Latest Highlight

By Mohammed Rafique | Published by The Irish Times on June 21, 2018

Sir, – We applaud David McKechnie and Kathleen Harris for their report on the lives of the Rohingya in the refugee camps in Bangladesh in the Weekend edition of The Irish Times (“Rohingya crisis: ‘We have no one, no idea what is going to happen tomorrow”, June 16th). Their report painted a realistic picture of the daily struggles that the Rohingya face.

We have been expelled from our country. We are the victims of major human rights abuses. We have been stripped of our nationality. The government of Myanmar, under the directorship of Aung San Suu Kyi, is attempting to obliterate us through what the UN has referred to as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. We have been rendered stateless. We are denied access to education, health care and shelter. The tactics employed by Aung San Suu Kyi are without a doubt crimes against humanity. Her orchestrated campaign to obliterate us continues. She has recently issued a directive not to use the name “Rohingya” in any media outlets or reports. She and the military government of Myanmar are attempting to write us out of history.

As the rains arrive in Bangladesh and the floods begin, we face new disasters. Our huts are destroyed. Our latrines are overflowing. Disease, which does not discriminate, will wipe out our young and old, leaving the rest to face more tragedy and mourn the loss of loved ones.

As Rohingya residents living in Carlow, we are struggling with the daily images and reports as we flick from channel to channel. We check websites and media outlets that are trying to get to the truth of the reality of the lives of the Rohingya. What we see are blatant human rights abuses, Islamophobia, disaster and death facing our extended families and friends in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

We are working hard to highlight the plight of our people. We have support from our adopted community and country.

We are working with our neighbours, community groups, colleges, government and trade unions to address the tyrannical behaviour and wrong doing of Myanmar’s military government and the actions of Aung San Suu Kyi. Dublin City Council has played a pivotal role in highlighting the crimes orchestrated by Aung San Suu Kyi in removing her name from its honours list. Galway city has yet to follow suit.

It is only with international pressure (and a more effective and less naive UN) that there will be a turn around in our fate. We cannot stand by and allow the Rohingya to fade into the history books. If we do nothing we will fade away, and evil will continue to prevail as we turn the other way.

We implore the people of Ireland not to allow evil to prevail. – Yours, etc,

Free Rohingya Coalition Ireland,

Rohingyas, fleeing persecution in Rakhine State of Myanmar, queue up to get biometrically registered at Kutupalang Refugee Camp at Ukhia in Cox's Bazar. -- New Age file photo

By Shahidul Islam Chowdhury | Published by New Age Bangladesh on June 20, 2018

Protracted Rohingya crisis is unlikely to end soon as beginning their repatriation from Bangladesh is still a faraway thing because of Myanmar’s reluctance to create conditions conducive for their sustainable return when World Refugee Day is going to be observed today.

The civil and military authorities in Myanmar are buying time on different pleas with the Bangladesh government and international organisations putting emphasis on creating conditions in Rakhine State with rebuilding villages, ensuring citizenship of the Rohingyas and granting them rights to free movement, local and foreign diplomats have told New Age. 

There ‘is no development’ in starting return of the Rohingyas as ‘currently conditions in Myanmar are not conducive for returns,’ UNHCR spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar Caroline Gluck told New Age on Tuesday. 

The UN teams require assessing need for creating conducive conditions and starting preparations for receiving Rohingya people in Rakhine State with visiting villages where security forces and their cronies ran massacre on and after August 25 last year, a senior UN official said.

But the Myanmar government slowed down the process of granting the UN teams permission for accessing the areas let alone starting reconstruction of villages for returnees he regretted.

A senior Bangladesh diplomat said there was no possibility of starting repatriation of the Rohingyas in the next few months as none of the Bangladesh and Myanmar sides were ready to start the process. 
Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam, however, on Tuesday claimed that they were ‘in the process of preparations for repatriation’ of the Rohingyas.

When asked whether they started the process of verifying voluntariness of return with the help of the UNHCR, he said voluntariness would be checked once the UN authorities ‘gives signal that they are ready to receive the returnees’ in Myanmar. 

About 7,00,000 Rohingyas, mostly women, children and aged people, entered Bangladesh fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape during ‘security operations’ by Myanmar military in Rakhine, what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning from August 25, 2017.

Bangladesh Enterprise Institute vice-president M Humayun Kabir stressed the need for comprehensive measures from the international communities for sustainable return of the Rohingya people.

‘A new political debate is brewing in some countries including the US, Germany and Italy over the forcibly displaced people,’ Kabir, also a former ambassador, observed, adding that there ‘is hue and cry about the consequences of migration instead of addressing the root causes that forced people to leave their country.’

The UNHCR said in a report released on Tuesday that a record 68.5 million people were forced to flee their homes due to war, violence and persecution, notably in places like Myanmar and Syria. 

By the end of 2017, the number was nearly three million higher than the previous year and showed a 50-per cent increase from the 42.7 million uprooted from their homes a decade ago, said the report released on the eve of World Refugee Day of the UN set to be observed today. 

The current figure is equivalent to the entire population of Thailand, and the number of people forcibly displaced equates to one in every 110 persons worldwide, it says.

‘We are at a watershed, where success in managing forced displacement globally requires a new and far more comprehensive approach so that countries and communities aren’t left dealing with this alone,’ said UN high commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

But around 70 per cent of these people were from just 10 countries, he told reporters in Geneva ahead of the report’s launch.

International Criminal Court is scheduled to hold a closed-door hearing today on its jurisdiction as well as granting a prosecutor permission to launch a preliminary examination into the forced deportation of Rohingya people from Myanmar.

UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Monday that there ‘are clear indications of well-organised, widespread and systematic attacks continuing to target the Rohingyas in Rakhine State as an ethnic group, amounting possibly to acts of genocide if so established by a court of law.’

The ongoing Rohingya influx took the number of undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered refugees in a small areas in Cox’s Bazar to about 11,16,000, which is much higher than the population of Bhutan, experts said. Bhutan’s population was about 8,00,000 in 2016. 

Bangladesh and Myanmar governments signed three instruments since November 23, 2017, for return of forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals sheltered in Bangladesh after October 2016, as the Rohingya exodus from Rakhine State continued.

The Bangladesh and Myanmar governments signed two memorandums of understanding with the UN agencies to ensure voluntariness of the returnees and facilitate safe and dignified return to Rakhine State.

Women pump water at a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. Photo by UN Women/Allison Joyce |

By Matthew Gindin | Published by tricycle on February 16, 2018

The international community must not allow the Rohingya crisis to fade away without consequence.

The situation of the Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar continues to darken as the brutal Burmese campaign against them, one the UN has called a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing,” seems set to fade from international attention. Nearly 700,000 are now living in squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh while those still within Myanmar are subject to a two-pronged campaign of destruction. On the ground they continue to be victims of violence, while in the Burmese public sphere their history and identity is being systematically erased. This is a frightening indication of the ease with which states can commit genocidal crimes with relative impunity.

Is Repatriation Desirable? 

On November 23, a deal was reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh for the repatriation of several hundred thousand refugees, a deal which has received international criticism and has recently been put on hold over fears that conditions in Myanmar are not suitable for their return.

Inside Myanmar, the evidence points to ongoing ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh in December and January with most citing “forced starvation” at the hands of Burmese authorities as what has caused them to leave, according to a February 7 report from Amnesty International. The refugees also allege confiscation of Rohingya property and continued abduction, rape, and sexual assault of Rohingya women.

Meanwhile, the Pyithu Hluttaw, the House of Representatives in the Burmese parliament, met on February 5 to declare, in contradiction to well-documented evidence, that the Rohingya have never been a recognized ethnic minority in Myanmar. 

“The name Rohingya was never mentioned in any of the census lists, and it is not included among the list of 135 ethnic nationals,” said Union Minister for Labour, Immigration, and Population U Thein Swe, in response to a question raised by U Tin Aye, a representative from Metmung in Shan State. U Tin Aye had asked whether there was a plan to inform the people of Myanmar, as well as those across the world, of there in fact being no ethnic nationals under the name Rohingya.

U Tin Aye further expressed that the conflict in Rakhine state caused by the “terrorist acts of the Bengalis” poses a grave threat, as reported in theIrawaddy. There is a widely held view in Myanmar that the Rohingya are not a distinct ethnic group within Myanmar with roots going back centuries, as historical records attest, but rather are descended from 19th-century itinerant Bengali laborers. “This could lead to disintegration or even result in a failed state. If they dominate our country, we would be forced to leave. I raise the question because I am worried about this,” said U Tin Aye.

According to a 2014 census, Muslims make up less than 5% of the population of Myanmar, which is 87.9% Buddhist. Before two-thirds of the Rohingya fled, they appear to have comprised less than 2% of the population.

“The government, with an emphasis on wisdom and rationality, has been handling the situation in accordance with laws, rules, and regulations in a dignified manner without resorting to emotion,” U Thein Swe said, giving no indication that he was referring to the widespread and systematic use of murder, arson, torture, and weaponized rape against civilians.

This view has been passionately championed by U Wirathu, a monk repeatedly accused of inciting violence against the Rohingya, who says the Rohingya simply “don’t exist.” Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the civilian government, whose behavior has been met with a range of reactions generally falling between bewilderment and condemnation, herself refusesto use the name “Rohingya.” 

Truth Under Attack

The full truth of what is happening to the Rohingya is likely hidden from many in Myanmar, who have been told for years that the “Bengalis” are a vanguard for an international Muslim invasion who have been manipulating the international media with exaggerated stories of persecution. U Wirathu, speaking to the Guardian, was dismissive of the reports of widespread sexual violence (claims that Suu Kyi has also characterized as“fake rape”). 

Critical journalists have been subjected to a silencing campaign. Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were covering military operations against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, were returned to jail recently after their fourth court appearance. The journalists were arrested on December 12 moments after police, in a sting operation, gave them documents allegedly related to security operations in Rakhine. The two were charged under the Official Secrets Act with divulging state secrets, for which they could receive as much as 14 years in prison. 

The two journalists, who were denied bail, have now been detained for eight weeks in the country’s notoriously inhumane Insein Prison, where Aung San Suu Kyi was also held during her days of opposition to the military regime. Their hearing came on the heels of threats from state officials to sue the Associated Press over a story exposing mass graves of Rohingya whose faces had been burnt with acid to make them unidentifiable.

Aung San Suu Kyi Arises as a Savior—For Investors

Aung San Suu Kyi has begun soliciting funds from powerful businesspeople in Myanmar for investment opportunities in the Rakhine State areas that two-thirds of the Rohingya population have recently fled.

Myanmar’s civilian government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, formed the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD) in October. A UEHRD ceremony held in the capital, Naypyidaw, later that month drew $13.5 million from a group of companies, some of which were previously under Western sanctions for their links with the military dictatorship. Their prominence in Aung San Suu Kyi’s plan marks an about-face for her relations with the Burmese businessmen who, during her years of house arrest, she criticized for their alliance with the junta.

“We have seen pictures of a smiling Suu Kyi posing with her cronies in these ghostly villages,” Maung Zarni, a Burmese Buddhist human rights activist who founded the Free Burma Coalition and was once an ally of Suu Kyi, told Tricycle. “We are witnessing nothing short of the emergence of a cold-hearted and immoral Burmese politician.”

The “humanitarian” aims of UEHRD are already being rendered questionable by one of its projects. Nyo Myint, senior managing director of KBZ Group, told the Voice of America that some of the $2.2 million donated via its charitable arm, the Brighter Future Foundation, would be spent on a new fence across the border with Bangladesh.

Judging from the activities of UEHRD, it seems that the government of Myanmar is confident that Rakhine State will soon be open for business, whatever place the Rohingya will be given in the state’s future.

“In countries that have a dark history of crimes against humanity, such as Cambodia, Germany, and Bosnia, the sites of mass killings and destruction are national or world heritage sites,” says Zarni. “In sharp contrast, the Myanmar State Counsellor [Suu Kyi] is evidently trying to turn the mass graves into industrial agricultural projects, mineral exploration, beach resorts, and tax-free Special Economic Zones where the Rohingyas who survived the latest bout of slaughter would be allowed to work as cheap labor.”

Buddhism Betrayed

In the Pali sutta To Yodhajiva (SN 42.3), a soldier asks the Buddha if what his officers told him is true—that if he dies nobly in battle he will go to heaven when he dies. The Buddha attempts to avoid answering, but finally acquiesces and tells the soldier that in fact the opposite is true—if he dies in battle, he will be reborn in hell. The message is clear: killing is the karma of hell. How much more so when the soldier is not fighting equals in something one could reasonably construe as a “noble battle,” but is instead attacking unarmed men, women, and children?

A massive gulf separates the horrific behavior of Myanmar’s Buddhist genocidaires from the Buddha’s training precept against taking life, literally the first step on the Buddhist path. In the Karaniyamettasutta, the Buddha says, “Let none through anger or ill will wish harm upon another; even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.” In Myanmar today the military crackdown on the Rohingya is widely popular, and this fundamental teaching of the Buddha has been abandoned en masse.

Burmese ethno-nationalists argue that they are motivated by the defense of Burmese Buddhism in the face of an Islamic conspiracy. This conspiracy is imaginary, but even if it weren’t, how could one possibly defend Buddhism with the very things that destroy it?

This week the U.S. led military exercises in Thailand, and the Myanmar military attended, over the objections of several activists, advisors, and politicians. “Simply put, militaries engaged in ethnic cleansing should not be honing their skills alongside U.S. troops,” Sen. John McCain, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Associated Press.

Condemnatory rhetoric aside, very little is being done by the international community to pressure the government of Myanmar to take a different path than the bloodsoaked one of greed and hatred that they have chosen. As the Rohingya sink further into the swamp of the stateless life—displaced, poor, and without the basic structures of civilization most of us take for granted—the international community seems not to have the will to lift a finger aside from offering humanitarian aid in the camps, itself a valuable but limited help. 

It is time to return Myanmar to its pariah state and use every means of nonviolent pressure to communicate to its government that the world will not do business with Myanmar until they begin to treat the Rohingya, and all other ethnic minorities of Myanmar, with justice and goodwill.

Matthew Gindin is a journalist and meditation teacher in Vancouver, British Columbia. A former monk in the Thai Forest tradition, he is the author of Everyone in Love: The Beautiful Theology of Rav Yehuda Ashlag.

By Matthew Gindin | Published by tricycle on June 15, 2018

The tribalism plaguing Myanmar for the last 60 years has led to the persecution of many more of the country’s minority peoples.

Kyaw Kyaw, you cannot only care for human rights; we must also care for our people.” So says an unnamed young Burmese man in the film My Buddha Is Punk, a documentary about the courageous punk band Rebel Riot, as members of the band and others discuss politics during a meeting for their community in a grungy concrete room in Yangon. Rebel Riot—Kyaw Kyaw is the lead singer—has been engaging in anti-fascist and interfaith activism as well as charitable work in Myanmar for several years.

Our people, says the young man sitting across from him, echoing the rhetoric of his elders. In that short phrase lies the heart of the catastrophic violence that continues to plague Myanmar. In a country that contains over 135 different state-recognized ethnicities, the young man’s reference to a single one, the Bamar (“Burman”) majority, as “our people”—the classic “us” and not “them”—points to the deep dysfunction of cultural imagination displayed by the country’s majority.

“What are you going to do,” the young man continues, pressing Kyaw Kyaw, “if the Muslims occupy our place and our Buddhist culture disappears?”

He is speaking to a very real fear that pervades Burmese society today: that the Buddhist Bamar majority will be disempowered by an international Muslim conspiracy whose vanguard is the Rohingya. The fact that Myanmar is 68 percent Bamar and 90 percent Buddhist, with only 6 percent of the country Muslim (of which only a fraction are Rohingya), has not quieted this paranoia. It has been deliberately stoked by decades of propaganda from the Tatmadaw, the Bamar-dominated military that has controlled the country since 1962, either directly or behind the guise of civilian leadership.

Although international attention has focused on the plight of the Rohingya since military-led violence has driven almost 800,000 since 2017 to flee the country to neighboring Bangladesh, the persecution of the Rohingya is only the most egregious symptom of the violent interethnic conflict that afflicts Burma, a violence fueled by the Bamar supremacism of the ruling government and the oppression it directs at the Shan, Kachin, Karen, Mon, and other historic peoples of Myanmar.

A Bangladeshi boy walks towards a parked boat as smoke rises from across the border in Myanmar, at Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh—nearly three weeks into a mass exodus of Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar that began in 2017. Thousands were still flooding across the border in search of help and safety in teeming refugee settlements in Bangladesh. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

The situation of the Rohingya still in Myanmar, although perhaps not as perilous as those in the poverty stricken refugee camps of Bangladesh, is also dire. According to numbers from Human Rights Watch and the Arakan Project, in the estimated 578 intact villages in Myanmar (288 were destroyed by the Tatmadaw) an approximate 484,00 Rohingya remain, reportedly facing ongoing government imposed restrictions on their civil rights and access to medicine, education, and food. On June 5 the UN and Myanmar signed a deal to establish a framework for repatriating Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, but most human rights organizations working on the crisis remain pessimistic about the ability to guarantee the Rohingya rights and security in Myanmar, and the deal has been criticized by advocate organizations around the world.

Some in Myanmar say interethnic division has gotten worse since Aung San Suu Kyi’s ascent to power with the election of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in November, 2015, during the country’s first truly free election. Ethnic groups throughout the country voted for Suu Kyi in hopes that she would bring change, but military raids on the Kachin and Shan have actually increased since then. A decision of the new government to erect statues of the assassinated Burmese hero Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father, beginning early in 2017 in ethnic areas was met with rage from the Mon, Kachin, and other groups. Although the plan may have been intended to symbolize both Aung San’s reputation for federalism and the heritage and inspiration represented by his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, the gesture was at best insensible, for the celebration of a Bamar hero in ethnic territories was inevitably seen as just more Bamar-centrism.

“The Rohingya have experienced the very worst and most vicious treatment of all the minorities,” Penny Green, a director of the International State Crime Initiative research center in London, explained in a phone interview. “This is because they are the easiest target, they are in an isolated place, and there is a strong historic resentment toward them in Myanmar. Yet what is really being attacked is difference; it is a fascist idea. All of the ethnic groups in Myanmar represent challenges to the Bamar Buddhist elite’s control over state identity. There are strong parallels to the way Iraq has treated the Kurds or Israel has treated the Palestinians.”

The world abounds currently in examples of ethnic persecution, from severe examples like the ongoing oppression of the Tibetans in China or the Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, to less brutal but no less morally egregious examples like the Roma in Europe and the persecution of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Indeed, understanding the roots of—and possible solutions for—chauvinist and interethnic violence and injustice has become a pressing international task in the 21st century.

Satellite images show the village of Thit Tone Nar Gwa Son in Rakhine state, Myanmar, in December 2017, before the Rohingya were forced to flee and again in February 2018 after their villages had been leveled. | Photo by DigitalGlobe

The roots of ethnic conflict in Myanmar are multipronged, based in the historical, cultural, and even topographical realities of the country. Before the creation of the Union of Burma in 1948, the region was home to many peoples. Spread out over a dazzling green country of mostly jungle, a striking array of diverse cultures lived separated from each other by the region’s many mountains and valleys.

“Burma was not a country when the British colonized it,” said senior Burmese dissident U Kyaw Win, a longtime activist for democracy and interethnic harmony who was formerly close to Aung San Suu Kyi. He spoke by phone from his home in exile, in Colorado. “It was not a modern nation state; it was several little kingdoms. A man might rule 20 households, and he’s the most powerful guy, so he’s the king. It was a country coming out of the tribal age.”

When Indian Buddhism came to the region now known as Myanmar in the 3rd century CE, carried by Indian monks and merchants, the area was dominated by the Mon in the south and the Pyu in the north, both of whom had migrated from China at different points. Five hundred years after Indian Buddhism arrived, the Pyu were dominated by Bamar-speaking peoples who arrived from southern China; the majority in Myanmar today are descended from them. The Arakan Kingdom in the West was controlled by the progenitors of today’s Rakhine. In the 14th century, the Shan, also from southern China, settled in the northeast, and the Muslims who would eventually call themselves “Rohingya” began arriving in the 15th century. The Bamar, Mon, and Rakhine largely followed Theravada Buddhism, although tantric, Hindu, animist, and Muslim religious practices also flourished. The foundations of the modern state of Myanmar were laid by the Konbaung dynasty (1752–1885), whose Bamar rulers seized power from the Mon, the Shan, and other groups to build their empire. Their expansionist dreams were shattered when the British invaded, making Burma a province of India in 1886 and instigating divisive policies that still reverberate today.

The British characteristically played ethnic groups against each other, stoking intertribal tensions and creating a complex legacy of resentment along the way. Resistance to British rule raged in the northern territories until 1890, when the British destroyed entire villages in a scorched earth policy aimed at stopping guerrilla attacks. The elder Aung San, then a student, became a key member of a group known as the thakins, or “masters,” a term that had been used to previously address the British, and eventually rose to become the group’s leader. The thakins threw off British rule partially by allying with the Japanese, who promised military training and support for an uprising. When the Japanese subsequently invaded Burma in 1942, their colonial ambitions became clear, leading to disillusionment among their Burmese partners. Aung San changed sides and allied with the British against the Japanese, successfully driving them out by 1945. The country left behind by Britain and Japan’s colonial chess games was devastated by warfare, torn by ethnic and political divisions, and paranoid about foreign domination.

The subsequently formed Union of Burma, headed by the first prime minister, U Nu, after Aung San was assassinated by a rival in 1947, was designed to be a federation of peoples led by the Bamar. The union was challenged from the beginning by sectarian political movements and uneasy ethnic groups anxious about the Bamar leadership. The Burmese Constitution guaranteed to the ethnic minority states the right to secede after a period of 10 years, but U Nu did not make good on this promise. This led to rebellions, violent skirmishes and attacks on various sides, and the destabilization of the union, which was already fragile due to the personal and political rivalries within.

On March 2, 1962, Ne Win staged a coup d’état and arrested U Nu and several others. This “caretaker government” forced the minority states to bow to the Bamar. A number of protests followed the coup, and initially the government response was restrained. But on July 7, 100 students were killed when the military put down a peaceful protest at Rangoon University. The following day, they dynamited the Students’ Union Building, leveling it. Thus began the decades-long dictatorship of the military junta led by Ne Win and his successors, one dedicated to the enrichment of the military elite, their total control over Burmese society, and the disempowerment of all non-Bamar ethnicities.

“Successive Bamar dominant regimes in Myanmar have sought to homogenize the country’s population, increasingly excluding those communities living in the country’s peripheral areas who do not conform to the Bamar-Buddhist nationalist state-building project,” said Alicia de la Cour Venning, who works with the International State Crime Initiative on research projects about state-perpetrated human rights violations.

Venning spoke to Tricycle from Yangon, where she had traveled to study Bamar relations with the Kachin people. “Communities living in Myanmar’s border areas, which embody a variety of cultural, religious, and linguistic practices, have been persecuted for decades on the basis of their refusal to participate in their own identity destruction by accepting this process of ‘Bamarization,’” she said.

The Bamar supremacism of the ruling elite is fed by the mythology that the Bamar are the “true Burmans” and guardians of Burmese Buddhist culture, a narrative that the average Bamar accepts along with the belief that Bamar culture is being threatened on all sides by “foreign influences.” This narrative ignores the fact that all of the ethnicities in Myanmar come from elsewhere. As U Kyaw Win is fond of pointing out, Burmese culture is a pastiche of Indian, Chinese, and multifarious local ethnic influences.

“Before there were people on earth there was earth; before the people who now inhabit Burma, there was nothing but land!” says Win. “All of them came from somewhere else or descended from people who came from somewhere else. All of the people who claim to be the ‘true Burmese,’ well, they’re all correct for different times and different places.”

The historical record bears him out, telling a story of how the various peoples of modern Myanmar have arrived in the region during the last 1,500 years from other places. The current government attempts to alter the past with simplistic narratives that obscure its true complexity. The Rohingya, for example, were present by the thousands in the western Arakan Kingdom, now Rakhine state, since the 15th century, and more were later encouraged by the British to settle there in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But governments since the country’s independence have refuted these historical claims and refused to recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s official ethnic groups. Instead, many in Myanmar today regard them as itinerant workers from Bangladesh who never went home. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate once lauded as the hope of Myanmar, refuses to call them “Rohingya” and has requested members of the UN to follow suit.

Other ethnicities in Myanmar face similar, if less extreme, campaigns of disempowerment and human rights violations from the ruling Bamar. The Shan people, who account for 9 percent of the country’s population, once had an autonomous region in Burma; the military responded to their resistance to Bamar domination with anti-insurgency campaigns that over decades have resulted in large numbers of internally displaced persons and the flight of refugees to Thailand and other nearby countries.

In 1996 the Tatmadaw forcibly relocated many of the Shan, targeting 1,400 villages in Shan State. Over 300,000 people were driven from their homes, and hundreds of villagers were tortured, killed, and raped in a pattern familiar to observers of what the Rohingya have recently suffered. As a result of this and other campaigns of disempowerment inflicted upon them, many Shan refugees have been living in dependence on humanitarian aid in temporary camps for decades.

The largely Christian Kachin, who live in the northernmost region of Myanmar, have been waging a civil war against the central government of the Bamar since the 1962 coup. Estimates of the numbers of internally displaced persons among the Kachin since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke down in 2011 are as high as 150,000. More than 4,000 Kachin have recently been displaced by fighting, joining 15,000 more who have fled since the beginning of the year. Violence has escalated since January as the Tatmadaw, seeking both profit and the disempowerment of the KIA, are fighting for control over lucrative resources in the gold and mining region currently controlled by the rebel army.

Suu Kyi has claimed that she will pursue peace with Myanmar’s recognized ethnic groups, but the Tatmadaw by constitutional right still hold enough seats in parliament to obstruct any bill, giving it the power to obstruct any peace process spearheaded by Suu Kyi, should she seriously pursue one.

The solution must start with the Bamar, but it must not stop there. It is an open question whether the Kachin or Karen would behave better if they were in power. U Kyaw Win warns that the problem may lie more deeply in a “tribalism” that pervades the region and leads to fear and violence. “The Burmans are racist,” he said. “All of the ethnicities are racists. We call this tribalism. This is the whole crux of the thing!”

The solution to Burma’s problems, then, may be found not in the disempowerment or reform of the Bamar alone but rather in education for all the peoples of Myanmar toward a truly multiethnic vision of the country. “I would say to all parties, get out of your boxes and see what is in the other box,” U Kyaw Win proposes. “Burmans, learn about the Karens! Karens, learn about the Shan! Invite them to your festivals; teach them. Just because you are right, doesn’t mean the other person is wrong.”

There are signs of intertribal cooperation among non-Bamar minorities. Venning pointed out that a combination of military and political collaboration exists between the Kachin and other ethnic groups. One coalition, The Northern Alliance, formed in 2016, calls for an end to conflict through genuine political dialogue, aimed at establishing equal political rights, including a constitutional guarantee of a degree of autonomy for non-Burman ethnic peoples. Another alliance, the Federal Political Negotiating and Consultative Committee, calls for negotiation with the government as a block, rather than as individual members.

The seeds of a hope for a true federalism in Myanmar may be planted in such coalitions. Yet it is currently the Bamar who hold the reins of power, and it is they who must lead the way beyond the interethnic civil war that has plagued Myanmar for six decades.

In February 2018, Rainer Schulze, a professor emeritus of modern European history and founding editor of the journal The Holocaust in History and Memory (2008–2014), spoke at the Berlin Conference on Myanmar Genocide, a meeting held by the Rome-based Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal. His statement that genocidal violence is always rooted in a desire to make society homogenous, based on the false belief that in homogeneity lies strength, was striking. “Diversity and inclusion are not threatening,” he said. “They are enriching. The Holocaust led to terrible gaps in German culture; every genocide does the same. Many understand this with regard to the German example of the past but do not understand it in society today.”

Schulze argued that the most effective genocide prevention lies in the way children are educated. “Genocide prevention has to start much earlier than belated political efforts,” he said. “Diversity and inclusivity must become as firmly embedded in the curriculums of the world as spelling and arithmetic.”

Ironically enough, a powerful resource for moving beyond toxic forms of identification and demonization of the other, with the attendant grasping, fear, and anger, exists in the very cultural treasure that the Bamar claim to be defending: Buddhism. Yet at the moment, Buddhism is being weaponized in the service of the very diseases it was created to cure.

Hope for Myanmar, if it lies anywhere, will be in the new generation of Burmese who learn from the past and build a different future from the ground up. Asked by the man sitting across from him how he will defend Buddhism from the Muslims in My Buddha Is Punk, Kyaw Kyaw responds: “We don’t need to do anything!” Then he asks a question of his own: “What is the meaning of Buddhism to you?”

“All these Muslims must be put back into their place,” the man presses.

“Do you think then Buddhism will flourish?” Kyaw Kyaw asks.

“I don’t just think that. I am sure about it!” the man insists.

“To develop Buddhism, you don’t need to drive out or kill the Muslims,” Kyaw Kyaw says, pointing to the man’s chest. “You just need to change your heart.”

Matthew Gindin is a journalist and meditation teacher in Vancouver, British Columbia. A former monk in the Thai Forest tradition, he is the author of Everyone in Love: The Beautiful Theology of Rav Yehuda Ashlag.

By Dr. Maung Zarni | Published by Anadolu Agency on June 16, 2018

Myanmar’s leader is doing her best to cover up her country’s international crimes against Rohingya people

Cambridge, THE UK -- In the first meeting on June 13 between Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Christine Schraner Burgener, the Burmese urged the freshly-minted Special Envoy on Myanmar for the UN Secretary General to understand “the real situation” about the Rakhine State, from which 700,000 Rohingyas fled, in what the Secretary General himself characterized as “ethnic cleansing”.

The phrase “the real situation” rings alarm bells in my head. It was all déjà vu.

For 13 years ago, ‘the real situation’ (of Myanmar) were the very words Lt. Gen. Myint Swe, the then Chief of Myanmar’s military intelligence services, used when he urged me to convey their approach to the world -- in my writings, media appearances, and meetings with politicians and diplomats.

The chief spook and I were meeting one-on-one for the first time at the Dagon Hall of the old War Office in Yangon, with only his deputy, Col. Mya Tun Oo -- now the Joint Chief of the Armed Forces -- present in the meeting, as the notetaker.

Then, I had just returned to my country of birth after nearly 17 years of active U.S.-based opposition to the Burmese military rule. I rationalized my return -- and support -- for the generals as a citizen’s effort to help the embattled military leadership under Western sanctions so that our country could be re-integrated into the wider world community, particularly from the West, which had attempted to isolate the post-Cold War Burma on the grounds of the Burmese military’s egregious violations of human rights. The general was my official host who arranged my safe and voluntary return and resumption of Myanmar citizenship.

In due course, I came to realize what the spy chief meant by “the real situation”. He simply wanted me to be the mouthpiece for the military and help amplify the military’s version of Burmese affairs and events; for, in his own words, “the world doesn’t believe us”, having implied that I, as a western educated Burmese, would be more credible.

Whether the military’s “real situation” corresponded to the lived experiences of the people or not was of no concern to the spy chief (and the entire military leadership).

I have since ended my support for the “reformist” military leadership, whom I had initially given the benefit of the doubt.

The reality is, the same military leaders went on to slaughter Buddhist monks in the non-violent “Saffron Revolt” of 2007, calling for more compassionate policies to address the country’s economic woes and blocked emergency aid to several million Cyclone Nargis victims in 2008. My host general was centrally involved in these sordid turn of events that were marked by the military-government’s brutality and inhumanity.

Ex-Lt.Gen. Myint Swe is still around and is now the powerful military-backed Vice-President in the military-NLD partnership that jointly runs the country today.

A year ago, after the first wave of “security clearance” operations against the newly emerging “Muslim insurgents” led to the less-reported exodus of nearly 100,000 Rohingyas in 2016, Vice President Myint Swe chaired the national Inquiry Commission on the violence in the Maung Daw Township, Rakhine, for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government, and proceeded to unequivocally exonerate Myanmar’s security forces whose brutalities were well-documented. The Myanmar troops, the National Commission concluded, acted in accordance with the rules of engagement and the law of the land.

It is in fact painful to watch national leaders, politicians and generals (and ex-generals) treat facts and truths as if they were a rubber band that can be manipulated into any elastic shape or length.

Because of her active dismissal and denial of the ugly truths about the military, which her father had founded three years prior to her birth, Suu Kyi has been denounced worldwide, from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to S. Africa’s retired Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu and fellow women Nobel laureates to editorial boards of the world’s leading newspapers, including the Washington Post, the Times, the Guardian and the New York Times. Worse still, leading lights of international law and human rights including Milosevic’s prosecutor Sir Geoffrey Nice of Britain and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Professor Yanghee Lee have raised the very real possibility that the former icon of nonviolence may find herself in the dock together with the senior military leaders, her partners in power.

In the last six years, that is, since the two bouts of large-scale violence against Rohingyas -- in June and October of 2012 -- during which Myanmar’s decades-old systematic state persecution of this Muslim minority community came to the world’s attention, Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership performance has gone from bad to worse, from studied silence to willful ignorance to proactive denial and dismissal of
well-documented international crimes, which seniormost UN human rights officials and envoys view as having ‘hallmarks of a genocide’ or ‘strongly suspected’ as ‘acts of genocide’.

On her 67th birthday -- 18 June 2012 -- I had the great pleasure of sharing a televised Rule of Law Roundtable with the iconic Burmese leader whom the Burmese public revere and address as “Mother” (of the People). (Other panelists included Sir Geoffrey Nice, Oxford University Law Professor Nicola Lacey and LSE Professors Mary Kaldor and Christine Chinkin.) Because just a few days prior to the LSE roundtable, Suu Kyi flunked the media test about her knowledge of the emerging crisis in Western Myanmar -- she could not answer a basic question by a U.S. National Public Radio journalist Anthony Kuhn: “Do you know if Rohingyas are your people, Myanmar people?” -- she sent instructions via the British Foreign Office to the LSE organizers that she was in effect unprepared to address Rohingya questions. I was pre-assigned to respond to any Rohingya question, which has since come to define the country.

From adopting the strategy of studied silence six years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi now engages in varying acts of adamant denial, outright dismissal, intentional distortions, and disingenuous obfuscation about the Rohingya, all with the express intention of telling the world “the real situation” on the ground.

Her recent exclusive interview with NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster as well as a Myanmar-friendly TV station, for the first time in five years is a case in point. She falsely frames what Professor Amartya Sen -- Suu Kyi’s old teacher at Delhi University and a close friend of her late husband Michael Aris -- called “the slow genocide”, which began several decades ago. Disingenuously, Suu Kyi mischaracterizes Myanmar military’s institutionalized persecution of Rohingyas, a well-documented fact since the late 1970’s, as “a communal conflict” dating back “several centuries” while saying “very few people in the world know the (intricate) historical issues”.

Studies after studies of past genocides have established the fact that genocides, from the Holocaust to Rwanda and Bosnia, are not military or violent conflicts of communities that could be placed on a moral parity: they are, with no exceptions, state-directed large-scale crimes -- now illegalized by the 1948 Genocide Convention -- targeted to erase the presence of ethnic, religious, racial or national minorities, which are typically misframed by the perpetrating groups, both state and societies, as “a threat to nationhood or national security”.

She is now in the process of forming yet another inquiry commission in order to establish facts about the “real situation” in Rakhine, which the ICC Prosecutor’s Office in The Hague is convinced is one involving crimes against humanity targeting the Rohingya ethnic minority.

While the rest of the world see Myanmar as systematically committing egregious international crimes -- whatever their legal names -- and the UN attempts to seek access to the crime sites, her NLD government has openly defied the UN Human Rights Council’s mandate to send the International Fact Finding Mission since its establishment in 2016. Instead, Suu Kyi established the Rakhine Commission with Kofi Annan as its chair and proceeded to use it as a public relations shield against strident global criticisms rightly directed at both her leadership and the country.

Furthermore, the former human rights icon did not shy away from resorting to acts of bullying and threats against anyone who dares raise the issue of Myanmar’s crimes against Rohingyas.

According to UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee, Aung San Suu Kyi personally threatened that “you know, if you continue with the UN’s (pre-human rights) line you won’t be able to come back here (Myanmar)” -- a threat she followed through: Professor Lee has been barred from entering the country for the rest of her tenure. Aung San Suu Kyi is also the Foreign Minister who ultimately decides who is to be issued visas and who is to be denied them.

Suu Kyi now argues that her government has carried out constructive activities to move the Rakhine situation forward in accord with the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Commission’s recommendations. But from its inception, the Annan commission was, by its own official admission, mandated not to examine any allegations of human rights abuses in the Rakhine state, or alleged violations of international treaties and bodies of law by Myanmar such as the Genocide Convention, which Myanmar ratified in 1956, or the Child Rights Convention. She officially barred the Annan Commission from calling Rohingyas by their group name.

Despite the easily accessible official documentations that offer irrefutable evidence in support of Rohingyas’ claim that they belong in Myanmar as an integral ethnic minority who enjoyed full and equal citizenship even in the early years of the military rule in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, the Ministry of Information under Suu Kyi’s control just banned the Washington-based U.S. Government’s Radio Free Asia TV from broadcasting on Myanmar channels for the latter’s continued use of the word Rohingya. The RFA board of directors issued an official statement describing her government as “Orwellian,” and highlighted the fact that the Myanmar government is trying to “deny the existence of a people” starting with the attempts to “erase its group identity”.

In the aforementioned NHK interview, Suu Kyi, a former prisoner of conscience and victim of state persecution for 15 years, also defended the state’s detention of two local Buddhist journalists on the grounds that they are violators of “state official secrets” just because they uncovered the first mass grave of Rohingyas with photographic evidence and eyewitness stories.

For 15 years as a Burmese activist foot soldier, I held her in highest esteem, and followed her policies of isolating and sanctioning our country to the letter. None of Suu Kyi’s acts of deception, distortions and denial of facts on the ground surprises me. It was these negative qualities of Suu Kyi which I discerned as early as 2004 which compelled me to break ranks with her NLD party, turn my back on her as the opposition leader and seek alternative paths to pushing for political liberalization in my country of birth -- specifically working with the generals considered “potential reformers”.

While the tragic turn of events has vindicated my withdrawal of support for and cooperation with both the generals and NLD leadership, it is excruciating to watch the two bitter enemies now colluding, not on the path towards democratization or a peaceful end to the world’s longest civil war (between Myanmar armed forces and non-Rohingya ethnic resistance groups such as Kachin, Karen, etc.) but in covering up our country’s crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya Muslims.

It is not difficult to discern Suu Kyi’s underlying utilitarian logic which runs something like “we have the whole country’s future to be concerned about, not just a small population of Muslims in one region”. The former icon of human rights now holds, in unconcealed contempt, the world that previously rallied for her human rights and is now standing up for Rohingyas’ right to life and belonging, and for that matter, human rights for all Myanmar people including journalists.

For the record, my own public opposition 30 years ago to the military rule and its hallmark rights abuses was inspired by her heroic example of privileging principles of truth and liberalism.

Today, I want Aung San Suu Kyi to be held accountable for her willful collusion with Myanmar military leaders in the latter’s crimes against an entire ethnic community. Suu Kyi’s crimes are no longer her studied silence or failure to extend her government’s primary responsibility to extend the benefit of “peace and security” to the Rohingya people.

The last thing the UN officials and envoys on Myanmar should do is to allow themselves to be used as “conveyers” of Suu Kyi’s version of “the real situation”. As infectious as it is, the international actors are best advised to not embrace Suu Kyi’s utilitarian discourse of economic development, poverty alleviation, centuries-old civilizational conflicts, and incremental approach to addressing the crisis in Rakhine.

In the face of Myanmar’s ongoing international crimes against Rohingyas as a people, inside Myanmar and in the refugee camps in Bangladesh -- all under Suu Kyi’s watch, and with her complicity -- the UN needs to stop promoting Myanmar’s lies -- such as bypassing the calls for ICC-led accountability in order to support its “fragile democratic transition”.

The UN must not allow Suu Kyi to form yet another whitewash “inquiry commission” within Myanmar’s fundamentally dysfunctional criminal justice system equipped with neither conceptual tools for atrocity crimes nor judicial independence.

No political regime, civilian or military, that commissions international crimes against its own national minorities should be given the benefit of the doubt when its smooth-talking Oxford-educated politician says it is on the path towards incremental liberalization and constructive resolution of the crisis confronting a people whose existence she herself denies.

[The writer is an adviser to the European Centre for the Study of Extremism in Cambridge, UK and a coordinator for the Free Rohingya Coalition]

Image Credit: John Owens (VOA)

By Tun Khin | Published by The Diplomat on June 15, 2018

Conditions are nowhere near ready for Rohingya to return in safety and dignity.

Last week, the United Nations and the Myanmar government inked a deal that will supposedly begin the long process of repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees back to their homes. The UN hailed it as “the first step to address the root causes of the conflict in Rakhine.” Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counselor and de facto political leader, said it will “hasten” refugee returns.

The rest of the world, however, was kept guessing. The full text of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) — signed between the Myanmar government, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Development Program (UNDP) — has not been released to the public. Media outlets, NGOs, donor governments, and even other UN agencies have all been kept in the dark.

This lack of transparency is far from the only red flag raised by the deal.

Admittedly, from official UN statements, it is possible to glean some positive aspects, mainly around increased access for UN agencies across Rakhine state. These are areas that have been largely sealed off to the outside world since August 2017, when the Myanmar military launched its murderous “clearance operation,” killing thousands of Rohingya and forcing hundreds of thousands more to flee across the border into Bangladesh. Aid and reconstruction are badly needed for those who remain, something an increased UN presence would benefit.

But the deal raises far more questions than answers. For one, it was negotiated behind closed doors entirely without involving Rohingya representatives. How can it possibly ensure a safe and dignified repatriation process without involving the very community it concerns? By excluding us Rohingya and dealing only with Naypyidaw, the international community is again sending the message that we are not worthy to be masters of our own destiny.

The timing of the deal also makes it difficult not to suspect Myanmar’s motives. The MOU was announced on the same day as Myanmar said it will establish a new commission to “investigate the violation of human rights and related issues” in Rakhine state since 2017. The fact that Myanmar did not even mention its own military’s abuses speaks volumes of how credible this investigation will be. Myanmar has a track record of establishing similar commissions at politically opportune times, which have never led to any genuine accountability. The MOU and the commission are likely both attempts to buy some time and goodwill from the international community.

The bigger picture, of course, is that conditions are nowhere near ready for Rohingya to return in safety and dignity as long as the root causes of the crisis remain in place. The risk of violence against Rohingya remains a constant threat, particularly as no one has been held to account for the well-documented atrocities carried out by the security forces and their proxies. Not only have Myanmar’s leaders refused to genuinely investigate these human rights violations, but they have even flat-out denied that they have taken place.

At the same time, the Myanmar authorities are keeping in place a dehumanizing system of repression and segregation against Rohingya across large parts of Rakhine State. Not only are Rohingya essentially denied citizenship under Burmese law, we are also kept separate from other communities. We need special permission to travel, to attend hospitals, and to gain an education – if we are even allowed into schools in the first place.

In Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, much of what remains of the Rohingya community is kept in ghetto-like neighborhoods, sealed off from the rest of the town with barbed wire. This discrimination was what drove me to flee Rakhine State in the early 1990s to gain an education, since the authorities would not allow me to attend university simply because I was Rohingya. It has only gotten worse since.

It is also important to remember that the latest crisis is just the latest chapter in a long cycle of abuse. In the late 1970s, my parents were forced to flee into Bangladesh along with hundreds of thousands of Rohingya after the Myanmar army launched the brutal “Operation Dragon King,” ostensibly to root out “illegal immigrants.” In the early 1990s, I witnessed similar abuses myself in Rakhine state when yet another military campaign forced another exodus of refugees.

Myanmar has clung to the same genocidal policies for decades. The only thing that has changed in recent years is that the efforts to eradicate us Rohingya as a people have become more intense than ever before.

Unless the Myanmar authorities are pressured into a fundamental policy shift, any MOUs – no matter how well-intended by the international community – will accomplish nothing in the long run. If the repatriation process starts without addressing the fundamental issues plaguing the Rohingya community, the only winner will be the Myanmar authorities who, once again, will have gotten away with their genocidal policies.

The international community should insist that Myanmar ends all forms of discrimination against the Rohingya. Those responsible for human rights violations must be held to account as a first step to ensure that there is no return to violence. Finally, Rohingya in Rakhine State – both those living there now and future returnees – need a protection guarantee from the international community so that they are not left at the mercy of the Myanmar security forces. What form this take will need to be negotiated with Rohingya representatives present at the table.

These demands are non-negotiable – the very future of the Rohingya as a people is at stake.

Tun Khin is President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK and a member of the Free Rohingya Coalition.

By Aakar Patel | Published by The Hindu on June 14, 2018

Rohingya refugee children slide down the road at Balu Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The profound lack of support for Rohingya refugees in India is shameful

On May 22, Amnesty International (AI) released a briefing that revealed that a Rohingya armed group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), had committed serious human rights abuses against Hindus in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar. As a movement that campaigns to end human rights abuses against all people, AI aims to uncover all cases of human rights violations without bias, regardless of who the perpetrators are and where the violations are committed.

The May 22 briefing follows AI’s earlier reports documenting military attacks on the Rohingya that led to more than 693,000 people fleeing from their homes to other countries. This briefing and other AI reports on the situation in Myanmar point to the overwhelming evidence that the Myanmar authorities have been unable, or dare I say, unwilling to protect its civilians.

It’s about people

The issue here is not about which “side” committed more atrocities. The issue is about people. About civilians. About mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, who have been killed, maimed and brutalised. It is about their rights as human beings.

We should be calling for better protection for survivors fleeing persecution in accordance with international human rights law. We should be calling for justice, truth and reparation for victims and their families. We should be calling for unfettered access to the northern Rakhine State for independent investigators. However, the reaction to the briefing report has been deeply disturbing.

Some politicians and media outlets are using AI’s briefing to advocate the mass expulsion of the Rohingya. The debate has further deteriorated to unfairly and unreasonably attributing the condemnable actions of the armed ARSA to all Rohingya people. What this means is that we are willing to demonise and malign an entire community for abuses they may not have committed.

Despite irrefutable evidence that Rohingya people fleeing to India are at serious risk of human rights violations in Myanmar, the Indian government has refused to recognise them as asylum seekers and refugees. Instead the Rohingya have been labelled as “illegal immigrants” — even those recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in India. In fact, in August last year, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs proposed to forcibly return to Myanmar all the 40,000 Rohingya refugees in India. The Ministry claimed that the Rohingya are a threat to national security.

Why is it that the only solution envisioned by Indian authorities to address security concerns, in this case, is to forcibly return people to the real risk of apartheid and death?

There have been no attempts to consider alternative measures to distinguish people who actually pose a threat from people in dire need of protection. The mass expulsion of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar would be an abject dereliction of India’s obligations under international law. In the past, AI India has advocated that the most effective way for the Indian government to address security concerns is to conduct “fair and efficient refugee determination proceedings”.

A straightforward solution

The UN Refugee Convention provides a straightforward solution to deal with the potential security concerns involving asylum seekers. Article 1F of the Convention excludes protection for those involved in serious crimes. Therefore, if India acceded to the Refugee Convention, it would be able to effectively assess Rohingya asylum applications and deny protection to those who might fall under Article 1F exceptions, such as members of ARSA who participated in the August 2017 violence.

Indian authorities have outsourced refugee status determination to the UNHCR, which follows a rigorous process. However, this is largely meaningless as India refuses to officially recognise Rohingya people identified as refugees by the UNHCR. These people are left in a state of limbo with neither the UNHCR nor the Indian government providing them effective protection.

The profound lack of support for Rohingya refugees in India is shameful. Even though India is not a party to the Refugee Convention, it has always had a longstanding tradition of providing shelter to those seeking protection. However, in this instance, it seems to be faltering, and it is time we question why.

Aakar Patel is the Executive Director, Amnesty International India

By Maung Zarni & Natalie Brinham
June 11, 2018

Newly-organized UN in Myanmar has shelved organization’s own governing principles of transparency and inclusivity, as evidenced by freshly-inked MOU with Myanmar

- Maung Zarni is Coordinator for Strategic Affairs with the Free Rohingya Coalition ( 

- Natalie Brinham is an Economic and Social Research Council PhD scholar at the Queen Mary University of London and co-author of “The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya” (Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, Spring 2014). 

CAMBRIDGE, UK -- One million Rohingya survivors of the Myanmar genocide, who took refuge across the borders in the neighboring Bangladesh, remain largely unpersuaded by the news of the latest repatriation deal the United Nations agencies have signed with their perpetrators in Naypyidaw, and openly call for “UN Security Forces” to guarantee safe return to their homelands in the Western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

On 6 June, the two UN agencies with mandates for refugee protection and “development” inked the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government of Myanmar, a hybrid military-Aung-San-Suu-Kyi regime. Knut Osby, UN’s man in Yangon, took to the Twittersphere, putting the spin that “Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomes the agreement”, whose content is treated as if it were Myanmar’s top national security secret. Additionally, Mr. Osby, who holds the assistant secretary general position, tried to assure the Rohingya refugees via the mass media that UN would be pressing for “group identity” recognition by Myanmar and a “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable” return.

Leading INGOs, including the Nobel Peace Prize winning Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the Washington-based Refugees International, headed by Eric Schwartz, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees and Migration, issued statements, stressing the total absence of necessary conditions and injecting a dose of reality as if to pre-empt the typically phony reactions of ‘welcome’ that pervade diplomatic quarters. Both organizations express varying degrees of valid skepticism about the MOU. The conditions on the ground indicate no semblance of physical safety for any returning Rohingyas. There is no indication that the official acceptance of Rohingya by Myanmar as an integral ethnic minority of the Union is forthcoming, especially when one remembers the national standing Rohingyas had enjoyed as a group until the early years of the military rule in the 1960’s. And there is little prospect for their re-integration into the predominantly Buddhist society where the most powerful Senior General Min Aung Hlaing publicly declared his genocidal intent, that the presence of the Rohingya in N. Rakhine was an “unfinished business” from the pogroms of the Second World War.

In addition to the frightening prospects of being marched back to Myanmar’s “killing fields”, what has truly unnerved the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh -- thousands have been in refugee camps in Bangladesh since the early 1990’s as they fled the earlier waves of violent persecution -- about this latest UN-Myanmar refugee deal is this: UN agencies -- the UNDP, the UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP) -- have a dismal record when it comes to standing up for the Rohingya in the last 40 years since the UNHCR first became involved in the repatriation process in the summer of 1978.

The UNHCR operates in both countries at the pleasure of the governments in Dhaka and Naypyidaw, neither of which is a signatory to the Refugee Conventions. The UN’s rotating international staff in Myanmar may lack the institutional memory about their uncomfortable role in the broken sacred principle of non-refoulment, but those Rohingya who were forcibly repatriated have not. The UN agency whose principal mandate is protection of the refugees was in fact in no position to stand up for the most vulnerable Rohingyas sandwiched between the perpetrating Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In the decades that followed the 1990’s repatriations, the UN’s refugee watchdog had consistently put keeping good relations with host governments in order to secure access -- or “pragmatic humanitarianism” -- above its own organizational mandate of protection. That is why the UNHCR, and all other UN agencies operating in Myanmar, have had an open, if unwritten, directive for all staff to comply with regarding Myanmar’s refusal to use the term ‘Rohingya’. So the staffs of all UN agencies operating in Myanmar avoid using the word ‘Rohingya’ in all their communications seen or heard by Myanmar officials. On the eve of Myanmar’s “ethnic cleansing” of the N. Rakhine state, the WFP reportedly recalled its July 2017 report about the semi-famine like conditions in which 80,000 Rohingya children under the age of 5 were living at the “request” of the Myanmar government.

Specifically, UN agencies in Myanmar lead an organizational double-life, speaking in two different scripts: one, tailored to placate the host regime by not calling Rohingyas by the group’s ethnic name in meetings and interactions with Myanmar authorities, who have attempted to systematically erase the group’s identity from Myanmar’s collective consciousness, history and official records; the other one to please the ears of global human rights organizations and Rohingya campaigners internationally by calling the group by their proper name, Rohingyas.

At the level of individual management of the UN’s in-country team, the last UN Resident Coordinator, Renata Lok-Dessallien, opted to maintain cordial relations with Myanmar leaders and prioritizing (business-friendly) development approach over human rights, an act which undermined the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s policy of Human-Rights-First, which was adopted as a result of the widespread failures of UN agencies during the last phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, where Colombo was accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide against a Hindu Tamil minority group. Specifically, Lok-Dessallien commissioned an internal report entitled “The Role of the United Nations in Rakhine state” but subsequently “suppressed” the report. The report’s recommendations included the call for frontloading human rights with respect to the oppressed Rohingya group, pointing out the UN’s ill-preparedness in the face of (likely) mass atrocities against the group and enjoining taking a firmer stance on the state’s egregious rights abuses in the Rohingya area.

The UN had since replaced the disgraced Resident Coordinator with Knut Osby, significantly increased its Myanmar budget and elevated its office in Myanmar one-notch up the UN bureaucracy to the level of Assistant Secretary General-ship.

The UN’s reputation -- and most specifically the reputation of the UNHCR and the UNDP -- is on the line in Myanmar, and beyond. Any part they play in facilitating returns from Bangladesh to Myanmar is risky, when returns could potentially result in another round of mass killings, further decades of containment in concentration camps or deliberate slow starvation. The UN agencies simply must place protection and human rights first this time around. The signs of a new secretive deal do not bode well for the Rohingya survivors. The newly-organized UN in Myanmar has even shelved the organization’s own governing principles of transparency and inclusivity, as evidenced by the freshly-inked MOU with Myanmar. Myanmar is now a suspect in the eyes of the International Criminal Court and international law circles. In apparent compliance with the demands for secrecy typically made by Myanmar’s military-controlled National League for Democracy (NLD) government, the UN has not made public the MOU for scrutiny. Neither has the UN included Rohingyas in any stage of the negotiations over the MOU, nor spelled out their future role. There is then little wonder that the Free Rohingya Coalition, the emerging global network of the widely recognized Rohingya representatives, with deep roots in their communities, both inside Myanmar and in diaspora, including Bangladesh, cry foul against the MOU, which remains shady. 

The UNHCR have added a fourth adjective -- “sustainable” -- to the mainstreamed mantra of “voluntary, safe and dignified”. To make the fourth adjective viable, the UN must listen to Rohingya voices that call for a “protected return to a protected homeland in Myanmar”.

Rohingya Exodus