Myanmar - this time under Aung San Suu Kyi's leadership has launched another wave of attacks - security forces killing innocent Rohingya men, children and women. This act of killing members of the Rohingya group enjoys what I call 'double impunity":
first, the impunity from the genocidally racist society at large including "pro-human rights" NLD rank and file, as well as the top leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi; and second, the international impunity as in UN dropping its watch on the Rohingya persecution
Aung San Suu Kyi has shifted her position, rather grudgingly, on the Rohingya persecution only because - as she herself has said it on CNN interview with Zakaria - 'the issue is what the international community focuses on (she means 'fixated" or 'fussed over'), implying that she does not consider this an issue that merits her attention, on its own right.
I simply cannot conceive of a scenario wherein the persecution - at this genocidal level - will be ended, without any strong external intervention, something that will simply not happen.
Historically, no genocide is ended by the internal social forces - because these forces are typically part of the genocidal process.
We have a Catch-22 in Burma, and the Rohingya will continue to be destroyed from their existential foundations.
The Burmese generals are cleverer than Hitler and the Nazis. They set the process of destroying the targetted victim community in motion almost 4 decades ago, and they let it simmer, they let it spike, they let it plateau and they are now revving it up.
The latest framing of the issue of "extremism" 'terrorist attacks", and the frenzied racist "Buddhist" public gets whipped like Pavlovian experimental animals howling and barking in support the regime's killing of innocent Rohingya - men, women and children, burning down whole villages, firing rocket launchers into Rohingya villages.
Bangladesh has sealed off its Burmese-Bangladesh borders, closing off any safe passage to safety for the fleeing Rohingya. To control the public outrage among the Muslim populations in Bangladesh Bangladeshi government has effectively censored the news coverage of the latest wave of killings of the Rohingya in Burma.
The night gets darker and longer - with no morning rays on the horizons for these poor helpless souls.
This is the kind of world we live in. Maybe the world has never been enlightened or kind or intelligent.
|Photo: ITU/ J.M. Planche|
“I’m always surprised when people speak as if I’ve just become a politician. I’ve been a politician all along. I started into politics not as a human rights defender or a humanitarian worker, but as the leader of a political party." - Aung San Suu Kyi
By Dung Phan
September 17, 2016
Former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, will head a commission to investigate solutions for the Rohingya people living in Myanmar.
There is no warm welcome for Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary-General, as he arrives in Myanmar. Only jeers, shouts and boos followed his convoy into town, where he met with members of political and religious groups before visiting Rohingya camps.
The nine-member Rakhine State Advisory Commission was set up by the government last month with Annan as the chairman. The other foreign experts are the Lebanon-based scholar, Ghassan Salamé, and the Netherlands-based diplomat, Laetitia Vanden Assum. The commission also includes six Myanmar nationals, with two Rakhine Buddhists, two Muslims and two government delegates.
Although the commission is supposed to help with ensuring humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation as well as establishing basic infrastructure and promoting long-term development plans, it is suffering from massive objections and a lack of cooperation.
The “international” factor
“No to foreigners’ biased intervention in our Rakhine State’s affairs,” and “No Kofi-led commission”, shouted protesters during a rally against Annan’s visit. The protest was organised by leaders of the region’s largest political group, the Arakan National Party (ANP). They insist that foreigners cannot understand the history of the area and their presence could encourage external intervention into Myanmar’s domestic affairs. “Our country has its own sovereignty, and there is no way we can accept a commission that is formed by foreigners,” ANP official Aung Than Wai said.
Some of the local protesters did not even know or care about what the group would do. “We came here because we don’t want that foreigner coming to our state,” said May Phyu, a local Rakhine Buddhist resident.
In a news conference in Yangon, Kofi Annan emphasised that “we are not here as inspectors, as policemen.” The commission, however, has still been widely perceived as a foreign intrusion and people are mainly concerned about the huge influence of Annan over the international community. “Since he is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and also the former head of the UN if he says that the ‘Rohingya are really Myanmar people existing here as refugees’ the international community will accept that,” said U Zaw Win, a protest organiser.
The commission’s appointment comes amid urgent calls from international human rights groups regarding the Rohingya’s plight. In this light, Suu Kyi has again shown her pragmatism regarding foreign policy by summoning Annan. In fact, the diplomat’s first visit comes ahead of Suu Kyi’s visit to the US and her meeting with President Obama. She needs to build on recent successes; on Wednesday Obama announced that the US would lift economic sanctions and restore trade benefits to Myanmar.
A state-supported strategy?
Since she took office, Suu Kyi has been widely criticised by the international community for taking too soft a stance on the plight of the Rohingyas. She does not want to call them Rohingya and has also asked the US ambassador not to use the term. It means the government’s official position is that the Rohingya are Bangladeshis living in the country illegally.
But it is not a problem she could ignore forever. A 2015 study by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) concluded that “the Rohingya face the final stages of genocide,” in which they have been experiencing the first four stages: stigmatisation and dehumanisation; harassment, violence and terror; isolation and segregation; systematic weakening. Now they are on the edge of “mass annihilation.” The report also presents evidence that the attacks on the Muslim population involved, and were possibly inflamed by, the local authorities.
Above all, Suu Kyi has admitted herself she is a politician. “I’m always surprised when people speak as if I’ve just become a politician. I’ve been a politician all along. I started into politics not as a human rights defender or a humanitarian worker, but as the leader of a political party,” she said in an interview with CNN.
That might be the reason why Suu Kyi remains reluctant to embrace the Rohingya cause publicly. There is no doubt that she does not want to mess with the Buddhist nationalists who angrily protested en masse against the commission.
And although the presence of Kofi Annan and hs colleagues might imply some ongoing progress, it is worth noting that there is no Rohingya representative on the panel. The team now have 12 months to conduct their research and submit their findings before making any recommendations. Annan already failed to bring peace to Syria; is he up to the world’s other great humanitarian challenge?
Dr Maung Zarni comments on Kofi Annan Commission and Myanmar Genocide of Rohingya, Al Jazeera English News Hour, 7 September 2016
Dr Maung Zarni comments on Kofi Annan Commission and Myanmar Genocide of Rohingya, Al Jazeera English News Hour, 7 September 2016
|Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi (R) shakes hands with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (L) after their press conference at the Foreign Ministry office in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)|
August 31, 2016
NAYPYIDAW: Myanmar's stateless Rohingya should be given the right to citizenship after generations living in the country, UN chief Ban Ki-Moon said on Tuesday (Aug 30).
Many from the million-strong Muslim minority are denied citizenship, voting and work rights and reviled as imposters in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar.
More than 120,000 have been displaced, many to squalid displacement camps in western Rakhine state, after fleeing violence stirred by Buddhist nationalists in 2012.
Thousands have fled to other Southeast Asian countries on rickety boats in search of better lives, only to drown or fall victim to human traffickers.
In June, the UN said the Rohingya suffered entrenched discrimination so deep it may amount to crimes against humanity.
"This is not just a question of the Rohingya community's right to self-identify," Ban told a press conference alongside Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"People who have been living for generations in this country should enjoy the same legal status and citizenship as everyone else."
His comments come as Myanmar's new civilian government is seeking to tackle the seemingly intractable issue that has dogged Nobel laureate Suu Kyi for years.
Even the word Rohingya has become loaded - with Buddhist nationalists having staged protests across the country against using the term. They instead label the group "Bengalis" and cast them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
The veteran democracy activist has come under fire from international rights groups for failing to address the plight of the Rohingya, as she seeks to avoid stoking further unrest over the sensitive issue.
Last week, the government announced it would set up an advisory panel chaired by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan to find "lasting solutions to the complex and delicate issues in the Rakhine State".
His appointment has triggered a backlash from nationalists, including the local Arakan National Party, who denounced what they saw as foreign meddling.
Ban said he would support his predecessor's work in Rakhine and work with Myanmar's central authorities to tackle the Rohingya issue.
"The situation is complex (in Rakhine) and the government has assured me of their commitment to address the roots of the problem," he said.
"All of Myanmar's people, of every ethnicity and background, should be able to live in equality and harmony side by side with their neighbours."
Ban's speech comes on the eve of the opening of the new government's flagship peace conference to broker a deal with the country's warring ethnic minorities.
The five-day gathering is Suu Kyi's first big drive to end multiple insurgencies that have raged in Myanmar's borderlands since independence in 1948.
Organisers have been pushing for a unilateral ceasefire, but hopes have been shattered by renewed outbreaks of fighting, according to negotiators.
|Ethnics leaders and Myanmar government officials attend the opening ceremony of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in Naypyitaw, Myanmar August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun|
Human rights, key priority for a peaceful new Myanmar – UN Special Rapporteur
21st Century Panglong Conference (31 Aug – 5 Sep)
GENEVA (29 August 2016) – Speaking ahead of a crucial peace conference in Myanmar, United Nations independent expert Yanghee Lee has urged participants to prioritise human rights issues in their discussions over the coming days, and to do more to ensure the process is fully inclusive.
The 21st Century Panglong Conference, which will take place in the capital Naypyidaw from 31 August to 5 September, is the first major peace conference held in Myanmar since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy assumed power in late March 2016.
“Discrimination, land rights, equitable sharing of natural resources are at the heart of the conflict in Myanmar, and therefore must also be at the heart of the peace discussions and solutions,” said the UN the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. “It is only by addressing and prioritising these issues that the durable peace desired by the people of Myanmar can be achieved.”
“A lot is at stake with this Panglong Conference,” Ms. Lee stressed. “As with the peace process generally in Myanmar, this is the opportunity to transform the country, into a state that the people of Myanmar have wanted for several decades. But to do so it must be fully inclusive.”
The human rights expert drew special attention to women’s participation as a vital ingredient in successful and transformative peace agreements. “Unfortunately,” she warned, “women will be underrepresented in the coming discussions despite making up over half of the population in Myanmar.”
Noting that civil society will have a parallel peace forum, Ms. Lee also underlined the need for “civil society organisations, who have been on the front lines of the conflict, to be fully involved in the process at every level.”
“Young people, whose futures are most affected by the outcome of the conference should also have a voice in this and future discussions,” the human rights expert said. “But the young people themselves must also remember the importance of inclusivity not just amongst armed groups but within all communities.”
Ms. Lee called the conference “a historic moment” but cautioned against celebrating too much too early. “This is the first brick into the paving of a long road ahead. There is so much, much more to be discussed and negotiated after the first 21st Panglong Conference.” She called for all parties to “be committed and to work together in full steam to achieve a sustainable, inclusive and transformative peace.”
“This is the beginning of the process of creating a beautiful mosaic of a diverse, harmonious, and peaceful new Myanmar,” emphasised the UN Special Rapporteur.
Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center, and serves as Vice-chair of the National Unification Advisory Council. Learn more, go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
Check the Special Rapporteur’s latest report on Myanmar (A/HRC/31/71): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session31/Pages/ListReports.aspx
UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx
Myanmar Military and Its 12-point Value Set
Not unlike all other human relations and interactions, peace negotiations have a value component.
The following components that form a cohesive and institutionalized value foundation makes it inconceivable for any lasting peace in Myanmar.
Let's have a brutally honest look at Myanmar Military's institutionalized values - as opposed to rhetorical ones.
1) feudalistic Patron-Client value (adopt a boss, and adopt a loyalist)
2) Kiss-up, kick-down (feudal value)
3) Shut up and share your spoil across the hierarchy (theft and loot)
4) Total Obedience (shut up, listen and follow the orders, right or wrong)
5) Un-adulterated and delutional Patriotism
6) Bama-, Myanmar-,Burmese- or Burman-centric Historical View
7) Cancer-like Internally Colonial Mindset (of the 3rd rate quality and capabilities vis-a-vis world class colonialist mindset of Anglo-American strain)
8) Twofold Racism (inferioity complex towards the White world, and the superiority complex towards people of dark skin as well as the non-Bama "children of the sons")
10) Mysogenistic male chauvinism
12) Anti-Human Rights
Dr Habib Siddiqui
August 28, 2016
August 28, 2016
On Friday, 19 August 2016, the first World Rohingya Day demonstrations took place around the world. Rallies and demonstrations took place in London, UK; Washington DC, Toronto, Canada, New York, Chicago; Stockholm, Sweden; Boston; Los Angeles; and many other places. The speakers demanded end to the ongoing genocide of Rohingya people who are indigenous people of Myanmar (formerly Burma) living in their ancestral lands.
The Rohingyas of Myanmar are a stateless people who are the most persecuted people in our time. They have been facing genocidal campaigns, especially since 2012, which saw a series of ethnic cleansing drives by the Rakhine Buddhists of Arakan – planned and aided by the local and central government and organized and mobilized by racist politicians and bigoted monks. It was a national project put into practice for the elimination of the Rohingya, who differ in ethnicity and religion from the majority Buddhists in this country of 55 million people. As a result, probably thousands were lynched to death, a quarter million lost their homes, tens of thousands were forced to choose exodus from this Buddhist den of intolerance and hatred, and an estimated 140,000 Rohingya internally displaced persons were caged in concentration camps in and around Sittwe (formerly Akyab).
So evil was this proto-Nazi criminal eliminationist policy that anytime a fact-finding international aid agency or an NGO tried to voice its concern on deplorable inhuman condition of the Rohingya people, it was not only silenced by hateful Buddhist mobs that quickly rallied with hateful banners and posters, but was also barred from visiting the place next time. In this series of government sponsored pogroms, Ma Ba Tha – the terrorist organization of Buddhist monks, led by Wirathu – naturally played the role of Thein Sein’s hound dogs, and made the life of Muslims, living both inside and outside the Arakan state, unlivable. In essence, the world saw Buddhist Nazism in practice in much of Myanmar, especially in the western state of Arakan (Rakhine), bordering Bangladesh, where the Rohingyas have been living for centuries.
Even the Nobel Laureate for peace, the much hyped democracy icon, Suu Kyi, chose to ignore the serious existential plight of this unfortunate people. An official census taken last year purposefully excluded the Rohingya denying them the voting right in country’s general election. All the political organizations that once represented the Rohingya people were disallowed from contesting in the election, and so were the former elected Rohingya MPs. It was all part of a very sinister plan to eliminate the Rohingya politically, socially and economically.
The fate of the Rohingya refugees did not fare well in the next-door Bangladesh either; not only were they unwelcome there but aid organizations that provide a modicum of relief to Rohingya continue to be doggedly harassed by government agencies.
With the election win of Suu Kyi’s NLD in the general election last year, a flicker of hope emerged within the international community who expected that she would self-correct her inexcusable role and do the needful towards improving the lot of the persecuted Rohingya. She had her own problems, too. Constitutional roadblocks were put on her way by Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government that denied her the right to become the president of the country. But she was able to outmaneuver USDP’s intent smartly by creating a new post with more power.
However, as days turned into months, nothing positive happened even as Suu Kyi took the reign of the government in Myanmar earlier this year. More problematically, she came under widespread international criticism for refusing to even mention the name “Rohingya” and rebuked an American diplomatic who did. Equally disturbingly, she revealed her own prejudice when after a heated interview with BBC’s veteran journalist, Mishal Husain, she was reportedly heard to say angrily, “No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.” The case of the Rohingya looked utterly hopeless!
Then like a lightning bolt came the latest news: Suu Kyi has solicited the aid of Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, to lead an “Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State.” The Annan-led commission includes both national and international officials who will recommend “lasting solutions to complex and delicate issues” in Rakhine state.
What brought this change of heart? Is it because Suu Kyi’s government has realized that for Myanmar to move forward it must loosen its ties with her problematic past that had earned only bad reputation from the international community? Is it because of the realization that the ongoing abuse and discrimination of the Rohingya is also threatening to undermine Myanmar’s historic opening and democratic transition, let alone delaying the needed economic prosperity?
Whatever may be the true intent of Suu Kyi’s government, there is little doubt that this decision was a timely one, and it was a bold one, too. Many Buddhists inside Myanmar, esp. in the Rakhine state, are die-hard racists and bigots. They resent this decision. They would rather see Rohingya and other religious minorities eliminated altogether from their country one way or another. Decades of falsification of historical truths and hateful propaganda that were propagated by the military government and hate provocateurs like (late) Aye Kyaw and Aye Chan have turned them into killers, justifying and allowing them to do savage crimes against the Rohingya and other Muslims. Forgotten in that lacunar worldview was the hard fact that the forefathers of today’s Rohingya people had settled in Arakan before those of the Rakhine people.
Myanmar needs the necessary foreign investment to move up economically, and cannot allow a delay of that process until investors’ perception of human rights of the country improves significantly. The international community has been dissatisfied with Suu Kyi’s slow response to ensuring protection, fairness, and justice for all of its people, esp. the Rohingya people whose plight is simply inhumane and unacceptable. Human rights groups have long been demanding donors to leverage their aid, and for the broader international community to pressure the Suu Kyi government to end the repression. They have been demanding that Myanmar respect international law, end its complicity in violating Rohingya rights and punish those promoting and carrying out ethnic cleansing whatever their motivation.
Suu Kyi, thus, had to find someone like Mr. Annan with a prudent track record that would provide the necessary positive publicity for her government, let alone infusion of the needed foreign money.
After leaving the UN, Mr. Annan has undertaken a few of these missions. In 2007, a disputed election in Kenya lead to widespread communal violence and threatened to unravel and otherwise thriving country. He mediated between the two parties and helped establish a commission of inquiry that investigated post-election violence, turning its findings over the International Criminal Court. He mediated a power sharing agreement that ended the prospect of further violence. It was no accident that groups like the Amnesty International have welcomed the decision. “Today’s announcement is a sign that Myanmar’s authorities are taking the situation in Rakhine state seriously. But it will only have been a worthwhile exercise if it paves the way for the realization of human rights for all people in the state,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific said in a statement released earlier.
The formation of the advisory commission should be a matter of celebration. However, as hinted above, many Buddhists, esp. Rakhines (e.g., Arakan National Party – a racist group) are opposed to the Annan commission. They don’t want to solve the Rohingya problem. [The ANP has lately objected to the granting of citizenship of 29 white-card holding Muslims in Buthidaung in the Rakhine state. Prior to the 2015 election, the ANP had thrown its weight behind a successful push to disenfranchise white-card holders. It is worth noting here that according to government figures supplied, there were nearly 800,000 white-card holders in Myanmar at the time they were revoked last year, with over 660,000 in Rakhine State. White cards were first issued as a stop-gap measure in the early 1990s, with many of the state’s Muslims being assured it would pave the way to full citizenship.]
For years, the official Burmese mantra has been that "no foreigner can possibly understand Rakhine's problems". Thus, for the first time, the Burmese government is seeking international expertise to try and solve one of the country's most complex problems. It is a big shift for the government in Myanmar.
Many human rights are also concerned because of the inclusion of Daw Khin Saw Tint - a known racist and bigot - in the commission. She is a Rakhine Buddhist who chairs the Rakhine Literature and Culture Association (Yangon), responsible for promoting intolerance against the Rohingya people. As Burmese human rights activist, Dr. Maung Zarni has shown in his blog, Ms. Khin Saw Tint remains a very hostile, anti-Rohingya zealot who falsely considers that Rohingyas have no history prior to the Burma's independence from Great Britain. I wish Suu Kyi had been more careful in selection of the members of the Advisory Commission.
After being named in the commission, Khin Saw Tint said she believes working together with independent and highly respected international figures will present a clear image of what is happening in Rakhine State to the international community. “The problem can only be solved with a bilateral approach,” she said. I pray that she is not speaking with a forked tongue and does not torpedo the needed task of the commission, which does not include a single Rohingya.
The Annan commission is expected to start work in September and will release a full report, including a set of recommendations on “conflict prevention, prevention, humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, institution building and promotion of development of Rakhine state” by the second half of 2017. However, as we all know too well, the litmus test going forward is whether or not the government will accept and implement those recommendations.
By Abdul Malik Mujahid
August 27, 2016
Rights Groups Doubt that Systemic Discrimination against Rohingya Will Be Resolved
As manifested in the United States, race and religion are extremely delicate topics for politicians to explore. And eradicating widespread endemic prejudices against certain racial and religious groups is a notoriously explosive proposition. However, that is exactly what is required in Burma, where a slow-burning genocide against the Rohingya people is becoming an urgent priority for the international community. On Aug. 23 2016 Burma’s Nobel Peace Laureate and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi announced the establishment of a 9-member Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, where the Rohingya primarily live, as “a national initiative to resolve protracted issues in the region”. This sounds, at first blush, like a promising step — considering that the peaceful Rohingya were not invited to the Norway peace conference with other ethnic organizations (EAOs).
Burma Task Force welcomes Ms. Suu Kyi’s belated response to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State and the conditions of poverty and oppression that instigated it. But we are extremely troubled by signs that this Commission has already been compromised by inclusion of staunch defenders of the previous military regime as well as deniers of mass atrocity crimes. The inclusion of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan cannot restore the balance to this advisory commission — especially since Secretary Annan himself has expressed regret at not doing a better job to handle the Rwandan genocide of 1994. We can pray that he will apply the lessons he learned from Rwanda throughout his work on this Commission, but I fear his voice may be drowned out by the extremist Buddhist nationalists who have expressed quite hostile views of the Rohingya. Most importantly, no Rohingya representatives have been included! I am profoundly dismayed by Ms Suu Kyi’s failure to appoint a single Rohingya leader to a commission tasked to discuss their fate. What could be more damning?
While the presence of two Christians on the Commission will hopefully add a breath of fresh interfaith air, two Rakhine members — namely U Win Mra (Chair of the National Human Rights Commission) and Saw Khin Tint (Chairperson, Rakhine Literature and Culture Association and Vice-Chairperson of the Rakhine Women’s Association) have engaged in denial of mass atrocity crimes committed by the extremist Buddhist nationalists. It’s easy to doubt the comment one of the newly appointed Commission members, Aye Lwin, made to the Democratic Voice of Burma: “This is very impartial third-party intervention.”
An ethnic Rakhine, Win Mra is the chair of the Myanmar Human Rights Commission (MHRC), an organization whose name could not be more misleading. The MHRC officially refuses to accept or utter the name of the Rohingya in blatant disregard for the international norm that any group has the right to self-identify. In fact, established by the previous President and ex-General Thein Sein on whose watch two separate waves of violent pogroms against the Rohingya and other Muslim communities took place, MHRC has been in the fore-front of denying the existence, identity, and history of the Rohingya people.
Mrs Saw Khin Tint is an even more unconscionable choice. A nationally-known Rakhine leader who is on the record condoning the slaughter of all Rohingya as early as December ‘12, within 2 months of the second wave of organized and state-sanctioned killing and community destruction of the Rohingya people, she gave a speech in which she remarked:
“Seeing their [non-Rohingya natives of Myanmar] great anger and compassion, and hear them say, ‘We just want to go and kill all of those Bengali people with our own hands!’ we’ve now got the advantage of gaining the support of all the national races all over Myanmar on the incidents that we’ve sacrificed so far.” (The bi-lingual English-Burmese transcript of the speech delivered by Saw Khin Tint at the gathering of the Rakhines in Yangon on 22 December 2012.)
“Bengali” is the inflammatory and insulting term extremist Buddhist nationalists use to imply that Rohingya do not belong to Burma, but rather are illegal interlopers from Bangladesh. This false narrative is the prime excuse the genocidaires have been using to facilitate the Rohingya’s extermination.
International experts have unequivocally agreed with Burma Task Force’s strong designation of the Rohingya persecution as ‘genocide’ — including Professor Amartya Sen, Suu Kyi’s teacher at Delhi University and a close friend of her late husband Michael Aris. Professor Gregory Stanton, President of the Genocide Watch and past President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, is in accord with this assessment. So are two widely publicized studies by Queen Mary University of London and Yale University Human Rights Law Clinic. It appears that, in the choice of her Commission members, Suu Kyi is far more interested in pleasing the ubiquitous monks than in heeding the warnings of trustworthy international scholars. Peace will not come to Rakhine State, let alone development, if pandering is a higher priority than good policy.
Despite 4 consecutive years of deafening silence, evasion, and dismissal of the concern as “exaggeration”, Suu Kyi should not be able to ignore the mounting criticisms from across the worldwide political spectrum — voices including Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, George Soros, and Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi—alarmed that 150,000 Rohingya Muslims live in concentration camps and other “conditions calculated to bring about their destruction”. Nor, fortunately, can she prevent the international community, particularly the United States government, from respecting the group right of the Rohingya to self-identify. In brave opposition to the powerful monks’ hate groups, United States Ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel has held to the international norm of self identification & insisted that the Rohingya do exist. Around the globe, World Rohingya Day rallies were held last Friday, 19 August, to demonstrate the Rohingya’s positive existence and clear desert for equal rights in their home country.
Ms Suu Kyi must not shy away from her responsibility with regards to the Rohingya genocide. She must end the wide spread suffering and honor the Rohingya’s legitimate and verifiable claim to full and equal citizenship rights as Burmese citizens. International partners must not be fooled by empty or misleading gestures. Instead, to be true friends of Burma, local and international stakeholders must demand that more appropriate members be added to this Advisory Commission, and that the Commission be fully transparent in its deliberations on this urgent issue. The MaBaTha, the society established by extremist monks to “protect race and religion”, has been disbanded; this is an excellent first step, but will in no way stamp out the hateful prejudices of many Rakhine and other Burmese against the defenseless Rohingya minority. It is imperative that Suu Kyi include Rohingya voices on this Commission, and that concrete steps be taken to restore balance, equality & human decency in Rakhine State.
Follow Abdul Malik Mujahid on Twitter: www.twitter.com/malikmujahid
Aung San Suu Kyi picks a well-known Rohingya genocidaire to serve on her advisory commission of "Eminence Persons
Aung San Suu Kyi picks a well-known Rohingya genocidaire to serve on her advisory commission of "Eminence Persons
|Out of the Darkness, the Lord Gave Us Light, 2003 Credit Thornton Dial, Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art |
By Brad Evans and Gayatri Chakravorty SpivakTHE STONE, The New York Times
July 13, 2016
This is the sixth in a series of dialogues with philosophers and critical theorists on the question of violence. This conversation is with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who is a university professor in the humanities at Columbia University. She is the author of “An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization,” and other books.
Brad Evans: Throughout your work, you have written about the conditions faced by the globally disadvantaged, notably in places such as India, China and Africa. How might we use philosophy to better understand the various types of violence that erupt as a result of the plight of the marginalized in the world today?
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: While violence is not beyond naming and diagnosis, it does raise many challenging questions all the same. I am a pacifist. I truly believe in the power of nonviolence. But we cannot categorically deny a people the right to resist violence, even, under certain conditions, with violence. Sometimes situations become so intolerable that moral certainties are no longer meaningful. There is a difference here between condoning such a response and trying to understand why the recourse to violence becomes inevitable.
When human beings are valued as less than human, violence begins to emerge as the only response. When one group designates another as lesser, they are saying the “inferior” group cannot think in a “reasonable” way. It is important to remember that this is an intellectual violation, and in fact that the oppressed group’s right to manual labor is not something they are necessarily denied. In fact, the oppressed group is often pushed to take on much of society’s necessary physical labor. Hence, it is not that people are denied agency; it is rather that an unreasonable or brutish type of agency is imposed on them. And, the power inherent in this physical agency eventually comes to intimidate the oppressors. The oppressed, for their part, have been left with only one possible identity, which is one of violence. That becomes their politics and it appropriates their intellect.
This brings us directly to the issue of “reasonable” versus “unreasonable” violence. When dealing with violence deemed unreasonable, the dominating groups demonize violent responses, saying that “those other people are just like that,” not just that they are worth less, but also that they are essentially evil, essentially criminal or essentially have a religion that is prone to killing.
And yet, on the other side, state-legitimized violence, considered “reasonable” by many, is altogether more frightening. Such violence argues that if a person wears a certain kind of clothing or belongs to a particular background, he or she is legally killable. Such violence is more alarming, because it is continuously justified by those in power.
B.E.: At least some violent resistance in the 20th century was tied to struggles for national liberation, whether anti-colonial or (more common in Europe) anti-fascist. Is there some new insight needed to recognize forces of domination and exploitation that are separated from nation states and yet are often explained as some return to localism and ethnicity?
G.C.S.: This is a complicated question demanding serious philosophical thought. I have just come back from the World Economic Forum, and their understanding of power and resistance is very different from that of a group such as the ethnic Muslim Rohingya who live on the western coast of Myanmar; though both are already deeply embedded in global systems of power and influence, even if from opposing sides. The Rohingya have been the victims of a slow genocide as described by Maung Zarni, Amartya Sen and others. This disrupts an Orientalist reading of Buddhism as forever the peace-loving religion. Today, we see Buddhists from Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar engage in state-sanctioned violence against minorities.
The fact is that when the pro-democracy spokesperson Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest there, she could bravely work against oppressive behavior on the part of the military government. But once she was released and wanted to secure and retain power, she became largely silent on the plight of these people and has sided with the majority party, which has continued to wage violence against non-Buddhist minorities. One school of thought says that in order to bring democracy in the future, she has to align herself with the majority party now. I want to give Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi the benefit of the doubt. But when the majority party is genocidal, there is a need to address that. Aligning with them cannot possibly bring democracy.
However, rather than retreating back into focused identity politics, resistance in this context means connecting the plight of the Rohingya to global struggles, the context of which is needed in order to address any particular situation. Older, national, identity-based struggles like those you mention are less persuasive in a globalized world. All of this is especially relevant as Myanmar sets up its first stock exchange and prepares to enter the global capitalist system.
In globalization as such, when the nation states are working in the interest of global capital, democracy is reduced to body counting, which often works against educated judgments. The state is trapped in the demands of finance capital. Resistance must know about financial regulation in order to demand it. This is bloodless resistance, and it has to be learned. We must produce knowledge of these seemingly abstract globalized systems so that we can challenge the social violence of unregulated capitalism.
B.E.: What are the implications when the promotion of human rights is left to what you have called “self-appointed entrepreneurs” and philanthropists, from individuals such as Bill Gates onto organizations like the World Bank, who have a very particular conception of rights and the “rule of law?”
G.C.S.: It is just that there be law, but law is not justice.
The passing of a law and the proof of its existence is not enough to assure effective resistance to oppression. Some of the gravest violations of rights have occurred within legal frameworks. And, if that law governs a society never trained in what Michel Foucault would call “the practice of freedom,” it is there to be enforced by force alone, and the ones thus forced will find better and better loopholes around it.
That is why the “intuition” of democracy is so vital when dealing with the poorest of the poor, groups who have come to believe their wretchedness is normal. And when it comes time to starve, they just tighten their nonexistent belts and have to suffer, fatefully accepting this in silence. It’s more than children playing with rocks in the streets. It takes over every aspect of the people’s existence. And yet these people still work, in the blazing heat, for little or next to nothing for wealthy landowners. This is a different kind of poverty.
Against this, we have this glamorization of urban poverty by the wealthier philanthropist and aid agencies. There is always a fascination with the picture-perfect idea of poverty; children playing in open sewers and the rest of it. Of course, such lives are proof of grave social injustice. But top-down philanthropy, with no interest in an education that strengthens the soul, is counterproductive, an assurance that there will be no future resistance, only instant celebrity for the philanthropist.
I say “self-appointed” entrepreneurs because there is often little or no regulation placed upon workers in the nongovernmental sector. At best, they are ad hoc workers picking up the slack for a neo-liberal state whose managerial ethos cannot be strong on redistribution,, and where structural constitutional resistance by citizens cannot be effective in the face of an unconstituted “rule of law” operating, again, to protect the efficiency of global capital growth. The human rights lobby moves in to shame the state, and in ad hoc ways restores rights. But there is then no democratic follow-up, and these organizations rarely stick around long enough to see that.
Another problem with these organizations is the way they emphasize capitalism’s social productivity without mentioning capital’s consistent need to sustain itself at the expense of curtailing the rights of some sectors of the population. This is all about the removal of access to structures of reparation: the disappearance of the welfare state, or its not coming into being at all.
If we turn to “development,” we often see that what is sustained in sustainable development is cost-effectiveness and profit-maximization, with the minimum action necessary in terms of environmental responsibility. We could call such a thing “sustainable underdevelopment.”
Today everything is about urbanization, urban studies, metropolitan concerns, network societies and so on. Nobody in policy circles talks about the capitalization of land and how this links directly to the dispossession of people’s rights. This is another line of inquiry any consideration of violence must take into account.
B.E.: While you have shown appreciation for a number of thinkers known for their revolutionary interventions, such as Frantz Fanon, you have also critiqued the limits of their work when it comes to issues of gender and the liberation of women. Why?
G.C.S.: I stand by my criticism of Fanon, but he is not alone here. In fact he is like most other men who talk about revolutionary struggle. Feminist struggle can’t be learned from them. And yet, in “A Dying Colonialism,” Fanon is really trying from within to understand the position of women by asking questions about patriarchal structures of domination.
After the revolution, in postcolonial Algeria and elsewhere, those women who were part of the struggle had to separate themselves from revolutionary liberation organizations that were running the state in order to continue fighting for their rights under separate initiatives. Gender is bigger and older than state formations and its fight is older than the fight for national liberation or the fight between capitalism and socialism. So we have to let questions of gender interrupt these revolutionary ideas, otherwise revolution simply reworks marked gender divisions in societies.
B.E.: You are clearly committed to the power of education based on aesthetic practices, yet you want to challenge the canonical Western aesthetic ideas from which they are derived using your concepts of “imaginative activism” and “affirmative sabotage.” How can this work?
G.C.S.: Imaginative activism takes the trouble to imagine a text — understood as a textile, woven web rather than narrowly as a printed page — as having its own demands and prerogatives. This is why the literary is so important. The simplest teaching of literature was to grasp the vision of the writer. This was disrupted in the 1960s by the preposterous concern “Is this book of relevance to me?” which represented a tremendous assault on the literary, a tremendous group narcissism. For literature to be meaningful it should not necessarily be of obvious relevance. That is the aesthetic challenge, to imagine that which is not immediately apparent. This can fight what is implicit in voting bloc democracy. Relevant to me, rather than flexible enough to work for others who are not like me at all. The inbuilt challenge of democracy – needing an educated, not just informed, electorate.
I used the term “affirmative sabotage” to gloss on the usual meaning of sabotage: the deliberate ruining of the master’s machine from the inside. Affirmative sabotage doesn’t just ruin; the idea is of entering the discourse that you are criticizing fully, so that you can turn it around from inside. The only real and effective way you can sabotage something this way is when you are working intimately within it.
This is particularly the case with the imperial intellectual tools, which have been developed not just upon the shoulders, but upon the backs of people for centuries. Let’s take as a final example what Immanuel Kant says when developing his “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment.” Not only does Kant insist that we need to imagine another person, he also insists for the need to internalize it to such an extent that it becomes second nature to think and feel with the other person.
Leaving aside the fact that Kant doesn’t talk about slavery whatsoever in his book, he even states that women and domestic servants are incapable of the civic imagination that would make them capable of cosmopolitan thinking. But, if you really think about it, it’s women and domestic servants who were actually trained to think and feel like their masters. They constantly had to put themselves in the master’s shoes, to enter into their thoughts and desires so much that it became second nature for them to serve.
So this is how one sabotages. You accept the unbelievable and unrelenting brilliance of Kant’s work, while confronting the imperial qualities he reproduces and showing the contradictions in this work. It is, in effect, to jolt philosophy with a reality check. It is to ask, for example, if this second-naturing of women, servants and others can be done without coercion, constraint and brainwashing. And, when the ruling race or class claims the right to do this, is there a problem of power being ignored in all their claimed benevolence? What would educated resistance look like in this case? It would misfire, because society is not ready for it. For that reason, one must continue to work — to quote Marx — for the possibility of a poetry of the future.
Myanmar military leaders have waged a war against the "Muslims of Rakhine" or Rohingya based on the deliberate un-truths, not unlike the Cold War's Arms Race which was waged by USA, on the knowingly FALSE information, according to Colonel & Dr Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon, the Snowden of 1960's.
Here, Ex-General and Founder of Na Sa Ka Khin Nyunt tells his version of Nagamin of King Dragon Operations (racially and religiously-targeted campaign immigration check operation of Feb 1978) and Hamsa or Hintha Operations (Receiving back the repatriated Rohingya).
1) Ex-intelligence chief who served in the front line of Western Burma as Regiment Commander (Lt-Colonel) from Jan 1978 to 1981 was instrumental in Naga Min Operation (launched in the second week of February of 1978), under the command of Western Command Commander Brigadier Min Gaung who later became Home Minister.
(Min Gaung's original name was Than Maung and was a hanger-on at my grandfather's travelling casino business in Eastern Mandalay in the 1950's. I learned about Min Gaung's background direct from my late grandfather).
2) Khin Nyunt talked about 'fleeing Muslims from Rakhine' into Bangladesh - never the other way around.
In his 1993 "top secret" lecture, which initially appeared on the Internet and later reprinted in the compiled interviews with Myat Khaing in 2014, he described one major source of tensions between Bangladesh and Burma as "fleeing Muslims from Rakhine".
Noteworthy is this: this characterization - "fleeing Muslims from Rakhine" - was repeated by Khin Nyunt in his biography published in 2016.
3) Khin Nyunt described the agreement between Burma and Bangladesh to take back those Muslims who fled to Bangladesh as a result of Naga Min Operation. The repatriated "Muslims from Rakhine" were received under the banner of Hin Tha ( Burmese traditional mythical bird operation). But he did not give any explantion as to why Ne Win's military government - then known as Burma Socialist Programme Party Gov. had to take all the Muslims back - over 200,000. - with UNHCR oversight and involvement in the summer of 1978.
Besides he stated that 11 reception camps were opened to receive, return and resettle the returnees, that they were all carefully scrutinized in terms of their country of origin, and that the small number who came along, from Bangladesh, with the returning Muslims from Rakhine were sent back to their country.
4) Finally, he offered an explanation as to the growth of the population of the Muslims in Rakhine as the direct result of the intermingling between those who lived on Bangladesh side and those who live in Northern Arakan state of Western Burma.
He argued that because many a Muslim in Northern Rakhine - overwhelmingly Rohingya special administration district - do not speak Burmese or Rakhine, but only "Bengali", they must all be from Bangladesh, not from Burma!
(Zarni's comment: there are Kachins, Karens, Karenni, Shan, Wa, etc. who have very little contact with the dominant Bama, from cradle to grave, and they hardly speak Burmese. Internationally, there are Chinese diasporas where it is not uncommon to find Chinese who do not speak a word of English, living in places like Brighton, UK or San Francisco, USA. For their communities are large and their social interactions confined to among themselves. In the Rohingya situation where for nearly 2 generations, the Rohingya are forced to exist, in effect, in an enforced apartheid it would be impossible to find many linguistically integrated Rohingya. Besides Rohingya and Bengali languages have similarities, but are NOT the same - the same way Rakhine and Bama languages share similar features and words, but are more than sufficiently different.
Using the lack of Bama or Rakhine language command among the segregated Rohingya - or Muslims from Rakhine, as Khin Nyunt refers to them - as a key indicator or marker of 'foreignness' 'immigrants' is empirically and analytically false.
But the country has been fed a fabricated lie that there have been a constant flow of "Bengali" - there are east Bengali now named "Bangladeshi" - and west Bengali - with its center in Kolkata, named "Indians". They share a common language, but two different national identities and political consciousnesses.
As long as Myanmar's top civilian and military leaders - including Aung San Suu Kyi today - are intellectually and psychologically unable to overcome their deep personal racist views towards Muslims and particularly the Rohingya there can be no peaceful and/or internal Myanmar solution to the Rohingya persecution - now widely considered a slow genocide and crime against humanity, internationally.
End of mission statement by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yangon, 1 July 2016
I have just concluded my fourth official visit to the country as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. I would like to thank the Government of Myanmar for its invitation and for granting me an extended visit of twelve days. This has not only allowed to me to travel to Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States, but also to devote more time in Nay Pyi Taw to engage with different ministers in the new Government. I would also like to thank the United Nations Country Team for their assistance throughout my visit. Additionally, I would like express my appreciation to the broad range of interlocutors with whom I met for their openness and cooperation with my mandate. My programme is listed in detail in the Annex.
The peaceful transition to a democratically-elected and civilian-led government after five decades is a significant milestone for Myanmar. My visit thus takes place at an important juncture for the country. After the euphoria in the wake of last year’s elections, the reality of the significant and wide-ranging challenges facing the new Government has not significantly dampened the sense of optimism and hope amongst many sectors of the population. It will therefore be the key test for this new Government to capitalize on the overwhelming public support and current momentum to push forward its priority agenda and reforms.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to furthering democratic transition, national reconciliation, sustainable development and peace, and the important steps already taken in this regard. The objective of my visit, therefore, was to make a comprehensive, objective and balanced assessment of the human rights situation in this new landscape. Today, I wish to highlight some preliminary observations from my visit. I will present a full report to the 71st session of the General Assembly later this year.
Forging human rights in a young democracy
Consolidating democracy and building a culture of respect for human rights is a complex undertaking that requires political will and sustained investment in enhancing the functioning and integrity of State institutions and bodies. Important human rights principles must underpin this process so that State institutions and bodies prioritize the needs and rights of the people in Myanmar’s diverse society.
In meeting with various interlocutors in Government and Parliament, I was encouraged to see a burgeoning understanding of this role and a broad commitment to further reform. I was struck by the candid exchange of views on human rights concerns, and the frank assessment of the remaining challenges ahead. At the same time, I observed the very real tension between a new civilian leadership and a bureaucracy inherited from previous military regimes which often resulted in a duality in policy and approach. I also observed the challenges in trying to enhance democratic governance within an institutional framework that impedes the development of democratic practices and respect for human rights. Overcoming these challenges will require further reforms and a change in behaviour and mindset. While this will take time, these issues cannot be overlooked and must be continually prioritized.
I was pleased to note that many aspects of the various 100-day plans of union ministries were broadly in line with the human rights priority areas set out in my last report to the Human Rights Council. I encouraged closer cooperation with my mandate and the international community in their implementation. At the same time, I noted that many of these plans were not well-publicized and had, for the most part, been developed with little or no public consultation or input from relevant stakeholders, in particular civil society. Looking ahead to the development of a longer-term five-year plan for the Government, greater efforts must be made to address these shortcomings.
Parliament also has a central role in the promotion of democracy. During my visit, I had the opportunity to engage with parliamentarians and various parliamentary bodies. While there was a clear need to enhance the capacity and functioning of this young institution and its new members, I was impressed by the understanding shown of their important check and balance functions over the executive. I welcomed their frank assessment of current structural challenges, such as the 25 percent military bloc, and the lack of a separate professional secretariat (with current support provided by the General Administrative Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs). In order to ensure a properly functioning parliamentary culture, the independence of Parliament must be ensured and members of Parliament should be able to exercise the right to freedom of speech in the course of discharging their duties. It is crucial that Parliament be a forum for expressing opinions reflecting the different interests of Myanmar’s multi-ethnic society.
I also met members of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and encouraged the Commission to more fully step into its role as an independent advocate for human rights. While welcoming the many promotional and awareness-raising activities undertaken, the Commission should not shy away from addressing issues deemed sensitive to the Government; this is precisely when a neutral and objective human rights voice is most needed.
The foundation for any functioning democracy is the rule of law. I therefore welcome the priority given to upholding the rule of law and to strengthening legal and judicial institutions. Central to this is the continuing review and reform of legislation, particularly outdated laws that have been deemed to be inconsistent with international human rights standards. I am encouraged to see quick and real progress on the recommendations of the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission to amend 142 laws, including the recent repeal of the State Protection Act. While noting some improvements to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, several shortcomings remain and I hope to see these remedied before the Law is promulgated.
However, I am acutely aware that more needs to be done. During my visit, I consistently drew attention to many laws still on the books that continue to limit the full enjoyment of human rights. I therefore renew my call for a comprehensive legislative review to be undertaken, with clear target dates for the conclusion of the review.
Also during my visit, I continued to hear concerns about the lack of systematic consultation on draft laws and the opaque process of legislative reform. Clear timelines should be established for the review of draft laws and an appropriate consultation process should be developed to ensure transparency and adequate engagement by civil society organizations and members of the public. A vetting mechanism should also be established to ensure that all draft legislation complies with international human rights standards.
Finally, in the current transitional environment with delicate relationships still being forged between different constituents, Myanmar must not lose sight of the need for constitutional reform. Many shared my view but acknowledged that this remained sensitive and would not likely be feasible soon. Nevertheless, I urged continued discussion and consideration of this important issue particularly within Parliament and by the public at large.
Enhancing democratic space
The enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are essential ingredients for Myanmar’s democracy. Many are hopeful that continuing restrictions on the exercise of these rights will soon be lifted by the new Government. However, recent incidents, such as the banning of a film during a human rights film festival and the denial of permission for a press conference on a civil society report alleging grave violations by the military, are worrying signals. Additionally, I was informed by several civil society actors that they are facing visa restrictions, or have once again been placed on the ‘blacklist’.
I have previously highlighted concerns regarding the arrests and prosecution of individuals exercising fundamental rights. I stated that such practices were creating a new generation of political prisoners. While I have not seen the same frequency and scale of arrests, problematic legal provisions continue to be applied and the practice of bringing multiple charges across different townships for the same offence or historic offences also continues. Additionally, journalists and media workers continue to face legal action under outdated defamation laws.
I also continue to receive reports of monitoring and surveillance of civil society actors and human rights defenders. During this visit, I unfortunately was informed that my interlocutors were photographed by security officials, and were questioned prior to and following our meetings. During a private meeting with a village community in Rakhine State, I discovered a recording device placed in the room by a Government official.
I therefore renew my request to all civil society actors, media workers and prisoners with whom I met to report to me any cases of reprisal. I also reiterate that the Government (in particular the Ministry of Home Affairs and Special Branch police) must ensure the safety of all my interlocutors and guarantee that they will not face any reprisals, including threats, harassment, punishment or judicial proceedings as required by the Human Rights Council. I have been assured by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs that these practices will cease in future visits and that no reprisals will occur. In my previous visits, I had also been assured by the then Minister of Home Affairs that these practices will cease. Nevertheless, they are still continuing. Old habits do die hard.
As the United Nations Secretary-General has said “civil society is the oxygen of democracy”. It is clear that a change of mind-set is still needed at all levels of Government to allow civil society and the media to flourish. Going forward, the fundamental role of civil society in supporting further democratic reforms and in advocating for human rights must be better understood and fully recognized. Civil society can also monitor the abuse of power and corruption and hold state institutions to account. Criticism helps to strengthen democratic institutions and critical voices should not be excluded or restricted, but rather, empowered and supported. Partnerships with civil society should be built and strengthened.
I commend the recent amnesties granted to political prisoners. This is a significant step which affirms the Government’s commitment to democratic transition and national reconciliation. I note that many individuals, whose cases I had previously raised, have been released with the charges against them dropped or pardoned. I met with some of them during my visit, including U Gambira earlier today upon his release.
Many political prisoners remain behind bars however and their cases should be urgently resolved. I am aware that there continues to be discrepancies in the number of remaining political prisoners from different sources. Accordingly, a comprehensive and thorough review of all cases by the Government, based on broad consultations with all relevant stakeholders, is needed to clarify records. Related to this, in my view, is the need to develop a formal definition of political prisoner in consultation with all relevant actors.
I also hold the view that former and released political prisoners should not be subject to administrative and other restrictions that impede re-integration into society. These include restrictions in the acquisition of passports and professional work licenses, and in enrollment in formal university education. Additionally, released political prisoners, particularly those who suffered ill-treatment or prolonged periods of solitary confinement, should be given the necessary medical and psycho-social support.
The impact of conflict and looking towards peace
The Government informed me that the peace process and the need to end continuing armed conflict in several areas of the country is a priority. In a worrying development since my last visit, a new front of fighting has broken out in Rakhine State. Fighting also continues in Kachin State and has taken on new dimensions in Northern Shan State.
On the ground, this violence continues to have a severe effect on the lives of civilians. In particular, I continue to receive reports of human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict and in all areas where active fighting continues. One individual told me that her sibling had been kidnapped and there was still no news of his fate many weeks later. This is sadly not an isolated case: reports of abductions for forced recruitment and for use as hostages, predominantly by ethnic armed groups, are increasing. I also continue to receive reports of other grave violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, torture, killings and arbitrary arrest by all sides. I reiterate that investigations should be conducted into all such allegations and that perpetrators be held to account. Military personnel who are alleged to have perpetrated violations against civilians must also be held accountable and should be prosecuted in a civilian court.
Also of concern is the continuing detention and reported torture of individuals with suspected ties to ethnic armed groups under section 17 (1) of the Unlawful Associations Act. In particular, there has been a sharp increase in cases in Rakhine where reportedly some arrests have been made with little supporting evidence.
During my visit, I also met with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States and heard of their daily struggles to survive, earn a basic living and access basic services such as education and healthcare. In this context, humanitarian assistance provides a lifeline to communities and I was concerned to hear of the extensive difficulties in accessing and delivering such aid to several areas. In Rakhine State, I was informed that international non-governmental organizations are required to seek travel authorisations through a cumbersome procedure, with additional authorizations required for areas in the northern part of the State. Muslim staff members face restrictions in their freedom of movement and require additional travel authorisations which hamper their ability to perform their functions.
In Kachin State, humanitarian access is shrinking particularly to non-government controlled areas. Previously there was access albeit subject to some limitations to the more than 40,000 IDPs in non-government controlled areas. However, access has been blocked in recent months with a proposal made to deliver assistance to neutral or government controlled areas – a 1.5 day walk for many of those affected. I had hoped to visit Laiza to look into these developments, but unfortunately was refused access to security considerations.
In Northern Shan State, access is hampered by shifting front lines. The situation is becoming more complex with multiplying numbers of actors using armed force. I am particularly concerned by reports from civil society actors that the fighting between the TNLA and RCSS is starting to create tensions between civilian communities in affected areas. Their work in ensuring that communities are not further divided is even more vital now. Whilst I was given positive signals on the feasibility of a visit to Kutkai until the day before my arrival in Shan State, my request was ultimately denied due to ‘security considerations’ forcing a late change in my schedule. I regret that I was unable to see the realities on the ground for myself.
During my visit, I repeatedly heard the sentiment that for communities affected by conflict, things have yet to change. They saw the recent elections as a sign of hope but they are still awaiting real change. Durable peace must be achieved to allow these areas of the country, and others to see the change they have been waiting for.
I discussed the peace process and the 21st Century Panglong Conference with many interlocutors. I was encouraged to hear that efforts are being made to reach out to all ethnic armed groups. It is vital that the process is truly inclusive, collaborative and open in order to build a sustainable peace going forward. Civil society actors must be seen as partners in this process, and have a voice in all areas of discussion. This includes issues which are seen by some as political, but in fact have significant impact on human rights.
The previous Government made a commitment to ensure at least 30% representation of women at all levels of the peace dialogue. This commitment should be met as a minimum. During my visit, I met with a number of qualified women working in the area of human rights and conflict, who would be an asset to the process. I hope that an effort will be made to ensure such individuals are included. A gender perspective must also be incorporated into all areas of the dialogue.
IDPs informed me that they are afraid to return to their villages due to the continuing presence of soldiers and the risk posed by landmines. I was pleased to hear from the Ministry of Defence that demining has been completed in a small area in Kayin State. I urge that such programmes be extended throughout the country where there has not been recent active conflict, with assistance from the international community.
Respect for the rights of minorities
During my visit, I addressed continuing reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities, including through restrictions on the freedom of religion or belief. These issues must be addressed in future political dialogues in order to tackle the root causes of conflict and the long-standing grievances of ethnic communities. While the creation of an Ethnic Affairs Ministry is a welcome step, the necessary institutional, legal and policy framework should be established to ensure greater respect for the rights of minorities. In this regard, the Government should consider developing a comprehensive anti-discrimination law or policy to ensure that minorities can exercise their rights without any discrimination and in full equality before the law.
The recent establishment of the Central Committee on Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development of Rakhine State signals the priority given by the Government to addressing the complex challenges facing both communities. Nevertheless, my visit to Rakhine State unfortunately confirmed that the situation on the ground has yet to significantly change.
The conditions in the IDP camps I visited remain poor with concerns about overcrowding, the deterioration of temporary shelters and housing, and the lack of proper sanitation facilities.
While there is rightful emphasis on ensuring development and humanitarian assistance to all communities, ending institutionalized discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State must also be an urgent priority. The continuing restrictions on the freedom of movement of the Rohingya and Kaman communities cannot be justified on any grounds of security or maintaining stability. In fact, as I have previously highlighted, such restrictions severely affect all aspects of life, including access to basic services and livelihoods. They also hamper community interactions and impede any prospects for long-term stability and reconciliation. Progress is needed on this key issue in order to address other human rights concerns in Rakhine State.
I note that the Government has re-initiated a citizenship verification exercise in several townships and villages, with plans to roll out the exercise throughout the State. Identity cards for national verification are being issued – without designations of race and ethnicity and without expiration dates. I must acknowledge the Government’s attempt to learn lessons from a similar verification pilot exercise conducted in Myebon last year. Yet, response to this latest initiative has been lukewarm at best. Many with whom I spoke, including representatives of the Kaman community, expressed frustration that citizens or those entitled to citizenship were required to undergo this process. Some in the Rohingya community also provided me with copies of National Registration Cards (pink cards) held by their parents and grandparents dating back generations. There was also distrust and scepticism of the Government’s initiatives given the revocation of the Temporary Registration Cards (white cards) last year and previous citizenship verification exercises. The residents in one village in Rakhine State refused to participate in the verification exercise for these reasons. Additionally, I was informed that they had not been given prior information on the exercise and had received no further explanation subsequently.
If the verification exercise is extended throughout Rakhine State, it would be important to fully consult and involve those directly affected by this process. Clear timeframes should be established on when participants will have their status reviewed and when decisions on their applications can be expected. The Government must address the situation in Myebon where those granted citizenship continue to face restrictions and demonstrate that all those granted citizenship will automatically acquire the rights to which they are entitled.
Religious intolerance; incitement to hatred
It is clear that tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society. Incidents of hate speech, incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, and of religious intolerance continue to be a cause for concern. While I commend Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to combating and publicly condemning hate speech and incitement to violence against minorities, other public officials and political leaders must also speak out.
During my visit, I specifically addressed recent reported attempts to build pagodas or stupas on the property of or in close proximity to churches and mosques in Karen State. I also expressed concern at the recent mob attack resulting in the destruction of a house, mosque, a school and a Muslim cemetery in Bago. Whether deliberate or not, the incident can be seen as an attack on the past, present and future of one community.
It is vital that the Government take prompt action, including by conducting thorough investigations and holding perpetrators to account. I am therefore concerned by reports that the Government will not pursue action in the most recent case due to fears of fuelling greater tensions and provoking more conflict. This is precisely the wrong signal to send. The Government must demonstrate that instigating and committing violence against an ethnic or religious minority community has no place in Myanmar. Perpetrators will be treated seriously in accordance with the law regardless of race, religious or ethnic background.
At the same time, comprehensive measures to address the root causes of such tensions and violence must also be taken. Prevention should be prioritized, including through education, and information and media campaigns, in order to deconstruct discriminatory and negative stereotypes. Initiatives to promote interfaith and intercommunal harmony must also be taken in cooperation with civil society, as well as religious and community leaders.
Realizing economic, social and cultural rights for the prosperity of all
Priority attention on economic, social and cultural rights is also of fundamental importance. As Myanmar continues to open up, the impact of development projects on these rights is becoming increasingly prominent. Development is needed for increased prosperity but should not come at the cost of human rights. Careful planning should be undertaken to ensure a rights-based approach which maximises the benefits for all.
I met an individual who will shortly lose her family home to a mega-development project. She and other villagers were given no opportunity to discuss the project, but were instead summoned and informed that they would have to leave their village. She does not know if or when she will receive compensation or if there will be relocation options provided. Across the country, hundreds of others face a similar situation. This is unacceptable, and priority must be given to ensuring that communities are consulted in a meaningful process, and that relocations are conducted in line with international standards.
Time will be needed to develop and enforce the normative framework in this area, and to gain the capacity and expertise to properly scrutinise projects. In this vein, I welcome the decision of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation to halt Government timber extraction for one year. This will enable the Ministry to review the current state of forests and to ensure that they are used sustainably. In this regard, a similar temporary moratorium on large-scale development projects should be considered in order to conduct meaningful consultations with affected communities and full social and environmental impact assessments.
During my visit, I met with civil society groups active in the jade mining areas. They told me of the dire conditions faced by local communities, including extensive environmental degradation, continuing land confiscations as the mines expand, and weekly deaths from vehicles and landslides, all conducted against a backdrop of disregard for the rule of law. I was pleased to hear that all companies were now required to complete environmental impact assessments in accordance with the new procedures, but further steps are needed.
I have repeatedly underlined the need to resolve the issue of land confiscations, both historic and continuing. I was therefore pleased that the new Government quickly formed a new Central Committee to address this issue. The Committee recently completed its first returns, giving 7000 acres back to farmers. This is welcome progress. The Committee assured me of their desire to resolve the remaining cases, but many are complex and will take time. Whilst this process is continuing, priority should also be given to drafting a national land law, which can serve as a basis for fair and transparent land management going forward. Building on the National Land Use Policy, this should be done in a participatory manner, drawing on the expertise of civil society and international organizations.
Realizing the right to education will be key to improving the prospects of Myanmar’s next generation. A recent census report on employment showed that one in five children are in employment rather than education. Birth registration rates remain low across the country, but particularly in some conflict areas where no registrations have taken place due to difficulties accessing registration centers. The birth registration rate of Muslim communities in Rakhine State is also alarmingly low. Given my professional background, I have a particular interest in this area and have offered my assistance to parliamentarians and others working on issues related to the rights of children. I hope this is one of several areas where we can work together going forward.
Education for IDPs continues to be limited across the country. In all IDP camps I visited, ensuring access to education was the primary concern. In Kachin State, I was told of the lack of schools at the secondary and tertiary levels and low quality of education in the primary schools provided in the camps. In Rakhine State, I visited an IDP camp for the Rakhine community, where I was informed that children have to walk three hours each morning to reach a secondary school. In camps for Muslim communities around Sittwe, there is only one secondary school. Steps should be taken to secure universal access to education for all across the country, and priority attention should be given to IDP communities facing protracted displacement due to conflict. In Rakhine State, improving access to and the quality of education is one concrete and feasible step which can go a long way to improving the situation for all communities. It is particularly vital that restrictions impeding access to education for Muslim communities are removed.
Improving access to health care continues to be a priority for Myanmar, but particularly for IDPs in conflict-affected areas. This was another priority concern expressed to me in all IDP camps I visited. In Rakhine State, extending access to health care is vital for all communities and could provide a similar tangible step towards improving the situation on the ground. Of particular urgency is the need to remove restrictions preventing Muslims from accessing medical treatment in some Township Hospitals. Currently, Muslim communities are only able to seek treatment at Sittwe Hospital which, for some, is several hours’ travel. Even in medical emergencies, special permission to be referred to Sittwe Hospital is required, which is time consuming and cumbersome. This has resulted in preventable deaths and could lead to more if not urgently addressed. It is vital that all people are granted safe and timely access to health services without discrimination. As a minimum, it is important to ensure that all people (including Muslims and people of unresolved citizenship status) have safe access to all Township Hospitals in emergency cases. I raised this suggestion with several interlocutors and received assurances that steps towards this will be taken in this regard. I look forward to hearing of prompt action in this area.
Let me conclude by reiterating my firm belief that Myanmar’s young democracy can only progress if human rights are fully mainstreamed into its institutional, legal and policy framework. Building a culture of respect for human rights must be a priority now and in the future. While I am aware of the need to give space and time for the new Government to address the many complex challenges facing the country, I must remain constructively and critically engaged and vocal in encouraging and advocating for greater progress on human rights. I must also continue to hold Myanmar accountable to its international human rights obligations. That is my mandate as Special Rapporteur.
The international community also has a responsibility in this regard. In the rush to forge or strengthen political or economic ties, international actors must continue to prioritize human rights, particularly in business and investment relations. International actors should not undermine human rights priorities, including by remaining silent when confronted with human rights concerns or at worst, becoming complicit in perpetuating human rights abuses. The international community must remain fully engaged on human rights issues in Myanmar. It should also remain committed to providing necessary assistance and support to further the reforms in line with international human rights standards. It is vital that all actors work together to ensure human rights are respected and protected across Myanmar.
At the start of my visit, I stated that my objective, as Special Rapporteur, is to continue to work closely with the Government and people of Myanmar, for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. I reaffirm that pledge to you now.
Annex – List of Meetings
Union Government Officials
- State Counsellor, Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister in the President’s Office
- Union Minister, State Counsellor’s Office; Working Committee for Cooperation with United Nations Agencies and International Organizations
- Union Minister of Defence
- Union Minister of Border Affairs; Central Committee for the Implementation of Stability, Peace and Development of Rakhine State
- Union Minister of Labour, Immigration and Population
- Union Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement; National Disaster Management Committee
- Attorney General
- Union Minister of Ethnic Affairs
- Union Minister of Religious Affairs and Culture
- Union Minister of Education
- Union Minister of Information
- Union Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation
- Deputy Minister of Home Affairs
- Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces
- Patron for the Union Parliament and Speaker of the Amyotha Hluttaw
- Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw
- Bills Committee of the Amyotha Hluttaw and Pyithu Hluttaw
- Fundamental Rights, Democracy and Human Rights Committee of the Amyotha Hluttaw and Pyithu Hluttaw
- Chair and members of the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission
- Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
- Myanmar Press Council
- Central Committee on Confiscated Farmlands and Other Lands
- Preparation Committee for the 21st Century Panglong Conference and members of the Joint Monitoring Committee
- Chief Minister and representatives of the Rakhine State Government
- Members of the Rakhine Elders
- Muslim and Rakhine communities in Ponnagyun
- Displaced communities in Pyinnwar Wa
- Displaced Rakhine communities around Sittwe
- Muslim community in Aung Mingalar
- Representatives of United Nations entities
- Representatives of international non-governmental organizations
- Consul of Bangladesh
- Former Chief Minister of Rakhine State and Member of State Parliament
- Human rights defenders
- Chief Minister and representatives of the Kachin State Government
- Civil society actors working on the peace process; jade mining and extractive industries; humanitarian assistance to IDPs
- Jan Mai Kawng Catholic Church IDP Camp
- Le Kone Zion Baptist Church IDP Camp
- Representatives of the Shan State Government in Lashio
- Representatives of United Nations entities
- Victims of human rights violations
- Civil society actors working on the peace process; humanitarian assistance to IDPs; human rights; women’s rights and gender issues
Civil society actors
- Media workers
- Actors working on land rights issues; environmental issues; women’s rights and gender issues; youth issues; labour rights issues; peace process; freedom of religion
- 88 Generation Peace and Open Society;
- Representatives of the Kaman community
- Representatives of international human rights non-governmental organizations
- Recently released political prisoners
- Center for Diversity and National Harmony
- Members of the United Nations Country Team
- Representatives of the diplomatic community
- Rakhine Heads of Mission Group
- Religious leaders
Detainee in Myitkyina Prison
- Laphai Gam
- Min Min
- Maung Maung Lwin
- Win Hwe
- Win Naing
- Ye Thu Aung
- Zaw Min Oo