Press (AP).

AP interviwed 29 women and girls who’d fled to Bangladesh. They were from several refugee camps, and were interviewed separately and extensively. Ranging in age from 13 to 35, they described assaults between October 2016 and mid-September.

The interviewees recounted experiences of sexual assault by troops that revealed a sickening sameness and a distinct pattern to the abuse. The horrific accounts typically involve the murder of men, children and babies, and the gang-rape of women.

The testimonies support the UN’s contention that Myanmar’s armed forces were systematically employing rape. UN special representative on sexual violence Pramila Patten said that sexual violence was used as a ‘calculated tool of terror to force targeted populations to flee‘.

Bangladeshi government health officer Dr Misbah Uddin Ahmed said the women who managed to overcome their fear and make it to his clinics were usually the ones in the deepest trouble. Many others suffered in silence, he said.

Doctors and aid workers were said to be stunned at the sheer volume of rapes, and to suspect that only a fraction of raped women had come forward. Médecins Sans Frontières doctors had treated 113 sexual violence survivors since August, a third of them under 18. The youngest was nine.

When journalists asked about rape allegations during a government-organised trip to Rakhine in September, Rakhine State minister for security and border affairs Colonel Phone Tint said:

‘These women were claiming they were raped, but look at their appearances — do you think they are that attractive to be raped?’

The very attractive Colonel Phone Tint | Photo EPA

The use of sexual violence by Myanmar’s security forces isn’t new. Before she became Myanmar’s civilian leader, Suu Kyi herself condemned military abuses. In a video message to a 2011 Nobel Women’s Initiative conference in Montebello, Canada, she said:

‘Rape is rife. It is used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country.’

But the new Suu Kyi dismissed accounts of systematic rape as lies. In December 2016, her government department issued a press release disputing Rohingya women’s reports of sexual assaults, accompanied by an image showing the words ‘Fake Rape.’


December 2017 – Contents🔺

At least 6,700 killed

Surveys by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Bangladeshi refugee camps indicated that at least 6,700 Rohingya were estimated to have been killed (many more than Myanmar’s official figure of 400). This included at least 730 children below the age of five.

According to MSF, some 4,625 people were killed by gunshots, 600 were burnt to death in their houses, and 335 were beaten to death.

Some children were killed by landmines.


December 2017 – Contents🔺

Number of refugees now 647,000

A news release from the International Organization for Migration gave a revised figure of 647,000 refugees having fled to Bangladesh since August.


December 2017 – Contents🔺

UN human rights chief: Suu Kyi should face justice

UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told UK national broadcaster the BBC that the perpetrators of the horrors committed against the Rohingya, including not only General Hlaing but Suu Kyi herself, should face justice – and could be charged with genocide.

In an interview for the BBC TV investigative documentary programme Panorama, Hussein called for a criminal investigation. He said:

‘Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high level.’

Hussein said that even if Suu Kyi didn’t order the ethnic cleansing, knowing about the crime and doing nothing to stop it would make her culpable.

The programme’s investigations confirmed UN findings that Myanmar security forces began systematic destruction in Rakhine before the Rohingya insurgent attacks in August.


December 2017 – Contents🔺

UN Myanmar critic won’t seek second term

UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein – the only top UN official to unreservedly criticize Myanmardramatically announced his decision not to seek a second term in September 2018.

In a statement to his staff, Hussein explained his decision not to seek a second term:

‘To do so, in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication, muting a statement of advocacy, or lessening the independence and integrity of my voice.’

It was uncertain whether Hussein’s boss, UN secretary general António Guterres, would support him seeking a second term – or whether the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN security council would use their influence to block it. Hussein had criticised them all.

Besides denouncing the Chinese-backed government of Myanmar, Hussein had critised the Russian-backed government of Syria, US president Trump’s travel ban on citizens of Muslim-majority countries and Trump’s response to US white supremacist demonstrations.

After his recent call for those responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya to be held to account, Hussein apparently tried (and presumably failed) to get the UN to investigate those crimes.

Hussein, the first human rights chief from the Middle East, is a sharp critic of violations by Arab governments; a Muslim who condemned Islamist militants; and a Jordanian prince who discarded his title to take the job and become an advocate for victims.

Hussein’s reference to ‘the current geopolitical context‘ confirmed the toothlessness of the UN, which is largely funded and controlled by the USA. UN agencies trying to uphold fundamental human rights were apparently deeply worried about US president Trump’s rhetoric on key issues, from migrants to torture – and the consequent prospect of a post-human-rights world.

It was still not too late for our former human rights heroine Suu Kyi to redeem herself and restore some balance by speaking out on behalf of the Rohingya – and all other oppressed people. You could have done it, Suu.

December 2017 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

January 2018
Awkward silence
A solution: autonomy
Suu Kyi friend resigns
Number of refugees now 688,000


January 2018 – Contents🔺

Awkward silence

Hello? Ethnic cleansing? War crimes? Crimes against humanity? Possible genocide? Anyone?

The awkward silence from the world community shamed the United Nations. It might be thought that because the UN was behaving like a toothless tiger, it didn’t have the constitutional right to intervene – but it did have the right.

A 2005 UN world summit meeting agreed that all countries have a shared responsibility to prevent and respond to the most serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The summit agreed that the principle of state sovereignty carried with it the obligation of the state to protect its own citizens. However, if a state was unable or unwilling to do so, the international community was empowered to intervene. The summit outcome document says:

‘…we are prepared to take collective action in a timely and decisive manner … should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.’

To its great shame, the UN never has taken such action – and probably never will.


January 2018 – Contents🔺

A solution: autonomy

The refugee return plan outlined in October was due to go ahead despite protests from the Rohingya and the UN. To the watching world, the plan looked mad: move 200,000 refugees to camps in Myanmar. With no official UN involvement, there was no security guarantee.

The only viable solution was for an autonomous region to be given to the Rohingya by Myanmar, and perhaps Bangladesh. This solution was suggested in a 2015 book chapter by Anthony Ware (senior lecturer at Deakin University, Melbourne, and former director of the Australia Myanmar Institute).

In the conclusion to his chapter, Ware argued that:

‘…the Rakhine State conflict should not be treated as a special case completely independent from the broader discussions about national identities and possible semi-autonomous and federal state arrangement to ensure the voice of minorities in their own affairs… both Rakhine and so-called ‘Rohingya’ need to be part of this process if peace is to be achieved.’

(Ware’s expression “so-called ‘Rohingya’” looks bad, but I hope it’s a pedantic reference to the uncertain origins of the name, rather than a clichéd expression of anti-Rohingya propaganda. Ware’s well researched chapter shows an unusally balanced and impartial point of view.)

A semi-autonomous and federal state arrangement could be implemented by Myanmar and, perhaps, Bangladesh. Interested superpowers the USA, China and Russia could urge them to do that. It’d bring peace and stability to the region, and would therefore be in everyone’s interest.

So, probably not going to happen…


January 2018 – Contents🔺

Suu Kyi friend resigned

Bill Richardson, a seasoned US diplomat and friend of Suu Kyi, resigned from an international panel set up by Suu Kyi to advise on the Rohingya crisis. The panel was set up last year to advise on implementing the findings of the Annan commission. See August and September, 2017, above.)

Richardson, a former adviser to the US Clinton administration, had known Suu Kyi for decades, and visited her while she was under house arrest in the 1990s. Richardson claimed that the panel was a ‘whitewash‘ and accused Suu Kyi of lacking ‘moral leadership‘.

Suu Kyi had been ‘furious’ when he raised the case of two Reuters reporters on trial in Myanmar. The journalists had been charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act (a left-over British colonial law) while covering the Rohingya crisis.

Suu Kyi ‘exploded‘ at Richardson when he mentioned the journalists, he told the New York Times. ‘Her face was quivering, and if she had been a little closer to me, she might have hit me, she was so furious,’ Richardson said.

Richardson, who was acting in a non-official personal capacity, told Reuters that he’d resigned from the advisory board because it was a ‘whitewash‘, and he didn’t want to be part of a ‘cheerleading squad for the government‘.

He was ‘alarmed by the lack of sincerity with which the critical issue of citizenship was discussed,’ he wrote in a statement. Annan had emphasised this issue in his report, which had a positive reception from the Myanmar government. (See above.)

Richardson’s account alarmingly implied that Annan’s commission was a cynical ploy by Myanmar to deflect international criticism; and that Suu Kyi had broken her promise of harmony

Further light was shed on Suu Kyi’s attitude by an excellent BBC collection of the things Suu Kyi had said – from her idealistic Nobel prize speech to her more recent weaselly pronouncements.


January 2018 – Contents🔺

Number of refugees now 688,000

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHR), the number of refugees registered since 25 August was 688.000. The OHCR report said this was causing suffering on a catastrophic scale. Did you read that, Suu?

January 2018 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

February 2018

The island was back – and was ‘very nice’

Reuters reported that Bangladesh planned to relocate 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a flood-prone and uninhabitable island. Premier Sheikh Hasina absurdly described the island as ‘very nice’.

British and Chinese engineers were helping to prepare the island to receive refugees before the onset of monsoon rains. Plans showed metal-roofed, brick buildings raised on pylons and fitted with solar panels. There were due to be 1,440 blocks, each housing 16 families.

Bangladeshi premier Sheikh Hasina first planned to forcibly move Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugees to the island, Bhasan Char (originally called Thengar Char, also known as Char piya) in January 2017. (See above).

Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island formed in the Bay of Bengalabout a decade ago by sediment from a river, has been used sporadically by fishermen and by farmers grazing their animals. It regularly floods during the April-September monsoons. Pirates operate in that area and kidnap fishermen for ransom.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said in February 2017 of the planned relocation:

‘This is a human rights and humanitarian disaster in the making, and the Bangladesh government should be ashamed for even considering it, much less asking for a budget for it from every international donor they come across. What Bangladesh is really proposing is to put the Rohingya out of sight and out of mind on an island, and hope they are forgotten by the international community.’

In October 2017 Hasina confirmed that Bangladesh was planning to build temporary shelters for the Rohingya on the island with the help of international aid agencies. (See above).

Explaining the new announcement, prime ministerial political adviser Hossain Toufique Imam said that once there, the Rohingya would only be able to leave the island if they wanted to go back to Myanmar or were selected for asylum by a third country. ‘It’s not a concentration camp, but there may be some restrictions’. he added. The island would have a police encampment with 40-50 armed personnel.

Imam said that the question of selecting Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar to move to the island had not been finalised, but it could be decided by lottery or on a voluntary basis.

At a news conference in Dhaka, premier Hasina said of the island, ‘from a natural point of view it is very nice‘. Riiiight. Hasina said that although the initial plan was to put 100,000 people there, it had room for as many as 1 million. She said that this was a temporary arrangement to ease congestion at Cox’s Bazar. She didn’t mention her concerns about the refugees’ impact on tourism at the Cox’s Bazar holiday resort.

(See next island item.)


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March 2018
Report: 43,000 missing, presumed killed
Island costs – no support


March 2018 – Contents🔺

Report: 43,000 missing, presumed killed

US magazine Time reported that more than 43,000 Rohingya parents were lost, presumed dead since Myanmar’s military crackdown last August, according to the summary of a fact-finding mission to Bangladesh by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

This far exceeded Myanmar’s official figure of 400 Rohingya killed, and Médecins Sans Frontières’ December estimate of 6,700 killed.

Based on surveys of refugees in Bangladesh, 28,300 Rohingya children had lost at least one parent, while an additional 7,700 children had lost both parents, according to APHR, citing data from the Bangladeshi government. That put the estimate of ‘lost’ parents as high as 43,700.


March 2018 – Contents🔺

Island costs – no support

Reuters reported that Bangladesh, having failed to get support from aid agencies (despite premier Hasina, in October 2017, prematurely praising aid agencies  for their help), was paying the $280m cost of building homes on flood-prone island Bhasan Char, and of fortifying the island against monsoon flooding and cyclones.

An earlier report revealed the involvement of Chinese construction company Sinohydro – better known for building China’s disastrous Three Gorges Dam – and British engineering and environmental hydraulics consultancy HR Wallingford, the privatised government establishment formerly known as the Hydraulics Research Station. (Neo-liberalism rules! Create a useful public institution paid for by tax, then privatise it because of dodgy 1980s economic theory, so that it can then profit – with minimal oversight – from the dodgy plans, rejected by all NGOs, of a dodgy premier.)

A Reuters graphic explained the development of the island.

A Bangladeshi minister said that no refugees would be moved against their will. This was an improvement on the earlier suggestion of a possible lottery to decide who would be moved.

March 2018 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

April 2018
ICC seeks jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar
Security council visit


April 2018 – Contents🔺

ICC seeks jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar

International criminal court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wanted to investigate Myanmar for crimes against the Rohingya. She was asking for a ruling on whether she could go ahead on the basis that although Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome ICC statute, Bangladesh is. She said:

‘The prosecution seeks … to verify that the court has territorial jurisdiction when persons are deported from the territory of a state which is not a party to the Statute directly into the territory of a state which is a party to the Statute.’

The ICC doesn’t have a great track record and lacks international support. The USA, Russia and China haven’t joined, and continue to obstruct its functioning in the UN security council. It has no enforcement officers – it relies on signatory countries carrying out their own arrests. It didn’t look hopeful – but at least Bensouda was signalling that war criminal General Hlaing was a wanted man.


April 2018 – Contents🔺

Security council visit

It was reported that senior diplomats from each of the 15 UN security council member states would travel to Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The ambassadors were due to visit refugee camps in Bangladesh before meeting Suu Kyi and going by helicopter to Rakhine state,

In an attempt to restore her battered reputation, Suu Kyi also agreed to allow UN human rights and development organisations to enter Myanmar to prepare the ground for the large-scale return of Rohingya Muslims.

The presidential election last month of Win Myint, a close Suu Kyi ally and a more assertive figure than his predecessor, was said to have strengthened Suu Kyi’s position.

Maybe there was hope for our former heroine – and for the 1m Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh – after all.

Super-traders and serial security council vetoers Russia and China could persuade their trading partner, the Myanmar junta, to implement a semi-autonomous federated region – to be overseen by UN peacekeepers – where the Rohingya refugees could rebuild their shattered and suspended lives. In the circumstances, issues of citizenship and military accountability could be deferred.

April 2018 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

June 2018
China ‘to build houses’ in Rakhine State
Amnesty and Reuters: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing


June 2018 – Contents🔺

China ‘to build houses’ in Rakhine State

1533664333-picsay
Photo: Foreign ministry of Bangladesh

China, evidently not particularly interested in human rights but perhaps needing regional stability, moved sluggishly in the direction of helping the Rohingya refugees to return home.

Chinese rising star, foreign minister and powerful state councillor Wang Yi told Bangladesh foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali at a bilateral meeting in Beijing that China would improve the resettlement environment in Rakhine State by helping with building houses and creating economic opportunities.

Better than Myanmar’s prison camps, at least.


June 2018 – Contents🔺

Amnesty and Reuters: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing

Two new reports show that Myanmar planned the ethnic cleansing, and that the programme began before the 25 August attacks by Rohingya insurgent group ARSA.

In October 2017, a UN report found that the Myanmar military started deliberately destabilising the northern Rakhine State area before the ‘terrorist insurrection’. (See above.)

A new investigation by human rights NGO Amnesty Internationalconfirmed this in shocking detail. Amnesty’s report included detailed evidence showing that the Myanmar military subjected Rohingya men and boys to arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and torture in the weeks leading up to 25 August 2017.

The torture included beatings, burning, waterboarding and sexual violence, with the perpetrators trying to extract confessions or information about ARSA.

Myanmar military commander-in-chief and de-facto dictator Senior General Min Aung Hlaing ordered the deployment of shock troop battalions of the 33rd and 99th Light Infantry Divisions (LIDs) to northern Rakhine State in August 2017. Amnesty International published a report in June 2017 showing that soldiers from the 33rd and 99th LIDs committed war crimes against civilians from ethnic minorities in northern Shan State.

The new Amnesty report implicated Hlaing and 12 other named individuals in crimes against humanity committed during the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population in northern Rakhine State.

A separate investigation by international news agency Reuters, titled Tip of the Spear, confirmed Amnesty’s findings. Reuters presented evidence including social media posts by soldiers to show that hundreds of battle-hardened soldiers from the elite 33rd and 99th LIDs (referred to by Western military analysts as Myanmar’s ‘tip of the spear‘) flew into Northern Rakhine in early August, weeks before the ARSA ‘insurrection’.

Suu Kyi’s government said in a statement at the time that the deployment would bring ‘peace, stability and security‘. But the influx of heavily armed combat troops with a long history of human rights abuses had the opposite effect – it stoked fear and tension across a volatile region.

The Reuters report also showed the close link between those elite troops and war criminal Hlaing.

June 2018 – Contents🔺


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July 2018

Third report: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing

Following the June Amnesty and Reuters reports, Southeast Asian human rights NGO Fortify Rights produced its own independent report claiming that Myanmar made meticulous preparations for attacks against the Rohingya with ‘genocidal intent‘ in the weeks before last year’s purge.

The 162-page report, ‘They gave them long swords‘ was based on testimony from 254 survivors, officials and workers over a 21-month period. It named 22 military and police officers as directly responsible for the campaign, including war criminal General Hlaing.

July 2018 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

August2018
Japan: Myanmar agreed to build villages
UN report: ‘genocide’


August 2018 – Contents🔺

Japan: Myanmar agreed to build villages

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Photo: Ministry for foreign affairs, Japan

Japan said that Myanmar had accepted a proposal to expedite the process of building modern villages for returning Rohingya.

At a meeting in Dhaka, Bangladeshi and Japanese foreign ministers Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and Taro Kono discussed Japan’s five proposal for the quick and sustainable return of the Rohingya.

After the meeting, Ali said that Japan had agreed to provide the necessary support for the repatriation and resettlement of the Rohingyas. In a separate briefing, a Japanese spokesperson said that Kono had shared the five proposals with Myanmar, and that Myanmar ‘gladly accepted’ the proposals.

The Japanese spokesperson said that it was ‘very rare’ for a Japanese foreign minister to visit a country twice in a year. But Kono had visited Bangladesh and Myanmar twice in six months ‘because he saw some positive developments regarding the Rakhine State such as setting up independent enquiry commission by the Myanmar government and signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Myanmar and the UN agencies’.

The June 2018 MoU and Myanmar’s July 2018 ‘independent’ commission of enquiry have both been widely discredited. The secret MoU was rejected by Rohingya representatives and was criticised by NGOs. Myanmar said that the July commission of enquiry would ‘investigate the allegations of human rights violations‘, but chair Rosario Manalo (an obscure Philippine diplomat) said that there would be ‘no blaming of anybody’.

Rising star Kono has been described as a ‘maverick’ politician. His misplaced enthusiasm for the failed MoU and the useless commission perhaps showed the downside of a maverick mind.

Konos’s five proposals urged Myanmar to:

  1. Fully cooperate with the independent commission of enquiry [presumably a reference to the July 2018 commission].
  2. Fully cooperate with UN agencies according to the MoU.
  3. Close the camps for internally displaced persons in Myanmar.
  4. Expedite the process of building modern villages.
  5. Conduct regular briefings in Rohingya refugee camps about the steps being taken to enable their safe return.

The Japanese spokesperson’s enthusiastic claim that the proposals were ‘glady accepted‘ was overblown. The Japanese foreign affairs website said that Suu Kyi ‘responded that she understood the importance of the prompt implementation of the proposals offered by Minister Kono, and that the Government of Myanmar would put them in execution.’

At a press conference after Kono’s meeting with her on 6 August 2018, Suu Kyi said, ‘Japan expressed its interest and discussed the Rakhine issue as a good friend who is trying to find out [how] to help solve our problem. We really value such an approach.’

Yeh, right.

However, given that Myanmar paymaster China had spoken recently about building houses (see June 2018, above), perhaps Myanmar was rethinking its plan to place returnees in camps.

The prospect for Rohingya refugees of new homes and villages in Myanmar was presumably better than Myanmar’s prison camps – or Bangladesh’s prison island.


August 2018 – Contents🔺

UN report: ‘genocide’

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Paper bag tiger puppet: Amanda Forman

The paper tiger roared! The UN’s fact-finding mission, despite being underpowered (see March 2017, above) and banned from Myanmar, delivered a damning report, saying that Myanmar leaders must be investigated for genocidal intent, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Genocidal intent is genocide according to the 1948 UN genocide convention, which defined genocide as the ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’. This was codified in UN treaty 1021, which was ratified by Myanmar in 1949.

A BBC report explained the UN mission’s painstaking approach to its investigation, which also looked into rights abuses in Kachin and Shan states.

The UN report named, shamed and blamed the usual supects – including de facto dictator and war criminal General Min Aung Hlaing.

The report called for the UN security council to refer Hlaing and his gang to the International Criminal Court, or to create an ad hoc tribunal. Needless to say, when this was put to the council, Russia and China vetoed it.

The report accused Suu Kyi – and the civilian part of the government she controlled – of lying, denying, obstructing investigations, destroying evidence, and contributing to the atrocity. it said:

‘The State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has not used her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events, or seek alternative avenues to meet a responsibility to protect the civilian population. On the contrary, the civilian authorities have spread false narratives; denied the Tatmadaw’s wrongdoing; blocked independent investigations, including of the Fact-Finding Mission; and overseen destruction of evidence. Through their acts and omissions, the civilian authorities have contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes.’

Outgoing UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein (see above) said that Suu Kyi should have resigned last year. He told the BBC that she should have considered returning to house arrest rather than excusing the military.

August 2018 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

September 2018
Reuters journalists jailed
ICC: Myanmar can be prosecuted
US report avoids the word ‘genocide’


September 2018 – Contents🔺

Reuters journalists jailed

Perhaps in a defiant response to the recent damning UN report (see above), a  court in Yangon (Myanmar’s largest city, formerly its capital, also known as Rangoon) sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison on the trumped-up charge of stealing state secrets.

The Reuters journalists were charged under Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, created by the British colonial government in 1923 to criminalise the sharing of almost any kind of information held by the government. Under the act, the Myanmar government can say that any information is an official secret, and can thereby hide corruption and wrongdoing. Empire legacy had struck again.

The British government, accepting that the law violated freedom of expression, replaced their Official Secrets Act in 1989. The Myanmar junta clearly found the old repressive version just fine.

The two journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were investigating violence against the Rohingya when they were clumsily framed by the police. The Myanmar police force is, of course, controlled by war criminal General Hlaing.

In his ridiculous ruling, ‘judge’ U Ye Lwin said that the journalists ‘tried many times to get their hands on secret documents and pass them to others. They did not behave like normal journalists.’

The supreme court of Myanmar supposedly has supervisory powers over all Myanmar courts, and could therefore have righted the wrong. However, the chief justice of the supreme court, Htun Htun Oo, is an ex-military man.


September 2018 – Contents🔺

ICC: Myanmar can be prosecuted

The international criminal court (ICC) ruled that it could prosecute Myanmar for alleged crimes against the Rohingya.

The ruling was in reponse to the question put by ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in April 2018 (see above) as to whether an investigation could proceed on the basis that although the alleged crime was committed in Myanmar – which isn’t a signatory to the ICC Rome treaty – the crime was, in effect, completed in Bangladesh, which is a signatory.

Bensouda’s question was about the ‘alleged’ criminal deportation of the Rohingya. However, the ICC judges’ ruling went further, saying that the court could also exercise its jurisdiction with regard to any other crime set out in the Rome statute, ‘such as the crimes against humanity of persecution and/or other inhumane acts‘.

The ICC was now due to begin an investigation, as a prelude to prosecution. This was likely to take many years, and – with the inevitable lack of cooperation from Myanmar – would be difficult to complete.

However, it was another important nail in the political coffins of human rights betrayer Suu Kyi and war criminal General Hlaing.

September 2018 – Contents🔺


September 2018 – Contents🔺

US report avoids the word ‘genocide’

The US state (foreign affairs) department quietly released the results of its investigation into Myanmar’s military campaign against the Rohingya. The report detailed many atrocities but stopped short of calling the crackdown either genocide or crimes against humanity — two designations with legal ramifications.

The state department investigation, confirming what other reports have said (see above), found that Myanmar’s military operations were ‘well-planned and coordinated‘, suggesting the insurgent strike was little more than an excuse.

September 2018 – Contents🔺


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

October 2018

UN fact-finder: genocide continuing

Genocide is still taking place against Rohingya Muslims remaining in Myanmar, according to UN investigators.

Marzuki Darusman, chair of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar (see above), told a news conference that thousands of Rohingya were still fleeing to Bangladesh, and the estimated 250,000 to 400,000 who have remained following last year’s brutal military campaign continue to suffer the most severe restrictions and repression. ‘It is an ongoing genocide,’ he told a news conference.


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New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺

December 2018

Two more groups call it genocide

It was genocide, according to two new reports.

The first report was by US pro bono law firm and global NGO Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG), which worked with the US state (foreign affairs) department on their fact-finding report. The US state department stopped short of calling the violence genocide (see above). PILPG reviewed the same evidence as the state department, but undertook its own legal analysis to reach its conclusion: ‘…there are reasonable grounds to believe that genocide was committed against the Rohingya‘.

The second report, by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), said, ‘There is mounting evidence to suggest these acts represent a genocide of the Rohingya population’.

The USHMM report also warned that the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar are still under threat of genocide, and called on the international community to prevent future atrocities and hold those responsible accountable.

New ethnic cleansing – contents🔺


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Contents🔺

Footnotes – contents

Serious stuff
1. Dr Nora Rowley
2. Some background information
3. Aljazeera map of fleeing Rohingya
4. International State Crime Initiative
5. Feierstein/ISCI’s six steps to genocide
6. Genocide Watch
7. Genocide Watch’s ten steps to genocide
8. The Bone Sparrow
9. A Nobel Peace Prize winner is standing idly by as her country moves closer to genocide

Trivia
10. Dave Lee Travis
11. Title recall
12. Suu me


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 1

Dr Nora Rowley

Dr Rowley, besides being an accomplished photographer, is a human rights activist and advocate for the Rohingya. I contacted her about this post. She replied, saying that Suu Kyi is powerless to change anything because the military still control the government, and they continue to oppress the Rohingya and other minority groups.

Fair point, Doc, but even so, Suu Kyi’s attitude stinks. She has the world’s ear and, as the Dalai Lama has told her, could at least speak out on behalf of the Rohingya. Instead, she tells the UN that she won’t use their name.

Back to link🔺


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 2

Some background information

a) The Rohingyas – The most persecuted people on Earth?

This 2015 Economist article explains the complex history of the conflict in exhaustive detail, with the aid of a map and some charts.

b) Secessionist Aspects to the Buddhist-Muslim Conflict in Rakhine State, Myanmar

This 2015 chapter by Dr Anthony Ware, senior lecturer in international and community development at Deakin University, Australia, from the book Territorial Separatism in Global Politics gives an excellent and fair perspective on the struggle. Ware presciently concludes that semi-autonomous and federal state arrangements may be needed to achieve peace.

Back to link🔺


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 3

Aljazeera map of fleeing Rohingya

March 2017

image

Back to link🔺


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 4

International State Crime Initiative

This UK research centre aims to further the understanding of state crime, nicely defined as organisational deviance violating human rights. Penny Green, professor of law and globalisation at Queen Mary University, London, and a director of ISCI, said in the Economist article referenced above that the situation had reached stage four of ISCI’s six stages of genocide.

Back to link🔺


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 5

Feierstein/ISCI’s six steps to genocide

1. Stigmatisation and dehumanisation ✔
2. Harassment, violence and terror ✔
3. Isolation and segregation ✔
4. Systematic weakening of the group ✔
5. Mass annihilation
6. Erasure from the country’s history

Formulated by Daniel Feierstein in his book, Genocide as Social Practice, and adapted by ISCI (above). Feierstein is director of the Centre of Genocide Studies at the National University of Tres de Febrero, Buenos Aires. He gave his views on the legal difficulties of holding modern genocide perpetrators to account in this Logos article.

Back to link🔺


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 6

Genocide Watch

This US NGO co-ordinates the International Alliance to End Genocide, a coalition of 40 campaign groups. A Genocide Watch statement on the Rohingya said that Myanmar may have reached stages nine and ten of their ten stages of genocide.

Back to link🔺


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 7

Genocide Watch’s ten steps to genocide

1. Classification ✔
2. Symbolisation ✔
3. Discrimination ✔
4. Dehumanisation ✔
5. Organisation ✔
6. Polarisation ✔
7. Preparation ✔
8. Persecution ✔
9. Extermination ❔
10. Denial ❔

Formulated by Gregory Stanton, founder and president of Genocide Watch (above), and research professor in genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University, Virginia, USA.

Back to link🔺


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 8

The Bone Sparrow

I came across this beautiful and moving childrens’ book by Australian author Zana Fraillon about a Rohingya boy in a detention camp.

Back to link🔺


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 9

A Nobel Peace Prize winner is standing idly by as her country moves closer to genocide

This article on liberal news website Vox is one of the best I’ve come across.


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 10

Dave Lee Travis

Dave Lee Travis, also known as DLT, was a very successful UK BBC radio DJ and regular Top of the Pops TV presenter in the 1970s and 80s. On his popular weekend breakfast radio show he called himself The Hairy Cornflake.

In the 1980s and 90s Travis presented a BBC World Service music request show supposedly much enjoyed by Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest.

After her release in 2010, Suu Kyi spoke publicly of her regard for Travis. This charmingly incongruous pairing caught the UK public’s attention. Suu Kyi met Travis at the BBC in London. The reputation of both has suffered since that meeting.

The Lady and the Cornflake | Photo: BBC

DLT’s well known downfall: the little-known facts

After a high-profile arrest in 2012 by London Metropolitan Police’s Operation Yewtree, which was investigating historical allegations of sexual abuse by DJ Jimmy Savile and others, in 2013 Travis was charged (under his real name of David Griffin) with 14 offences.

In 2014 he was found not guilty on twelve counts, and the jury failed to reach a verdict on the remaining two counts. At a second trial he was found guilty of one count of indecent assault on a 22-year-old woman in 1995.

Travis was sentenced to three months imprisonment, suspended for two years. The judge said that the offences of other Yewtree convictees were of a different order of magnitude. Travis lost an appeal in 2015.

To cover his three-year legal costs, he sold his mansion and moved to a bungalow. He lost his commercial radio work when he was arrested. He says that as a result of the long, drawn-out legal process his wife’s health has suffered. (Send him a card, Suu. He’s paid his debt – and more.)

Or was it Bob?

Photo: ITV / Rex Features

Some say that Suu Kyi got her World Service presenters mixed up, and she was actually thinking of a similar show presented by Bob Holness, much-loved presenter of 80s UK TV teenage quiz show Blockbusters. In any case, at the time of Suu Kyi’s UK visit in 2010, Holness was very ill, and probably wouldn’t have been able to meet her. Sadly, he died in 2012, aged 83.


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 11

Title recall

Photo: Jean-Marie Perier

Hello Goodbye by The Beatles

This 1967 McCartney song was a massive hit single worldwide and a track on side two of the US Magical Mystery Tour album. Featuring Paul’s experimental minimalist lyrics, it’s beautiful but underrated (especially by John, who thought his ‘I Am The Walrus‘, the single’s B side, should have been the A side).

Copyright Northern Songs, 1967. Title borrowed and mangled without permission. (Halo goodbye – geddit? Please yourself.)


Footnotes – contents🔺
Footnote 12

Suu me

image
Photo: Peter Muhly / AFP / Getty Images

Call me Suu

Apparently, Aung San Suu Kyi’s friends call her ‘Suu’. We western liberals spent so long supporting her during her house arrest that we feel she’s a friend – one we’re a bit worried about.


That’s enough footnotes – Ed

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It’s in the blood

Her Blood is Gold Detail of painting by Kitty Star

In between
The selfish gene
And the secret part
Of the sacred heart
The red cross breed
The holy seed
The human gravy’s
Astral navies
Sail on beyond the flood
It’s in the blood

She was just thirteen
The first blood came clean
The time was night
The moon was right
All entranced
The women danced
Beneath the sky
The blossom trees grew high
Above the mud
It’s in the blood

In the month of May
The children play
The pipes of Pan
Diana’s man
Who lost his honour
To the Black Madonna
Tried to own her
Became a blood donor
A sacrificial stud
It’s in the blood

Blood is thicker than water
Water turned to wine
The wine is the blood
The blood of the lamb
Will wash away your sins and mine

So wash your bloody linen
For everyone to see
Hang out the blood cloth
Of the Red Queen
Victorious in wonderland and me

The sun returns
The fire still burns
When the blood is shed
And the king is dead
The blood is the life
So give me the knife
Vampire bat?
Don’t give me that
Ol’ superficial crud
It’s in the blood

We’ll keep the red flag
The blood rag
Flying here
We have no fear
Of Mother Russia
So brother hush your
Mouth a while
And walk a mile
In her shoes, Bud
It’s in the blood

Down the years
The hopes and fears
Of the human race
Have changed the face
Of the dreadful truth
So we say no sooth
But in the corner shops
Of the mind the penny drops
With a heavy thud
It’s in the blood


(In memory of Stan Gooch)

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Angels?

Maybe

Angels were made as
Part of the divine algorithm that
Serves to direct our immortal souls to

Yang-God

But they have acquired their
Own reality
And they like to
Help us

Try asking them to
Help you
It doesn’t need
Faith
It’s better than
Praying to
God

God’s only interested in
Your afterlife


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God the farmer?

Maybe

At the heart of the multiverse is
The Yin-Yang
The dual consciousness that
Everything is made of

After a while
It wanted
More energy

It created life
Goldilocks planets and
DNA because
Life is new energy

When a life form dies
The new energy goes
Eventually to
The Yin-Yang

It made some
Corrections like
On this planet
Wiped out the dinosaurs
With a massive
Strategically placed
Asteroid
To clear the way for
Humans because

Because of
Human consciousness
Human souls are
Super-energy

The Yin-Yang was
Originally harmonious and
Complementary but
Competition evolved

Pushy Yang got greedy
Wanted more
Super-energy

Soul goes through
Layers to be
Depersonalised
The layers are
Also dual
The energy can go to
Yin or Yang

Clever Yang made a
Fast track through
The layers to Yang:

Religion

What you believe
Determines your
Afterlife destination

Yang became God
Used human goodness
(Evolved through sociability)
To create religion

Quick Yang did a number on
Yin
Said Yang had created
Yin
Said Yin had turned evil
And had been expelled
All lies

Yin fought back
But was beaten by Yang’s PR

Support services
Including
Angels, miracles and
Divine revelations were
Provided by
God’s ineffable algorithms

God wants you
Religious and dead
Mass religious deaths are
Great for God
Religious wars are
Perfect

Presumably anticipated by
God’s algorithms
Human intelligence evolved to
The point of Enlightenment

Now that ‘God’ is dead
The super-energy from
Dead humans
No longer pours through
God’s fast track

It can now go to
Yin
Restoring balance for
A while

God the farmer
Moves on to
Other crops on
Other planets

Will slow Yin protect us from
The scorched-earth strategy of
Yang’s judgemental algorithms in
The prophesied end times to come?

Will Yin
defend its
Post-Enlightenment sustainable source of
Super-energy?

Or will Yin
lazily accept the
Massive final shot
As godless humanity
Dies?


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Loony calendar?

June 2017

In northern Sweden, some Muslims follow the Ramadan advice of the European Council of FatwaPhoto: Fredric Alm / Al Jazeera

One thing Muslims could do to cheer themselves up is: drop the lunar calendar. North-west European Muslims have got enough to worry about without facing a month of 18-hour total fasts.

(I’m not a Muslim – I’m a North-west European agnostic lapsed Christian. I don’t like religion, but at the same time I’m fascinated by it! Some of my friends are Muslims. Some of them are fasting.)

Apparently, a lunar-solar calendar was used in Arabia before Islam. A solar correction known as ‘intercalation‘ or ‘nasri‘ took account of the year and the seasons. The Islamic lunar calender was implemented, as I understand it, because intercalation was being used to allow armed violence during the months of unarmed peace. Or something like that.

The months were reorganised, and consequently the new Islamic ‘year’, starting, of course, with ‘yearzero (or one – it’s not clear) had twelve lunar months of 29 or 30 days with no intercalation, making a total of 354 or 355 days. It’s now Islamic ‘Year’ 1438 (October 2016 CE to September 2017).

So how can the Muslim ‘year’ be a year? It can’t be, of course, because it isn’t. A year is the orbital period of the earth moving around the sun: 365 or 366 calendar days. The Islamic lunar calendar – with all  due respect to a world religion with nearly two billion followers – is a loony calendar.

No doubt Muslim farmers, herders and others continued to observe lunar-solar cycles. Today, the only effect of the lunar ‘year’ on most Muslims is the timing in the solar cycle of the lunar month of Ramadan. And this is the problem.

In tropical Mecca, dawn to sunset (the Ramadan fast period specified in the Quran) at any time of year is about twelve hours – a manageable period for total fast. Also, in the tropics the difference between astronomical dawn (the start time agreed by most Muslim scholars) and sunrise is very short; in northern lattitudes it can be three or more hours.

For the diaspora, therefore, it’s more difficult than in Mecca or Medina. In the UK this year (2017) Ramadan is in June: 18 hours.

I’ve tried a long total fast for a few days. It’s hard. The spirituality is said to make it easier, but even so, it’s tough. And then, once the sunset ceremony of prayer, dates and water is over, you’re stuffing loads of food late at night. It can’t be good for your health.

So, drop the lunar calender. No offence meant, but it’s ridiculous to persist in using a yearly calendar which isn’t based on actual years. There are 12.4 lunar cycles in a year. Restore the intercalation, and fix the twelve Islamic months in a lunar-solar calendar.

Ramadan would be well positioned as month nine of twelve in an Islamic lunar-solar calender. It’d be in Autumn in the North (about ten hours daylight in London) and Spring in the South. Muslims in Dunedin, New Zealand (there are some) would have a similar fasting time.

There might be a problem relating a solar-fixed Ramadan to sightings of the new moon. If necessary, the proposed intercalation could adjust the position of Ramadan each year, so that it begins and ends on a new moon. The exact (Gregorian) date of Ramadan would then vary by several days, like Easter, which is also dependant on the moon cycle.

The dates of the surrounding lunar-solar Islamic months would also then vary, but as most Muslims use the Gregorian calendar for everyday purposes, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Yes, I know. The prophet Muhammad had a divine revelation which supposedly ordained a lunar calendar. The Quran’s verse 9:36 says, ‘Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them. And fight against the disbelievers collectively as they fight against you collectively. And know that Allah is with the righteous [who fear Him]’.

Fair enough – but the translation’s square–bracketed ‘lunar‘ suggests non-divine interpretation.

Another translation says, ‘The number of the months, with God, is twelve in the Book of God, the day that He created the heavens and the earth; four of them are sacred. That is the right religion. So wrong not each other during them. And fight the unbelievers totally even as they fight you totally and know that God is with the godfearing. Know that intercalation (nasi) is an addition to disbelief. Those who disbelieve are led to error thereby, making it lawful in one year and forbidden in another in order to adjust the number of (the months) made sacred by God and make the sacred ones permissible. The evil of their course appears pleasing to them. But God gives no guidance to those who disbelieve’.

In that translation, the twelve months aren’t said – or interpreted – to be lunar, but the intercalation needed for a lunar-solar year is said to be an error made by disbelievers.

Verse 9:37 says, ‘Indeed, the postponing [of restriction within sacred months] is an increase in disbelief by which those who have disbelieved are led [further] astray. They make it lawful one year and unlawful another year to correspond to the number made unlawful by Allah and [thus] make lawful what Allah has made unlawful. Made pleasing to them is the evil of their deeds; and Allah does not guide the disbelieving people’.

Right. Clear as mud.

I’d say: have your 12 months; make four of them sacred; but respect the sun and its seasons. Restore the intercalation and make the Islamic year an actual year. 1,500 years after the local problem with tribal fighting, how can that be an error made by disbelievers?

Another problem with my suggestion is that the beginning of each Islamic month is supposed to be determined by the sighting of a new moon. A possible compromise would be to have an extra month (call it Shams, meaning Sun) and make each month 28 days. An extra day would be needed to make a 365-day year. (See International Fixed Calendar and Foundation for the Law of Time.)

Postscript: A Muslim friend told me that one of her UK Muslim aquaintances has unilaterally decided to follow Mecca time: she fasts from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. This is an imaginative idea – probably better than trying to change a 1,400-year-old supposedly divinely ordained calendar.

Yes I know. Verse 2:187 says, ‘And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the sunset.’

But that was in tropical Arabia. Perhaps Quranic proclamations about Ramadan and the lunar calendar didn’t take into account the possibility of future worldwide diaspora.

Most modern Muslim scholars prescribe as the start time of fasting an astronomical dawn that is based on the sun being 18 degrees below the horizon; but some post-diaspora scholars have said that dispersed Muslims may observe a 6:00 am to 6:00 pm fast.

Verse 2:185 of the Quran says, ‘God does not impose any hardship upon you. He wants you to have comfort so that you may complete the fast’. Admittedly, this is in the context of postponing fast days if you’re ill or travelling, but surely the principle of kindness also applies to dispersed Muslims facing an 18-hour total fast.

Some Muslims say that the hardship of a long total fast is a test of submission to God. But according to a Hadith generally accepted as authentic (Sahih Muslim 2593) the prophet Muhammad said, ‘Allah is gentle and He loves gentleness’.

As-salāmu ʿalaykum.


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Awkward encounters with celebrities

Detail: Girl Before a Mirror by Pablo Picasso, 1932

In which I make a fool of myself with two (or three) quite famous people, discover Laurel and Hardy in the UK’s Lake District, berate touchy creatives who complain about fame, and match UK TV characters Beverly from Abigail’s Party and Alan Partridge.

Updated December 2017

🤡

If you see a famous person in public, you recognise them, but you don’t know them. You might admire them for whatever they’ve done that made them famous. Should you speak to them, or should you pretend not to notice them out of respect for their privacy? The thing is, you do know them, in a way. It’s an etiquette conundrum for the reticent British.

In recent years, I’ve had two encounters with celebrities. Neither went well.

Encounter 1
A familiar face

On the first occasion, I saw maverick UK film director Mike Leigh on a street in London’s West End. He was walking towards me and my wife on a crowded pavement. I recognised his distinctive face, but I didn’t realise at the time who he was.

I thought he was someone I knew in real life, so I started to give a facial ‘hello!’ expression, and he – generously (or perhaps instinctively), given that he obviously didn’t know me at all – started to respond with a similar expression.

image
Mike Leigh | Photo: Stuart C Wilson / Getty Images for BFI

At that point, I suddenly realised that he was actually a famous person who I didn’t personally know; and that although I recognised him, I didn’t know who he was. We were getting closer. I changed my focus to somewhere over his shoulder, neutralised my expression and walked past him. Awkward.

Encounter 2
Knowing me, not knowing you

On the second occasion, I managed to rachet up the awkwardness. UK TV comic and film actor Steve Coogan and US film actor John C Reilly came into the small country pub near Broughton-in-Furness in Cumbria (AKA the UK’s fabulous Lake District), where our party of five were having a meal.

It was a small room with two or three tables. Coogan and Reilly took off their country-style jackets and peaked caps, and sat at another table. They didn’t acknowledge us. I got the impression that perhaps they’d hoped to have the room to themselves.

We recognised them (although I had do some googling afterwards to get Reilly’s name), but we discreetly ignored them while we – and they – were eating, drinking and talking.

It was like a surreal version of Coogan and Rob Brydon‘s brilliant TV spoof restaurant tour of northern England, The Trip, but with Reilly instead of Brydon, and with us (accidentally) hearing only snatches of their conversation.

When we left I decided – emboldened by a couple of pints – to say something to them. Something amusing would be good, I thought. OK, actor-celebs want to be left alone when dining incognito. But deep down, don’t they want to be recognised? Loved, even? I was going to give them some love.

After the rest of our party had filed out, I stopped at the end of Coogan and Reilly’s table. They were deep in conversation. ‘Excuse me’, I said, ‘Sorry to interrupt you.’ They stopped talking and turned to look at me. They both looked wary.

I was going to ask Coogan, ‘Didn’t you used to be Steve Coogan?’ I thought that’d be an amusingly pseudo-stupid cliché. He’d get the joke, we’d have a laugh, and I’d go on my way. What I actually said to Coogan was, ‘Didn’t you used to be on TV?’

I don’t know why I said the wrong thing. I admire Coogan’s work, but I wasn’t particularly starstruck, so it wasn’t that. It was probably a combination of my sudden proximity to the intoxicating world of show business, my audacity tripping me up, and the beer. (And the large gin and tonic before that. Don’t worry – we had a designated driver.)

Anyway, what I actually said wasn’t amusingly pseudo-stupid – it was just stupid. I couldn’t correct myself – that would have made it worse. I could only let it lie. It lay heavily, like a fart in a lift.

Coogan and Reilly both looked – understandably – taken aback. They looked at each other. They shifted in their seats. Coogan said, ‘Er…’ He looked cornered, as if he was taking my question seriously but realised there was no way to answer it.

The atmosphere darkened. For a moment, I thought they might get up and attack me. (Reilly’s a big man who looks like he’s been in a few punch-ups; and Coogan had a dangerous look about him. I’m a big man, but I’m in bad shape*. I wouldn’t have fancied my chances.) Time seemed to have slowed down. Actually it had only been a second or two since I’d spoken.

‘Just kidding!’, I said lamely, smiling and making the universal peace gesture of outward palms. They seemed to relax a bit. ‘It’s nice here, isn’t it’, I added even more lamely, gesturing at the room. (It was a lovely little pub, with excellent food.) They looked relieved, and nodded in agreement. I think one of them said, ‘Yes, it is.’

It was a save, kind of. ‘Bye then!’, I said. I think one of them replied, ‘Yeah, bye’, as I turned and left (not too hastily, I’d like to think).

image
Steve Coogan | Photo: Larry Busacca / Getty Images John C Reilly | Photo: Scott Gries / Getty Images

When I told our party about this awkward encounter, my sister (who’d hosted our meal and had rented our holiday cottage, and consequently felt even more entitled than usual to judge my behaviour) was horrified. Disgusted, even. She said I shouldn’t have done that. Annoyingly, she was right.

🤡

Postscript 1
Laurel and Hardy in the Lakes

I found out that Coogan and Reilly were making a BBC film, Stan and Ollie, about Laurel and Hardy‘s swansong 1953 UK tour. (Oliver Hardy became ill during the tour; he died four years later.) Stan Laurel was born in Ulverston in what’s now south Cumbria, so presumably that’s why Coogan and Reilly were in the area.

We saw a film crew in the square in Broughton-in-Furness (a small market town north of Ulverston). My sister thought she saw UK film and TV actor (and former Dr Who) Christopher Eccleston; and she overheard a technician in a shop complaining that he’d been waiting eight hours for a two-minute shoot. Show business!

Apparently Laurel and Hardy attended a civic reception at Ulverston’s Coronation Hall during their 1947 tour. They appeared on the balcony, and waved to a massive crowd in the square below. Laurel was presented with a copy of his birth certificate.

image
Oliver Hardy in Ulverston, 1947 | Photo: A J Marriot

I thought that maybe the BBC film had spliced that event into the 1953 tour, and used Broughton-in-Furness as a stand-in for early 50s Ulverston.

However, apparently, Eccleston wasn’t filming Stan and Ollie, but was making a new series of Cumbria-set BBC drama The A Word. It was a coincidental glut of celebs (but, sadly, my sister didn’t accost Eccleston).

Anyway, I wish I’d known about the Stan and Ollie film at the time of my encounter with Coogan and Reilly. I could have attempted a brief, intelligent conversation about their project, instead of making my would-be-humorous interjection. I could have said, ‘It’s Laurel and Hardy, isnt it?’

Oh well. You always think afterwards about how an unsatisfactory encounter could have gone better. At least I didn’t ask for a selfie. I should have done, really.

(The film’s due to be released in 2018.)

🤡

Postscript 2
Steve Garbo – the curse of fame

According to Wikipedia, Coogan likes to keep himself private, and has said ‘I have never wanted to be famous’.

Greta Coogan

Coogan’s proactive contribution to the UK Leveson Inquiry into illegal press intrusion was admirable and effective. His legal team forced an uber-hacker to say who instructed him to hack Coogan. Coogan got hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages from Mirror Group Newspapers after they – eventually – admitted hacking phones and covering up unlawful activities. (Kerching!)

But, ‘never wanted to be famous’? Really?

What did he think would happen when he worked hard to become a very successful TV comedian and film actor? If you succeed at that, you get famous. Job satisfaction, awards and peer-approval are all very well, but in that line of work fame is a true measure of your success. If Coogan ‘never wanted’ to be famous, he could have done something else.

Sensitive creatives who complain about fame probably did want it – craved it, even – but then couldn’t cope with it when they got it. That’s fair enough, but when they then publicly complain about their fame, it grates with the audience whose appreciation gave it to them.

Anyway, sorry, Steve, for adding my own rubbish intrusion. (I’ve emailed him via his production company, and invited him to read this. I don’t suppose he will, but you never know.)

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Postscript 3
Beverly and Alan – a happy coincidence

It occurred to me that Mike Leigh and Steve Coogan have something in common apart from me having seen them in the flesh. They’ve both created brilliant but monstrous UK TV comic characters who expose the terrible cracks in the facade of working-class upward mobility.

The unforgetable Beverly (wonderfully co-created by actor Alison Steadman) in Leigh’s 1977 BBC TV play Abigail’s Party, and Coogan’s local radio/TV presenter character Alan Partridge (co-created with writers Patrick Marber and Armando Iannucci), who first appeared in 1991 and is still going strong, have both deservedly become cultural icons.

Leigh’s roots are middle class and Coogan’s are working class. Leigh’s been accused of middle-class mockery and Coogan could be accused of working-class self-mockery, or, even worse, class betrayal.

(Yon Alan Partridge character is nowt but a lickspittle mockery, an’ a betrayal o’t’ working class an’ our rightful aspiration to better ourselves. Get thee gone, Steve lad, an’ never darken our door again.)

However, such criticism misses the point: the characters are funny because they’re true – exaggerated and enhanced, but fundamentally true. In both cases, the humour’s cruel but not mocking (or betraying) – rather, the characters’ vulnerabilities and pretentions are shown with painfully funny honesty.

(Sadly, Leigh and Coogan are not thought to be collaborating on anything any time soon.)

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Beverly and Alan – a match made in hell
Alison Steadman as Beverly Moss in Abigail’s Party | Photo: BBC / Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge | Photo: Steve Adams

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Occupy your mind

Thoughts after getting sacked from a temporary job at the Leicester, UK, HSBC call centre

Couldn’t hack it, got the sack. Monday morning won’t be back. Need to go to work – nowhere to go. (And oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go…)

It upset me. It was a crap job, so I don’t mind losing it, but getting fired was a bitter blow to my fragile male ego. Getting fired from a crap job!

(The reasons they gave didn’t ring true. I suspect age discrimination, illegal in the UK. So, yes, I’m doing something about it.)

I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I thought: better find something to occupy my mind – and I did. The strangeness of the phrase, ‘Occupy your mind’, got me thinking.

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Zombie Jacko promotes Occupy | Graffito and photo: Ezra Li Eismont

The Occupy movement uses it as a clever slogan: Occupy your mind – think responsibly. But in everyday usage it’s not an instruction to occupy your own mind; you already do, obviously. It’s short for ‘Find something to…’

That’s a strange shortening, suggesting mental indolence addressed with military zeal. Stop that daydreaming! Wake up and (find something to) occupy your mind!

Why do you need to find something to occupy your mind? What’s wrong with your mind being occupied only by you?

Perhaps what’s wrong – apart from the tendency of the mind to brood disproportionately on the painful details of recent setbacks – is the risk that you’ll turn into the animal in you. The advice to keep your mind occupied or even preoccupied and to find a suitable occupation is meant to save you from your lower self.

Spookily anticipating the Occupy movement slogan, 16th-century Roman Catholic utopian philosopher Thomas Moore said, ‘Occupy your minds with good thoughts or the enemy will fill them with bad ones’. By ‘the enemy’, Moore meant, of course, the Devil who, as any fule kno, makes work for idle hands – and minds.

In our enlightened post-Darwin times we can take a less Moore-ish and more diplomatic approach to ‘the enemy’. We’ve got a lot of bad and baddish animal stuff going on – down there. Monsters from the id, if you like.

If you can face that stuff and give it a non-judgemental nod of acknowledgement from time to time, the bad stuff will behave itself, and you can live above it. (And – which is more – you’ll be an adult, my child.)

In which case, of course, we no longer need a mental occupant to distract us from our animal urges. They’ll be under humane control. More or less.

But we like being distracted; and now we’ve got a habit: media addiction. Let’s watch a movie…

I mean, we still need distraction from the things we have to cope with day-to-day using part of our minds:

  • Find shelter, pay for it, keep it clean
  • Get food, pay for it, prepare it, cook it
  • Ablute, wash, groom, exercise
  • Choose clothes, buy them
  • Choose clothes, wear them
  • Wash clothes, dry and fold them
  • Iron and put away
  • Have children: have no life
  • Go to work, get sacked…

For Om’s sake – give us a break.

We need mental distraction, entertainment, stimulation, a funny cat, anything. Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood, Netflix, YouTube, er, Tumblr, whatever, we need it. We deserve it. Bring it on. It can occupy our minds rent-free.

The field of mind occupancy studies got a boost recently when the research centre for neuromapping at the University of Salamanca in Spain announced the publication of a paper, Neuromapping patterns of mind occupancy by Carles Escera and Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa.

The paper includes in an appendix the following illustrative poem by Cadenza Prize winner Hugo Brucciani.

occupancy and occupation
by hugo brucciani

occupancy of the mind by
a lodger who is welcomed by
the mind’s landlord
rent-free. it could be
reading a book
watching a movie

takes most of you
out of yourself
to a resting place

enough of you
is left behind in the mind
as a pilot to enjoy it
judge it, control it
end it, if necessary

after the end
when the occupant’s gone
you come
back to yourself

the process of rejoining
can be delayed as
the pilot reflects on
echoes of
a different world

meanwhile the landlord
above it all in the attic
watches on
the bastard

‘occupant’ sounds ok
find place to live
pay rent – harmless but
‘occupation’ sounds
heavy, man

find an occupation
right, I think there’s one
in Palestine is there?
Syria? Sudan?
what am I supposed to
do about it?

oh, you mean a job
right. yes, you’re right
job

find a good job
thats. right. so
it’s a good job I’ve got
genes for work ethic
and obediance, then

so my mind’s meant
for an occupation
designed by the
landlord’s architect
the bastard

we can fight back
join the underground
resist the occupation
evict the occupying forces
take vacant posession

we know what we feel
we can live above
our work ethic and
the other
bad memories in
the basement

we don’t need no
occupation
we could live well on
a state income
paid by
social credit
owed to
us all

because yes
the world owes us
living

Then
we can work when
we want

good riddance to
the occupation of
our minds

the landlord and
his architect can
suck it up, live and learn

the occasional
occupant’s ok though
there’s a good movie on
at nine *

* This is possibly a reference to the increasingly archaic practice of watching scheduled TV broadcasts.


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The meaning of meaning

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Probability maths says that given infinity, a random character generator (producing upper and lower case letters, spaces and punctuation marks) will reproduce the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Think monkeys and typewriters, if you like.

(Shakespeare is wheeled on for this thought experiment rather than, say, Charles Dickens because he’s the supposed apogee of literary creativity. The reductionist probabilitarians are saying: you think Shakespeare’s great – well, he can be reproduced by empty randomness.)

You can kind of see what they mean, and there’s probably not much point arguing with a probability mathematician (though there are valid questions about the abstract concept of infinity) – but it just seems wrong, doesn’t it? The first sentence or two, maybe – but the whole thing? Maybe some things will never happen by chance, even in infinty.

Then there’s the origin of DNA. Scientists say it can be explained by random chemical events occurring over a very long time. There are several different theories as to how this might have happened, but none of them sounds remotely plausible. As with the randomly reproduced Shakespeare, it just seems impossible.

I know it sounds like I’m on the slippery slope from intelligent design to creationism, but I’m not. I’m suggesting that the crucial element in both cases is meaning.

Henry VI, Part One
Scene I: Westminster Abbey. Dead March. Enter the funeral of King Henry V, attended on by Dukes of Bedford, Regent of France, Protector; and Exeter, Earl of Warwick, the Bishop of Winchester, heralds, etc.
Bedford: Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!

I’m yawning already, but that’s not the point. The works of Shakespeare, including that opening of the first play, exist because they have meaning. That meaning comes from human consciousness (and its medium, language) . The unique sequence of six million characters comprising that product of meaning could never be reproduced by chance, I’d suggest.

Wikipedia says that DNA is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms. Most DNA molecules consist of two strands coiled around each other to form a double helix. Both strands store the same biological information, which is replicated when the two strands separate.

Does that sound like something that came about by chemicals randomly bumping into each other?

Perhaps DNA came into existence because the universe (or multiverse if you like) has meaning, perhaps deriving from universal consciousness. Again, I’d suggest that meaning is never the product of random processes.

It must, of course, be admitted that random genetic mutation fueled the natural selection that led from the first living organisms to humans capable of pondering the meaning of meaning. Nevertheless, randomness and meaning are worlds apart.

Or perhaps, rather, they’re part of a hierarchy, with randomness subject to probability, and probability subject to meaning.

Try as it may, maths and science can’t yet explain the origin of life, what consciousness is, or the ultimate nature of the universe.

I’m a big fan of maths and science. I’d love science to have an explanation for everything; but perhaps some things are ineffable. Perhaps maths, for all its fundamental beauty, is the scaffolding rather than the be-all and end-all.


Pseudo-academic footnote

I thought my post title was original – but, of course, it’s not. The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism by Charles Ogden and Ivor Richards has been in print continuously since 1923.

Damn!

The most recent publication is the critical edition prepared by Terrence Gordon as volume 3 of the 5-volume set C. K. Ogden & Linguistics (London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press, 1995).

Wikipedia says that the book proposes a contextual theory of signs: words and things are connected by signs that are the source of our power over the external world.

(I’d say: sod the signs, it’s language that has the power – the power of meaning.)

The book has been used as a textbook in many fields including linguistics, philosophy, language, cognitive science, semantics and semiotics. Umberto Eco described it as ‘a seminal book, whose merit was to say certain things well in advance of its time’.


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Victoria Park morning

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This view caught my eye. See the straight branches with the new morning sun shining through (Dylan reference), the mist along the line of trees across Victoria Park and the long shadows. It’s taken from the car park extension, the building of which was facilitated by the cutting down a large number of mature trees. It links to the Lutyens war memorial. (I like to call it the Sir Peter Soulsby memorial car park extension, in honour of our elected mayor, who’s spent our taxes on several such vainglorious developments. Hes not actually dead yet, but…)