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By Maung Zarni | Published by Anadolu Agency on December 15, 2018

US will not intercede, and Myanmar's neighbors see it through economic lens, so international coalition for Rohingya needed

LONDON -- The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling the crimes committed by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya Muslims a genocide. This was the right thing to do.

The U.S. lawmakers deserve to be applauded for trying to turn “Never again!” into a concrete U.S. governmental policy, following the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s declaration that Myanmar is indeed committing a genocide and crimes against humanity.

The House resolution states that “every government and multilateral body (in the world) should call such atrocities (against Rohingya people) by their rightful names of ‘crimes against humanity,’ ‘war crimes,’ and ‘genocide’.”

It contains a call that will resonate very well with many in the rank-and-file of the Armed Forces of Myanmar unhappy with the Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing: it adds the commander-in-chief to the list of military commanders deemed responsible for these crimes.

Despite the much-reported decline of U.S. power globally, the United States still retains unparalleled influence and reach, militarily, institutionally, economically, and ideologically, vis-à-vis Russia and China. Against this background, the unequivocal stance that U.S. lawmakers have taken against the Myanmar genocide has enormous potential to really end the unimaginable misery which 1.5 million Rohingya experience, both in refugee camps in Bangladesh and in their own places of origin within the western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

However, the calls for the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court or an ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal on Myanmar, or even economic sanctions alone, will have no appreciable impact on either the Myanmar military, which has institutionalized the intentional destruction of Rohingya as a target population since the 1970s, nor on the majority of the Myanmar public, who have been brainwashed to believe UN or external allegations of atrocities as “fake news” concocted by the liberal West and a Muslim conspiracy financed and coordinated by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

That is, unless the United States is prepared to take forward the idea of military intervention in Myanmar – like the U.S. Pacific Fleet launching surgical missile-strikes from the international waters of the Bay of Bengal on the military headquarters and residences of the senior military commanders in Naypyidaw. The uses of military actions on grounds of humanitarian intervention are not unprecedented. The NATO bombing of Slobodan Milosevic’s palace and the “accidental” strike on the Embassy of China in Belgrade spring to mind.

In fact, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad openly suggested “going in” to end the atrocities, in a public talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York a few months ago.

Unrealistic option

However, this may not be a realistic option for a number of reasons: U.S. President Donald Trump has demonstrated absolutely no concern about the news of Myanmar troops burning Rohingya infants and elderly people alive. In fact, Trump has not even once tweeted the word “Rohingya,” let alone drawn attention to the hellish conditions they are living in. Additionally, sandwiched between India and China, which are vying for influence in Myanmar through strategic, military, and economic collaboration, Myanmar may not be an ideal place for U.S. drone or missile strikes, lest such acts draw these two Asian rivals into the military action.

With respect to the impact of full and biting economic sanctions, in the unlikely event that the United States eventually imposes such severe sanctions, the four largest investors in Myanmar are China, Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong, followed by the U.K. The targeted pinch on the generals and the national economy will be significantly mitigated by these countries.

None of these governments are likely to follow the U.S.’ lead in the current circumstances. China considers Myanmar, a country in its backyard, an integral piece of its One Belt, One Road grand project whereby it is striving to recreate the New World Order with Beijing as its imperial center. Any talk of persuading China, or Russia, with deep military-to-military ties with Myanmar, to support any punitive measures within the existing global justice and governance mechanisms, including the UN Security Council, is nothing short of delusional.

The rest of Myanmar’s neighbors, including even India, base their Myanmar policies on commercial interests. India is no match for China, how desperately it may try, to curb China’s sway over the Myanmar military and civilian leaderships.

Desperate to find bilateral trade deals outside the EU amid Brexit, Britain is single-mindedly pursuing British commercial interests while serving as the “penholder” on Myanmar resolutions in multilateral bodies by virtue of the historical fact that it was the country’s former colonial master.

In a lengthy Dec. 12 interview with the local Mizzima News Group, British Ambassador Daniel Chugg pussyfooted around the genocide and stressed his ambassadorial goal. In Chugg’s own words, “we are the fifth-largest investor ever in Myanmar, our total stock of investment here is more than $4 billion, and our trade last year was about $500 million, which was up 20 per cent from the year before. So, it's growing but it's still relatively small in global terms and so I hope those figures will improve while I am here.”

No matter how powerful it may still remain, U.S. measures will come short of what is needed to end the genocide in Myanmar.

Steps to follow

Whether the Trump administration makes the legal determination – as the U.S. House Resolution urges – that Myanmar is in fact committing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes not only against Rohingya but also against other ethnic and religious communities such as the Kachin, Shan, and Ta’ang, is less consequential than what it will concretely do if the determination is made.

The painful truth typically overlooked is that no genocide has ever been committed by the perpetrating state alone, from the Nazi genocide to Bosnia to Rwanda. There are always collaborating and “bystanding” states. The real first-step towards ending the genocide in Myanmar will have to be an international conference of states which have expressed their official concerns about the nature of grave crimes that Myanmar is committing.

There are 47 member states which voted on the UN Human Rights Council Resolution this fall calling for accountability for the Myanmar perpetrators of international state crimes. Although the U.S. is no longer a member of the council, considering the overwhelming concern about the genocide in Myanmar as evidenced in yesterday’s vote at the House of Representatives, the U.S. government is best placed to host such a conference in Washington.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has done extraordinary work in genocide monitoring and research on the situation for Rohingya, would be an ideal civil society partner to facilitate such a conference.

One primary conference objective should be to forge a coalition of governments that are prepared to pool their resources, strategic influences, and even military assets to put sufficient pressure on both the Myanmar military and Aung San Suu Kyi’s impotent leadership. Without sufficient pressure, Myanmar -- that is, the civilian government and the military -- will not accept the Rohingya as full and equal citizens, nor will they provide any guarantee for the safety of the survivor communities.

As a matter of fact, the Myanmar genocide resolution rightly states that “Myanmar’s civilian government, led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, has not yet taken the necessary steps to address the violence directed against the Rohingya and has failed to create the necessary conditions for returns, including by actively impeding access to northern Rakhine for UNHCR, UNDP, humanitarian organizations, and journalists.” Having aligned the government with Beijing, Aung San Suu Kyi has shown absolutely no sign that she will relent.
Against this scenario, only such a counter-alliance of states broadly supported by civil society and human rights movements consisting of Rohingya survivors can put enough concrete pressure on the perpetrating regime and the genocidally racist society to allow Rohingya to live in peace on their own ancestral land of Northern Rakhine.

[Maung Zarni is co-author of the “The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya” (Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, 2014) and coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition.]

Aung San Suu Kyi in 2013. Photo by Shawn Landersz on Flickr.

By Khin Mai Aung | Published by Lion's Roar on December 6, 2018

Last week, a prominent Buddhist teacher defended Aung San Suu Kyi, the Buddhist Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar civilian leader, against criticism that she is party to genocide. Khin Mai Aung explains why that defense doesn’t hold up.

Recently, respected Bhutanese lama Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche posted an open letter on Facebook downplaying Myanmar’s brutal Rohingya genocide and expressing support for the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The politician has come under fire in recent years for her tacit support of the ongoing genocide in her country. In his letter, Rinpoche dismisses these criticisms as Western colonialism. By letting Aung San Suu Kyi off the hook for her complicity in Myanmar’s genocide and largely turning a blind eye to the Rohingya’s suffering, Rinpoche implicitly endorses the anti-Rohingya mindset rampant in Myanmar and the Burmese diaspora. Rinpoche’s stunning failure to exhibit the core Buddhist tenet of compassion for the Rohingya’s suffering at the hands of Myanmar’s military is deeply disappointing.

In his letter, Rinpoche makes valid and resonant points about Western double standards, hypocrisy, and paternalism. Vestiges of colonialism endure for both colonizers and their former subjects, even today. As I’ve written before, colonialism is indeed to blame for much of Myanmar’s contemporary troubles. British colonial authorities intentionally stoked tensions between its Bamar Buddhist majority and ethnic minorities through a strategy of “divide and rule,” sowing seeds of resentment between the Bamar and minorities like the Rohingya. Rinpoche further reminds us that atrocities committed by Western powers — before, during, and after colonialism — are frequently downplayed and conveniently forgotten. He’s right that abuses committed by Western powers, like the United States pummelling Laos with an unprecedented number of bombs during the Vietnam war, are not as widely remembered as they should be. On a more mundane level, he is also correct that Westerners sometimes co-opt, decontextualize, and exoticize Eastern traditions and practices (like yoga and meditation) — robbing them of their core meaning and essence.

But his defense of Aung San Suu Kyi’s heartbreaking complicity in the Rohingya genocide based on these legitimate concerns is where Rinpoche swerves off track. Rinpoche says that criticism of Suu Kyi is “a sign of the insidious colonialism that continues to strangle Asia and the world.” He’s wrong. The global outcry over Rohingya persecution — and Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to denounce it — is not the paternalism of the West imposing its values on Myanmar. Rather, it is a valid response to the Burmese military’s bloody subjugation of a profoundly disempowered minority (using tactics the military has also deployed against other ethnic and religious minorities for decades), and the unwillingness of the country’s elected civilian leadership to even question this brutality.

Rinpoche sets up an East-versus-West dichotomy and cloaks his defense of Aung San Suu Kyi in the righteous language of anti-colonialism, writing “we are expected to kowtow to western morality” and “it’s time to restore the dignity of our own great eastern wisdom traditions and legacies.” In doing so, Rinpoche unwittingly lends support for Myanmar’s alternative narrative of its mistreatment of the Rohingya. This framing opens the door for Burmese apologists — including but not limited to political leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi — to cast abuse of the Rohingya as part of Myanmar’s noble effort to preserve its ethnic and religious identity in the face of Western oppression. In this narrative, Myanmar is merely casting off the yoke of colonial rule by purging the country of “Bengali” foreigners brought into the country by British overseers — not exterminating and expelling a vulnerable and powerless minority group. The contention that the Rohingya are not native to Myanmar is unfortunately reinforced by Rinpoche’s allegation that the British brought “most” Rohingya to Burma during the colonial period as cheap labor to work in rice paddies. It’s true that many people of South Asian descent were imported from the Indian subcontinent into Myanmar by British colonial authorities. But as others have pointed out in response to Rinpoche’s letter, both the Muslim Rohingya and my own ancestors, the Buddhist Rakhine (another ethnic minority in Myanmar), coexisted peacefully for centuries on both sides of the Naf River, which now marks the Myanmar–Bangladesh border. Rinpoche overlooks this important fact, capitulating to and reinforcing the Burmese belief that all or most Rohingya are foreigners from Bangladesh.

It is also not accurate to suggest that Aung San Suu Kyi is being judged according to Western morality, when she herself has spent most of her life campaigning for democracy and free speech. In 2010, she said, “The basis of democratic freedom is freedom of speech.” If that is her belief, why did her political party bar Muslims from seeking office in Myanmar’s 2015 elections? And why does she remain silent while journalists are thrown in jail for reporting on the Rohingya genocide? Is it colonialist to call on Aung San Suu Kyi to uphold the very principles which she has spent her life promoting?

Despite his lengthy excoriation of the West, Rinpoche regretfully omits an obvious and relevant example of Western influence negatively impacting Myanmar. He passionately decries the unfortunate influence of Western society, contending that “We Asians have been taught to disparage our own noble traditions and instead to treasure western values, literature and music, to chew gum and wear faded jeans, to embrace Facebook and Amazon, and to ape western manners and institutions.” Rinpoche misses the fact that the Burmese military has actively used Facebook to spread its propaganda and encourage religious violence. If Rinpoche truly wants Aung San Suu Kyi to cast off the yoke of western colonialism, he should question why she condones the Burmese military’s use of western technology to implement its own version of “divide and rule” by inflaming ethnic and religious tensions in Myanmar.

The profound irony of Rinpoche’s statement that “our own holocausts are conveniently forgotten and buried in the dustbin of history” haunts me. Blinded by anger over Western double standards, Rinpoche doesn’t see how his words may help Myanmar bury its own genocide in the “dustbin of history.” His willingness to let Aung San Suu Kyi (and, by extension, the rest of Myanmar’s civilian government) off the hook for failing to advocate for the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar is dismaying. What the international Buddhist community needs is moral and ethical leadership from prominent religious leaders like Rinpoche, and not excuses for politicians unable or unwilling to stand up for the vulnerable. Rinpoche is absolutely right that the Western world can be self-righteous and judgmental toward non-Westerners, and that non-Westerners, in turn, are sometimes unduly deferential to the West. But by viewing foreign criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi only through this prism, he obscures the larger truth of human rights abuses in Myanmar. And, tragically, he overlooks the fact that Myanmar’s civilian leadership has abandoned the core Buddhist belief in each person’s innate human dignity — including that of the Rohingya.

By Nasir Uddin | Published by South Asia Journal on November 17, 2018

The world witnessed a massive refugee situation in the borderland of Bangladesh and Myanmar in 2017, where an extreme form of brutality perpetrated by the Myanmar security forces forced hundreds of thousands Rohingya people, known as the world’s most persecuted ethnic minority, fled to Bangladesh. Myanmar security forces, Burmese (Bamar) ethnic extremists and Rakhine Buddhist fundamentalists combinedly formed an alliance to perpetrate a deadly operation, called clearance operation, started from August 25, 2017, which, a recent report prepared by a three-member-panel appointed by the United Nations shows, compelled more than 725,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh, about 10,000 Rohingyas were killed in the first two months, hundreds of women and girls were raped, and around 392 villages were partially or totally destroyed.Combined with previous and new arrivals, now Bangladesh hosts about 1.3 million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, its South-eastern part, which is considered as the world’s largest refugee camp. The newly arrived Rohingyas in Bangladesh explained their horrible experience and the degree of atrocities was so intense that the UN Human Rights council time and again termed it as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”whilst many others called it genocide. Even before the massive campaign in 2017, some credible research like the ones published by Yale Law School and the research team of Queen Marry at the University of Londonfound that the way Myanmar security forces were dealing with the Rohingya people is undoubtedly a genocide. The campaign in 2017 seemingly superseded all previous records. Even after such a massive Rohingya influx and despite all out criticisms across the world, the remaining Rohingyas in Arakan still face an acute sense of vulnerability and are consigned to a life of fear. Notwithstanding the prevailing contested situation, Bangladesh and Myanmar made an attempt to start off repatriation process from mid-November, but expectedly failed. Many international actors, rights bodies and even many local people have “doubt” whether the start of repatriation process means really a “start”or an “end”! Will it really bring any lasting solution without addressing the strong Muslim-Buddhist divide, Rakhine-Rohingya ethnic cleavage, state’s exclusionary policy, and the question of legality of the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s state structure? Many policy analysts, political scientists, academic researchers, and career diplomats might come up with an imagined or intelligent prescription suggesting many potential bilateral and multi-lateral engagements and actions, but I intend to unfold here the ways how the Rohingya refugees, the center-point of the entire discussions, want the solution of their problems in which ways. 

On September 12, 2018, I was interviewing a group of Rohingya refugees together, which is academically called Focused Group Discussion or FGD, in Balukhali refugee camp in Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar where three majhi (block-chief), two aged murubbi (superior), three middle-aged Rohingyas were present and took part in the discussion. Everyone wants to go back to Borma [Burma] but everyone echoes the same narratives: joboner nirapotta (life-safety), nagorikottto (citizenship) and maan-ijjat (dignity) should be insured first. I recorded hundreds of similar stories from many Rohingya men and women living in Ukhia and Teknaf refugee camps. Some, of course, demand an active involvement of the UN bodies like UNHCR in the repatriation process. If we deeply look into the contents of the Rohingya narratives, we can find the solutions to the Rohingya crisis by confirming three demands: legal recognition, life-safety, and human dignity. 

The Rohingya people, whose ancestors were living in the Arakan state centuries ago, were deprived of citizenship in the process of adopting Myanmar Citizenship Law in 1982 which legally rendered them stateless people. Since citizenship is the gateway to all sorts of rights, conferring citizenships to the Rohingya people could be the best possible way forward towards resolving the crisis. My fieldwork experience reveals that the Rohingya people believe if they get legal recognition with the citizenship, they can enjoy all kinds of social, political and civil rights like other citizens of Myanmar. That is what they desperately want as they believe legal recognition could bring a positive change to alter their position in Myanmar.

Many Rohingya refugees whom I met explained that besides conferring citizenship, ensuring life-safety is also important. “If we have citizenship, but no life-safely, what the hell we will do with the legal recognition”—is the sentiment among many Rohingya refugees in the camp. When security forces, and local Buddhist extremists visit Rohingya houses in the village in search of “militants”, they badly behave with the Rohingya people. If they see any form of protest, they physically assault and sometime just shoot on the spot. Even in the market place, on the street, in the public transport, and even in the mosque, the security forces and local Rakhine extremist youths without any reason harass the Rohingya people. If anyone argues and challenges their acts, they start beating publicly, attack with knives & sticks, and sometime shoot on the spot. Their behavior for decades has created a culture of fear in every sphere of Rohingya life in Rakhine state. Therefore, along with the legal recognition, Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar think, social and life safety must be ensured. 

Many Rohingya refugees during my fieldwork in 2017 and 2018 time and again told me that “the Borma military and kichu moiggar fua [some Rakhine youths] quite often harass us at home and outside without any reasons. Their behavior has made us understand that we can’t live there and we are illegal in Myanmar. Sometime, it hurts us deeply as it heats to our self-respect. They behave with us like a januar [animals] not like a manush [human]. We want to lead a human life.” I found the similar sensitivity among many Rohingya refugees who crossed the border following the August campaign. According to their narratives, security forces often raid their houses and not only to harass them but also, they snatch their belongings, saved money, and gold. Sometime they forcibly rape girls and women putting males at home on gun-point. The movement of Rohingya people is still restricted, their freedom of choice is completely absent and there is no liberty to lead a human life. Rohingya people cannot move beyond three kilometers without permission and hence they live in a confinement situation. They need permission to do everything and even to do marriage. Therefore, they think, along with the legal recognition, and life-safety, their human dignity is equally important because they want to lead a normal human life. 

Many politicians and diplomates, local and global media, UN bodies, Human Rights Organizations, global political actors, NGOs, academics, and civil society forums talk too much about Rohingya crisis and give various forms of prescription. What actually the Rohingya refugees want and what their views of the solutions to the Rohingya crisis remain unheard. Based on my field-level experience and long-year engagement with them, I have picked up “three points” as an abridged version of what the Rohingya people think of getting rid of their miseries. Now, the question is: Who will rail the derailed train? 

Nasir Uddin is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC), University of Oxford & a Research Consultant at SOAS, University of London. He is a Cultural Anthropologist based in Bangladesh and a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chittagong. He is the author of a forthcoming book The Rohingya: A Case of “Subhuman”(Oxford University Press, 2019). 

By Dr. Maung Zarni
October 5, 2018

- The writer is coordinator for strategic affairs at the Free Rohingya Coalition and adviser to the European Center for the Study of Extremism, Cambridge, UK

Five steps can be taken towards achieving justice, repatriation and the rebuilding of Rohingya communities in Myanmar

LONDON -- Rohingya campaigners and human rights organizations welcomed the UN Human Rights Council’s vote on Sept. 27 to set up a body to conduct a further investigation and future indictment of Myanmar for atrocity crimes, including genocide. The resolution, co-sponsored by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the European Union, was passed by a vote of 35-3 with seven abstentions, with only China, the Philippines and Burundi opposing it.

The current calls for justice and accountability for the victims of the Myanmar genocide -- ongoing still -- must go beyond conceiving justice in a narrow technical judicial sense and consider the tangible and pressing need of the Rohingya, including the sitting duck Rohingya inside Myanmar, those in camps in Bangladesh and those on the verge of deportation in India.

While the International Criminal Court and/or other ad hoc international tribunals in the style of the tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda would be a welcome step in the right direction, none of the international judicial processes will likely alter the genocidal conditions in which Rohingya have been forced to exist for several decades.

Here is a very grim picture: A Harvard Medical School study published in the Lancet (2016) found the doctor-patient ratio for Rohingya in the two predominantly Rohingya towns of Buthidaung and Maungdaw is 1:180,000 while the national average is 1:1,000. According to the World Food Program survey of July 2017 -- which was shelved a week after its release under pressure from the Aung San Suu Kyi government -- of 80,000 Rohingya children under the age of 5 surveyed in a select Rohingya region of Western Myanmar, severe malnutrition and acute severe malnutrition or semi-famine like characteristics are prevalent. A Physicians for Human Rights study in October 2016 uncovered the severe deprivation of access to even rudimentary health services: a Rohingya person is made to go through, on average, three to four security checkpoints from home to the nearest village clinic, typically without a doctor or emergency medical care.

Genocide against the Rohingya is more than a series of acts of genocide, but it is still an ongoing process, and its instigators remain with impunity at the highest levels of authority in Myanmar. As the 440-page Independent International Fact-Finding Mission report (Sept. 18) noted, the structures, institutions and policies designed to destroy the Rohingya community from its very foundations remain in place.

These conditions and the decades-old policies that have induced them remain in place. The World Court or other judicial processes, domestically or globally, are not going to alter them.

And there is something that is even harder to change that serves as the obstacle to ending Myanmar’s ongoing genocide: the utter impotence and non-functioning of the UN Security Council when it comes to large-scale, policy-induced human suffering, from Yemen and Syria to Palestine and Uighur East Turkestan, or Xinjiang, in China. The veto-wielders -- not just the usual illiberal suspects such as Russia and China but also the U.S. and UK -- have proven incapable of upholding the UN Charter.

Outrageously, one year after the now-well-documented genocidal acts committed by Myanmar, the Security Council has not been able to reach a consensus about what to call the crime, objectively, let alone ending it decisively.

In light of this realpolitik, the UN system, particularly the Security Council, is the last place where the Rohingya will find any meaningful support for either realizing their long-term needs for justice and closure (such as criminal prosecution of the perpetrators of genocide) or the immediate need for safety and protection of the remaining Rohingya populations inside Myanmar and in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.

The UN officials and ostensibly pro-human rights members have been urging the creation of “safe conditions” so that 1 million Rohingya in Bangladesh who fled Myanmar’s periodic waves of genocidal terror could return and rebuild their communities. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheik Hasina, has consistently called for safety -- and even “a safe zone” or international protection, “if necessary” -- for the Rohingya population inside Myanmar. She has made this sensible call at the UN General Assembly for the past two years since the genocidal killings hit world news headlines in August 2017.

No one has heeded these essential calls while promising to throw more aid money at the symptom, namely “the Rohingya humanitarian crisis”.

Meanwhile, echoing U.S. President Donald Trump, Aung San Suu Kyi’s man of the hour at the UN, Minister Kyaw Tint Swe of the Myanmar State Counsellor’s Office, rejected the World Court’s jurisdiction and dismissed the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and its 440-page genocide report as having “no hard evidence”. The Burmese rejection of evidence is beyond belief in the face of the satellite images of nearly 400 destroyed Rohingya villages, consistently accurate and credible oral testimonies of thousands of genocide survivors and numerous legal and academic studies as well as journalistic investigations that reach a single conclusion: it is genocide, no less, that Myanmar is committing.

So what then needs to be done?

There are five concrete steps that can be undertaken with the view towards justice, repatriation and rebuilding of Rohingya communities inside Myanmar.

First, there is emerging a network of state actors -- governments, that is, -- which can establish something along the lines of “an international coalition of governments for ending Myanmar’s genocide”. Conceivably, Canada, Sweden, Ireland, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, the UK, certain Rohingya-concerned OIC member states (such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Kuwait etc.) and those from Latin and Central America with experience in atrocity crimes at home can form the core of this coalition.

This coalition can, in a more focused manner, explore concrete ways, with the requisite condition of safety, to facilitate Rohingya's return and the rebuilding of their lives once they are in their places of origin inside Western Myanmar adjacent to Bangladesh’s borders.

The word “international protection” conjures up images of UN peacekeepers. But the Blue Helmets have an extremely poor track record: consider the Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica whom the ICC ruled to be complicit in the genocide or Canadian troops shooting dogs that came to eat the corpses of Rwandan genocide victims because UN peacekeepers in the capital, Kigali, were ordered to stand down as the genocidal slaughter raged on.

For instance, the coalition can push for the idea of attaching significant numbers of civilian human rights monitors and experienced military veterans to UN agencies based in Myanmar, as well as to the humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross or Medicine San Frontiers. They would need to be based in Rakhine State in Western Myanmar, where these atrocity crimes occurred. The presence of these civilian human rights monitors ought to be made a non-negotiable condition for any interactions and agreements between Myanmar and the coalition’s partners as well as the UN agencies.

The job of providing for the returning Rohingya or those who remain inside Myanmar cannot be left in the exclusive hands of UN agencies. Besides being toothless even to secure their own unhindered access to the crime sites of Rakhine from where 725,000 fled in a span of a few months, the “UN as a whole” has been called out by the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar for its categorical failures to implement the organization’s “Rights First” policies adopted in the wake of Sri Lanka’s war crimes in 2008.

Second, the coalition needs to start inter-state conversation about de-militarization of northern Rakhine state, where the persecution has been institutionalized by Myanmar’s military for several decades. Concretely, there needs to be established a de-militarized zone where Myanmar will be forced to engage in community policing designed to minimize and prevent petty criminality in the communities within its border region of Western Myanmar. In this respect, UN member states -- 35 in total -- who voted in favor of the UN Human Rights Council resolution last week to establish an international body tasked with collecting evidence for a future international tribunal on Myanmar may likely join this international coalition.

Third, as part of the neighboring state, Bangladeshi troops across the border need to step up their security functions to ease Myanmar’s (un-warranted) fear of Islamist “penetration” into the Rohingya communities. That should not be a problem for Dhaka, which has come under heavy international criticism for its heavy-handed if effective handling of radicalization and violence among Bangladeshi communities.

Fourth, individual nations that are prepared to be a part of this coalition can take unilateral actions designed to signal to Myanmar -- and the world -- that genocide is the red line that no fellow UN member will be allowed to cross.

As a matter of fact, Canada took an exemplary action when its parliament unanimously declared Myanmar a genocidal state while its executive stripped, in an unprecedented move, Aung San Suu Kyi of Canada’s highest honor -- honorary Canadian citizenship.

More concretely, other nations in the coalition can review their ties -- commercial, military, intelligence, educational, etc. -- with the view towards using them as leverage or simply suspending them as a signal of condemnation of Myanmar’s heinous Rohingya policies. These nations of conscience need to, at the bare minimum, suspend, downgrade or outright cut diplomatic relations if Myanmar doesn’t change its genocidal course. Specifically, the coalition members need to send Myanmar ambassadors, counsel generals and military attaches packing.

These measures have been proven effective in the past: when worldwide ostracism of South Africa and its apartheid regime took place, the racists in power were eventually forced to dismantle their savage political system.

Worldwide, governments and societal actors (universities, football clubs, theatrical groups, etc.) ought to be persuaded to shun Myanmar in various aspects of its foreign interactions and revive the “Pinochet Precedent”. Australia’s lawyers and rights campaigners are using the Commonwealth Law to hold Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi accountable for her vital role in Myanmar’s crimes against humanity regarding Rohingya people.

Fifth and finally, on the economic front, the governments within the coalition should advise their national investors to either divest from the Myanmar market or not to invest in the country. To be sure, a commercial boycott of Myanmar may not bring about the needed behavioral change on the part of the country’s leaders if only because investments from Myanmar’s neighbors such as China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan make up the country’s largest foreign direct investment.

But Western and Middle Eastern investors and markets still have sufficient global influence that the medium and long-term impact of such collective action by the coalition partners will affect foreign economic actors from the genocide-bystanding or collaborating states such as India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and China.

China may be too big and too thick-skinned for, say, the reputational damage incurred from such a critical stance and boycotts from the coalition. Already being in a trade war with the United States (and its Western allies), and under close watch from human rights campaigners for its Uighur “re-education camps”, Beijing may be more vulnerable to global negative opinion that is assumed. But less important actors such as Singapore or South Korea will certainly be forced to review their ‘business-as-usual’ ties with Myanmar.

And the EU and Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, which co-sponsored a human rights resolution on Myanmar on the grounds of a fact-finding mission’s genocidal allegations, will need to reconsider their contradictory behavior on Myanmar: 300+ EU investors and some of the leading investors from the OIC remain very active in Myanmar. Neither bloc can slam Myanmar for committing the gravest of crimes while their money is propping up the genocidal perpetrators in Naypyidaw.

There are 200 UN member states, and about 140 of them are signers of the Genocide Convention. That is a lot to work with to effect positive change for the Rohingya, and for Myanmar’s violent and regressive politics.

Since the closure of the last Nazi death camp in August 1945, one hears of “Never again!” ritualistically. It’s the 11th hour of Myanmar’s genocide. Nations of conscience must band together, punish Myanmar’s perpetrating regime and provide effective protection to the genocide victims.

A Myanmar soldier guards an area at the Sittwe airport as British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt arrives in Sittwe, Rakhine state, on September 20, 2018. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP/Getty Images)

By Irwin Cotler and Brandon Silver | Published by MACLEANS on September 21, 2018

In the wake of a UN report detailing atrocities against the Rohingya by Myanmar’s authorities, here are the ways Canada can step up in their defence

Irwin Cotler is a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, professor emeritus of international law at McGill University, and the founding chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. Brandon Silver is the centre’s director of policy and projects.

What we solemnly swore would occur “never again,” has happened yet again. And on Wednesday, Canada formally recognized the nature of it: Genocide, in Myanmar.

The UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar just released its full 440-page report which documents, in great and graphic detail, the genocide of the Rohingya people. It bears witness to brutalities too terrible to be believed, but not too terrible to have happened.

Testimony from those who escaped describe gruesome scenes that shock the conscience and shake the soul. Babies being burned alive in bonfires, children chopped to pieces with swords, the elderly battered and beheaded, women and girls gang-raped—all state-sanctioned and under military command.

What is so unspeakable is not only the horror of the genocide itself, but that this genocide was preventable. No one can say that we did not know; we knew, but we did not act.

Indeed, for close to three decades the UN has been describing and denouncing—though not engaging in any meaningful measures around—the persecution of the Rohingya muslims. As the situation reached a tipping point six years ago, Canadian parliamentarians sought to sound the alarm, holding public hearings, publishing a comprehensive report, participating in press conferences, and petitioning for urgent action.

And what was the response? Silence. An appalling indifference and inaction in the face of such horror and human suffering.

We are now in the midst of an ongoing genocide, and the urgent need for action persists. Taking such action is not only a right, but a requirement.

Indeed, as we mark the historic 70th anniversary year of the UN Convention on Genocide—to which Myanmar and Canada are both signatories—we must recall its legal obligations. In its first article, the Genocide Convention states that “the Contracting Parties confirm that genocide is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.”

Likewise, the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine (R2P)—adopted unanimously in the UN 2005 World Summit Outcome Document—mandates international action to “protect a state’s population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”

While members of the international community did not fulfill their obligations in either regard—leaving innocents to be murdered and maimed, tortured and tormented—it is not too late for the thousands of Rohingya remaining in northern Rakhine State and the other minorities in Kachin and Shan States who are now similarly being targeted with impunity.

Canada is well-placed to help spearhead international action. It has already exercised leadership with the appointment of Bob Rae as special envoy and his important recommendations in that regard, while Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh and has raised the Rohingya crisis at every opportunity, including at the G7, Asean, Commonwealth, OIC, and the UN Human Rights Council. Importantly, Canada has implemented a comprehensive strategy that includes humanitarian aid and targeted sanctions.

Yet there is still more to be done.

In 2007, Canada instituted hard-hitting sanctions on Myanmar, which contributed at the time to the military junta’s move toward greater openness and democratic reform. That led to the repeal of most of these sanctions in 2012. In light of a backsliding in every one of these measures—and in particular the perpetration of genocide itself—Canada should reintroduce these sanctions, and encourage its allies to do the same.

Any easing of sanctions would need to be tied to clear steps and measurable progress regarding the situation of Rohingya in northern Rakhine and creating the conditions for a safe, dignified, and secure return for those forced into Bangladesh, including an end to violence, the restoration of full citizenship, and the halting of the National Verification Card Process, as well as restoration of property and reparations for damages. In short: there must be a guarantee of a protected return to a protected homeland.

As well, we reiterate our call—and that of the Rohingya community and Canadian civil society—to revoke Canada’s highest honour that was bestowed upon Myanmar’s State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar’s civilian government has aided and abetted the military’s genocide, with Suu Kyi participating in the hateful incitement against Rohingya, and providing protective cover and support for the continued commission of crimes. She’s denied the atrocities, restricted access to international monitors and investigators, weaponized the denial of humanitarian aid and, when two Reuters journalists who were reporting on the killings of Rohingya were unjustly imprisoned last week, she defended it as being part of a proper process.

That process was a sham. Her actions bring shame.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship is a standing affront to the raison d’etre of conferring this privilege, and an embarrassment to the pantheon of heroes that comprise it. In contrast to actual citizenship—which has attendant rights and privileges—this was solely an honorific bestowed by a motion in Parliament, and so parliamentarians should be allowed to vote their conscience on a motion to revoke it.

Canada must also work to deter the Myanmar authorities and send clear signals that they cannot act with impunity, and will be held accountable for their crimes. While it is encouraging that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has just announced a preliminary examination into the situation—a process that many Canadians and Canadian institutions had significantly contributed to, and one that Canada should support through financial and investigative resources—it is ultimately highly limited in its jurisdiction, focusing primarily on the forced deportations of Rohingya to Bangladesh.

Accordingly, Canada may wish to mobilize its allies in pushing for a referral of the situation by the UN Security Council to the ICC; a veto from China is not a given, and such a resolution would be a worthwhile endeavour nonetheless. If it’s successful, it would give the ICC broader jurisdiction over the genocide and crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated by individuals in Myanmar. However, with the Court’s woefully inadequate resources—further spread thin over the examination, investigation, or prosecution of a number of different alleged crimes around the world—such a mandate may not prove practical given the urgency of deterrence and accountability around the ongoing crimes.

A more compelling alternative, as put forth by the UN fact-finding mission, would be the establishment of an ad-hoc international tribunal—as was done in the cases of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda—that would exclusively and expeditiously undertake the task of investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of the Rohingya genocide.

Regardless of the individual accountability mechanism, Canada should act on its earlier commitment in response to Rae’s recommendation to spearhead a resolution at the UN General Assembly or Human Rights Council that would establish an international, impartial, and independent mechanism that immediately begins compiling evidence toward the investigation and prosecution of those individuals responsible, signalling to perpetrators in Myanmar that they are being watched, and that they will face punishment for their actions.

However, the most important chance for change from the status quo—of imperilled victims, and impunity for oppressors—is contained in the UN Convention on Genocide. Specifically, it allows for Canada to refer the case of Myanmar’s responsibility for the genocide of the Rohingya to the International Court of Justice. Given that the genocide was prepared and perpetrated by Myanmar as a matter of state principle and policy, state responsibility under the Convention—as distinct from the accountability of individuals offered by other mechanisms—is a most apparent and appropriate path.

Some in the international community may respond that such bold measures will get in the way of effective engagement with Myanmar’s authorities. But if inaction—or ineffective action—is the cost of engagement, then the consequence of that engagement is tantamount to appeasement. In the face of genocide, appeasement should never be an option.

We look to the Canadian government to further intensify and internationalize its commendable leadership, and that its response to the UN Report be commensurate with the gravity of the crimes.

As the members of the UN mission put it: “The international community has failed. Let us now resolve not to fail the people of Myanmar again.”

By Tapan Bose | Published by CounterCurrents.Org on August 1, 2018

Rohingya refugees are back in the news again. On Tuesday (July 30) Mr. Rijiju, the Minister of State for Home said some of the Rohingya living in India do not have the status of “refugee” but are “illegal migrants” who would be deported once their details have been prepared. Reiterating his earlier position, Rijiju said since they are illegal migrants, they are not entitled to any government facility.

Responding to a series of supplementary questions in the Parliament, Rijiju said the government has reports that some of the Rohingyas have been involved in illegal activities but he would refrain from getting into details, and maintained that security forces have been deployed to stop their infiltration into the country.

Earlier, the government of India had claimed that the Rohingya were a “potential” threat to India’s national security, as they were vulnerable to manipulations by Islamic terrorists organisations and Pakistan’s ISI. The government is yet to produce evidence of Rohingya refugees indulging in terrorist activities in India. The latest statement of Rijiju is not substantiated with facts. He refused to disclose any details of the criminal activities of the Rohingya refugees. An unsubstantiated statement of this nature, which is capable of inciting violence against the hapless refugee community is unworthy of a responsible minister.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh told the members of the Parliament that the Border Security Force and the Assam Rifles guarding international borders have been asked to ensure that Rohingya asylum seekers do not enter the country. Six months ago, in February this year, Mr. Singh, the Home Minister of India had said, that states asking them to confine Rohingyas in one place and keep them under watch. He said state governments have been asked to carry out enumeration of all Rohingya people living in their respective jurisdictions, collect their biometric data and share it with the Home Ministry. The objective of this exercise was to take up their deportation with Myanmar. This move completely disregards the fact that Myanmar does want Rohingya people in their territory. Myanmar army has been raping Rohingya women, torturing them, killing them, burning down their villages and forcibly evicting them. It exposes the hollowness of Indian governments “humanitarian concern” for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Different reports have given varying figures of Rohingya immigrants in India. According to one estimate, there are around 40,000 Rohingyas residing in India. The UNHRC data, on the other hand, shows that 16,500 Rohingya Muslims have settled in India as refugees. Of these, 5,700 are settled in Jammu and rest in New Delhi, Jaipur and Hyderabad. Whereas, according to the Jammu and Kashmir government, there 5,700 Rohingyas in Jammu and 7,664 in Ladakh.

Rohingya Muslims have settled in Doda and Samba sectors of Jammu region and in Ladakh. These areas which border Pakistan and China. These areas are considered “sensitive” from security perspective by Indian intelligence agencies. The agencies claim that Rohingya terror group, known as Aqa Mul Mujahideen (AMM), was in touch with terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and men belonging to AMM got trained in Pakistan. It is also claimed that Zakir Musa, the Head of Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Kashmir, Ansar Gazawat-ul-Hind, has expressed solidarity with Rohingyas living in Jammu. In early September, the Mutahida Majlis-e-Ulma (MMU), headed by separatist Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other religious organisations also observed a Solidarity Day in the Valley for Rohingya settlers. Apparently, this is a good enough reason for the government to deport the Rohingya refugees in national interest.

At the same time, India is witnessing a growing intellectual debate which is trying to create a pro-Rohingya perception and the Hindu right wing ruling party, the BJP is pushing for deportation of Rohingyas just because they are Muslims, India Today, a leading Indian news magazine reported that Rohingya Muslims had forcefully converted Rohingya Hindu women to Islam in Bangladesh, insinuating that some of the Rohingya Muslims harbour anti-Hindu feelings. In a fragile state like Jammu and Kashmir which is divided on religious lines, such news can potentially flare up — invoking fear in the minds of Hindus in Jammu and Buddhists in Ladakh. It would further motivate the “ultra-right wing” ruling party to deport the foreign Muslims settlers who might damage the demography of the country.

As the Indian government announced that it would deport the Rohingya asylum seekers back to Myanmar, some Twitter accounts have been sharing fake images taken from different sources, each from a different event claiming the Rohingyas persecuted Hindus in Rakhine. Using photographs pilfered from different unrelated sources and “photoshopping” them to fit the false narrative, rightwing Hindu organisations in India are generating fake news to show the Rohingya Muslims as terrorists and killers. Unfortunately, Indian government is also using these fake news from the social media to project the Rohingya as a “potential threat” to India’s national security. In the absence of evidence, the government is trying to build a public opinion against the Rohingya refugees and also to deter the support they are getting because of the genocide in progress in Myanmar. The news items such as “Rohingya Killing Hindus” and “Rohingya forcibly converting Hindu women to Islam” have added fuel to the hate campaign, which is being spread through its troll and photoshop by Hindu right wing organisations. Several corporate owned media houses have published news articles about Rohingyas killing Hindus in newspapers and online portals, without bothering to check its authenticity.

Such views serve the communal agenda and make short-term political gains, but the political class has so far failed to take into account the larger threat this poses not just to the Rohingyas, but to the country’s political and social stability. Rohingyas are the most persecuted people in the world. Let us not add to their misfortune. It is possible that a few individual Rohingya refugees might have committed some crime. But that should not be the reason to classify the entire community as “criminals”. It is important for the saner people of India to stand up for the protection of the Rohingya and ask the government to support the global call for an independent investigation into the allegations of “crimes against humanity” committed by Myanmar army. India had earned the international community’s respect for standing up for the oppressed people and against the oppressors, no matter how powerful they were. We must stand by the Rohingya in their hour of need.

Tapan Bose is an independent documentary filmmaker, human rights and peace activist, author and regular contributor leading journals and news magazines in India, Nepal and Pakistan. His award winning documentaries on human rights and democratic issues include An Indian Story (1982) on the blinding of under trial prisoners in Bhagalpur and the nexus between landlord, police and politicians and Beyond Genocide: Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1986). His film ‘Behind the Barricades; Punjab’ (1993) on the state repression in Punjab, as with the earlier cited films, was banned and after a long legal struggle was shown. His latest film is The Expendable People’, (2016) a passionate appeal for justice for the tribal peoples of India, cheated, dispossessed, pauperised and criminalized in their forest homes, made to pay the price for extractive development.

By Tapan Bose | Published by CounterReview on June 15, 2018

On May 22, 2018, Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International released a briefing note titled, “Myanmar: New evidence reveals Rohingya armed group massacred scores in Rakhine State”. It may be seen HERE.

In the briefing note, Amnesty International stated, “A Rohingya armed group brandishing guns and swords is responsible for at least one, and potentially a second, massacre of up to 99 Hindu women, men, and children as well as additional unlawful killings and abductions of Hindu villagers in August 2017, Amnesty International revealed today after carrying out a detailed investigation inside Myanmar’s Rakhine State.”

From the statement of the Amnesty International it appears that they have gathered enough evidence to implicate the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in genocidal massacres. Apparently, the evidence against ARSA is more clear and convincing than the evidence against the armed forces of Myanmar and the Buddhist mobs. While releasing the briefing note Tirana Hassan also refuted Myanmar government’s criticism that the international community was being one-sided while at the same time denying access to northern Rakhine State. Tirana Hassan added that, “the full extent of ARSA’s abuses and the Myanmar military’s violations will not be known until independent human rights investigators, including the UN Fact-Finding mission, are given full and unfettered access to Rakhine State.”

Two versions of Massacre at Kha Maung Seik 

According to Amnesty International it appears that one of the most prominent alleged massacres of Hindu Rohingyas in Kha Maung Seik (also known as Fakira Bazar) in Maungdaw Township was done by ARSA activists on August 25 and 26. Amnesty International claims that ARSA had abducted the eight Hindu women survivors, forcefully converted them to Islam, compelled them to marry and cohabit with the murderers of their husbands, parents and brothers. Amnesty International also claims that the eight Hindu women told the fabricated the story of Myanmar army and Buddhists killing of some 93 Hindu civilians to cover up their genocidal killing of Hindus, fearing for their own lives and the lives of their children who were also abducted by ARSA.

Hindus from Myanmar had joined streams of Muslim Rohingyas to seek refuge in Bangladesh after the killing of 86 people from their community in the ethnic violence in the neighbouring Buddhist-majority country. According to a news story in the First Post, a Bangladeshi government official had said that “a total of 414 Hindus from (Myanmar’s) Rakhine state took refuge at a Hindu village in Cox’s Bazar.” However, Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council President Rana Dasgupta, who visited the village, had claimed that the figure of Hindu refugees was 510, mostly women, children and the elderly, who were crammed into a wooden barn. Dasgupta said ordinary Rohingya Muslims escorted them to borders from where these Hindus entered Bangladesh along with thousands others (click HERE).

Recalling the First Version of Kha Maung Seik Massacre

Kha Maung Seik was home to a mixed community, with Rohingya Muslims in the majority along with about 6,000 Rakhine Buddhists, Hindus and others. The relations between the Muslim Rohingyas and Hindu Rohingyas was cordial. However, the relations had been strained after Myanmar government had decided to grant citizenship to the Hindus. Because of the tension between the two communities, since October 2016, more soldiers were posted near the village, with border police. Patrols went house-to-house arresting anyone suspected of having militant links.

It is worth recalling what was reported by the Reuters on September 7, 2017, about nine months ago. Reuters had interviewed about 20 Muslims and Hindus in which they had recounted how they were forced out of their village of Kha Maung Seik in Myanmar’s Rakhine State on Aug. 25. Kadil Hussein, a refugee sheltering in Kutupalang camp said, “The military brought some Rakhine Buddhists with them and torched the village. … All the Muslims in our village, about 10,000, fled. Some were killed by gunshots, the rest came here. There’s not a single person left.” Villagers from Kha Maung Seik and neighbouring hamlets had described killings and the burning of homes in the military response to the attacks by ARSA.

The villagers of Kha Maung Seik interviewed by Reuters said that they heard shooting at 2 a.m. on Aug. 25. A military source in Maungdaw town and two Muslim residents said militants attacked a police post near the village that night. Four Rohingya villagers separately gave Reuters accounts of how, at about 5 a.m., soldiers entered the village, firing indiscriminately. Thousands fled. Abul Hussein a 28 year old Rohingya refugee said, “I was at the front of a big group running for cover, but I looked back and could see people at the back getting shot”.

Later, According to Hussein and three other villagers grenades and mortar bombs were fired into the forest. Husain had said, “I saw a mortar hit a group of people. Some died on the spot.” From the forest, residents had watched military and civilians loot and burn houses. Body Alom, another refugee said civilians were helping the army to gather bodies. Body Alom and two other villagers claimed, “they collected the bodies, searching for belongings. … They took money, clothes, cows, everything. Then they burned the houses.”

A group of Hindu women refugees in Kutupalong said they saw eight Hindu men killed by Buddhist Rakhines after they refused to attack Muslims. Anika Bala, who was six months pregnant told Reuters, “they asked my husband to join them to kill Rohingya but he refused, so they killed him.” She said Muslims helped her get to Bangladesh.

Reuters reported that a military official denied that Buddhist civilians were working with authorities and instead accused Muslims of attacking other communities. Anika Bala and other Hindu refugees subsequently changed their story.

As we have seen earlier, these Hindu survivors, particularly the women survivors had told journalists, aid workers and other Rohingya refugees in Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh that their men were killed by security forces and armed men from the Mogh, local Rakhine. Their interviews were broadcast and they were quoted in newspapers all over the world. At the request of some Hindu leaders, these Hindu women were removed from the Muslim dominated camp by Bangladesh security forces to a camp for only Hindus.

After reaching the Hindu only camp, the women changed their story. In late August 2017, all the eight Hindu Rohingya women had told Reuters and other international media persons that it was Rakhine Buddhists who had attacked them. But later on, after being shifted to the Hindu only camp in Ukhiya, three of them changed their statements to say the attackers were Rohingya Muslims, who brought them to Bangladesh and told them to blame the Rakhine Buddhists. They insisted that it was in fact the Muslim Rohingya activists belonging to ARSA who had carried out the massacre of the Hindus in the village of Kha Maung Seik (also known as Fakira Bazar) in Maungdaw Township.

The Women return to Myanmar

From the Hindu only camp in Cox’s Bazaar, the eight Hindu women survivors, subsequently returned to Myanmar at the intervention of U Kyaw Tint Swe a Minister in the office of the State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. Now they are being sheltered with other remaining members of Hindu community, still living in Rakhine state, by Myanmar authorities. When these survivors returned to Myanmar, their story changed for a second time. According to a news story in the Guardian of October 12, 2017, some of these returnees claimed that the attackers were masked and they did not know who was responsible.

In their video interview which may still be accessed on YouTube, the women did not explain how they knew the killers were Rakhines. As a matter of fact in some of the accounts, they unclear about that detail. In the interview, Rekha Dhar described those wearing black outfits with “faces covered so we could not identify them.” Anika Dhar a Hindu woman survivor told Dhaka Tribune of “a group of men wearing black uniforms … armed to the teeth with guns and long knives” but they did not explain why they thought that the attackers were Buddhist. 

The second Version: The killers were Rohingya Muslims belonging to ARSA

The earliest known media report about the second version of the killing in Kha Maung Seik was published on September 5, 2017 in The Irrawaddy, a pro Myanmar government news portal. The story said how an 8-year-old girl from the area was luckily away on the August 25 working in another village. Her family had been killed, except an older sister, who was among the eight kidnapped women living in a camp with Muslims in Bangladesh. She also learnt that her sister and other kidnapped women were rescued from the Muslim camp and had already made contact with home. 

She had already heard from others that “more than 80 members of their communities in Rakhine State had been killed by unidentified armed men … reportedly … Muslim militants.” In an interview on September 16, 2017 the sisters claimed they were now quite sure that the killers were genuine Islamists with ARSA, shouting Allahu Akbar behind their ski masks as they attacked. They massacred the girls’ families and husbands, and called the bloodletting their way of celebrating the feast of Eid al-Adha (feast of sacrifice), something they said they had been wanting to do for three years (click HERE).

After the women returned to Myanmar around the end of September, they ostensibly provided a fuller account of the happening in their village to state run, Global New Light of Myanmar (GNLM), on October 5, 2017. The report quoted one of the women saying, “[A] group of about 500 Muslims terrorists led by a foreigner in black clothing and one Noru Lauk from Khamaungseik Village – attacked their village of Ye Baw Kya claiming this “is our territory. … We will murder Buddhists and all of you who worship the statues made of bricks and stones”.

What the Amnesty International claims

Amnesty International believes the second version of women’s story. It also claims that Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has links with Islamic Jihadi organisations and that ARSA has a large following and it was able to mount a well organised and a coordinated attack on 30 army and police stations/camps on August 25, 2017. I propose to examine these findings of Amnesty International in the light of what has been extensively reported by many reporters, news agencies, human rights groups, the UN agencies and independent researchers.

Amnesty International says that early in the morning of 25 August 2017, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya armed group, attacked around 30 security force outposts in northern Rakhine State. Amnesty also claims that the attacks, were carefully planned and coordinated and in the days that followed, ARSA fighters, along with some mobilized Rohingya villagers, engaged in scores of clashes with security forces. Based on it interviews conducted in Sittwe and Yangon, Myanmar during April and May 2018 and a report of the ICG, “Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis Enters a Dangerous New Phase”, Amnesty International has concluded that on 25 August, ARSA had mobilized a large number of Rohingya villagers – likely around several thousand with bladed weapons or sticks.

Various news reports that was published during August and September 2017, and particularly the Reuters report that I have quoted above, establish that Myanmar government has been following a dual policy towards the Rohingya. While it had offered to grant citizenship to the Hindu Rohingya, it had told the Muslims Rohingyas that they would get identity cards which would designate them as “foreigners”. This had created dissension among the Muslim in the village of with border police. The Myanmar army was aware of this tension between the two religious communities and as a result, they had deployed additional soldiers with border police near the village. Since October 2016, army and police patrols conducted house-to-house confiscating knives and axes and arresting anyone suspected of having militant links.

Yet, on August 25, the ARSA militants were able to walk into the village, round up all the Hindu men and women, take them to the paddy fields, slaughter them, burry the bodies and stay with the captured women in the village for two days. The question that remains unanswered is where the Myanmar soldiers and the border police which was already deployed in this village.

In its briefing on May 22, 2018, the Amnesty International claimed that it has documented serious human rights abuses committed by ARSA during and after the attacks in late August 2017. This briefing focused on serious crimes – including unlawful killings and abductions – carried out by ARSA fighters against the Hindu community living in northern Rakhine State. In the refugee camps in Bangladesh in September 2017, Amnesty International conducted 12 interviews with members of the Hindu community who left Myanmar during the violence.

In April 2018, Amnesty International conducted research in Sittwe, Myanmar on ARSA abuses and attacks, interviewing 10 additional people from the Hindu community and 33 people from ethnic Rakhine, Khami, Mro, and Thet communities, all of whom were from northern Rakhine State. Six more people from an area where Hindu killings occurred were interviewed by phone from outside the region in May 2018.

Not much is known about the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA), formerly known as Harakatul Yakeen. It had first emerged in October 2016 when it attacked three police outposts in the Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships, killing nine police officers. According to information given by Myanmar government, ARSA has been operating inside Arakan. On May 15, 2017, in a video uploaded to social media, Ataullah Abu Amar Jununi had claimed that they were mobilizing people for "Our legitimate self-defence is a necessary struggle justified by the needs of human survival." Mr. Phill Hynes, an expert on insurgency in the region had told CNN that he had information that “up to 150 foreign fighters were involved in the ARSA movement”. ARSA has denied all charges of foreign help and publicly rejected offers by Al Qaeda, Islamic State and others to send fighters (click HERE).
Contrary to what Amnesty International’s claim the ARSA had mounted a well organised coordinated attack on about 30 Myanmar army and police posts, Rohingyas living in Maungdaw Township had told Al Jazeera that the ARSA men, numbered only a few dozen. They had, stormed the outposts with sticks and knives, and after killing the officers, they fled with light weaponry (click HERE).

Clearly, the hitherto small ARSA movement had become surprisingly strong band of well organised fighters to be able to manage such a huge offensive on some 30 security posts at once. And yet clue to this mobilization we have is a WhatsApp audio message reportedly issued by the leader of ARSA on August 24 which asked all Rohingya men above 14 to participate in the attack on August 25. International Crisis Group (ICG) quoted this WhatsApp message perhaps to indicate a massive new recruitment at the last moment, bucking all prior estimates of the group’s strength. The theory that they might also have teamed up with other groups to boost their power, but has not been substantiated till date.

The ARSA attack of August 25, 2017 was reported widely all over the world. The most detailed story was published by the Irrawaddy, a pro-government news portal bases in Yangon. As we will see, even the news story published by Irrawaddy does not support Amnesty International’s claim of large scale mobilization armed insurgents by ARSA. It is interesting to recall that quoting from a statement issued by Myanmar Army Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the Irrawaddy had reported that about 10 police and one Myanmar Army soldier were killed in attacks on 24 border guard posts, police stations, and army bases by Muslim militants in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships in northern Rakhine State on Thursday night and Friday morning, according to on Friday.

According to the same report, five firearms were looted by the attackers and the bodies of 15 suspected militants were found. It was the largest attack by Rohingya Muslim militants since assaults on border guard posts in October 2016. In an earlier statement on the official Facebook page of the State Counselor’s Office Information Committee had said that “the extremist Bengali insurgents attacked a police station in Maungdaw region in northern Rakhine state with a handmade bomb explosive and held coordinated attacks on several police posts at 1 a.m.”

Though it has been said that thousands of armed Rohingya had joined the ARSA in attacking the army posts, the Irrawaddy story, quoting from the statement of the commander-in-chief had said that, “some 150 men allegedly attacked Infantry Base 552 and an explosive device was used in an attack in Maungdaw”. According to the State Counselor’s Office statement, “another 150 men allegedly attacked a police station at Taung Bazaar at 3 a.m. and the bodies of six suspected attackers were found”. The government statement had listed not 30 but the 24 locations that had come under attack—including Koe Tan Kauk in Rathedaung, which were also attacked by militants in October 2016. It said attacks were ongoing at the time of the statement’s release early Friday morning.

"The New York Times" on August 25, 2017 had carried a similar story quoting from a statement from the office of Myanmar’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi claiming that in the attack at least 12 members of the security forces and at least 59 Rohingya insurgents were killed. "The New York Times" story also said that according to a statement. Myanmar’s armed forces the militants used knives, small arms and explosives in the early-morning attacks on several police and military posts around Buthidaung and Maungdaw, near Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh (click HERE).

On September 13, 2017, Ms. Anagha Neelakantan, the Asia Programme Director at the International Crisis Group, had told Al Jazeera that there was no clear ideology underpinning the group's actions. "From what we understand the group is fighting to protect the Rohingya and not anything else," she said. Neelakanthan told Al Jazeera that she was unclear as to how many fighters the group currently has, Neelakantan explained, adding that there was "no evidence that ARSA has any links to local or international Jihadist groups, or that their aims are aligned". 

Amnesty given Access to Northern Rakhine

Since 25 August 2017, the government Myanmar had blocked access to northern Rakhine State by the UN and most other humanitarian actors. The International Committee, International Federation, and Myanmar Red Cross Society were permitted to work, although they faced delays and restrictions as well as enormous logistical challenges in reaching populations in need. They made repeated requests to the government for grant of access to the communities in need in Rakhine state. It was only on 6 November, the World Food Programme was able to resume food aid to Rohingya and non-Rohingya communities through the government but with no staff access to monitor distribution directly.

Yet Amnesty International claims that it was able to send its investigators to Yangon and Sittwe and talk to the survivors independently. Ashley S. Kinseth a human rights lawyer who worked with a humanitarian NGO in Rakhine and had lived in Rakhine for several months before the August 25 ARSA attack, was told to move out on August 24 by the government. She has said that in Myanmar all movements were restricted and monitored by the army and security forces. Amnesty claims that their investigators met some of these women in Sittwe. Amnesty has not disclosed how they got access to these women and other witnesses to Sittwe. We have also not been told whether Amnesty team examined the three or four graves/pits from which the bodies were recovered and whether those narrow graves/pits could hold so many bodies. It is important for Amnesty International to clearly state its position on the graves/pits, as the photos of the mass graves or pits were publicized by Myanmar army and they exist in the public domain. Adam Larson of The Indicter Magazine had collected and analyzed the photos of the graves to assess whether so many bodies could have been buried in those narrow graves.

According to Larson all three graves/pits were remarkably small in area, or narrow – one body wide at most. He concluded that to hold 12, 16, and 17 corpses each, as reported by Myanmar army, these had to be very deep, almost like well shafts. The bodies had to be piled in vertically, perhaps three bodies across and several layers deep.

Furthermore, the way each of the pits were tucked into the edge of the brush, it suggested that the killers wanted these to stay hidden. If it weren’t for the survivors’ tips, they might have never been found. These were found by Myanmar army after the Hindu survivors gave them the location. Yet all the women in their statements have claimed that the black clad Rohingya killers had tied up the captured men and women away from the village to kill and burry the bodies in some place which they did not see (click HERE).

Amnesty International’s regional director James Gomez needs to look into this chain of contradictions. It is important to remember that an evolving story that adapts to shifting public perception is a sign of repeated falsification. Sloppy accusations of brutal killing of Hindus and Buddhists against ARSA, betray intuitive attachment to a country performing violence rather than empathy for those on its receiving end.

Rohingya Exodus