Sunday, November 4, 2012
Where is Suu Kyi's famous 'moral authority' as Muslim Rohingya homes are razed to the ground?
CHIANG MAI - The iconic international image of Burma's charismatic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is rapidly losing its lustre as she maintains her silence on the continuing violence in her country's westernmost Rakhine State.
The violence began in June, sparked by allegations that a Buddhist girl had been raped by Muslim men. After an uneasy lull, Buddhists again went on the rampage last week, killing more than 100 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority community, who have been suffering severe state persecution for decades.
Aerial photographs taken from the region show large areas of Muslim-populated towns and villages razed to the ground. About 70,000 people have so far lost their homes in the violence.
The Rohingya policy followed by the current government differs little from the discrimination inflicted by the military junta that ruled Burma for the past 50 years. Most Rohingya are regarded as non-Burmese Bengalis and are locked out of Burma's political and social structure and denied fundamental rights guaranteed by citizenship.
"Suu Kyi has lost much of her credibility because of her silence over these appalling events," SOAS University of London researcher Guy Horton told The Week. "Her evasiveness on one of the greatest human rights tragedies in the world today has lost her the commodity she has always had in abundance - her moral authority."
Horton is the author of a report on human rights violations in eastern Burma, Dying Alive, which contributed to the UN Security Council resolution in 2007 'Burma: A Threat to the Peace'.
Veteran Swedish journalist and author Bertil Lintner explained Suu Kyi's dilemma. If she condemned the attacks on Muslims, he told The Week, "many Buddhists - her main constituency - would turn against her. But if she says nothing, she'll lose credibility in the international community.
"She appears to have chosen the latter, and, consequently, criticism against her is growing among international human rights organisations and activists. From her point of view, that may be preferable to having domestic opinion, which is fiercely anti-Rohingya, turn against her."
Lintner, author of several books on Burma, who had talks with Suu Kyi in the Burmese capital Naypyidaw earlier this month, said she was already under pressure at home. "The problem is that her silence on the clashes in Rakhine state as well as the ongoing government military offensive against the Kachins in the north have already cost her a lot of popular support."
There are few Kachins who express any sympathy for Suu Kyi these days, Lintner went on, and even the Shan leader Khun Htun Oo said in an interview while he was in the US last month that she has become "neutralised". Many young Burmese are also becoming critical of her for other reasons, arguing that she has moved far too close to the government and the military.
But does Suu Kyi have any choice, if she wants to win the 2015 election? Guy Horton believes other great leaders "would have reacted differently and grasped the nettle...
"Gandhi, for instance, went on hunger strike to try to stop exactly the kind of horror of what is being inflicted in Rakhine State today. Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King - moral leaders with whom she is compared - would have shown solidarity with the victims and called for passive resistance. Instead, she has just collected prizes - including the US Congressional Medal of Honour - from a fawning world."
In Horton's view, it's no exaggeration to say that what is happening in Rakhine State is similar to the persecution endured by the Jews in 1930s Germany.
"It should be noted that a call by President Thein Sein for the deportation of the Rohingya or their forcible transfer into camps amounts to an incitement to commit a crime against humanity, as defined in the Rome Statute," Horton told The Week.
"In addition, the destructive targeting of a racial/religious group may amount to a form of genocide. The UN Special Rapporteur on Burma should renew his call for an investigation into crimes against humanity in Burma, which are not subject to the whims of political feasibility."
However, Maung Zarni, a Burma expert and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, has a different view, telling the Associated Press: "Politically, Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from opening her mouth on this. She is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She's a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote."
Horton challenged Zarni's view: "If she adopts such a position of cynical Realpolitik the long-term consequences are that she will lose not only her moral credibility, but the support of most ethnic people and possibly the 2015 election itself."
First one body appeared, floating in the waters of the Bay of Bengal, then another, and another, until those on board the little fishing boat that had gone to their rescue began to lose count.
Those bobbing lifeless among the waves had set out the night before, so desperate to escape the growing sectarian violence in Burma that they were prepared to risk boarding the dangerously overcrowded boat.
At least 130 had clambered aboard, but the boat foundered – whether it capsized because of the weight of bodies or because it struck rocks remains unclear.
The sinking last week was the worst reported incident resulting from the outbreak of violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Burma. The death toll is continuing to rise amid reports of a deepening humanitarian crisis.
"The situation is dire. The UN is doing its best, but it is trying to find more funding to help them," said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an NGO working with the Rohingya.
With at least 32,000 people displaced by the latest violence – and at least 107,000 since trouble broke out in June – thousands have sought safety in refugee camps around the Burmese town of Sittwe. Those camps are at crisis point, according to Refugees International, which estimates that nearly a quarter of children were malnourished.
"Conditions in these camps are as bad, if not worse, than ones in eastern Congo or Sudan," said Melanie Teff, a researcher with the charity who visited Sittwe in September. "Child malnutrition rates are startlingly high. There's an urgent need for clean water and food. If further aid does not come through, there will be some unnecessary deaths."
In Baw Du Pha relief camp, where several thousand Rohingya refugees from Sittwe are surviving on rations and are severely short of medical care, Laila, 20, a mother of four, said: "I cannot give my baby rice when she needs it. We are suffering. When my daughter gets sick we have no money for medicine."
Compounding the need for essentials such as rice, water and oil, aid workers said refugees were facing a mounting psychological toll, with children bearing the brunt. "They lost their houses in the fires. Children cannot be left alone like before. So they're depressed," said Moe Thadar, a local Red Cross worker.
The death toll and fear of further violence have prompted many of the Rohingya to look for sanctuary in neighbouring Muslim countries. Many have concluded that the only realistic escape route is by sea. Thousands are reported to have been waiting for the end of the rainy season to put to sea. Those that have tried to get away have found that those countries are unwilling to accept them. Lewa said at least two boats had been turned back by Bangladesh last week and had returned to Sittwe.
"On Wednesday, we heard that about 7,000 people had arrived in Sittwe from Kyaukpyu [on the coast to the south] and Pauktaw [inland and to the east]. There were still about 900 of them sitting on the beach in Sittwe, while others had moved to camps or villages."
The UN has urged the Burmese government to tackle the causes of the conflict, prompting authorities to order people to turn in their weapons to police. It also urged Burma's neighbours to not to close their borders, but the appeal brought no immediate change of heart.
Some of those who have fled, such as the victims of last week's sinking, headed for Malaysia, where people-smugglers will take them for a fee. Others are looking closer to home – to Bangladesh and Thailand – but neither country wants them. Bangladesh is already home to around 300,000 Rohingya and is concerned about rising numbers. It has said that it will turn away boats, although people near Cox's Bazar, close to where last week's accident happened, said that some had made land and gone into hiding. Thailand does not want them and has been accused of forcing refugee boats back out to sea when they have tried to land. The latest assessment from the Burmese government – which regards the Rohingya as illegal immigrants – said 89 people had been killed in clashes between 21 and 30 October, with another 136 injured and 32,231 made homeless. At least 5,000 houses had been burned down. Activists say the true figures are likely to be higher.
"The villages have been burned down and some people have fled. A few have remained in the area, but others have tried to flee to the camps in Sittwe," said Lewa. "In some villages quite a lot of people have been killed, but we are still trying to find out how they died. Some died in the fires and some were attacked by Rakhine [Buddhists]. We also heard that the army shot at some of the Rakhine people. We heard about 170 people killed in one village alone."
Teff said the outlook for peace was grim. "There is a total lack of hope for the Rohingya. They have been rejected by many countries," she said. "The only way out is for the international community to act on the current situation."
We call upon all organisations and individuals, who support human rights for the Rohingya, to unite to take action on November 8th. On this date it will be 5 months since violent attacks against the Rohingya began in Arakan.
We call you for demonstrations at Burmese Embassies or the Foreign Ministry in your respective countries.
The Rohingya have been rendered stateless in their own homeland by the most oppressive Burma Citizenship Law of 1982. Due to Under Thein Sein government’s systematic racism and ethnic cleansing policy against Rohingya, the violent attacks against them erupted in June, 2012. Since then
· Many thousands of Rohingya have been killed.
· Thousands of Rohingya are missing.
· Thousands of homes have been destroyed.
· Hundreds of women have been raped.
· More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.
· Hundreds and thousands of Rohingya have been living under siege while most of them suffering from starvation and diseases.
· Rohingya refugees and internally displaced are blocked from receiving adequate food, shelters, medical treatment and other humanitarian aids.
· A new system of apartheid against Rohingya is being introduced and practised.
We call on you to urge your respective governments for the followings:
SUPPORT U.N. PEACEKEEPING FORCE AND INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS ON THE GROUND
The Burmese government is NOT only failing to protect its Rohingya population but has also been the primary force behind the systematic persecution of them. It is important that further attacks, killings and destruction are immediately stopped. Now the responsibility to protect them lies with the international community.
FULL AND FREEE ACESS FOR DELIVERY OF AID
The government of Burma is blocking aid to many Rohingya areas and only allowing limited aid to those in camps for the displaced .An international effort must be made to ensure the delivery of aid in the same way pressure was applied to the government of Burma when they blocked aid after Cylone Nargis.
A UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
Urge your government to support for the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry into what has taken place in Arakan State. A UN Inquiry is the only way the true facts can be established, those responsible can be held to account, and recommendations can be made to prevent further violence.
REPEAL OF THE 1982 CITIZENSHIP LAW
The 1982 Citizenship Law deprives Rohingya of their citizenship and underpins repression of the Rohingya. The international community must put pressure on the government of Burma to repeal and replace it with a law in line with international law standards and human rights principles.
Thein Sein’s government could have stopped the violence. Instead, the President asked for international support in expelling all Rohingya from Burma.
We, therefore, call for a peaceful global day of action on November 8th to urge international community to act in order to save the lives of the Rohingyas.
Signatories on this statement
1)Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO)
2)Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK)
3)Burmese Rohingya Association Japan (BRAJ)
4)Burmese Rohingya Community in Australia (BRCA)
5)Burmese Rohingya Association Deutschland (BRAD)
6)Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand (BRAT)
7)Burmese Rohingya Community in Denmark ( BRCD)
8)Burmese Rohingya Community in Netherlands (BRCNL)
9)Rohingya League for Democracy Burma (RLDB)
10)Rohingya Community in Norway (RCN)
11)Rohingya Society Malaysia (RSM)
12)Rohingya Information Center Malaysia (RIC)
For more information, please contact:
Aman Ullah : + 880 15584 8691
Tun Khin: + 44 (0) 788 871 4866
Monday, October 22, 2012
Friday, October 19, 2012
The situation of the Rohingya is an archetypal example of acute vulnerability in a state-centric world. In 1982 the territorial government of Burma stripped away the citizen rights of the impoverished Rohingya Muslims who have lived in Arakan for many generations, but are cynically claimed by Rangoon to be unlawful new migrants from bordering Bangladesh who do not belong in Burma and have no right to remain or to burden the state or cause tension by their presence. Bangladesh, in turn, itself among the world’s poorest countries, already has 500,000 Rohingya who fled across the Burmese border after earlier attacks on their communities, and has closed its borders to any further crossings by those escaping persecution, displacement, destruction of their homes and villages, and threats to their lives. To deepen this aspect of the tragedy, only 10% of these migrants who fled from Burma have been accepted as ‘refugees’ by the UN High Commission of Refugees, and the great majority of the Rohingya living in Bangladesh for years survive miserably as stateless persons without rights and living generally at or even below subsistence levels. The Rohingya who continue to exist precariously within Arakan are stateless and unwanted, many are reported to wish openly for their own death. As a group they endure hardships and deprivations in many forms, including denial of health services, educational opportunity, and normal civil rights, while those who have left for the sake of survival, are considered to be comparatively fortunate if they manage to be accepted as ‘refugees’ even if their status as undocumented refugees means the absence of minimal protection, the denial of any realistic opportunity for a life of dignity, and the terrifying uncertainties of being at the continuing mercy of a hostile community and an inhospitable state.
The principal purpose of this educational conference sponsored by Mazlumder, a Turkish NGO with strong Muslim affinities, was to gather experts to report on the situation and urge the audience to take action and thereby mobilize public opinion in support of the Rohingya people. It served to reinforce the high profile diplomatic and aid initiatives undertaken in recent months by the Turkish government to relieve the Rohingya plight. It also called attention to the strange and unacceptable silence of Aung San Suu Kyi, the widely admired democratic political leader in Burma, herself long placed under punitive house arrest by the ruling military junta and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize honoring her heroic resistance to dictatorship in her country. Her voice on behalf of justice for Burmese ethnic and religious minorities, and especially for the Rohingya, would carry great weight among Buddhists in the country and with world public opinion, and might shame the government into taking appropriate action. As it is, the present Burmese leadership and the prevailing tendency in domestic public opinion is to view the conflict as intractable, with preferred solutions being one or another version of ethnic cleansing, a crime against humanity—either forced deportation or the distribution of the Rohingya throughout the country so as to destroy their identity as a coherent people with deep historical roots in northern Arakan. Outside pressures from Saudi Arabia and the United States might help to rally wider international concern, especially if tied to Burma’s economic goals. Aside from Turkey, governments have been reluctant to put pressure on Rangoon in this period because the Rangoon leadership has softened their dictatorial style of governance and seem to be moving toward the establishment of constitutional democracy in the country.
What struck me while listening to the presentations at the conference was how powerful language can become when its role is to think with the heart. I have always found that women are far less afraid to do this in public spaces than men. We fully secular children of the European Enlightenment are brainwashed from infancy, taught in myriad ways that instrumental reason and logical analysis are the only acceptable ways to think and express serious interpretations of societal reality. Mrs. Erdogan not only thinks with her heart, but she infuses such thought with an obvious religious consciousness that conveys a spiritual commitment to empathy that neither needs nor relies upon some sort of rational justification.
Such a powerful rendering of suffering reminded me of James Douglass’s use of the realm of the ‘unspeakable’ (in turn inspired by the Catholic mystic author and poet, Thomas Merton) to address those crimes that shock our conscience but can only be diminished in their magnitude by speech. Their essential horror cannot be comprehended by expository language even if it is emotively heightened by an inspirational appeal. Only that blend of thinking with the heart combined the existential validation of direct witnessing can begin to communicate what we know, in the organic sense of knowing, to be the reality. I have discovered in my attempt to address the Palestinian ordeal as honestly as possible that direct contact with the actualities of occupation and the experience of listening closely to those who have been most directly victimized is my only way to approximate the existential reality. For this reason, my exclusion by Israel from visiting Occupied Palestine in my UN role does not affect the rational legal analysis of the violation of Palestinian rights under international law, but it does diminish my capacity as a witness to touch the live tissue of these violations, and erodes my capacity to convey to others a fuller sense of what this means for the lives and wellbeing of those so victimized. Of course, UN reports are edited to drain their emotive content in any event.
I recall also my experience with the world media after a 1968 visit to Hanoi in the midst of the Vietnam War. I had been invited by a European lawyers’ organization to view the bomb damage in North Vietnam at a time when American officials, especially the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, were claiming ‘the most surgical strikes in the history of air warfare.’ I accepted this ‘controversial’ invitation to visit ‘the enemy’ during an ongoing war, although the fighting was somewhat paused at the time, as ‘a realist’ opponent of the war, basically accepting the position of Bernard Fall, George Kennan, and Hans Morgenthau that it was a losing proposition to suppose that the U.S. could achieve what the French colonial occupying power was unable to do and that it was a costly diversion of resources and attention from more important security concerns. My experience in Hanoi transformed my understanding and outlook on the war. It was a result of meeting many of the leaders, including the Prime Minister on several occasions, visiting bombed villages, talking with peasants and ordinary Vietnamese, and most of all, realizing the total vulnerability of the country to the military superiority of the United States with no prospect of retaliation—the concrete and cumulative terror of being on the receiving end of one-sided war that continues for years. I came away from North Vietnam convinced that ‘the enemy,’ and especially its people, was on the right side of history, and the United States, and the badly corrupted Saigon regime that it propped up, was on the wrong side; above all, I felt the pain of the Vietnamese and was moved by their courage, humanity, and under the dire circumstances, their uncanny faith in humanity and their own collective destiny as a free nation. It produced a sea change in my mindset concerning the Vietnam War, and ever since.
When I left Vietnam, and returned to Paris, I received lots of attention from mainstream media, but total disinterest from these prominent journalists in what was for me the most important outcome of the trip—the realization of what it meant humanly for a peasant society to be on the receiving end of a high tech war machine of a distant superpower whose homeland was completely outside what is now being called ‘the hot battlefield.’ The journalists had no interest in my (re)interpretation of the war, but they were keenly eager to report on proposals for ending the conflict that had been entrusted to me by Vietnamese leaders to convey to the United States Government upon my return. It turned out that the contour of these proposals was more favorable from Washington’s point of view than what was negotiated four years and many deaths later by Henry Kissinger, who ironically received a Nobel Peace Prize for his questionable efforts. My main reflection relates back to the Arakan meeting. The media is completely deaf to the concerns of the heart, and is only capable of thinking, if at all, with the head. It limits thought to what can be set forth analytically, as if emotion, law, and morality are irrelevant to forming an understanding of public events. What at the time interested the New York Times and CBS correspondents, who were sympathetic and intelligent individuals, was the shaping of a diplomatic bargain that might end the war, whether it was a serious proposal, and whether Washington might be interested. It turned out that Washington was not ready for even such a favorable compromise, and plodded on for several years, culminating in the unseemly withdrawal in 1975 in the setting of a thinly disguised surrender.
Poets in the West, caught between a cultural insistence on heeding the voice of reason and their inability to transfer feelings and perceptions into words, vent their frustration with language as the only available vehicle for truth-telling. As T.S. Eliot memorably expressed it in the final section of his great poem East Coker:
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Imagine if the master poet of the English language in the prior century gives voice to such feelings of defeat (paradoxically in one of the great modern poems), how must the rest of us feel! We who are mere journeymen of the written word fault ourselves for inadequacies of depictions and usually lack the temerity to blame the imperfect medium of language for the shortcomings of efforts to communicate that which eludes precise expression.
Earlier in the same poem Eliot writes some lines that make me wonder if I have not crossed a line in the sands of time, and should long ago have taken refuge in silent vigil:
…..Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly
Richard Falk is an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Read more articles by Richard Falk.