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."

People displaced by the recent violence in Pauktaw pass the time at their shelters at Owntaw refugee camp for Muslims outside Sittwe. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

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, the undersigned Rohingya organisations worldwide are calling for a global day of action in support of human rights for the Rohingya people of Burma.

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:


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.


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.


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.


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