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Franchising genocide by the name of saving godlike democracy in Myanmar

Rohingya refugees rest after travelling over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 1, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

M Mizanur Rahman
RB Opinion
October 5, 2017

The ‘Clearance Operation’ of the Myanmar military has killed hundreds of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state and displaced thousands. More than half a million people, at least 80 per cent of whom are women and children have been able to escape persecution and fled to Bangladesh. Various media reported how dangerous and difficult journey they have undertaken and what level of horror they have experienced. In the meantime, the United Nations General Assembly had its session. When the world was looking at this highest level of institution which is supposed to uplift human rights, it has failed to do anything concrete in stopping the atrocity crimes against the Rohingya. 

Although the Rohingya crisis is coining in Myanmar for more than seven decades, from 2012 this type of cleansing has been quite frequent. The global humanitarian system or the human rights agencies including the United Nations have persistently failed to protect this ‘one of the most persecuted minority in the world’, as the UN names it. A systematic attack on the civilian has widely been recognised as crimes against humanity but the United Nations has failed to take action against it. Most importantly, it has even failed to access the affected areas or supply basic needs like food, housing, medical treatment or education in terms of aid to the affected population. 

When Myanmar has strictly restricted any international media to enter the Rakhine state, it is funding the domestic media to be the propaganda machine for the military. Very naturally, the Burmese people are getting influenced with those. Many critiques observe that a large group of the Burmese people are racist and they have a strong antagonistic view towards the Rohingya and some other ethnic groups in Myanmar. To Suu Kyi, the popularity among this population is more important than uplifting human rights and listen to the plight of the Rohingya or to the criticism of global media. 

After the recent crackdown by the name of Clearance Operation of the military, Suu Kyi received harsh criticism from around the world. Several Nobel Laureates wrote open letters to her, many have demanded for taking away her Nobel Peace Prize, St Hugh's College of Oxford where she studied has taken away her photo, she even could not join the UN general assembly and so on. But all these defamation of Suu Kyi does not mean anything to these 1.2 million people who are in critical need for survival. In the best possible case, Myanmar may again open the border and some of the Rohingya who are living in desperate situation in Bangladesh may go back to Myanmar again but what next? The way media is talking about this issue now, they won’t be doing the same after few days and the tragedy of this ethnic group will take place in the page of history and ‘text book’. 

Four strong nations i.e China, Russia, Japan and India have taken the side of Myanmar government and everybody knows that their geopolitical and economic interests have shadowed their sense of humanity. They have justified this genocide with their so-called notion of securitisation of Rohingya. Some other leaders have decided to be soft to the new born democracy which Suu Kyi is leading. In an interview, Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister, has tried to defend Suu Kyi’s failure to denounce ethnic cleansing, telling that she was in a ‘total dilemma’ because she cannot control the military. Similar comments have come from some other leaders including Julie Bishop, the foreign minister of Australia. They believe that if the international community intervenes here with any means, this baby godlike democracy will be disturbed and military will take over. Interestingly, the same group of world leaders argue that Suu Kyi does not have any functional power over military and it is the military who has the supreme controlling power. This is dangerously self-contradicting! If the democratically elected leader does not have the supreme power in the country, and military is still capturing the authoritative power, there is no point of military take-over; it is already there. Because the leverage what the military led so called democratic government is enjoying domestically and internationally, they will never want to go back to the signposted military rule. 

BBC reported that Suu Kyi created a powerful role for herself called State Counsellor to fulfil a promise of being ‘above the President’. In practical, it seems to mean ‘above’ public scrutiny as well. After being elected, Suu Kyi announced that she would resolve the ethnic struggles. But after this, some conflicts have intensified, and the Army has broken ceasefire agreements. Many of the journalists and activists who were critical of the government have been jailed. Freedom for people and tolerance of anti-government voices are still far cry in Myanmar. In an interview to a news channel, Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations notes, ‘I don’t think anyone would say Myanmar had become a democracy’. Joshua notes that it a ‘democracy work in progress’. Multiple evidences show that this government has been able to make almost no progress in terms of protecting the ethnic minorities in the country and many observe it as an extension of Thein Sein regime. Therefore, the premise of this argument of non-destabilising the baby democracy in Myanmar is flawed. 

Even if this argument is true, it is giving us two dangerous connotations: military is immune of any legal action for the crimes they commit and the international community has nothing to stop the military government from committing the major crimes like genocide, ethnic cleansing and even crimes against humanity. And secondly, the so called godlike baby democracy is more important than ethnic cleansing of 1.2 million people in a country. The world leaders who have vowed to work with the Suu Kyi government and failed to hold her responsible for this crime are somehow angering with any of these two connotations which is dangerous not only for the Rohingya but also for the world and also for humanity. 

M Mizanur Rahman is a Doctoral Researcher at the Australian National University and International Programs and Policy Manager for a Not for Profit organisation based in Australia. He can be reached by e-mail:

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