Rolling post: June 2016 – July 2020 | Contents
Final update August 2020
In which I detail Aung San Suu Kyi’s disgraceful complicity in Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims
See my June 2020 UK Observer letter (Chris Hughes).
‘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)
October 2016 – July 2020…
Remember Aung San Suu Kyi, darling of western liberals, heroine of democracy and human rights, under house arrest in Burma for 15 years before being triumphantly elected as her country’s leader? Well, treasure the golden memory – the reality has become disappointingly tarnished.
Suu Kyi’s saintly image suffered badly at an internationally covered election campaign press conference in November 2015. Questioned about the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (the new name for Burma), she shocked her worldwide fans by saying only 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’d been violently persecuted for many years by state-backed Buddhists in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine. They were 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 was evidently true.)
After that, Suu Kyi’s image went from bad to worse. She won the election as expected. She became Myanmar’s State Counsellor – effectively its prime minister – and (despite her government being dominated by unelected junta leftovers) was in a position 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‘.
There was clearly widespread hostility in Myanmar towards the one-million-plus Rohingya Muslims then living in Rakhine State – including from within Suu Kyi’s own party.
Myanmar not only didn’t recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group, it denied them citizenship and basic rights. The military junta – which, despite Suu Kyi’s entry into government, kept a stranglehold on Myanmar’s constitution – called them ‘Bengalis’, implying they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In fact, the Rohingya had a well established presence in the country dating from the twelfth century.
The history of the Rohingya was the subject of academic disagreement in the region. Some academics supported the Myanmar government propaganda, claiming that the name ‘Rohingya’ was a political invention by Bengali immigrants who had no particular ethnic identity.
Other academics with more integrity and independence argued that the name dated back centuries, and that – despite historical migrations to and from what’s now Bangladesh – the Rohingya had a long history in Rakhine and a distinct ethnic identity and language.
Under the British empire, from the 1870s to the 1930s, many people were persuaded to move from Bengal (now Bangladesh) to Arakan (now Rakhine State) to grow more rice for India. They integrated and intermarried with the native Rohingya.
During World War Two, Buddhists in Arakan backed the Japanese, while the Rohingya backed the British. Both sides were given arms, and tensions present in Arakan before the war erupted. As well as fighting their nominal enemies, they fought each other. Many thousands died on both sides.
After the war, Burma gained independence. Some 13,000 Muslims who’d fled during the war and were living in refugee camps in India and East Pakistan weren’t allowed to return. Those who did were considered illegal immigrants.
Rohingya activists wanted northern Rakhine State to be annexed to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), but this was rejected by Pakistan. They then sought the right to live as full citizens in an autonomous Muslim area in Rakhine; and an end to discrimination by the Buddhist officials who replaced colonial administrators.
In 1954 the Burmese government acknowledged the Rohingya and established a Muslim-majority administrative zone comprising most of the present North Rakhine State. However, after Burma’s military junta took control of the country in 1962, the Rohingya were systematically deprived of their political rights.
Neighbouring Muslim-majority Bangladesh also didn’t allow Rohingyas citizenship. In the late 1970s some 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, after the Burmese army forcibly evicted them, amid widespread army brutality, rape and murder. Bangladesh negotiated their return and encouraged it by restricting food supplies.
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 Rakhine. 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.
More than 100,000 Rohingya were forced to flee their homes and live in decrepit internment camps where they were 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 argued in a report that the violence and forced removal amounted to ethnic cleansing (4), and had reached stage four of six (5) in the process of genocide.
Also in 2015, Genocide Watch (6) said the Myanmar regime’s gross human rights abuses and its persecution of the Rohingya persisted alongside a pervasive culture of impunity; and the situation had reached stages nine and ten of their ten-stage model of genocide (7).
In 2016, Suu Kyi entered government. Disappointingly, she continued the junta’s policy of claiming that the Rohingya were illegal immigrants. Predictably, Min Aung Hlaing, smiling head of Myanmar’s powerful military, said in 2016 at a press conference, ‘As we have said before, there are no Rohingya.’
Many desparate Rohingya were victims of human trafficking. In July 2017, after a two-year trial in Thailand, dozens of individuals (including a senior army general and a wealthy businessman and former government official) were found guilty of forcible detention leading to death; trafficking and rape; and belonging to transnational organised crime networks.
The trial followed the discovery of mass graves in a squalid jungle camp where hundreds of migrants had been brutally exploited. Many Rohingya and Bangladeshis paid people smugglers to get them to 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. 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.
In 2017, aid agencies estimated that over one million Rohingya fled Myanmar in the previous 40 years as a result of persecution. (3)
Suu Kyi’s attitude
Most disappointingly for her former fans, Suu Kyi herself seemed to be anti-Muslim. In March 2016, shortly after taking office, she made an off-key off-air comment after being interviewed by Mishal Husain, a Muslim presenter of Today, the UK BBC’s flagship radio news programme.
Suu Kyi lost her temper during the interview when Husain repeatedly asked her to condemn the anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar. She 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 name ‘Royingya’, which they said was ‘controversial‘. To the USA’s credit, the ambassador refused, saying he’d continue to use the term, because that’s what the group calls itself.
The European Union, by comparison, cravenly caved in to Suu Kyi’s demand. (See below).
When US secretary of state John Kerry delicately raised concerns about human rights 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 did the world – previously your oyster, thanks to your massive international support – think?
Sadly, the world thought you’d gone from saintly reformer to either hypocritical racist or, at best, paralysed pragmatist. The world thought your main concern was 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 thought that, whatever you’d become and whatever your motives, you were willingly fronting one of the worst governments in the world, with self-indulgent brutal race hatred at its rotten heart.
(I think we’re all racist, and it doesn’t take much to provoke it; but 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.)
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 the UN said could amount to crimes against humanity.
Suu Kyi’s brilliant response was to tell a visiting UN human rights investigator the Myanmar government wouldn’t use the ‘controversial‘ term ‘Rohingya’.
Sickeningly, European Union ambassador to Myanmar Roland Kobia said in June 2016 the EU would stop using the term ‘Rohingya’. Kobia feebly echoed Suu Kyi’s weasel words by adding that Myanmar needed ‘space’ to deal with human rights abuses.
Coincidentally, in June 2016 the UK decided to leave the spineless, weaselly EU. Leaving would be bad for the UK – we’d lose free trade with our neighbours – but at least we’d be free from the EU’s dodgy diplomacy. (Not that ours would be much better – see below.)
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 didn’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, there might still be some Rohingya left alive by then.
One month later, in retaliation for ‘insurgency’, military violence broke out in Rakhine. It ended four months later, after the deaths of an estimated 1,000 Rohingya, and after an estimated 70,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.
It’s safe to assume that the ‘insurgency’ and the army’s brutal response were orchestrated in opposition to the Annan commission.
The second – much worse – outbreak of violence in August 2017 coincided – almost certainly deliberately – with Annan’s final report. The commission meant well (and may have been meant well by Suu Kyi) – but it never had a chance.
Annan – interim report
The Annan commission’s interim report called for the closure of Myanmar’s squalid internment camps, where 120,000 Rohingya had been interned following the hardline Buddhist violence in 2012.
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‘.
Suu Kyi 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 didn’t exist, of course. The quote above contained the only use of the name ‘Rohingya’ in the interim 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.
Annan – final report
In August 2017 the Annan commission published its final report.
In line with Suu Kyi’s terms of reference, Annan’s report didn’t use the name Rohingya except when referring to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and the Rohingya Solidarity Organization. Otherwise, the report referred to the Rohingya throughout as the ‘Muslims in Rakhine’.
The report pointed out that ‘Muslims in Rakhine’ constituted the single biggest stateless community in the world.
Annan’s final 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 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.
New ethnic cleansing
Insurgency and retaliation
War crimes and denial
Malaysia / Amnesty: ‘crimes against humanity’ / ASEAN meeting / Annan / Nobel peace laureates
New ethnic cleansing | Contents 🔺
More denial / UK House of Lords do-nothing debate / Bangladeshi island
Human rights violations / The island / UN numbers / ‘Peace’
Bangladesh blocked aid / Annan addressed violence / EU blocked full UN investigation / UN fact-finding mission agreed
Suu Kyi on TV / Indian deportation / ‘Model’ villages / Guardian editorial
UN denied entry
UN: children ‘wasting’
Myanmar whitewash / Annan final report / Violence resumed / Myanmar military started it
Mass expulsion 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’
Myanmar: ‘refugees can return’ / New Cox’s Bazar camp / The island / UN in Myanmar ‘dysfunctional’ / 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
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
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
New ethnic cleansing | Contents 🔺
Awkward silence / A solution: autonomy / Suu Kyi friend resigns / Number of refugees now 688,000
The island was back – and was ‘very nice’
Report: 43,000 missing, presumed killed / Island costs – no support
ICC seeks jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar / Security council visit
China ‘to build houses’ in Rakhine State / Amnesty and Reuters: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing
Third report: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing
Japan: Myanmar agreed to build villages / UN report: ‘genocide’
Reuters journalists jailed / ICC: Myanmar can be prosecuted / US report avoids the word ‘genocide’
UN fact-finder: genocide continuing
Two more groups call it genocide
New ethnic cleansing – Contents 🔺
UN report: UNDP’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ made UN dysfunctional in Myanmar
Myanmar taken to International Court of Justice
New ethnic cleansing | Contents 🔺
ARNO: UK-funded UN maps used racist term and defied court ruling
UN avoided naming ‘Rohingya’ and avoided blaming Myanmar
Myanmar mass-murderers penalised by UK
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 they responded with a ‘clearing’ operation. Quite.
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 the ‘insurgents’ burned their own homes to discredit the army.
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
The UN called for an investigation into alleged human rights abuses. A senior UN official said Myanmar was seeking the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya minority from its territory. Suu Kyi announced a government-led investigation. Big deal.
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.
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.
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.
The Myanmar government invited Kofi Annan’s advisory committee (see above) to look into the violence. Disappointingly, Annan reportedly said observers should be ‘very, very careful‘ when using the word genocide. He said 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 fuller views on the conflict were given in the introduction to his commission’s interim report. (See March 2017, below.)
Nobel peace laureates
It was widely reported that – for what it was worth (not much) – 23 of the great and good wrote an open letter to the (useless) UN security council about the action, describing it as ethnic cleansing, and demanding 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.)
Suu Kyi’s commission of investigation said 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 address claims that the security forces had killed many people.
UK House of Lords do-nothing 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 the UK government would, in effect, do nothing.
Goldie said UK ministers had raised this issue in parliament and in direct discussions with the Myanmar government. She said the UK government was deeply concerned about the recent military action and the lack of humanitarian access.
Goldie said 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 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, the junta-heavy Myanmar government was no democracy, and 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.
For a further example of shameful British gutlessness, see below.
The Bangladeshi government showed great compassion for its oppressed 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.)
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.
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.)
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.
The Myanmar government said 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.
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 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).
Annan addressed violence
Kofi Annan’s advisory commission on Rakhine state published its interim report on 16 March (see above). In the introduction, Annan, whose commission was asked in December 2016 (see above) to look into the current crisis, said:
‘The nature of the crisis facing Rakhine state has changed due to the attacks of 9 October  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.’
EU blocked 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 the international community needed to ‘engage [Myanmar] without damaging the delicate civilian-military balance‘.
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 Documents / 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 her government would refuse to accept the fact-finding mission. Myanmar’s military head, war criminal 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.
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 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 troops hadn’t 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 – that’s alright, then.
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 oppressed Rohingya Muslims; she could have granted them citizenship.
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.
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.
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.)
UN denied entry
The Myanmar government refused entry visas to the three members of the UN’s fact-finding mission. It insisted the domestic investigation headed by former lieutenant general and vice-president Myint Swe (see above) was sufficient to look into the allegations of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
Junta spokesperson U 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.]
UN: children ‘wasting’
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.)
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 cleansing alleged by the UN. Myint Swe also denied there were gang rapes by the military – as reported to the UN by refugees in Bangladesh.
Annan final report
The advisory commission on Rakhine State headed by Kofi Annan also published its final report. Amongst his many recommendations (see summary, above), Annan asked the government to allow humanitarian and media access to the affected areas. (See above.) 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 villagers were indiscriminately beaten, shot or hacked to death; others were killed after failing to pay the soldiers a ransom; and 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.
Weirdly, 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.)
Myanmar military started it
Myanmar claimed 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 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 provocateurs, they must have expected the insurgency which gave them the pretext for the massive ethnic cleansing operation that followed.
(A UN report in October confirmed this.)
(A busy month)
– Mass expulsion began
– Erdoğan spoke
– Security council waffled
– Suu Kyi petition
– ‘Fake’ news
– Homes burning
– Suu Kyi recommends harmony
– 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’
Mass expulsion 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 in August. (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 ‘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 which sparked the latest vicious crackdown.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stuck his oar in, accusing Myanmar of genocide. Erdoğan’s own record on human rights wasn’t great. For instance, he’d been accused of orchestrating the genocide of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Erdoğan’s verbal intervention at least helped to keep the story in the news.
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 from his spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, 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’ 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 the vehicle-attack murder of a peaceful protester by a white supremacist indicated ‘blame on both 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.
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?)
Erdoğan may have sympathised with Suu Kyi’s media problems. He’d had difficulties with the Turkish media. His solution was to jail journalists – a solution soon to be adopted by the Myanmar junta – see below.
Regarding the ‘fake news’, some tweeted photos were apparently from other conflicts. But Myanmar, which continued to ban the media, was responsible for the news vacuum – and, therefore, for any fake news which filled it.
The Myanmar military had claimed that the Rohingya set fire to their own homes to attract international attention. 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 police and Rakhine Buddhists set the fires. About ten Rakhine men with machetes were seen there.
Suu Kyi recommends harmony
‘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.
UN: ‘ethnic cleansing’
UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said 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.
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.)
Myanmar ‘to implement Annan’
Myanmar president and Suu Kyi ally Htin Kyaw appointed a committee to implement Annan’s recommendations and to ‘take prompt measures’ in granting citizenship to those eligible in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Law.
Invoking that law was clearly an obstructive tactic. 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 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.
UN SecGen spoke
‘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.’
Security council: end violence
The UN security council, which included 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 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 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.)
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?’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
(Another busy month for ethnic cleansing)
– Myanmar: ‘refugees can return’
– New Cox’s Bazar camp
– The island
– UN in Myanmar ‘dysfunctional’
– 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
Myanmar: ‘refugees can return’
Myanmar told the United Nations refugee agency that its – Myanmar’s – top priority was to bring back the 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Bangladeshi government had 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 would 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 which 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.’
‘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 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.)
UN in Myanmar ‘dysfunctional’
The UN was accused of taking a long-term political view in Myanmar and down-playing the urgent Rohingya issue. A leaked memo (there’s always a leaked memo) suggested a central policy creep heading in that direction, making normal UN activity ‘dysfunctional’.
The UN’s shortcomings in responding to the Rohingya crisis were the 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 which relied on governments’ cooperation to do its work, the UNDP historically avoided confronting governments that committed abuses. That led to a culture of silence, and to allegations that the UN was complicit in atrocities, from Myanmar to Sri Lanka.
A UN report, 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 Østby 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.
Another sign of the UN being too cooperative with Myanmar was the news that the report by the UN food agency about Rohingya children ‘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 seemed too compliant towards the Myanmar government should remember: the USA is the UN’s chief paymaster – and the USA was competing with China to tap into Myanmar’s rich but underdeveloped natural resources.
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.
Charity appeal didn’t use the name ‘Rohingya’
The UK Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella charity for other charities, 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 were an umbrella charity, decisions on appeal names had to be made collectively by all the charities involved – 13 in this case.
DEC said 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 some member charities had concerns about the word ‘refugee’ – because Bangladesh hadn’t granted many of the displaced people refugee status.
This was design by committee gone mad. DEC told me that decisions were made by consensus. But DEC, whilst posing as a neutral coordinator, is actually more powerful than that. Its umbrella appeals significantly boost its member charities’ incomes and profiles.
DEC should have had the courage, common sense and 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 said, they were clearly all refugees.
Not calling them Rohingya looked like collusion with Myanmar’s pre-genocidal attempt to deny their existence. Not calling them refugees looked like collusion with Bangladesh’s heartless refusal to grant them refugee status.
UN: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing
A UN report said 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.’
War criminal Hlaing
Myanmar military head and de facto dictator Senior General Min Aung Hlaing clearly deserved to 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 which have signed the Rome statute that established the ICC in 1998. Myanmar wasn’t a signatory.
However, the ICC could also have jurisdiction anywhere – if it was 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.
‘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 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 had form for cosying up to murderous regimes for strategic reasons – remember mass-murderer, embezzler and Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet?
Estimated number of refugees: 603,000
The UN said said 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.
– 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
She was a day tripper
A Myanmar government spokesman said Suu Kyi had gone to Rakhine state capital Sittwe and would go to Maungdaw and Buthiduang. ‘It will be a day trip,’ he added.
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 was alright, then. The diplomat’s response was a weird combination of stupidity, admission and arrogance.
It was stupid, in that an attack on armed border posts by a handful of badly armed insurgents couldn’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 would do whatever they needed to do – the world could like it or lump it. So one of Israel’s arms customers had committed war crimes – so what?
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 Myanmar 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.
Myannar retorted that the UN statement ‘could potentially and seriously harm the bilateral negotiations between the two countries which have been proceeding smoothly and expeditiously’.
However, any lack of negotiating smoothness was actually due to Myanmar insisting that those returning must be verified, and to Bangladesh refusing to register the refugees.
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, and 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.
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 ‘affected communities’ in northern Rakhine state, but made no mention of the brutal expulsion 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 was sheltering behind ASEAN’s policy of non-interference – but when she led the fight for democracy in Myanmar two decades before, she opposed that policy.
In a 1999 editorial in Thailand’s The Nation newspaper Suu Kyi said 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.
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 ‘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 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.’
More fine words, but note the UN representative’s avoidance of the name ‘Rohingya‘, favouring Suu Kyi’s terminology: IDPs (internally displaced persons). It seemed 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.
Pope said nothing
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 750,000 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.
– 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
Report: methodical rape by Myanmar soldiers
AP interviewed 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 which 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 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 came 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 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.’
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.
Number of refugees now 647,000
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.
‘Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high level.’
Hussein said 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.
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 Myanmar – dramatically 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 have supported him in seeking a second term – or whether the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN security council would have used their influence to block it. Hussein criticised them all.
Besides denouncing the Chinese-backed government of Myanmar, Hussein criticised 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.
Hussein, the first human rights chief from the Middle East, was 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.
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 had 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 said:
‘…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.’
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’” is apparently an expression of his understanding of the complexity contained within that name, rather than the clichéd expression of anti-Rohingya propaganda it sounds like. Ware’s well researched chapter showed an unusually balanced and impartial point of view.)
A semi-autonomous and federal state arrangement could have been implemented by Myanmar and, perhaps, Bangladesh. Interested superpowers the USA, China and Russia could have urged them to do that. It would have brought peace and stability to the region, and would therefore be in everyone’s interest.
Suu Kyi friend resigned
Bill Richardson, a seasoned US diplomat and friend of Suu Kyi, resigned from the international panel set up by Suu Kyi to advise on the Rohingya crisis. The panel was set up in 2017 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 the panel was a ‘whitewash‘ and accused Suu Kyi of lacking ‘moral leadership‘.
Suu Kyi was ‘furious’ when he raised the case of two Reuters reporters on trial in Myanmar. The journalists were 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’d 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 he 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.
Number of refugees now 688,000
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of refugees registered since 25 August was 688.000. The OHCA report said this was causing suffering on a catastrophic scale. Did you read that, Suu?
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).
The flood-prone island, formed in the Bay of Bengal about ten years previously by sediment from a river, was used sporadically by fishermen and by farmers grazing their animals. It regularly flooded during the April-September monsoons. Pirates operated in that area and kidnapped fishermen for ransom.
‘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 the question of selecting Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar to move to the island hadn’t been finalised, but it might 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 although the initial plan was to put 100,000 people there, it had room for as many as 1 million. She said 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.)
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.
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 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 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.
ICC seeks jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar
International criminal court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wanted to investigate Myanmar for crimes against the Rohingya. She asked the court 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.
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.
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.
Or maybe not.
China ‘to build houses’ in Rakhine State
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.
Amnesty and Reuters: Myanmar planned ethnic cleansing
Two new reports showed Myanmar planned the ethnic cleansing, and 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 International confirmed 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.
An investigation by international news agency Reuters, 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.
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.
Japan: Myanmar agreed to build villages
Japan said Myanmar had accepted a proposal to expedite the process of building modern villages for returning Rohingya.
After the meeting, Ali said Japan had agreed to provide the necessary support for the repatriation and resettlement of the Rohingyas. In a separate briefing, a Japanese spokesperson said Kono had shared the five proposals with Myanmar, and Myanmar ‘gladly accepted’ the proposals.
The Japanese spokesperson said 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 had both been widely discredited. The secret MoU was rejected by Rohingya representatives and was criticised by NGOs. Myanmar said the July commission of enquiry would ‘investigate the allegations of human rights violations‘, but chair Rosario Manalo (an obscure Philippine diplomat) said there would be ‘no blaming of anybody’.
Rising star Kono had the reputation of 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:
- Fully cooperate with the independent commission of enquiry [presumably a reference to the July 2018 commission].
- Fully cooperate with UN agencies according to the MoU.
- Close the camps for internally displaced persons in Myanmar.
- Expedite the process of building modern villages.
- 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 ‘gladly accepted‘ was overblown. The Japanese foreign affairs website said 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.’
However, according to Myanmar’s official report of a joint press conference, Suu Kyi said – somewhat frostily – ‘the problem of the displaced persons was a bilateral issue between the two countries [Myanmar and Bangladesh], but Myanmar appreciated Japan’s kind offer to help in solving this problem’.
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 might have seemed marginally better than Myanmar’s prison camps – or Bangladesh’s prison island, but without guarantees of security and citizenship, it was all just talk.
UN report: ‘genocide’
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 suspects – 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 Suu Kyi should have resigned last year. He told the BBC she should have considered returning to house arrest rather than excusing the military.
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 could say any information was an official secret. They could 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 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 had supervisory powers over all Myanmar courts, and could therefore have righted the wrong. However, the chief justice of the supreme court, Htun Htun Oo, was, of course, an ex-military man.
ICC: Myanmar can be prosecuted
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 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.
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‘, confirming that the insurgent strike was little more than an excuse.
UN fact-finder: genocide continuing
Genocide was 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 continued to suffer the most severe restrictions and repression. ‘It is an ongoing genocide,’ he told a news conference.
Two more groups call it genocide
It was genocide, according to two new US reports.
The 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 USHMM report also warned that the Rohingya still in Myanmar were still under threat of genocide, and called on the international community to prevent future atrocities and hold those responsible accountable. (Er, how, exactly?)
UN report: UNDP’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ made UN dysfunctional in Myanmar
Finally, the UN admitted its failure in Myanmar to protect the Rohingya.
In October 2017, a leaked memo revealed accusations of the UN’s ‘glaring’ dysfunctionality in Myanmar. (See above.) Now a UN report confirmed the UN’s systemic failure. The UN development programme (UNDP) was at the heart of the problem.
The UNDP, which appointed the UN’s top local officials, the resident coordinators, relied on governments’ cooperation to do its work, and avoided confronting governments that committed abuses. That led to allegations of UN complicity in atrocities, from Myanmar to Sri Lanka.
In 2017 a report on the UN’s performance in Myanmar, commissioned by resident coordinator Renata Lok-Dessallien, was supressed by her when she didn’t like its conclusions. A UN World Food Programme report warning that more than 80,000 children in majority-Muslim areas were ‘wasting’ — a potentially fatal condition of rapid weight loss – had been shelved at Myanmar’s request. Lok-Dessallien was accused of preventing discussion of the Rohingya crisis at UN meetings.
The UN’s over-compliance with the Myanmar government was a reminder that the USA. the UN’s chief paymaster, was competing with China to tap into Myanmar’s rich but underdeveloped natural resources.
Now, two years later a UN report on UN conduct in Myanmar from 2010-2018 condemned the UN’s ‘obviously dysfunctional performance‘ over the past decade and reported that there were ‘systemic failures’. It said:
‘…at the very highest levels of management of the Organization…competing strategies were…represented until the end of 2016 in the persons of the Deputy Secretary-General [Jan Eliasson] and the Special Adviser on Myanmar [Vijay Nambiar]…The Deputy Secretary-General favoured a more robust posture of the United Nations to address the events in Rakhine State, while the Special Adviser argued for quiet diplomacy…
‘…An additional complication resulted from the membership of the Senior Action Group, which prominently included the Administrator of the UNDP [Helen Clark], who aligned herself with the strategy being espoused by the Special Adviser…While expressing dismay at the human rights abuses taking place, the Administrator believed that supporting development efforts in Myanmar would, in the long-term, create a favourable environment to facilitate resolving the human-rights issues.
‘The position of the Administrator was especially significant, since the Resident Coordinator [Renata Lok-Dessallien] received guidance and instructions from UNDP rather than from the Secretariat, and it was the Resident Coordinator in turn that framed her coordination of the country team in terms of the guidance received from New York.’
So, the systemic failure of the UN in Myanmar stemmed from the ‘quiet diplomacy‘ approach favoured by the special advisor, the UNDP and the UNDP resident coordinator. As in Sri Lanka, the UNDP country team had turned a blind eye to human rights abuse.
Disappointingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the UN – or parts of it, anyway – blithely and pointlessly continued to pursue quiet diplomacy with human rights abusers.
Immediately after the report came out, the UNDP promoted failed Myanmar resident coordinator Renata Lok-Desallien to be resident coordinator in India. Indian premier and prolific human rights abuser Narendra Modi could happily expect no trouble from Lok-Desallien.
Myanmar taken to International Court of Justice
The ICJ, AKA the World Court, gives advisory opinions on international legal issues. All UN member states are party to its statute.
Suu Kyi appeared in person at the ICJ hearing. Looking a shadow of her former self, she responded to the prosecution’s allegation of ‘extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and burning of homes calculated to bring about a destruction of the Rohingya group in whole or in part‘ by describing it as ‘incomplete and misleading’.
She said she expected a report by an internal inquiry (another one!) to recommend more prosecutions of Myanmar soldiers soon. Bizarrely, she showed the court photographs of a recent football match in northern Rakhine State, which she said included spectators and players from different communities and demonstrated moves towards reconciliation.
Sadly, the ICJ, like other international organisations with grand-sounding names, including the United Nations, had little autonomous power.
In its ruling in January 2020, the ICJ imposed ‘provisional measures‘ against Myanmar, ordering it to comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, to ‘take all measures within its power’ to prevent the killing of Rohingya, or causing bodily or mental harm to members of the group, including by the military or ‘any irregular armed units’, and to prevent the destruction of evidence related to genocide allegations.
Myanmar also had to submit a report to the ICJ within four months, with additional reports due every six months until a final decision was made by the court. In May 2020, Myanmar duly submitted its first report. The ICJ didn’t publish it.
ARNO: UK-funded UN maps used racist term and defied court ruling
ARNO: UN maps
A press release from tireless campaign group Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) complained that maps published by the UN used names which insulted the Rohingya and excluded burnt-down villages in defiance of a court ruling.
A UN body, the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU), despite having publicly been asked to stop, was continuing to publish maps which used the derogatory term, ‘Ku Lar‘ to refer to Rohingya villages. This MIMU map showed, for instance, ‘Min Gyi (Ku Lar)’.
It may have been significant that the nearby village, ‘Min Gyi (Tu Lar Tu Li)’, also known as Tula Toli, was infamous for the massacre carried out by Myanmar Army soldiers with the support of local Rakhines on 30 August 2017.
The map’s disclaimer had a casually generic manner:
‘Place names on this product… reflect the names… designated by the government concerned. Transliteration by MIMU… Disclaimer: The… names shown and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.’
In the context of the recent unprecedented ethnic cleansing and mass-murder of civillians by a brutal military-dominated government, this was a feeble cop-out by the UN, the supposed champion of human rights.
‘Ku lar’ (also spelt kala, kalar, or kular), believed to derive from the Sanskrit word ‘kalaa’, meaning the colour black, is used in a relatively neutral sense in Myanmar to mean dark-skinned foreigners from India, Africa and other countries to the west. ‘Ku Lar’ was also used to mean people following a caste system, meaning the small population of Myanmar Indians.
However, in the context of the hate-speech used by Rakhine Buddhist monks and by the Myanmar military, it was a racist and derogatory slur, used interchangeably with ‘Bengali’ to reinforce a propaganda lie: that the Myanmar Rohingya didn’t belong in Myanmar because they were illegal Bengali immigrants.
A 2018 Fortify Rights report included several examples of the derogatory use of that word. For instance, in 2012 a group of monks issued a statement calling for ‘cleansing’ Rakhine State of ‘bad pagan Bengali (kalar)’.
A 2018 Reuters report presented social media posts by soldiers showing that hundreds of battle-hardened soldiers from the elite 33rd and 99th light infantry divisions flew into Northern Rakhine weeks before the ARSA ‘insurrection’. For instance:
‘Lieutenant Kyi Nyan Lynn of the 33rd Light Infantry Division…wrote a Facebook post. “In our plane, we got to eat cake,” read the Aug. 10 post. “Are you going to eat Bengali meat?” commented a friend. Many Burmese refer to Rohingya as “Bengali” or use the pejorative term “kalar.” “Whatever, man,” replied the lieutenant. “Crush the kalar, buddy,” urged another friend. “Will do,” he replied.’
The ARNO press release pointed out another disturbing development: MIMU also published maps – as shown in these ARNO screenshots – from which the names of over 20 villages burnt down in 2017 had been removed.
The ICJ’s January 2020 provisional measures order obliged Myanmar to:
‘Ensure the preservation of any evidence related to allegations of acts within the scope of Article II of the Genocide Convention’.
Myanmar was a signatory to the 1949 Genocide Convention but such things didn’t seem to bother them. However, such things should have bothered the United Nations.
ARNO: UN maps
MIMU AND UNDP 🔺
A sorry tale of institutional complicity
MIMU was managed by Ola Almgren, the UN’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar. That post was previously known as ‘resident coordinator’. ‘Humanitarian‘ had apparently been shoe-horned in to spin the post as more human rights-friendly. The shameful record of a previous holder of that post was common knowledge. See October 2017, above.
The problem was that the resident coordinator, the top local official, is appointed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), an agency which relies on cooperation with host governments and has historically avoided confronting governments that commit abuses. This led to a culture of silence, and to UN complicity in atrocities from Myanmar to Sri Lanka.
Map-maker MIMU was a UNDP creature. Its email address was ‘firstname.lastname@example.org‘.
The Wikipedia entry for Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator since 2017, made no mention of any work or interest in the area of human rights. Myanmar’s resident and humanitarian coordinator Ola Almgren worked directly for the UNDP from 2006-2009.
The UN Myanmar web page, The UN Resident Coordinator Office, in a paragraph describing the resident coordinator’s role, mentioned ‘development‘ three times. It didn’t mention human rights once.
The report concluded that the systemic failure of the UN in Myanmar stemmed from the ‘quiet diplomacy‘ approach favoured by the special advisor, the UNDP and the UNDP resident coordinator, Renata Lok-Dessallien. As in Sri Lanka, the UNDP country team had turned a blind eye to human rights abuse.
Knut Østby, the resident coordinator who succeeded Lok-Dessallien, stepped down in 2019, reportedly as a result of pressure from Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis. According to a 2019 Guardian article on the UN report, a UN source in Myanmar described the relationship between the UN and the government as unchanged. He said:
‘It seems to be that the Myanmar government and military have a set policy with senior UN people where they try to affect who is hired, work with them for as long as they play ball and then cut ties and ask for their removal when they do something they don’t like, as we have seen with Knut Østby. The UN of course mostly gives into their demands and then the whole cycle starts again.’
However, some things did change. Vijay Nambiar, the Special Advisor on Myanmar whose ‘quiet diplomacy‘ strategy contributed to the ‘systemic failure‘ highlighted by the 2019 UN report, stood down at the end of 2016. No replacement was appointed.
In 2018, secretary-general António Guterres created a new post by appointing Christine Schraner Burgener as his Special Envoy for Myanmar. Schraner Burgener had extensive experience in the field of human rights and, unlike some of her UN colleagues (see below), was willing to use the name ‘Rohingya’. What would she think of the MIMU maps?
Other UN officials relevant to this issue were Thomas Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and Nicholas Koumjian, head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, established in 2018 to ‘collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed by Myanmar since 2011′.
British supporters of the Rohingya like me had some leverage in this matter, in that, apparently, British taxpayers were paying for MIMU’s collusion with warlords.
The MIMU ‘About’ page (click on ‘Read More’) said in May 2020:
‘The generous support of our current donor, the UK Government/UK aid enable [sic] the MIMU to provide all of its services free of charge. The Unit, originally established in 2007, receives administrative support from UNDP.’
(And there was the UNDP again!)
The MIMU ‘About’ page no longer says that, referring instead to ‘donor and Government stakeholders’. Perhaps the UK government closed that particular branch of the ‘giant cashpoint in the sky’ (see below).
UK foreign aid was managed by the government’s Department for International Development (DFID). There was that word again: development. We were the developed world, they were the developing world, and we were going to help them develop – out of the goodness of our hearts. Any inconvenient issues of human rights abuse could be addressed by quiet diplomacy.
Our recently appointed DFID man in Yangon was Rurik Marsden. Marsden should have known his stuff – he got an OBE for four years’ previous work in Myanmar. Perhaps there was a sliver of compassion in his DFID heart.
(Update, June 2020: Perhaps I was being too hard on DFID. The UK Conservative government suddenly announced that DFID was to be subsumed, along with its large budget, by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – to be renamed the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Trump-like UK premier Boris Johnson said aid should be used more strategically. He said DFID was seen by various unsavoury regimes as a giant cashpoint in the sky. The outraged response made DFID look like the good guys. Perhaps I was unfairly thinking of DFID as – like, apparently, the UNDP – heartless agents of predatory global, neoliberal corporate greed. RIP, DFID.)
Using my British leverage, I complained to my member of parliament, DFID, Marsden and the UK parliamentary International Development Committee in the hope that they’d pull their fingers out and get the maps changed – or that the UK would pull its funding.
Using my lesser leverage as a world citizen, I also complained to Steiner, Almgren, Schraner Burgener, Andrews, Koumjian and the UN human rights office (OHCHR). I also forwarded my email to Steiner to the office of Secretary-General Guterres (previously high commissioner for refugees for 10 years).
ARNO: UN maps
RESPONSE TO MY COMPLAINT 🔺
MIMU (grudgingly) withdrew some maps
Response 1 | The Brits:
DFID, Marsden, IDC and my MP
I had several replies – from the UK department for international development (DFID), the head of DFID Myanmar Rurik Marsden, the UK parliamentary international development committee (IDC) and my MP – about DFID’s reponse.
DFID said they acknowledged and shared the concerns about MIMU’s maps, and had worked with MIMU to try to resolve the matter. UN protocols meant the UN had to use maps provided by member states.
Maps with ‘Ku Lar’ added to village names had been temporarily withdrawn. This regrettably hampered some humanitarian work. DFID was working with MIMU to find a sustainable solution.
Marsden told me in December 2020 that FCDO (the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office – see above) was ‘engaging’ with the UN in New York to ‘try to agree a way forward’.
Response 2 | MIMU
A detailed email reply from MIMU included the following somewhat begrudging explanation for their decision to temporarily withdraw the offensive maps in response to the concerns raised:
‘With regard to the concern regarding place names and utilization of the term “Ku Lar” (and its variants) in some place names, we are aware of the sensitivities and have explored various possible options for redress over time…In accordance with global UN protocols, MIMU is not able to [unilaterally] change the names used in official listings produced by UN Member States…
‘At this stage, in view of the expressed concerns, MIMU village-level maps of Rakhine and other areas have been temporarily withdrawn from public circulation as we continue our dialogue and engagement with various stakeholders in seeking resolutions. While this addresses the concern about the use of the word “Ku Lar”, it regrettably means operational partners no longer have access to these detailed maps to inform their emergency relief, humanitarian response and development programmes, as well as advocacy around key issues such as access to beneficiaries.’
The long and detailed email from MIMU and its three attachments containing many documents, maps and tables probably needed expert analysis. For links to the email and the attached documents, see this footnote.
ARNO: UN maps
MY ANALYSIS OF THE REPSONSE 🔺
UNDP is the problem
I skimmed the huge pile of information from MIMU – and got the impression they’d acknowledged and begun to address the concerns raised.
It was good that DFID and MIMU had apparently cooperated in actively responding to the complaints, but if the withdrawal of the maps resulted in a humanitarian deficit, in that MIMU’s operational partners could no longer access maps needed for emergency relief and humanitarian response, the fault lay not with the complainants, as MIMU sniffily implied, but with the UN’s spineless attitude.
The protocols which forbade unilateral changes to place-names should clearly have been overruled in this case. There was no need for months of ‘dialogue and engagement with various stakeholders‘ – the UN should have been proactively defending the Rohingya, not its own dusty protocols.
Having acknowledged the concerns raised, MIMU should have immediately and unilaterally changed the maps, thus righting the wrong – and allowing their map-dependent operational partners to continue their humanitarian work.
Had the UN learned nothing from the criticisms in its own damning report? Was the United Nations Development Program immune from criticism? Publishing those maps amounted to collusion, however inadvertent, with a genocidal military dictatorship (albeit one thinly disguised as a nascent democracy).
‘Development’, brought from the West by the US-backed UNDP, has been criticised by experts, and was likely to benefit mainly Myanmar generals and US corporations. Was that dubious prize worth betraying the Rohingya for – again?
The UNDP can only function with the blessing of host governments. The top UN official in a country, the resident coordinator, is a UNDP appointee – and MIMU was run by Myanmar’s resident coordinator.
If the resident coordinator’s office was unable to make timely corrections to maps falsified and propagandised by the junta, but which were needed by aid agencies – then perhaps that office should have been disbanded.
One million Myanmar citizens had been brutally expelled. The UN’s quiet-diplomacy approach had failed. The UNDP had brought ‘development’ which lined the generals’ pockets and boosted US strategic interests. The generals faked democratic intentions, but nothing changed. Then the brutality exploded, and the UN looked the other way – as they still did.
The fate of previous Myanmar resident coordinator Renata Lok-Dessallien was instructive. Having been ‘rotated’ out in disgrace in 2017 and identified in May 2019 as a main cause of the UN’s dysfunctional performance in Myanmar, in June 2019 she was appointed resident coordinator in India.
In effectively promoting Lok-Dessallien – India being the world’s most populated democracy – immediately after the revelation of her failure to protect the Rohingya, the UNDP showed its arrogant contempt for human rights.
So rather than attempt to disband the apparently impregnable office of the Myanmar resident coordinator, perhaps those wanting human rights at the heart of the UN Myanmar mission should strip that office of its humanitarian responsibilities and give them to a new agency, based outside the country if necessary, but, in any case, less sycophantically dependent on the junta.
UN avoided naming Rohingya and avoided blaming Myanmar
The United Nations, in some of its pronouncements on the Rohingya crisis, was guilty of deliberate obfuscation and of not using the name, ‘Rohingya’. This practice was apparently a bizarre ‘quiet diplomacy‘ attempt to ingratiate themselves with the Myanmar military dictatorship.
Not using the name ‘Rohingya’ had been Myanmar government strategy since at least 2016. It was disgusting to see the UN cravenly aping that genocidal practice.
Fortunately, not all UN officials were so spineless. The UN’s special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, appointed in 2018 by secretary-general António Guterres following criticism of the UN’s performance in Myanmar (see above), had extensive human rights experience and was willing to use the name ‘Rohingya’ – unlike some of her UN colleagues, who pussy-footed around the issue, and used waffle-words like ‘holistic‘.
There was a place for that word, but it sounded completely out of place in such a critical situation. It sounded like bullshit.
Schraner Burgener used the name ‘Rohingya’ in, for instance, a February 2019 security council briefing. Sadly, she also used the UN’s obfuscation du jour, ‘holistic‘, in that briefing – but at least she used it in a relatively meaningful sense. Referring to the complex Annan committee recommendations, she said (somewhat over-optimistically):
‘I will also continue to encourage Myanmar’s greater international cooperation towards the effective and holistic implementation of all recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.’
The word ‘holistic‘ had been used elsewhere in a far less meaningful sense by the UN and by the Myanmar government to imply that the priority was to examine and resolve the supposed interconnected complexity of the situation.
Myanmar’s intention in using such obfuscation was obviously to tell the world to clear off and mind its own business. The world – on the whole – was happy to oblige.
The UN’s intention was apparently to continue the ‘quiet diplomacy‘ approach (despite its dismal failure thus far) – but instead, the effect was to fog the issue and to deflect blame from the perpetrators of mass rape, mass murder and near-genocidal ethnic cleansing.
Although Schraner Burgener was appointed by the secretary-general, her post came under the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA). The April 2018 DPPA statement giving the background to Schraner Burgener’s new post didn’t use the name ‘Rohingya’ – but it did use the word ‘holistic‘, saying:
‘The exodus of some 700,000 refugees fleeing Rakhine state from the latest wave of violence in that region since August 2017 accentuated the urgency for holistic solutions to address the complex root causes.’
That slippery statement contained three shameful examples of UN obfuscation.
Firstly, the word ‘exodus‘, with its Biblical root, implied voluntarily leaving to return to one’s homeland. That word chimed nastily with the Myanmar junta’s genocidal propaganda lie that the Rohingya were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
According to a UN report, during the 2017 ethnic cleansing operation Rohingya villagers were told by megaphone-wielding military thugs, ‘You do not belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you.’
Thousands of Rohingya civilians were murdered and thousands of Rohingya homes were burned anyway, but those who weren’t killed were driven out of their homeland. Describing that expulsion as an ‘exodus‘ colluded with the lies of the junta.
Secondly, those expelled Myanmar residents became refugees, of course, but generically referring to them as ‘refugees’ instead of using their name, ‘Rohingya’, again colluded with the junta’s genocidal strategy.
Thirdly, the urgent need wasn’t for ‘holistic solutions to address the complex root causes‘, as the DPPA statement claimed. The urgent need was for the UN to condemn the perpetrators, and to examine its own abject failure to protect the Rohingya.
The weasel words in that DPPA statement could have come from Suu Kyi herself. In June 2017 the head of Suu Kyi’s foreign affairs ministry, explaining why Myanmar was refusing access for UN investigators, said:
‘It will not contribute to our efforts to solve the issues in a holistic manner.’
Echoing this (and eerily anticipating the later DPPA phraseology), secretary-general Guteres, in a weaselly September 2017 statement from his spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, which also didn’t use the name ‘Rohingya’, said:
‘The current situation underlines the urgency of seeking holistic approaches to addressing the complex root causes of violence.’
Such evasive caution might have been excusable at that time, when much was thought to rest on the August 2017 Annan committee recommendations – they were dumped, of course – but when the DPPA parroted that phrase in April 2018 after the rape and murder of thousands, and the expulsion of almost one million Rohingya people – and after UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein had called for Suu Kyi to face justice – there was no excuse.
It was true that the conflict between the Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists had complex roots (see below) which any agency involved needed to understand, but the resulting brutal ethnic cleansing needed no such understanding. It needed the UN to observe its responsibility to protect. Having failed to do that (thanks, China), the least the UN could then do was to openly hold the perpetrators to account.
Myanmar was a ragbag of ethnicities held together by the brute force of the Bamar junta with the support of nationalist Buddhists. The junta had no intention of examining and resolving that interconnected complexity.
The obvious solution – semi-autonomous federated regions – would have weakened the Junta’s power and their grip on Myanmar’s valuable natural resources. The UN was well aware of that realpolitik – that’s why talk of holistic solutions to complex root causes by the secretary-general and the DPPA was doublespeak bullshit.
The Rohingya were the easiest ethnic problem for the Myanmar junta to resolve – the low-hanging fruit, as it were. (That phrase was famously used in another expulsion scandal when UK immigration officials used it to encourage the meeting of deportation targets during the Windrush scandal.) The junta got rid of the Rohingya, and the world stood by and watched. There wasn’t much holistic complexity there.
The DPPA was headed by UN under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs Rosemary DiCarlo. In a January 2020 interview, DiCarlo enthused about ‘impartial mediation‘ – the quiet diplomacy strategy which led to the UN’s dysfunctional performance and systemic failure in Myanmar, according to its own damning 2019 report (see above).
That report clearly had very little effect. As with Annan’s commission, its uncomfortable truth was ignored. (See, also, above.) Annan was predictably ignored by a brutal dictatorship – but the world rightly expects better of the United Nations.
The bullshit concept of a ‘holistic approach to the complex root causes‘ of the Rohingya’s ethnic cleansing seemed as popular in the ‘quiet diplomacy‘ branches of the UN, such as the DPPA, as in the ‘fuck you‘ government of Myanmar.
As before, it brought to mind US President Donald Trump’s ridiculous August 2017 statement that the horrifying vehicle-attack murder of a peaceful protester by a white supremacist in Charlottsville, Virginia, indicated ‘blame on many sides‘.
It was shocking that the DPPA, a UN body proclaiming its ‘central role in United Nations efforts to prevent and resolve deadly conflict around the world’, should have taken such a shoddily duplicitous stance on the worst case of deliberate near-genocidal ethnic cleansing in recent times.
More recently, the name ‘Rohingya‘ did appear on some DPPA pages but apparently not in any self-generated content. It seemed they still had the same useless softly-softly approach.
If war criminal Min Aung Hlaing and colluder Aung San Suu Kyi were to be held to account for Myanmar’s near-genocidal ethnic cleansing, and if the exiled Rohingya were to be enabled to safely return home, the United Nations needed to sharpen its language – and up its game.
China, by serially vetoing UN security council proposals, had apparently closed the door on effective action to help the Rohingya. Those on the side of human rights needed to keep knocking on that door.
To do that, the UN needed some true grit – and clarity of thought and language. Having badly let the Rohingya down, the least the UN could do was call them by their name – and stop waffling. Holistic, schmolistic.
Myanmar mass-murderers penalised by UK
The UK government announced measures to name and penalise individuals accused of human rights abuse in Saudi Arabia, Russia, North Korea and Myanmar. The measures, taken immediately, included asset freezes and travel bans.
UK sanctions against individuals – as distinct from sanctions against countries – followed the setting up of an independent post-Brexit sanctions regime under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. Previously the UK was obliged to follow EU and UN regimes. Announcing the measures, foreign secretary Dominic Raab told parliament:
‘Those with blood on their hands won’t be free to waltz into this country, to buy up property on the Kings Road, do their Christmas shopping in Knightsbridge, or siphon dirty money through British banks. You cannot set foot in this country, and we will seize your blood-drenched ill-gotten gains if you try.’
Amongst those now sanctioned were Myanmar’s two top generals. Ever-smiling military commander Min Aung Hlaing, widely considered Myanmar’s master war criminal, and his greedy side-kick Soe Win were accused of serious human rights violations against the Rohingya. According to the official citation:
‘Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is Commander in Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw). In this role, he was responsible for military operations carried out in Rakhine State in 2017 and in 2019 and is responsible for atrocities and serious human rights violations committed against the Rohingya population in Rakhine state by the Tatmadaw. These include unlawful killings, including through systematic burning of Rohingya houses and buildings, massacre, torture, forced labour, systematic rape and other forms of targeted sexual violence, and enforced labour.
‘Vice Senior General Soe Win, as Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) and Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Army, had responsibility for the Tatmadaw troops who carried out serious human rights violations against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State in 2017 and 2019 including unlawful killings, torture, forced labour, systematic rape and other forms of targeted sexual violence. As Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw and Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Soe Win also has responsibility for the serious human rights violations by the Tatmadaw in connection with its business interests in the extractive industries in Myanmar. Soe Win was also involved in the financing of the Tatmadaw military operations in Rakhine State during which these violations took place, knowing that this financing would contribute to the commission of these violations.’
‘Extractive industries in Myanmar’ was a reference to greedy hardliner Win’s corrupt involvement in Myanmar’s lucrative and under-regulated timber and jade mining industries. A landslide at an under-regulated Myanmar jade mine had recently killed 160 unofficial miners. Myanmar’s jade trade was reported to be worth more than $30bn a year.
In 2019, under a similar law, the USA also sanctioned Hlaing and Win. In addition, the US sanctioned Than Oo and Aung Aung, leaders, respectively, of the 99th and 33rd light infantry divisions (LIDs). According to the citation, the 99th and 33rd LIDs engaged in serious human rights abuse:
‘In 2017, the 99th LID deployed to Rakhine State and, while there, participated in serious human rights abuses alongside the 33rd LID and other security forces. In one operation in Tula Toli, hundreds of men, women, and children were reportedly forced to the nearby riverbank where the 99th LID opened fire, executing many of the men, and forced women and girls to nearby houses where they were sexually assaulted. A number of these women and children were later stabbed and beaten, with the houses set fire while they were inside.
‘The 33rd LID participated in abuses in Rakhine State, including the August 27, 2017 operation in Chut Pyin village. This operation included extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and sexual violence, as well as firing on fleeing villagers. More than 100 people were reportedly killed in this one operation alone.’
Also in 2019, the EU adopted restrictive measures against the following Myanmar military leaders because of their ‘serious human rights violations committed against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State’:
Aung Kyaw Zaw, Maung Maung Soe, Khin Maung Soe, Thura San Lwin, Thant Zin Oo, Ba Kyaw, Tun Naing, Khin Hlaing, Aung Myo Thu, Thant Zaw Win, Kyaw Chay and Nyi Nyi Swe
Hlaing, Win, Oo, Aung and the 12 other sanctioned generals were the openly brutal, corrupt and venal war criminals with whom Suu Kyi had chosen to stay in government. Previous UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein rightly told the BBC in 2018 that Suu Kyi should have resigned and returned to house arrest rather than excusing the actions of the Myanmar military.
The UK’s newly enabled Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 was dubbed the Magnititsky Law, after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died from mistreatment in a Moscow jail in 2009 following his disclosure of a $230m Russian tax fraud against Hermitage, a UK-based international asset management company.
Hermitage chief executive Bill Browder had campaigned internationally for over ten years to enable the sanctioning of individuals like those behind Magnitsky’s death. Describing the UK government’s initiative as a ‘huge milestone‘, Browder said:
‘Most kleptocrats and human rights violators keep their money in the UK, have houses in London, and send their kids to British schools. This will have a stinging effect on bad guys around the world.’
The good guys were closing in on war criminal Hlaing. Better watch out, Suu – you could be next.
Unlike the UN (see above), the UK was – at last – no longer pussy-footing around. Unfortunately for the Uyghurs, human rights abusers in China had been left out, but if you were on the UK’s list – Pow! Sanctions!
It wasn’t justice, as such, but it was a lot better than nothing. It was a strong warning to Hlaing and his gang of warlord generals.
It was also a warning to Hlaing’s colluder and ‘nascent democracy’ window dressing, the formerly golden, now badly tarnished, figure of Aung San Suu Kyi.
This rolling blogpost has rolled to a halt.
I started writing it in 2016 to express my shock and disappointment when Aung San Suu Ky, on the verge of taking office, made her callous comment about the Rohingya. Even more shocking events soon developed, and I felt obliged to record them, along with a little editorial comment.
However, four years later, it now seems pointless to carry on recording and bemoaning the world’s near-impotence and Suu Kyi’s stubborn indifference.
Suu Kyi hasn’t just let herself down – she’s let the Rohingya down. They join the other 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world, sustained by support agencies but living in limbo.
The only hope for those 80 million people (and, for that matter, for everyone, given the climate crisis) is voluntary, federated world government. So, probably not going to happen.
The blood-stained mass murderers of the Myanmar military are now despised by the world. Every time Suu Kyi defends them, it degrades her further. It’s not too late – she could still walk away and save her soul, if not her reputation. She could apologise to the Rohingya.
Considering what they’ve been through, the Rohingya seem remarkably gentle and graceful. They might even accept Suu Kyi’s (hypothetical) apology. Shame it almost certainly won’t happen.
China could intervene in Myanmar and persuade its client junta to implement a UN-protected semi-autonomous federated region for the Rohingya to return to and rebuild their lives. That would stabilise the region and so help China’s belt and road project.
But China’s too busy persecuting its own minorities. It’s put itself beyond the pale of the civilised world community. Without Chinese pressure, there’s no prospect of a resolution from the Myanmar government.
After the USA’s Iraq fuck-up, the de facto world police force is understandably wary of regime-change expeditions, but regime change, however it comes about, is now the only hope for the Rohingya.
Goodbye, Suu – your halo’s history. Khuda Hafiz, Rohingya – abar deha oibo!
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. Vox article
10. MIMU email plus attachments
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 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.
2. Some background information
This 2015 Economist article explains the complex history of the conflict in exhaustive detail, with the aid of a map and some charts.
This 2015 chapter by Dr Anthony Ware, associate professor, international and community development, 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.
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, co-authored a prescient 2015 ISCI report, Countdown to annihalation – genocide in Myanmar which said the situation had reached stage four of the six stages of genocide (as outlined in the work of Daniel Feierstein – see below).
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.
This US NGO co-ordinates the International Alliance to End Genocide, a coalition of 40 campaign groups. A 2015 Genocide Watch statement on the Rohingya (no longer published) said Myanmar may have reached stages nine and ten of their ten stages of 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.
I came across this beautiful and moving childrens’ book by Australian author Zana Fraillon about a Rohingya boy in a detention camp.
9. Vox article
A Nobel Peace Prize winner is standing idly by as her country moves closer to genocide
This article by Sarah Wildman on US news website Vox is one of the best I’ve come across.
10. MIMU email plus attachments
ARNO said Rohingya village names had the derogatory slur ‘Ku Lar’ added. Also, the names of Rohingya villages burnt down in 2017 were omitted, apparently in breach of an order by the International Court of Justice that Myanmar must preserve evidence related to allegations of genocide.
In support of ARNO, I complained to MIMU. They sent me a long and detailed email reply with seven documents attached.
I got the impression that MIMU was acknowledging and addressing the concerns raised. However, the large amount of complex information needed expert analysis.
Hence this footnote with links to cloud-stored copies of MIMU’s email and the attached documents. Anyone interested? Analyse this:
Technical Note on Rakhine State Mapping Questions
Document 2 – Map
Village Status Changes in Rakhine State (2010 – 2019) (as per Government Gazette)
Document 3 – Four maps and a table
Reclassification of Villages to Ward in 2019 Maungdaw, Kyaukpyu, Ramree and Toungup Townships, Rakhine State
Document 4 – Map and table
Village Status Changes in Maungdaw Township (2010 – 2019) (as per Government Gazette)
Document 5 – Map
Reclassification of Villages to Wards in Maungdaw Town as per September 2019 Government Gazette
Document 6 – Four tables
Annex: Tables on Village reclassification and designation
Document 7 – List
Villages with Designation listed in MIMU Place Codes v9.2
11. 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 in Myanmar.
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.
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 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 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?
Some say 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.
12. Title recall
This 1967 Paul 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 Lennon, who thought his ‘I Am The Walrus‘, the single’s B side, should have been the A side).
13. Suu me
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.
Please feel free to comment