Latest Highlight

About one million Rohingya refugees are in Bangladesh [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

By Anealla Safdar
February 20, 2018

UK-based activists, who hail from opposite sides of Myanmar conflict, on why Rohingya repatriation plan is not solution.

England, United Kingdom - As Myanmar's Rohingya continue to trickle into neighbouring Bangladesh, extending a six-month exodus, talk of repatriation simmers at the diplomatic level.

There are already about one million members of the persecuted, mostly-Muslim minority struggling in overcrowded camps in the South Asian country.

They have fled what several international leaders have termed a genocide in Myanmar, their home country where they are not granted the simplest of rights - including citizenship.

Victims and rights groups have provided evidence of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Myanmar security forces stand accused of raping Rohingya women, tossing babies into fires, burning down entire villages and slaughtering thousands.

In January, Bangladesh and Myanmar announced a repatriation deal, prompting concerns from rights groups and members of the Rohingya.

The Rohingya were not consulted about the agreement, which does not guarantee safety upon return or basic rights such as full citizenship.

"Some people asked me - how can we return to this place?" says Tun Khin, a Rohingya activist and the head of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, who visited camps in Bangladesh last week.

"It is a joke. It is not the time to talk about repatriation," he adds. 

On Thursday, Tun Khin will address students at the University of Oxford, a symbolic location.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de-facto leader charged with complicity over killings of Rohingya, studied at the university's St Hugh's College. 

Students there, angered that Aung San Suu Kyi remained a revered figure across campus as the crisis unfolded in Myanmar, recently succeeded in removing her portrait from the entrance and name from a common room.

Tun Khin will be joined on the panel by Maung Zarni, a member of Myanmar's Buddhist majority who hails from a military family. The scholar and activist, who is also based in the UK, says he is in "complete opposition to what my own community is doing to Tun Khin's community".

Al Jazeera spoke with Tun Khin and Zarni on plans to repatriate the Rohingya, the West's role in ending persecution and the apparent failure of the UN Security Council to stop the bloodshed.

Tun Khin visited camps in Bangladesh last week [Courtesy: Tun Khin]

Al Jazeera: Earlier this month, Boris Johnson, the UK's foreign secretary, returned from Myanmar and Bangladesh and said there was no doubt "industrial ethnic cleansing"of Rohingya Muslims had been taking place. Does this statement from a Western figure mark some kind of a turning point?

Tun Khin: As a Rohingya myself, I am a victim of genocide. This is not something that is happening just right now, it's been happening since 1978 when my mother was pregnant with me. I was born in Burma. My family fled to Bangladesh, and came back without any citizenship.

(Note: In 1978, Myanmar drove out "illegal"residents. Many Rohingya fled to Bangladesh but returned following international pressure. In 1982, Myanmar's Citizenship Law deprived the Rohingya of citizenship.)

The West knows what has been happening. There are well documented UK and US embassies in Yangon - they are all aware of what's been happening over many years to the Rohingya. 

What's been happening since August is clearly a genocide, which they knew about.

It's good to see Boris Johnson visited, but we haven't seen any significant action from the UK government to stop this genocide.

Maung Zarni: The Rohingya and Burmese Buddhists and other ethnic communities - we belong in the same country. Tun Khin's community has been singled out for, essentially, intentional destruction from its very root. This has been going on for 40 years since 1978 [and] the UN and its member states and the UK, US - they know more than enough to determine that this is a classic case of a genocide.

The problem is members states of the UN, particularly the UN Security Council. The Security Council is essentially in a coma in the case of Rohingya, in the case of Syria, in the case of Yemen.

Before this exodus, Yangon was the place every world leader and delegation went - they wanted to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, they wanted to visit her home.

Now, Burma is no longer democratising, Burma is actually going backward and moving in the fascist direction.

Now every single iconic figure with concerns about refugees is travelling to Bangladesh. Hollywood stars, heads of states, and Boris Johnson. I must say I am a little bit encouraged by the fact Johnson went there, he went strongly in support of the Rohingya and called it 'industrial ethnic cleansing'.

Now, Burma is no longer democratising, Burma is actually going backward and moving in the fascist direction. 

But I am very concerned [the West continues to] express support for Aung San Suu Kyi and portray her as the only hope and prospect for democratisation.

She is part of this genocide.

Al Jazeera: As you have mentioned, the language used by some international figures refers to genocide, while rights groups have spoken of an apartheid. Why does action not match this rhetoric?

Zarni: As much as it sounds impractical, there needs to be a concerted push by four or five major governments. French President Macron called this genocide. Boris Johnson called it industrial ethnic cleansing. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called it ethnic cleansing.

These are three major permanent UN Security Council members. You cannot describe a situation like this and then not consider very forceful options, even if the Burmese government and its neighbours are unprepared to act.

[Then there are] Islamic countries such as Turkey and Egypt recognising this as a major atrocity and crime.

We need a coalition of seriously concerned governments deciding what to do to.

Tun Khin is the head of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK [Courtesy: Tun Khin]

Al Jazeera: What does concrete action look like to you?

Tun Khin: I met refugees who fled Myanmar as recently as last week. It's a joke to talk about repatriation. It is not the time to talk about repatriation from this government. It's time to see how we can use the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try [Myanmar military chief] Min Aung Hlaing and Aung San Suu Kyi. They joined together to commit genocide.

The Rohingya want safety and protection - so we need a UN-protected area for their return.

Zarni: Before we can take any action, we need to accept the reality. The reality is that Burma - the society and military and government of Aung San Suu Kyi - has shown absolutely no indication that it will accept the Rohingya as an ethnic community who deserve full and equal citizenship as well as basic human rights, like everyone else in the country.

When you have a situation where the entire society and entire military and entire political class have rejected an ethnic community, then it is dishonest for any politician and any UN official leader to keep saying they want to see voluntary safe and dignified return.

What the Rohingya need is a piece of earth that they can call their home, where they don’t need to worry about being slaughtered or their houses and villages being burned. 

Return is no longer an option. If the Burmese army or Aung San Suu Kyi said they want to receive the Rohingya back, that is simply a deception to try to defuse the international attention and get the international community off its back.

What the Rohingya need is a piece of earth that they can call their home, where they don't need to worry about being slaughtered or their houses and villages being burned.

What we need to see is a small number of genuinely concerned leaders around the world to call a special conference to create an autonomous region for the Rohingya, where they can feel safe and protected by the UN and neighbouring government of Bangladesh and others. I don't think any other solution will work. 

We are not talking about [for example, the] creation of a Jewish state out of Palestine where there were already pre-existing populations that got kicked out. We are simply looking at the land where Rohingya were kicked out from, where Rohingya belong.

Tun Khin: These people have been in trauma - they are not talking about returning. Some people ask me, 'How can we return to this place?'There is no way to return.

Some who fled recently told me the military came to their village and told them they needed to go to an immigration office. When they left, the military burned down their homes. When they got back, the military arrested them, claiming they had burned their own houses. They were arrested for 10 days until they could pay the military a big bribe.

The people want UN protection - international protection. Everyone sees Rohingya as illegal immigrants, and says, 'just kill them all'.

Nobody will return unless there is forced repatriation.

Bangladesh and Myanmar announced a repatriation deal in January [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera: While you both seek an autonomous region for the Rohingya, what other scenarios could be expected regarding repatriation?

Zarni: It's in the interest of the Bangladeshi government to try to get as many Rohingya as possible returned to Burma - this is a large number of humans that Bangladesh is being burdened with. We need to understand frustrations and fears of Bangladesh of shouldering one million people on top of its 166 million.

From the Burmese military's perspective, they would want this process of repatriation to be drawn out as much as possible.

[Repatriation] is like telling Auschwitz survivors to go back and make a living in Auschwitz.

Al Jazeera: In Bangladesh, as well as overcrowding issues in the camps, what other challenges do the Rohingya face?

Zarni: The danger here is that thousands of Rohingya are facing health and existential crises. In the next three to four months, there will be monsoon season. 

They are in a low-lying area and Bangladesh is flood-prone. They are facing the extremely dangerous prospect of being washed away.

The outbreak of infectious diseases, diarrhoea and what not [is also a concern].

And then you have another 500,000 trapped inside Burma, whose lives are squeezed by Burmese military.

Al Jazeera: In a few days, you will speak at the University of Oxford, where Aung San Suu Kyi is a noted graduate. Why is the location important?

Zarni: Oxford University is playing this bystander role. It is looking on when genocide is happening under the watch of its most famous alumna.

The university maintains official ties with the University of Yangon, where genocidal views are espoused.

Oxford also has an exchange programme for Burmese scholars and researchers. They become more articulate and better educated and use the Oxford training to justify the genocide of the Rohingya and to cover up.

We want students to tell the Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson to cut institutional ties with Yangon, to strip Aung San Suu Kyi of her doctorate. If the university doesn't have precedent, it should make an exception.

Tun Khin: As a Rohingya myself, I want to bring the messages of the victims to the University of Oxford.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Maung Zarni at the Oxford Union Genocide Panel on January 29, 2018 - Courtesy

By Rifat Islam Esha
February 19, 2018

Maung Zarni is a Myanmarese academic exiled in the UK who is an activist, commentator and expert on Myanmar. He is currently a scholar with the Documentation Centre of Cambodia at the Sleuk Rith Institute. In an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune, he talks about the Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar which, he says, from the Myanmar army’s perspective is a tactical retreat in the face of heavy artillery of international condemnations, criticisms and reimposition of sanctions, and it might take around 10-20 years to complete

Over 688,000 Rohingya entered Bangladesh between August 25, 2017 and February 11, 2018, after Myanmar security forces launched a brutal crackdown against the mainly Muslim minority – following militant attacks on border outposts and an army base by insurgents.

As agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23, the Rohingya repatriation process was supposed to start on January 23. However, it was delayed, and on Friday (February 16), Bangladesh handed over its first list of 1,673 Rohingya families (8,032 individuals) to Myanmar to start the first phase of repatriation to their homeland.

Do you think the Rohingya repatriation ever will take place?

Yes, the repatriation will take place because both Dhaka and Naypyidaw wants it. Dhaka wants it to take place because the pressure of 688,000 (in addition to the pre-existing Rohingya refugees from the previous waves since 1991) needs to be relieved and wants to set the new process of reducing the number of Rohingyas from its soil. Myanmar wants repatriation because it wants to show the world that its intention is not genocide or ethnic cleansing, and it has this mistaken belief that taking back the Rohingyas who survived the Myanmar troops’ mass-slaughter will make it difficult for the world to press charges of ethnic cleansing or genocide. As the former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, the veteran US envoy and diplomat, said it openly: “Repatriation is a big whitewash,” of Myanmar’s international state crimes against Rohingya. From the Myanmar military’s perspective repatriation is a tactical retreat in the face of heavy artillery of international condemnations, criticisms and reimposition of sanctions.

How long do you think it might take?

Well, there are estimated one million Rohingyas who fit the textbook example of refugees – although Dhaka chose to invent its own term “displaced people of Myanmar,” even under the most conducive circumstances it will take 10-20 years, especially at the rate Myanmar side wants to receive.

Do you think the Rohingya people’s return will be “safe, voluntary and dignified”?

Absolutely not. I actually avoid that international mantra coming from INGOs, UN agencies and governments following Kofi Annan’s phraseology. How can the return ever be “safe, voluntary and dignified” for a million people whose physical, cultural, economic, social and intellectual existence, as a minority community has been completely and intentionally destroyed from its very foundations? Myanmar military burned nearly 350 villages systematically in a region stretching 100 kilometres within several months. Myanmar’s Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing viewed – and officially told the nation of anti-Rohingya racists – that the army is engaged in completing the “unfinished business” from the WWII. I will say the “finished business” is charred villages where any physical traces of Rohingyas are being bulldozed. Those thousands of Rohingya who still remain inside Myanmar today just told the Canadian Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, last week that they feel like they are “in a big cage” where they have absolutely no freedom of movements for accessing food, medicine, jobs, etc. I want to ask those politicians and officials who spit out this mind-numbing delusional phrase, why they are knowingly pussyfooting around Myanmar’s blatant violations of the Genocide Convention – an inter-state treaty, and focusing on sending the Rohingya survivors back to what really is a vast complex of past and future concentration camps inside Myanmar.

What role can the UNHCR play?

UNHCR is primarily mandated to protect Rohingyas. Its leadership has been doing a good job, telling the Security Council – and the world at large – the unpalatable truth being that the conditions inside Myanmar are absolutely non-conducive to any form of return of Rohingyas. It should continue to discharge its main mission of protecting and promoting the well-being of the one million Rohingyas on Bangladeshi soil. It should persuade Dhaka to accept Rohingyas as legally defined refugees and genocide survivors – not simply “forcibly displaced persons from Myanmar.”

How much power does the military still have over the state and how much power does the government have to address this crisis?

The military has all the power to end the persecution of Rohingya. But the military will not cease the genocide because it has since late 1960’s institutionalized the eradication of Rohingyas from the group’s very foundations on the false, racist and paranoid ground that they are Bangladesh’s “proxy” Muslim population inside the strategic Western region. Suu Kyi’s civilian leadership shares these paranoid and anti-Muslim racist policies as well. The difference between the Myanmar generals and Suu Kyi government, particularly Suu Kyi herself, is not in kind, but in degree. This is the racist woman who cannot bring herself to respect the right of Rohingya to self-identify as Rohingya or cannot embrace the truth that Rohingyas are a part of Myanmarese society at large, despite her Oxford education and decades of life in liberal western societies. It’s no longer about whether if Suu Kyi had more power would she have been able to end it. The fact is whatever limited power the civilian government has it uses it to deny, dismiss and cover up the military’s crimes against humanity and genocide against Rohingyas. Remember, Suu Kyi has consistently praised the ethnic cleansing and Myanmar army for “doing a good job.”

How effective do you think are the recommendations made by the Advisory Commission?

Absolutely zero effect, despite the loud chorus of support from UN and government quarters for its recommendations. To start with, the military did not welcome Kofi Annan’s involvement from day one at all. It attempted to derail, block or otherwise mitigate the commission’s influence on policy and public opinion. As a matter of fact, it was Myanmar military that was determined to kill the final report upon delivery in August 2017: Annan’s recommendations stand in the way of the military’s attempt to complete its “unfinished business.” One has to be absolutely delusional and stupid not to see how this report plays right into the hands of the Myanmar generals. The military strategists simply honey-trapped the young, primitively armed angry Rohingya militants to attack a few military and police outposts as they wanted the pretext to launch the large scale genocidal campaign of terror within a few days of Kofi Annan’s report.

My reading of the turn of events since August 26, 2017 stands in sharp contrast with the mainstreamed but patently false view that ARSA triggered these military operations by Myanmar that led to the displacement of 688,000 Rohingyas, burning of nearly 350 villages. ARSA is no Hamas in terms of its capacity or strength. Not even Israel has inflicted this level of genocidal destruction of its target. Myanmar is worse than Israel.

Lt General Kyaw Swe, the home affairs minister, who was in Dhaka on an official visit mentioned that Myanmar was keen to implement a few Annan Commission recommendations. It is a complete act of deception. When the military failed to derail Kofi Annan commission’s work, it attempted to use Annan as its outermost shield internationally. The ex-major and Myanmar spokesperson Zaw Htay said this openly.

What should be done to ensure the security and basic rights of the Rohingya people?

In the short run, the world needs to monitor the Rohingya’s plight very closely. Four types of large Rohingya populations exist today: 307,500 pre-existing Rohingya refugees and 688,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh; nearly half a million inside Myanmar among whom 120,000 are in IDP camps where they are languishing in inhuman conditions; then there are Rohingyas in vast open prisons in areas that are not yet attacked or destroyed by Myanmar military and its Rakhine local militia and vigilantes. Dhaka needs massive infusion of humanitarian assistance both in cash and in kind so that no public health epidemics break out in these large refugee areas of Cox’s Bazaar and Chittagong. 100,000 Rohingyas who are apprised as the most vulnerable as soon as the monsoon season begins, need urgent assistance with relocation, and material support.

In the long run, the only viable safeguard for Rohingyas against Myanmar’s evidently genocidal national policies is to help establish North Arakan sub-region – which has been predominantly Rohingya since Myanmar’s independence – and historically, as UN-protected self-administered Rohingya home. Of course, Myanmar will resist any attempt to help put Rohingyas back on their own ancestral soil. But no genocides ever end without the intervention of some sort from outside power. The Security Council will never authorize intervention although it is tasked with the principal duty of promoting peace and protecting world’s population. Just remember how Bangladesh was liberated from the nasty genocidal attacks by West Pakistan in 1971. Bangladesh had 12 million Bengali or East Pakistani refugees back then. Now you are a nation with a vibrant economy.

Rohingya people deserve and need a piece of earth they can call home, where they can be Rohingya, where they go to school, access medical services, have proper villages, tend to their farms and look after their families – without having to fear being locked in this cycle of large scale terror and violence, forced repatriation, living in “big cages” inside Myanmar – until the next waves of killing and destruction comes.

Prime Time interview called Channel i X-clusive Interview with Dr Maung Zarni, Bangladesh, 26 Nov 2017

Dr Zarni: "I had supported both Suu Kyi and the generals, in good faith. But they've crossed the line."

British Member of Parliament George Foulkes (Photo: Dhaka Tribune)

By Shovel Mamun, Ashif Islam Shaon
November 12, 2017

Shovel Mamun and Ashif Islam Shaon of Dhaka Tribune speaks with British Member of Parliament George Foulkes

He discussed the upcoming Bangladesh general election in 2019 and the Rohingya crisis. Foulkes, Baron Foulkes of Cumnock PC is a British Labour Co-operative life peer. He has been a member of the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and as a life peer is now a member of the House of Lords.

What could Commonwealth countries do to solve the Rohingya problem?

Bangladesh has done a lot better than a lot of countries with the Rohingya crisis. Both the people and the government of Bangladesh should be congratulated for their sincere efforts. We want to help Bangladesh and are making every effort to ensure CAP countries are beside Bangladesh to help solve this problem. Every country should put pressure on Myanmar to address their responsibilities.

My hope is that the Rohingya problem is resolved quickly. But things as they are, Bangladesh is a developing country and is faced with far more complications than other developed countries. Britain along with other countries has started to provide funds and assistance to the Bangladeshi government to aid in the effort.

We will raise the Rohingya issue in our parliament to find an effective solution.

Do you think there is a bilateral solution to this problem?

There is a need to have a bilateral agreement between the countries on this issue and Bangladesh needs support from other countries such as the UK. If there is commitment from the global community, it is possible to find a bilateral solution.

In your opinion, do you think Myanmar government has been delaying their efforts to find a solution?

Yes they are. This is genocide. British media has broadcasted reports of Myanmar army torturing the Rohingya people. Every country has a responsibility to pressurise the Myanmar government to find an effective solution quickly.

What are your thoughts on the polls for the upcoming Bangladeshi elections?

Great Britain has been practicing democracy for a very long time. I visited Bangladesh in 1991 during national elections and at the time, all parties, including BNP and Awami league, participated in what I felt was a free and fair electoral process.

However, in the previous election many questions were raised and phrases like “one party election” were being thrown around. My hope is that all parties will come together and participate in the upcoming national elections because in the end, democracy doesn’t work without participation.

What are some challenges in a democracy?

There are a lot of challenges. Take Russia for instance who are said to have influenced the recent US Polls by using social media. Fabricating news to influence the outcome of an election is a global issue and Bangladesh is no exception.

There is however, a difference between developed countries and developing countries such as Bangladesh. In the US, people are able to go and vote freely in a safe and secure polling station that are monitored and where vote rigging is not possible. While the economy of Bangladesh is rising, it is still developing and that brings its own set of challenges.

October 18, 2017

TEHRAN -- Activist and scholar Maung Zarni says that the plight of Muslim Rohingyas has gotten worse under the administration of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and now there are about 100,000 Rohingyas fleeing their homeland every week.

The Burmese scholar in an exclusive interview with FNA said that Aung San SuuKyi’s leadership has been the direct product of the icon manufacturing by Western media and activists which was intended to give acceptability to what, he believes, is a “military-controlled ethnocracy, wrapped in Buddhism”.

According to the rights activist, Rohingyas in Myanmar live under restrictive measures of movement, marriage and child control in either open prisons or internally displaced persons camps (IDP camps). He also added that the Muslim minority’s access to food supplies and medical care is awfully limited.

Maung Zarni is a democracy advocate, Rohingya campaigner, and an adviser to European Centre for the Study of Extremism. He is also a research fellow at Genocide Documentation Centre and has been frequently interviewed by international media outlets such as BBC, Al Jazeera, Press TV and TRT World.

FNA has conducted an interview with Maung Zarni about the terrible living conditions of the Rohingya Muslims and the reasons behind the inaction by the so-called international community to stop what the United Nations calls "textbook ethnic cleansing" of Rohingya.

Below you will find the full text of the interview.

Q: Rohingya Muslims are not included in Myanmar’s list of 135 official minorities meaning they are deprived of the right to citizenship. Why do you think the Rohingyas have been left stateless by their own government in the first place?

Firstly, 135 official minorities are nothing but a fiction used by the Burmese military to justify their institutional narrative that Myanmar faces constant threat of Balkanization, if the military return to the barracks. So, I don’t and won’t repeat the regime’s self-serving propaganda. The military has since early 1960’s shifted its policy of the official embrace of Rohingyas as an ethnic community of the Union of Burma to a radical strategic perspective according to which a sizeable pocket of Muslims in a single geographic pocket next to a populous Muslim region of the then Pakistan was a threat to Burma’s national security. Every wave of expulsion, violence, death and destruction of Rohingyas over the last 40 years has been triggered by this dangerous strategic paradigm. 

Q: Aung San SuuKyi’s coming to power as the Nobel Peace laureate and first democratic government brought about major hopes to the Burmese including the Rohingya. In your opinion, has anything changed for the Muslim minority since she took office?

Suu Kyi’s leadership, and Suu Kyi the person, have been the direct product of the icon manufacturing by Western media and activists. Her ascendency to de facto leadership has only lent the veneer of acceptability to what really is a military-controlled ethnocracy, wrapped in Buddhism. The plight of Muslim Rohingyas has gotten worse, with 100,000 fleeing every week. Mirroring the military’s Muslim-free armed forces, she presides over her party, National League for Democracy (NLD), and the NLD-controlled Parliament, with not a single Muslim representation. 

Q: There are reports about mosques across Burma being damaged or completely destroyed and authorities have been refusing to allow Muslims to repair their mosques. Why is the government refusing to allow the Muslim minority to access their place of worship which is considered to be a fundamental right to freedom of expression and religion?

Mosques – like any places of worship in any religion – serve as the anchor of Muslim communities throughout Burma. The severe restrictions on the repair, renovation, or expansion of mosques are motivated by the intent to prevent the growth of the community in spirit and strength. It is a part of the Buddhist ethnocratic state’s attempt to monitor, control and subjugate Muslim communities – although Islam in Burma has long been a peaceful religion for centuries since it arrived centuries ago.

Q: Could you please let us know about the conditions of displaced Rohingyas living both in and outside Myanmar’s borders?

Even seasoned humanitarian workers would tell you how shocked they are at the first sight of the conditions under which Rohingyas living in India and Bangladesh. Inside Myanmar, Rohingyas live in two different types of situation: open vast prisons and the internally displaced persons camps. They have no freedom of movement; all aspects of their lives are totally controlled by the Burmese military authorities at the top of the administrative structures and local Buddhist Rakhine who occupy the majority of the admin posts. Rohingyas’ access to food and food systems (such as streams and rivers, paddy fields, etc.) as well as opportunities to earn a living has been controlled and restricted. Doctor-patience ratio for the two major towns – Buthidaung and Maungdaw – are estimated to be 1: 150,000 – while the national average is 1: 1,000 – 2,000. Extreme malnutrition is prevalent with sub-Sahara-like conditions. Only Rohingyas are singled out for strict marriage control and child control. Rape and gang-rape of Rohingya women and even girls are rampant. Mass arrests of Rohingya males are routine. Summary execution, forced labour, extortions, etc. are routinely practised by the security troops that split Rohingya region into two dozen security grids. It is this kind of inhuman conditions under which Rohingyas are forced to exist – not live as humans – that has been a major push factor behind regular, if less dramatic and less reported than the most recent one, waves of fleeing Rohingyas. Emphatically, I must state that these conditions are maintained as a matter of policy by the central governments since the late 1970’s: to destroy life as we know it, for the entire Rohingya community as a distinct ethnic group, whether recognized by the State officially, as such or not. Precisely because of the policy of destroying Rohingya community as a group I have been calling this a genocide – a textbook genocidal act as defined by the Genocide Convention. 

Q: The state counsellor faces mounting criticism over what the United Nations calls "textbook ethnic cleansing" of Rohingya. This systematic persecution has been ongoing for years. Why do you think we do not see any strong reaction by international human rights organizations, namely the United Nations to stop all the injustice and atrocities?

To the UN and all the world powers, typically all genocides are inconveniences. The refusal to recognize the nature of the heinous crimes by its proper legal name, that is, genocide speaks volumes about the absence of collective will to end this international crime. I find it utterly disgusting that UN and even human rights agencies opting to call it by Milosevic’s original euphemism. The genocidal Serb was a clever bastard who knew ‘ethnic cleansing’ was not a crime under international law. If a crime is recognized as genocide that the UN system would be obliged to intervene to end it. Truth is international law is nothing without the political will to enforce it. Ending genocide has never been deemed strategically or commercially profitable. Hence, empty talks and outcome less meetings.

Q: On several occasions we have seen the western countries, namely the US and the UK, acting without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. We have seen them imposing sanctions and even taking military action against countries solely based on their own political and geopolitical interests. But when it comes to Myanmar, they do not seem to be much concerned about the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing as we do not see any strong reaction. What do you think is the reason behind the double standard?

UK and USA are known to bypass the Security Council, in pursuing their strategic interests, however defined. They have launched invasions in countries throughout the world, from Korea and Vietnam to Africa and the Middle East. But ending genocides is viewed as part of their strategic interest. Additionally, they delude themselves into thinking that some semblance of democracy and human rights regime can still be salvaged with its Burmese proxy Aung San Suu Kyi, although she has lost the support and admiration of the world. The truth is UN and international law, as well as the institutions of global governance do not work for the oppressed majority of peoples around the world. Rohingyas are not an exception. 

Q: Aung SanSuu Kyi did not attend this year’s UN General Assembly session. She did so without providing any reason for the withdrawal. As we discussed, the United Nations so far has failed to act properly to stop the violence. Why do you think then she decided to cancel her trip to the UN?

It’s a clear sign that she now views the world as a hostile place for her to go. The world no longer sees her as “the hopes of Burma”, let alone “the voice of the voiceless”. She has become world-infamous for hiding her head in the sand when it comes to issues of crucial import to the country. Forget going to the UN where she expected strong criticism of her leadership failures. She has no moral or intellectual integrity to confront inconvenient realities of her country, particularly the issue of Rohingya genocide that concerns the world.

Rohingya refugees wait to receive food at a camp near Teknaf, Bangladesh, October 12, 2017. (Reuters / Jorge Silva)

By Neve Gordon
October 14, 2017

They potentially face the final two stages of genocide—mass annihilation and erasure from the country’s history.

I recently met Penny Green to discuss the situation in Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in the perpetration of the horrific crimes carried out against the Rohingya.

A professor of law and globalization and the founding director of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University of London, Green has been closely monitoring the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar for the past five years. In a 2015 report based on 12 months of field work and over 200 interviews, ISCI found ample evidence that the Rohingya have been subjected to systematic and widespread human-rights violations, including killings, torture, and rape; denial of citizenship; destruction of villages; land confiscation; and forced labor. Citing Daniel Feierstein’s Genocide as Social Practice, which outlines six stages leading to genocide, ISCI claimed that the Myanmar regime had already perpetrated four: (1) stigmatization and dehumanization; (2) harassment, violence, and terror; (3) isolation and segregation; and (4) the systematic weakening of the target group. Now the Rohingya potentially face the final two stages of genocide—mass annihilation and erasure of the group from Myanmar’s history.

Neve Gordon: Can you provide some background about the Rohingya’s plight and the processes that have brought us to where we are today?

Penny Green: Burma, known today as Myanmar, received independence in 1948. The country had been part of a vast British colony, and not unlike India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Burma’s borders were determined partly according to religious lines, with the Bengal state being mostly Hindu, Bangladesh mostly Muslim and Burma mostly Buddhist. The Rohingya, who are Muslim, had been living for centuries mostly in what became Rakhine State in the newly established Burma. In 1950, they were issued citizenship identification cards and granted the right to vote under the first post-independence Prime Minister, U Nu. Until the late 1970s, the Rohingya held important government positions as civil servants, the official Burma Broadcasting Service relayed a Rohingya-language radio program three times a week, and the term “Rohingya” was used in school textbooks and official documents. 

“In the early 1980s, we witness the beginning of the process that ultimately aims at erasing the Rohingya from Myanmar’s history and geography.”

In the early 1980s, we start to witness the beginning of the process that ultimately aims at erasing the Rohingya from Myanmar’s history and geography. In 1982, the Rohingya were removed from the list of Myanmar’s 135 officially recognized ethnic minorities and stripped of citizenship. A little more than a decade later, the government suddenly refused to issue birth certificates to Rohingya babies. It then began to completely erase the term “Rohingya” from the official texts and even to condemn anyone who uttered the word. After the 2012 government-sanctioned Rakhine violence, the Rohingya were restricted to secure zones, detention camps, ghettos, and prison villages, and were excluded from higher education, all professions, the military and the public service.

Finally, in 2014, the Rohingya were excluded from the census. This is crucial in my mind, even more so than the prohibition to participate in the November 2015 elections, since, as history teaches us, when the state stops counting people it means that the state no longer considers them subjects of management and control, and when people are no longer monitored and managed, it means that they are considered superfluous.

NG: Before turning to the current crisis and to Aung San Suu Kyi’s role, can you explain what led to the concentration of Rohingya in camps, prison villages, and ghettos, and could you tell us about the living conditions within them?

PG: The concentration of the Rohingya in camps was a key part of the 2012 violence, which was, in turn, a consequence of a concerted hate campaign backed by the government and orchestrated by a hard-line group within the Buddhist Sangha (a term used for the monkhood) led by Ashin Wirathu. You must keep in mind that even though there were periods of tension before 2012, the Rohingya used to go to school with all the other ethnic groups living in Rakhine, not least the predominant Buddhist population. They lived together, they shopped at each other’s stores, and they participated in each other’s celebrations.

Over the years, however, an anti-Muslim fever effectively gripped the country. While the degree of xenophobic nationalism inside Myanmar is astonishingly high and penetrates every level of society, rendering life extremely difficult for Muslims residing in Mandalay, Yangon, and other parts of the country, the Rohingya in Rakhine State experience a double sense of persecution: both general xenophobia and a specific racial hatred directed against their ethnic group. 

“The degree of xenophobic nationalism inside Myanmar is astonishingly high and penetrates every level of society.”

The 2012 violence was directly precipitated by the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Rohingya men. This was the pretext for the violence in and around Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, which was perpetrated by Rakhine nationalists and fomented by hard-line Buddhist monks and local Rakhine politicians. From the people we interviewed, it was very clear that the security forces did nothing during the first three days, allowing the violence to run its course before they intervened. There were no prosecutions following this violence, even though 200 people had been killed.

As the Rohingya fled their burning homes, they were herded into an area that we now call the camp detention complex. That is where they have been contained for the past five years. A relatively small number of Rohingya remained in Sittwe and live in Aung Mingalar ghetto. They were apparently protected by a Burmese commander, whom we have been unable to locate, but testimonies suggest that he stood up against the Rakhine nationalists and other members of the security forces, protecting the Rohingya from the mob. Aung Mingalar is a very deprived ghetto. It does not receive aid from the World Food Program because it is not a registered camp, and therefore the Rohingya there rely on aid from Muslim communities and limited rations from the state.

When we visited the camps and ghetto in 2014 and 2015, the conditions were utterly deplorable. It was as if we were witnessing a process of social death, to cite Claudia Card’s analysis of genocide. The camps were squalid, and the only livelihood that we witnessed was the collecting of cow dung and drying it off to sell as fuel. There is hardly any access to health care—there are clinics but no local doctors, nurses, medical equipment, or drugs. It is said that Rakhine doctors offer services for two hours per week in camps housing thousands of people. Médecins Sans Frontières were offering emergency health care, but they were expelled from Rakhine State (and later the whole of Myanmar) in 2014 after issuing a report that they had treated 22 people from the village Dar Chee Yar Tan for gunshot, beatings, and knife wounds.

Toilets in the camps are collective and located on the camp’s outskirts, a long way from the living quarters, which could, I would think, be dangerous for women. People are terrified of leaving the camps for fear of violence, and as our fieldwork suggests, their fear is justified, given the vicious attacks perpetrated against those who dared go to Sittwe.

The people we saw were profoundly depressed. We visited the overly crowded huts, and people would just be lying on the floor because there was nothing to do, no work, no food to prepare, nowhere to go, and indeed very limited opportunities to do anything. In all these senses, it felt like we were witnessing first hand Giorgio Agamben’s notion of “bare life.”

NG: In your 2015 report you claim that the Rohingya are under threat of genocide. Do you think what we are witnessing is actually a process leading to genocide, or would ethnic cleansing be a more appropriate term? I ask this because, according to the United Nations, ethnic cleansing is defined as “a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.” In other words, the violence associated with ethnic cleansing is directed at emptying a space of certain populations and has a spatial dimension that is vital to the definition of the violence. Genocidal violence, by contrast, focuses on the extermination of populations, and its object is the human body, while the spatial dimension exists but is incidental.

PG: The term “ethnic cleansing” is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it has no legal recourse, rendering it easy for foreign governments to describe what they are witnessing in Myanmar as ethnic cleansing because it places no obligation on them to intervene, either to prevent the violence and protect the Rohingya or to punish the culprits. Another problem is that the term “ethnic cleansing” was initially used by Slobodan Milosevic to mask the genocidal elements of the attacks against the Bosnian Muslims. It is the perpetrator’s term. 

“The history of the Jews in the 1930s teaches us that when a group is isolated, systematically weakened, and deliberately fragmented, it becomes extremely vulnerable.”

Raphael Lemkin understood that genocide is a process when he first coined the term and campaigned for the introduction of an international law against it. Genocide begins with practices of stigmatization and dehumanization, which we have witnessed in Myanmar for a very long time. In the process of othering the Rohingya, the stigmatization continues, but we move into a stage of harassment, where civil rights are gradually removed, such as the right to vote, the right to take certain forms of transport, and the right to have as many children as you like. The Rohingya have been denied these rights as well as many others. During this period of harassment, you often witness instances of sporadic violence, violence used to test the local population’s capacity to engage in violence against the target group. As I explained earlier, as a result of the 2012 Rakhine-led violence the Rohingya were forced into concentrated spaces and were removed from the sight of the rest of Rakhine’s communities. They were completely isolated. All of these practices are necessary for securing the compliance and active involvement of the local population in the annihilation process.

The history of the Jews in the 1930s teaches us that when a group is isolated and systematically weakened—through lack of food, limited access to health care, work and livelihood—and their community is deliberately fragmented, the group becomes extremely vulnerable. This is what has been happening to the Rohingya, and the Myanmar government has been an active supporter of this process. We know, for example, that local politicians were involved in planning the violence of 2012; they organized buses that picked up Rakhine men and women and brought them to Sittwe to torch Rohingya houses. Rakhine nationalists who carried out the pogroms recounted in the interviews with ISCI how free food was laid out for them and how they were given weapons. 

“Aung San Suu Kyi has told the US ambassador that the term ‘Rohingya’ was not to be used.”

Moreover, it is crucial to understand that genocidal annihilation is not only about decimating the body but also about destroying the ethnic identity of a people. This is what the Myanmar state has been embarking on. Aung San Suu Kyi, who has effectively been the equivalent of a prime minister for over a year and a half, called the US ambassador to her office and told him that the term “Rohingya” was not to be used. Along similar lines, when ISCI was still allowed to work in Myanmar, we had to be very careful not to use the term “Rohingya.” This process of annihilating an ethnic identity fits well with Lemkin’s notion of genocide.

From August 25, 2017, we have been witnessing an escalation of this whole process. As far as I understand, the destruction of villages continues despite the denial of the Myanmar government. We do not know how many people have been killed, but it is undoubtedly in the thousands. Over half a million have fled, crossing the Naf River into Bangladesh. But what most people do not understand is that they are joining another five to seven hundred thousand Rohingya who have fled since 2012. So, all along the Bangladesh side of the Naf River, there are over a million Rohingya living in appalling conditions, in unregistered camps, while only a few hundred thousand are still living in Rakhine State.

In several senses, Myanmar has been successful. The Rohingya who are still living in Rakhine can only identify as Bengali and the term “Bengali” is coded as illegal immigrant. What we are now witnessing is the social reorganization after the annihilation of the Rohingya identity. Former Buddhist prisoners have been resettled under the government’s Na Ta La village program in an effort to change the demographic structure of northern Rakhine State, creating an ever-increasing hostile environment for the remaining Rohingya community.

NG: The world has condemned Aung San Suu Kyi for her silence. What do you think is her role, if any, in this new stage of violence against the Rohingya?

PG: I challenge this idea of silence. Aung San Suu Kyi has not been silent. Every step of the way she has exercised agency. I understand how difficult it is for people in the West to consider her as an active perpetrator of the horrific crime of genocide, given that she is the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, the Congressional Gold Medal, and literally scores of other significant awards. But let’s remember that Henry Kissinger was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, as he was carpet-bombing Cambodia. It is important to also understand that for the past 19 months, Aung San Suu Kyi has been Myanmar’s State Counselor, the equivalent of prime minister. She is definitely not a minor or weak actor in Myanmar.

During her tenure as premier, she has not once criticized the violence perpetrated against the Rohingya. She has condemned all violence, all human-rights abuses, as if somehow this was a symmetric conflict.… I cannot call it a “conflict,” because this is a one-sided annihilation of a particular people. She, as I mentioned, called the US ambassador and instructed him and all other diplomats not to use the term “Rohingya.” She has not condemned the hate speech pouring out from the monk groups that aim to destroy the Rohingya. She has continuously lied about the situation in northern Rakhine State while simultaneously denying international access to the region, and has actively participated in covering up her government’s crimes.

But even before the current crisis, she participated in sowing the seeds of violence. Although the National League for Democracy had Muslim candidates in the past, in the 2015 elections Aung San Suu Kyi refused to include any Muslims on the party’s list, thus pandering to her constituency and to the Islamophobic atmosphere in Myanmar. In 2017, following the publication of a UN Flash Report that documented mass killings and mass rapes by Myanmar’s security forces in northern Rakhine State, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office declared that these were “fake rapes” and fake news. This is precisely around the same time that Trump began using the term. 

“[Aung San Suu Kyi] has also consistently and unreservedly aligned herself with the military, refusing to condemn its actions against the Rohingya.”

When the most recent cycle of violence began this past August, her office made the ludicrous claim on Facebook that the international community was aiding and abetting the terrorists, by which she meant the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which in August had attacked a security outpost. As a result, all aid and humanitarian agencies were forced to leave Rakhine State, and consequently Rohingya camps were left without food for weeks—another act that precipitated the massive exodus. She has also consistently and unreservedly aligned herself with the military, refusing to condemn its actions against the Rohingya.

Her relationship with the military is interesting, since in the West she is considered the one person who for years stood up against the military junta. We need to keep in mind that her father was Gen. Aung San, who led the independence movement in 1948, and therefore there is a historical family link with the military. She is also a member of Burma’s Bamar, the Buddhist elite. She was indeed held under house arrest for 15 years, but in a rather beautiful house on Inya Lake; she had servants and was on occasion allowed to meet with international visitors. Despite the fact that it was the junta that imprisoned her, she famously declared her love for the Burmese military not long after her release. How can one explain this apparent paradox?

In my mind, Aung San Suu Kyi is a very ambitious and utterly ruthless politician whose primary goal is to become Myanmar’s president, regardless of what it takes. According to the country’s Constitution, because she married an English citizen and her two sons were born in the UK, she is prohibited from becoming president. In the past 19 months, all of her political efforts have been designed to change the Constitution. This, however, is impossible without the military’s support, since according to the deal she brokered before the 2015 elections, the military retains 25 percent of the seats in Parliament, and, to change the Constitution, one needs over 75 percent of the votes. In other words, without the military, the Constitution cannot be altered. Consequently, she not only refuses to condemn the military but has also allowed it to continue controlling three key ministries, defense, interior and borders. She has, in other words, created an unholy pact with those who were her enemies.

The sacrifices Aung San Suu Kyi is willing to make are many. The annihilation of the Rohingya is one of them.

Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation (2008) and recently completed, with Nicola Perugini, The Human Right to Dominate (Oxford University Press).

By Bashana Abeywardane
October 9, 2017

'Enemy of the State' screamed the banner headline of a Burmese national newspaper in September, featuring full page photograph of Maung Zarni. More hatred follows, a week later.

"These publications are run by a web of cronies, military propaganda division and racist monk or laymen's networks', says Zarni.

Born, lived and university-educated in Mandalay, Burma and now exiled in UK, Maung Zarni is a Buddhist-influenced Burmese scholar and human rights activist of 30 years. As the founder of the Free Burma Coalition, he has relentlessly campaigned against the military rule for decades. But for his lone opposition to the genocidal onslaught against the Rohingya people, his country has just branded him a 'state enemy' and 'national traitor '.

"I say I am Buddhist, but I am influenced by so many progressive traditions of thoughts and politics. My parents and teachers - the good and humane ones - are key pillars of my activism: they taught me how to be a fully human, that is, compassionate, truthful and sensitive to injustices", he remarks retrospectively.

"I am nothing special. I just live my values and my analyses", affirms Zarni.

After serving as a member on the Peoples Tribunal on Sri Lanka in December 2013, Zarni initiated the Peoples Tribunal on Myanmar last month, which found the Myanmar government 'guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.'

As the anti-Rohingya sentiments insidiously making inroads in Sri Lanka, the JDS spoke to Dr Zarni.

Interviewed by Bashana Abeywardane

Over the past few years, there is a growing international outcry about the atrocities committed against Rohingya muslims in Myanmar. But the discriminatory policies against Rohingya people have been in place for a long time, without being challenged by any international body. What triggered the sudden wave of condemnation?

Dr. Maung Zarni: Yes, the policy of genocidal persecution ​was adopted as early as 1966 when General Ne Win made a radical shift first within the country's most powerful ruling institution of the Armed Forces (or called Tatmadaw in Burmese). First the Tatmadaw leadership in effect expelled over 300,000 people of Indian sub-continental origin, of all faiths, through its radical economic nationalization of 1964: Uganda that expelled Ugandans of Indian ancestry may have been inspired by Ne Win's racist policies in the 1970's! Second, the generals quietly adopted the Muslim-cleansing policies within the military. And third, they reframed as "national security threat", Rohingyas, the only Muslim community with a distinct ethnic identity with their own borderlands region next to the then East Pakistan (or since 1971, Bangladesh) and as a 'demographic Muslim threat' to the predominantly Buddhist country. This was the complete reversal of the official recognition and acceptance of Rohingyas as an integral ethnic community of Burma, with full citizenship that the military itself had adopted officially a decade earlier. The anti-Rohingya policies were accordingly implemented to change the demographic character of the Rohingya region of Northern Rakhine by launching the scheme to transfer Buddhist populations there. 

When that population transfer strategy failed, the military-ruled state launched the first large scale, centrally organized campaign of terror under the false pretext of "illegal immigration check" in Feb 1978, resulting in nearly 300,000 Rohingyas fleeing the country, possibly half of Rohingya population, within a span of a few months.

UNHCR, Islamic Conference (pre-OIC), USA, etc. knew about this even back then. The second wave of what you might call 'ethnic cleansing' came in 1991-92, similarly large number fled to Bangladesh again. This time, the exodus was the result of the increasingly pervasive, institutionalized strategies of persecution, which included a laundry list of rights abuses, from forced labour, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, marriage, illegalization of the new-born Rohingya babies, land confiscation, summary execution, rape, daily physical and mental abuses, arbitrary arrests, etc.

As a matter of fact, one of the main rationales behind UN creating the Special Rapporteurs on human rights situation in Myanmar in 1993, was these documented extreme abuses. 

So, UN and powerful countries knew well about what the military leaderships have been doing to the Rohingyas. But in the Cold War era, the military in Burma was seen as an anti-Communist semi-ally by the West and in the post-Cold War era, the mainstream democracy opposition under Suu Kyi was the West's priority, not the ethnic persecution by the military. 

When the third wave of violence against Rohingyas broke out it did have the communal dimension, and the quasi-civilian "reformist" government of ex-general and President Thein Sein , and its allies such as the International Crisis Group, were able to frame the violence against Rohingyas - 86% of the death and destruction were borne by the Rohingya community vis-a-vis Rakhine Buddhists - Buddhist-Muslim local sectarian conflict, not unexpected in transitional societies ala Yugoslavia break-up.

This time it is radically different: 500,000 Rohingyas fleeing in 5 weeks, all captured and live-cast by the Rohingya victims themselves in the social media. The images of horror reach people's homes via TV and mobile phones around the world. World's conscience was pricked: it has just witnessed the first Social-Media-age, biblical exodus of humans, fleeing genocidal killings and arson. 

I think there is genuine concern about this kind of state behavior, whatever the legal name of Myanmar's crimes. 

The UN has confirmed that almost half a million Rohingya people have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in the wake of the latest military crackdown. Media reports based on satellite imagery analysis have further revealed that at least 200 Rohingya villages have been burnt down. But the government of Myanmar has repeatedly deny any hand in it by putting the blame on Rohingya militants. What is exactly happening in Rakhine state?

Zarni: Like I said, Myanmar state has done away with its earlier pretence of "communal violence" and openly engaged in the persecution of genocidal proportions, with provable genocidal intent. In so doing, it is using the convenient excuse of Rohingya "terrorism". By terrorism, Myanmar really is talking about the desperate and angry Rohingyas revolting, using very primitive weapons such as machetes, spears, sticks and a small number of homemade bombs and guns, against decades-long inhumane conditions maintained to destroy their communities and their lives. The blatant attempts to paint Rohingya sitting ducks choosing to fight back and die fast deaths, instead of the slow death in life-destroying, policy-induced conditions, are not really credible. Not even the United States Gov, that is leading this so-called 'global war on (Muslim) terror", buys Myanmar's official narrative that the army is engaged in national defence in the face of this Rohingya "terrorism".

In a paper you have co-authored with Alice Cowley, you conclude that the 'Rohingya have been subjected to a process of slow burning genocide'. Naming mass atrocities as 'Genocide' always make the global powers and institutions unhappy, as they are more interested in selective application of the term. For example, Kofi Annan who led the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, said last year that he would 'not describe the violence being committed against Myanmar's Rohingya minority as genocide'. How do you defend your position?

Zarni: Kofi Annan is the least credible man to be able to decide what constitutes a genocide, given that he was a guilty bystander in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In fact, as head of UN Peacekeeping Operations based in NYC, Annan infamously concealed what is known as "genocide telegram" sent to him by his Peacekeeping Force in Rwanda​. He knew that the most powerful member Government at the time - Clinton Adminstration - had no appetite to stop the imminent genocidal killings. He let 800,000 Tutsi and other victims get slaughtered to keep his bureaucratic career. As with powerful governments and policy makers not accepting the case for genocide, former US Ambassador to UN, journalist-cum-legal-scholar Samantha Power made her name, documenting a long record of categorical failures by US Government in the face of what she calls "Problem from Hell", genocides. 

Neither UN nor the international community, which my friend and senior colleague Gregory Stanton calls "a myth", has a good record of preventing or ending genocides, since the Turkish genocide of Armenian Christians in 1915. 

The last thing I would defer to on naming mass crimes committed by nation-states and their governments is UN and its powerful member states. The Security Council itself is made up of governments that are the world's largest merchants of death, not promoters of peace or humanity.

Power is deceitful. It knows facts and truths. But its readings of facts/truths is predicated on its calculations of self-interests. Expect nothing truthful from these powerful entities that lord over the entire humanity on the planet.

As far as the wretched of the earth is concerned, UN and these governments are complete failures. Saving lives and preventing mass atrocities have never been seen as strategically beneficial. They are powerful, no doubt. But they must not be allowed to play this "arbiters" of truth.


Some have expressed their shock over the silence maintained by Aung San Suu Kyi over the plight of Rohingyas, while others have come forward to absolve her from being accused of complicity on the basis that she only holds limited power. How do you explain Suu Kyi's notable silence?

Zarni: Suu Kyi is not silent. She has spoken on Rohingya persecution, both before and after she came to semi-power in 2015. She is a well-documented anti-Muslim racist - and colonial towards Burma's non-dominant groups such as Shan, Kachin, etc. It is true she only has limited power and she does NOT control the military, which is above the Society and electoral politics. But she uses her limited power to deny, dismiss and cover up the genocidal persecution of Rohingyas. Genocide is not simply gassing people by the hundreds of thousands or machine-gunning down entire ethnic, racial, religious or national group or population, in whole or in part. It is a systematic and pervasive attempt at exterminating the group, from its roots - physical sense of the community, its shared identity, its history, etc. The ministries she and her civilian government control are Foreign Affairs, Social Welfare, Information, Immigration, Culture, etc. are all involved in de-humanising, excluding, marginalising, ghettoising and illegalising Rohingyas as a group. They are also involved in producing Fake News and whitewashing the military's atrocities against Rohingyas.

Suu Kyi is not guilty, if by that we mean she does NOT pull the trigger. But again Hitler didn't kill a single Jew.

You have highlighted the common characteristics of the discriminatory policies and state sponsored racism in countries what you called as 'Buddhist triangle' which include Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. What parallels do you see among these countries?

Zarni: The most important commonality is the essentially racist, colonial, unitary nature of what scholars call states in these countries: Buddhism is used as the foundational ideology of national identities in these states; power is concentrated in the hands of the dominant ethnic group at the center; the ethno-religious relations between centre (Buddhist majority) and the non-Buddhist or non-dominant ethnic group are colonial. So these are all ethno-cratic states, which operate with the stated or hidden overarching objectives of domination, subjugation and control over those who are considered "marginal" communities. Their specific strategies and trajectories of oppression, discrimination and persecution differ, but overall the framework within which they operate are racist and colonial. Myanmar and Sri Lanka are the most extreme cases wherein racialised internally colonial state morph into semi- or fully-genocidal bureaucratic monsters. 

Another parallel between Sri Lanka and Burma is how the two national communities of dissidents against the authoritarian Sinhalese and Burmese states succumbed to the majoritarian myopic version of nationalism. You have the case of Sinhalese students and marginalised youth in southern Sri Lanka, led by ​​Peoples Liberation Front (JVP), that rose up against the United National Party government in the late 1980's, who later joined the racist Sinhalese state against the Eelam Tamils. We have in Burma the most celebrated Burmese dissidents, from Aung San Suu Kyi down the so-called 88 Generation student leaders who close ranks with their former jailers and torturers, that is, the military leaders, against the persecution Rohingyas and Muslims.This is deeply troubling. It shows how cancerous ethno-nationalisms of the majorities in Sri Lanka and Burma has become.

The so-called Buddhist majorities in these places themselves succumb to the cancer of "Buddhist" nationalism, which is an oxymoron because in textual and philosophical Buddhism there is no such thing as "essentialized and real" Me, or You, let alone "my country" "my state" "my government". It was Gotama himself who is believed to have prophesised that Buddhism will be destroyed by its own adherents. I think he is right: these Theraveda Buddhist societies are destroying themselves as they attempt to subjugate, colonialise or otherwise destroy their scapegoats - be they Eelam Tamils, Southern Thais of Malay ancestry or Myanmar Rohingyas.

You are known to be a longstanding dissident campaigner who firmly resisted decades of military rule in Myanmar. At the same time, you have been consistently raising your voice against the ongoing atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in the country. While many in your generation who opposed the military rule in the past seemed to have reconcile with the current state of affairs, what made you to continue your opposition?​​

Zarni: I am not always opposing the military. There was short period in my activism - from 2004 to 2008 - when I succumbed to my own personal delusion that maybe there were good, patriotic generals who would do the right thing - to change the path of our national self-destruction. In those years, I attempted to work with the generals, at enormous cost to my reputation, by openly promoting the view that the Burmese - and world - needed to talk to the generals and worked with them, if progress was to be made for the people. This is the policy which Suu Kyi and the West are pursuing. I discovered that I was wrong, after intense engagement with the top military leadership: it is the entire military as an institution, its ideological and corporate orientation that is the crux of the problem. 

The military today is coterminous with the State. Both remain stuck in this racist, colonial and economically predatory space. But in 2008, when the military blocked even emergency aid to Myanmar Cyclone Nargis victims - nearly 2 million victims, in the lower Burma - that I reached my conclusion that we have a situation and the institution which are beyond reforms. 

I have been enormously privileged to be exposed to the outside world for so long that I feel the least I can do is to use my privilege to fight on the side of the wretched of my country, and other national communities such as Eelam Tamils.

Rohingya Exodus