Calling on Canada to help end Myanmar Genocide of Rohingya at Toronto City Council on 23 Nov 2017

Saying "Sorry!" to a Rohingya brother who survived Myanmar Genocide, Kutupalong Camp, Bangladesh, 7 Nov 2017.

Speaking on the Slow Burning Genocide of Rohingyas in Burma, with Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Nov 2014

N. Ireland peace activist Mairead Maguire presenting Zarni with the Cultivation of Harmony Award on behalf of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Salt Lake City, USA 18 Oct 2015

Meeting with The Minister of Foreign Affairs Rt. Honourable Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, M.P., State Guest House, Dhaka, 4 Nov 2017

"National Traitor and Enemy of the State" for his opposition to Rohingya Genocide. Sun Rays, 16/9/17

BBC attempts to defend its racist programming on the Rohingya

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: 7 October 2013 22:53
Subject: BBC Complaints - Case number CAS-2274826-2NBV1N

Dear Ms XXX

Reference CAS-2274826-2NBV1N

Thank you for getting in touch and please accept our sincerest apologies for our delay in responding to your concerns about the edition of ‘Beyond Belief’ broadcast on 19th August.

The BBC takes all complaints seriously and so we passed them on to producer Liz Leonard who said:

“Whilst the programme did refer to the Burmese Rohingyas, they were not its focus. Its purpose was to examine Buddhism and non-violence, using the example of what is happening in Myanmar. Until the very end of the first half, the discussion in the opening part of the programme was solely about whether violence is permitted in Buddhism generally.

I would not agree that the discussion on the violence in the second half was ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ against Rohingyas. In fact, I would say it was completely the opposite of that. Instead it highlighted the violent nature of the Buddhist 969 movement and the challenge that this movement poses, not just in Myanmar but across the world.

It is also worth pointing out the interview with the Burmese human rights activist. They talked about Human Rights Watch's report on ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas – along with the state and the Buddhist monk Wirathu's role in inflaming Islamophobic feeling. This was expanded on in the second half of the discussion.

Soe Win Than’s comments about Rohingya Muslims were all commentary on the situation in the country, backed up with figures and were discussion of the position of the state and people, rather than his own views. For example, when he says “well-founded fear” he is referring to figures about Rakhine townships and that “originally there were more Rakhine people but now 95% of the population is Rohingyas, or Bengalis there.”

I do recognise though, that with some of his comments it may not have been completely clear that he was not providing his personal opinion, so I am sorry for any ambiguity.

I would like to thank you for contacting us and I hope that what I have written reassures you about our programme.”

Once again, I do apologise for how long it has taken for us to respond to you.

Kind Regards

Nicola Maguire
BBC Complaints

From: XXXX 
Sent: Tuesday, October 08, 2013 7:25 AM
Cc: Miriam Williamson; Shariffa Abdulrehman;; Zarni,M;
Subject: Re: Taking the following complaint forwards. Case number CAS-2274826-2NBV1N

Please forward the following to Nicola Maguire. Clearly the online forms have negligible impact.

On 8 October 2013 14:19, XXX wrote:

Dear Nicola Maguire and Liz Leonard,

I find your response to this complaint completely irresponsible and outrageous, as the programme is likely in breach of article 2 and 5 of the broadcasting codes. I have cced the human rights defender – Dr Maung Zarni- whose voice was included in the programme. He shares my considerable concerns on this inflammatory issue. He has read your response and is planning to take the issue up publicly and with key public figures in his network. I have also cced some others involved in the making of this programme.

The following comment of Liz Leonard and Mr Soe Win Than is absolutely outrageous:

For example, when he says “well-founded fear” he is referring to figures about Rakhine townships and that “originally there were more Rakhine people but now 95% of the population is Rohingyas, or Bengalis there.

The characterisation of the Rohingya in North Rakhine State as “Bengali” is racist – and the characterisation of fears over perceived population growth as being “well-founded” is factually incorrect and construing it as such, is also racist. These claims – or “facts” as Ms Leonard calls them- are a deliberate misconstruing on the Rohingyas’ history in Rakhine State by an ethnocidal state that has, over 35 years, systematically erased the history and identity of the bulk of the Muslim or Rohingya population who have roots going back centuries in Rakhine State. This was repeated by a BBC Burmese editor and is now backed up by a Radio 4 producer.

Let me briefly explain why using the word Rohingya and Bengali is racist –given that the BBC is clearly unprepared to consider how this could be considered inflammatory and insulting. In a speech at Yangon University in August this year, UK Speaker of the House Rt Hon John Bercow responded to a question from the floor asking why he did not refer to the Rohingya as Bengali by unequivocally stating that categorising people who identified as Rohingya as Bengali against their will was “hurtful” and “racist”. ( Rt Hon John Bercow, speech at Yangon University, Myanmar, 1 August 2013. Notes from the speech available on (Accessed 11/09/2013). Q&A available on youtube (Accessed 11/09/2013) ) What a pity the BBC cannot follow the same principles as John Bercow! Rohingya is a term that means Muslim indigenous to Rakhine State – Bengali is a label imposed by the State and by hostile populations on to the Rohingya or Rakhine Muslims with the purpose of marking them out as outsiders and racial “others” - a process that is part and parcel of denying them their fundamental rights, including their right to nationality, and ostracising them from the rest of society.

There is a reason why in the UK we respect people’s right to self-identify – so that we do not insult people racially or discriminate against people. We do not call, for example, someone who identifies as black British “African” against their wishes because it could be racist and insulting. And we certainly would not do so if that person had roots in the UK going back centuries. Why is the same code of conduct regarding self-identification – also used by the UN- not applicable to the Rohingya in the BBC’s eyes?

In the case of the Rohingya talking about areas that are 95% Rohingya, Mr Soe Win Than must be referring to the three townships of North Rakhine State – in which stateless Rohingya are contained with limited rights and limited movement – unless of course he is referring to the camps for internally displaced persons that serve to segregate Muslim populations since the violence of 2012!- To insinuate that within this area, that has a massive presence of security forces that regularly conduct household checks against family lists, often resulting is arbitrary detention, torture and extortion, hosts a growing population of “Bengalis”, i.e. immigrants, is frankly preposterous. If you have any doubts as to whether I am exaggerating on the surveillance and conditions in North Rakhine State – or the fact that they are not Bengali- perhaps I can refer you to the growing body of work on human rights abuses, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against Rohingya in Rakhine State. Please note that all of these reports problematize the issue of characterising the Rohingya as Bengali and illegal immigrants as part of the broader process of violating their rights.

Human Rights Watch on ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity

NUI, University of Galway on crimes against humanity

Perhaps a good place to start for Ms Leonard, would be the sentinel report on the risk of genocide that finds the forced registration of the Rohingya as Bengali could lead to “death lists”. I hope you are starting to understand the importance not referring to the Rohingya as Bengali immigrants!

As to the characterisation of “well-founded” fears of population growth because some pockets of Rakhine State are 95% Rohingya - this is both factually incorrect and misleading. Rakhine State as a whole is roughly 30% Muslim today – as it has always been since records began. See for example the Paton, C. Sub-Commisioner of Arakan, April 26, 1826, A Short Report on Arakan P36, which notes that at the very start of the colonial period, a third of the population in Rakhine State was Muslim. There are many other sources – please feel free to come back to me if you require more. In a major study and analysis of the available post-independence data, David Dapice and Nguyen Xuan Thanh of Harvard University conclude that there is: no evidence of large post-1950 migratory flows into Rakhine – indeed both the official data and information on income and poverty would suggest the opposite...the official data tells a story of net outflows and dwindling numbers of “Pakistani”(Bengali) foreigners. P 22 Dapice, D and Nguyen, x. t., 2013, Creating a Future: Using Natural Resources for New Federalism and Unity, prepared for proximity designs, Harvard Kennedy School.

In referring to 95% Rohingya areas, Mr Soe Win Than is referring to the three townships of North Rakhine State which have majority Rohingya or Rakhine Muslim population–not Bengali. In fact these areas have for centuries had a majority Rohingya population. (The terms Rakhine Muslim and Rohingya are overlapping, in part due to the lack of State recognition of either Rakhine Muslim or Rohingya as a basis for denying them their fundamental rights including the right to nationality.) After the return of war refugees into Rakhine State following the Japanese occupation in World War II, Rakhine Muslim populations became more concentrated in the North and Rakhine Buddhists in the South, due to the conflict between the communities intensified by the war. By the 1960s, these townships, known as May Yu district, were administered directly from central government in acknowledgement that the population was majority Muslim in the interests of “peace” and “equality”. The Encyclopaedia of Myanmar, which is an official state publication, published in 1964 (p90 Vol 9) described the district of Mayu as such, “The majority of the population (75%) are Rohingya ethnic people.” Since the 1960s the increase in the proportion of Rohingya is not due to in-migration from Bengal as the BBC would have us believe (or Soe Win Than’s “backing up with figures” – perhaps he or Ms Leonard could site some credible non-state sources?) but through forced migration under a xenophobic military dictatorship and latterly military-civilian rule. That is land confiscations by the state for the building of military barracks and Buddhist model villages associated with extensive human rights abuses (see NUI Galway report), through the forced migration of two large waves of 200,000 plus Rohingya to Bangladesh in 1978 and 1992 (as well as a steady outflow of the population over the past several decades) followed by the involuntary repatriation and relocation to North Rakhine State, and lastly through the violence and economic and social boycotts that Rohingya have suffered more recently that leaves them at risk in minority communities and forcing them to leave flee to majority Muslim areas, IDP camps, or out of the country. Thus the areas that are majority Rohingya – not Bengali- do not represent a “well-founded” demographic threat to the Rakhine, but a deliberate system of segregation, apartheid (as Bishop Desmond Tutu put it) and ghettoization of the Rohingya population.

I do not accept that Soe Win Than was simply relating the views of the population in Rakhine State – if so he would have problematized these “views” by presenting the many facts available. Added to which, there was no Muslim (or Human Rights Defender) available to refute or problematize these claims that the Rohingya are Bengali migrants that present a demographic threat to the population. As such the programme backed up racist state discourses and lent them a legitimacy that they should not be given under the current extremely sensitive circumstances. You may be aware that currently new waves of anti-Muslim violence are hitting Rakhine State and Myanmar – against full citizens of Myanmar. Testament- if any were needed- to the fact that claims that immigration fuels violence are utter rubbish.

As to Ms Leonard’s point that,

Whilst the programme did refer to the Burmese Rohingyas, they were not its focus. Its purpose was to examine Buddhism and non-violence, using the example of what is happening in Myanmar. Until the very end of the first half, the discussion in the opening part of the programme was solely about whether violence is permitted in Buddhism generally.

May I point out that she has admitted herself that over half the programme was not about Buddhist scriptures but about racism and violence against Muslims in Myanmar, hence the inclusion of a human rights defender – who was not made available to refute the repetition of racist state propaganda by Soe Win Than – and Mr Soe Win Than who has no expertise in Buddhist scriptures beyond being a Buddhist himself. Rohingyas and “Bengalis” were referred to throughout the programme as they have borne the brunt of most of the violence. This lengthy discussion on violence against Muslims and Rohingya, which are part and parcel of the same thing, necessitates at least one Muslim voice in this day and age – surely! As such it is unacceptably biased.

As to your inclusion of the Human Rights Defender, Dr Maung Zarni, I think it would be fair to say that he was also outraged by set up of the programme which allowed the Rohingya to be portrayed as an Bengali immigration problem without refute – and with Mr Soe Win Than’s comments. There was also outrage registered on Dr Maung Zarni’s social media sites – such as this one an Open Society Institute human rights worker,

Regarding the program on Buddhism and violence: that was disgraceful journalism. You took as fact what your guest Soe Than said about the "Rohingya," who apparently don't exist as a people to him or to your host who blithely says they are Bengali migrants during one segment. I expect a great deal more of the BBC. This is a hugely sensitive issue, and you need to get your facts right. It's a shame that this program did not really delve into the violence being perpetrated by Buddhists in Burma and what that means for Burma and a religion founded (at least) on compassion and kindness.

And this one by a retired-director of one of the London Universities,

This was very much my own reaction. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Keep at it!

It is really important that the ways in which racist discourse against the Rohingya has become normalised, including in international media, is challenged as it is a foundation stone of the discrimination against them, which makes them “one of the most vulnerable groups in the world” (according to the UN.) I resent that the BBC is so dismissive of this issue. If one of the editors of BBC Burmese is able to repeat such racist propaganda without problematizing it, do you stop to wonder what they may be broadcasting in Burmese language? The Burmese language media is rife with hate-speech, as the BBC should know from their own experience of including Rohingya on a map of Myanmar. The BBC should be investigating the editorial line of BBC Burmese language service, not offering lackadaisical excuses for to their lazy reporting that serves to propagate ethnocidal discourses. As Dr Maung Zarni has pointed out, the programme producers had months in which to find a Rohingya or Myanmar Muslim speaker and they could have asked him at any point to recommend one.

I believe the BBC in getting their history and facts wrong and nonchalantly echoing the term “Benagali” without problematizing it, as though it is a legitimate term to refer to the Rohingya, is breaking the broadcasting code in the following areas: section 2 – Harm and Offense and Section 5 - Due impartiality and due accuracy and undue prominence of views and opinions. If the BBC complaints procedure is unable to address such an important issue with the seriousness it deserves, then I believe we – myself and Dr Maung Zarni – need to explore other avenues. It should not be left to stand. Whilst the listenership of Beyond Belief may not be huge, the international interest in the role of the media in social and state dimensions of racism in contemporary Myanmar is great. This matter should be addressed internally within the BBC.

If you require any further factual corrections please let either Dr Maung Zarni or myself know.



Please access the attached hyperlink for an important electronic communications disclaimer:

Report of the sentiments of the Rakhine Tai-Yin-Tha (Children of the soil, indigenous people) in Maungdaw district

Rakhine National Defence and Protection Organisation. October 9 1988. Maungdaw. 

30 page paper: Report of the sentiments of the Rakhine Tai-Yin-Tha (Children of the soil, indigenous people) in Maungdaw district. 

Addressed to: 

  • Senior General Saw Maung, Chairman of SLORC
  • Chair of Election Committee
  • Attorney General
  • Chief Justice
  • Home and Religious Affairs Minister
  • NLD Chairman (ex-Brigadier and 2nd in command under General Ne Win immediately after the coup in 1962, Aung Gyi, was the first Chairman of the NLD).

Lots of other political parties of the time. 

P19 and 20. 


Records instances where U Nu government recognised the Rohingya. Rakhines blame them for claiming Rohingya were part of the Tai-Yin-Tha (children of the soil, indigenous ethnic groups of Myanmar) 

The Ne Win and Sein Lwin government refused to recognise them – instead called the Bengali descendants. 

At the time of the 1982 citizenship act, there were protests by Rohingya. 

In 1951, there was a split between those who wanted to call themselves Rohingya and those who wanted to call themselves Arakan Muslims. 

At the time of the 1988 uprising, Rohingya attacked Rakhine villages. (details inconsistent). 

Mentions Dr Tun Aung as talking about protests to promote democratic rights of the Rohingya. Also mentions current Rohingya MP Shwe Maung as a Kalar who encouraged people to call themselves Rohingya. 


During the census of 1983, there were protests by the Rohingya about being forced to register as Rohingya. According to this document in 85 wards and 90 villages, immigration officials were forced to change the word Bengali into Rohingya on the registration documents. 

P24 “Based on the facts presented above regarding Maungdaw and Chittagonian Bengalis, all of them came only around 1852. Therefore we can say they have been here only about 100 years. If you compare one historical epoch, 100 years is nothing. Therefore it is unconscionable and unsuitable that they be given equal ethnic status as those that have been here before recorded history. Therefore we heartily welcome the 1982 citizenship act, primarily because the act discriminates against those who came later.” (paragraph 3 of the citizenship act). 

P 25 “There are no Rakhine Muslim. If someone says he is a Rakhine Muslim, he is lying out of the motive to enjoy ethnic equality with Tai-Yin-Tha.” 

The Muslim Justice Minister Rashid from the 1950s was blamed with issuing IDs to Muslims in 1958-9. 

Rohingyas are accused of campaigning for a separate Muslim province with the help of foreign supporters. 

Recommendations/Demands (these are direct quotes but only of important bits) 

a) 1982 citizenship act and this organisation’s analysis. 
b) Legalised discrimination and limitation of their rights 

“As long as they (the Bengalis) are allowed to live legally here, they will pursue their grand strategic goal of building the bridge between Bangladesh and Malaysia via Burma and Thailand, and the two countries (Burma and Thailand) will be Islamasized. So therefore we need to prevent Burma from becoming an Islamic State through the adoption of systematic projects and campaigns” 

10 solutions: 

1) Identify pure Tai-Yin-Tha to be given priority in respect to citizenship 
2) If they are not pure citizens there ought to be different classifications of citizenship. 
3) Those who are not full citizens should have their movements limited in accordance with the 1868 Foreigners Act. 
4) All illegal buildings on current farmlands need to be demolished. The private property act can be used for this purpose. 
5) No one who is not a full-blooded citizen should be allowed immovable property 
6) Limit the access and opportunities for study and professional subjects and higher education. 
7) Construction permits for mosques and teaching of Arabic language should be limited. 
8) Either monogamy or population control needs to be adopted. 
9) Other necessary restrictions and limits ought to be adopted as pre-emptive controls. 
10) Buthidaung and Maungdaw should be administered separately (from the rest of Rakhine State) and there should be different laws to support this. 

The above mentioned recommendations will be tantamount to the partial violation of human right. However for the Tai-Yin-Tha and citizens full human rights ought to be guaranteed and democratic opportunities provided. Even in democratic rights we should not be generous. We must bring in new laws to limit these rights. 

These Bengalis are late comers therefore there needs to be different categories of citizens – guest citizens, questionable citizens, pending citizens and naturalised citizens. 

These are the realities and sentiments of the Rakhine citizens. If the state is unable to meet these requests/demands the western gate of Burma will be broken and the fate of Maungdaw will fall into the hands of the Bengalis and the danger of Bengalis entering into Burma proper will increase.

A Public Complaint to Chris Patten: BBC Radio Four Echoes Myanmar's anti-Rohingya Racism

A public complaint Ref. CAS-2274826-2NBV1N

BBC Radio Four and BBC Burmese News Editor for echoing, rather than analyzing, Burma's Anti-Rohingya Racism

Chris Pattern
BBC Trust
180 Great Portland Street
London, W1W 5QZ

Date: 11 October 2013

Dear Lord Pattern,

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur! 

The last time I saw you was at Gareth Evans’ book launch of his“Responsibility to Protect”, at the IISS in 2008.

With Burma now being a ‘R2P concern’, to use Evans’ characterization of my country in his book, I am writing to you in order to publicly register my grave concerns about the racist and professionally sub-standard ways in which the issue of the Rohingya ethnic cleansing and the rise in anti-Muslim violence in Burma was presented on the BBC’s Beyond Faith: Violence and Buddhismbroadcast live at 16:30 hr on 19 Aug 2013, by the two BBC journalists involved in the programme (see the programme here:

My own contribution as a professional researcher and dissident to the live discussion was in the form of a pre-recorded clip, and I was hence in no position to point out, correct or otherwise rebut any verifiably false information which was packaged as ‘expert analysis’ or ‘considered opinion’.

There were a number of issues which were disturbing about the aforementioned Radio Four Burma episode. However, I wish to draw your attention to two most crucial problems in the way in which the radio discussion was organized, the content (information and misinformation) the programme conveyed and the message it sent to millions of British – and international audiences. 

First, the live broadcast publicly reinforced, amplified and rationalized Burma’s popular and state-mobilized anti-Rohingya racism – that there is a “well-founded fear” of Rohingya population growth. In fact, this narrative is simply one side of the same coin the other side of which frames the Rohinga as a threat to local Buddhist Rakhine population and the country’s predominant Buddhism and her national security. During the programme, the twofold issue of the securitization and illegalization of the Rohingya was carried out by none other than the BBC Burmese service editor Mr Soe Win Than, a participant in the live discussion. During the Radio Four’s Burma episode, the BBC Burmese editor was repeating Burmese government’s racist propaganda, and calling the state-mobilized ethno-nationalist fear among the majority Buddhist Burmese "well-founded", without refuting or problematising it.

This empirically false perception of the Rohingya as ‘illegal Bengali’ from the neighbouring Bangladesh is a product of the country’s successive military Governments since the second phase of General Ne Win’s autocratic rule in the late 1970’s. It is also the view the Islamophobic public at large, which generally is exceedingly critically of the Burmese military leaders and the State institution, have embraced at face value out of the country’s popular anti-Muslim racism. 

It is one thing that the Burmese public, which are still reeling from the legacy of half-century of live under an extremely illiberal and racist military leaderships, holding deeply racist worldviews about the entire community of Islam, namely Muslims of Burma and by extension the Rohingya Muslims. However, it is a different matter altogether, when a senior BBC broadcaster who has been with the BBC World Service Burmese Program for more than 10 years, working in the heart of London to approvingly air this popular racism on the BBC’s flagship Radio Four.

Second, on her part, the producer Liz Leonard went on to officially back up her BBC Burmese colleague Soe Win Than’s verifiably false narrative about the Rohiongya peoples, without doing her homework to see if the fellow BBC journalist was presenting the independently-sourced facts or simply reciting the ‘facts and figures’ released by the Government of Myanmar. As you know Burma’s military-controlled government’s reputation rests not on truth-telling but its lies, misinformation and distortions about the country’s budget, ethnic make-up, rape, child soldiers, revenues, political prisoners, and so on. 

Here is the Radio 4’s Beyond Belief producer in her own exact words:

"Soe Win Than’s comments about Rohingya Muslims were all commentary on the situation in the country, backed up with figures and were discussion of the position of the state and people, rather than his own views. For example, when he says “well-founded fear” he is referring to figures about Rakhine townships and that “originally there were more Rakhine people but now 95% of the population is Rohingyas, or Bengalis there."

Both US President Barack Obama and UK’s Speaker of the House of Commons Mr John Bercow chose to address the Rohingya by the latter’s own chosen ethnic identity during their public speeches at Rangoon University in Nov 2012 and July 2013 respectively. In fact, the British Speaker of the House was emphatic when he denounced calling the Rohingya ‘Bengali’ as ‘racist, racist, and racist’. 

The word Bengali is a proud label for many a sons and daughters of the soil of Bengal including the late Rabindranath Tagore, as well as my good Bengali friends Amartya Sen and Gayatri Chakrovorty Gayatri. But, it is used in the Burmese context, as a part of a national discursive strategy to convey falsely the ‘foreignness’ and ‘illegality’ of their cultural and ethnic identity. 

As such, the word Bengali is experienced by the Rohingya as a deeply racist term, providing justification for mis- and inhumane treatment of these people. Various law enforcement agencies including police, police special branch, local security units, and so on have in fact punched, kicked and otherwise inflicted physical pains on the Rohingya who refuse to accept the label ‘Bengali’ as their ethnic identity, according to our interviews with scores of Rohingya refugees in Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Australia, Europe, and USA.

Against this backdrop, my English researcher colleague who listened to the programme live on-line, was so “outraged” by the decidedly racist overtone of Soe Win Than’s intervention in the Burma discussion that she left a formal complaint for the BBC to review at the BBC official website immediately following the live programme’s broadcast on 19 August. (I am attaching her exchange with the BBC herewith).

In fact, she was not alone in her outrage. Professor Geoff Whitty, former Director of the Institute of Education (IOE), U. of London, emailed me the next day when he saw my own negative on-line reaction to the Radio Four’s live program. (As you may know Geoff is the younger brother of your fellow peer Lord Whitty). 

In Geoff’s words: "This was very much my own reaction. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Keep at it!"

Just as the producer Ms Leonard had more than 6-weeks to find a real, authentic Muslim voice, preferably Myanmar Muslim or a Rohingya Muslim – there are plenty of Muslim refugees and migrants in greater London from Burma – , she could easily have done some on-line research in order to fact-check “the well-founded fear” of Rohingya population, before officially, and simply, repeating Soe Win Than’s ‘facts and figures’. BBC Burmese journalist sourced his facts evidently in Burma’s official Rakhine Violence Inquiry Commission, which is widely considered among Burma human rights researchers and country experts as a whitewash.

In fact, there are various, credible and independent sources of demographic statistics pertaining to the Rohingya issues. I am not going to go into details about the population statistics here. My research colleague has provided a detailed rebuttal to Radio Four producer’s professionally incompetent defence of both her Burma episode and her fellow BBC journalist, Mr Soe Win Than. 

In our 3-year joint research, our 2-members team have concluded that Burma’s systematic, inhumane treatment at the hands of successive military governments since Ne Win’s latter years in 1978 is very well in the twin-category of a genocide and an “ethnocide, a cultural variant of genocide”, to borrow an insight offered by Samantha Powers, the Pulitzer Prize winning academic author of “A Message from Hell: America in the Age of Genocides” and now the US Permanent Representative to the UN. 

We are not alone in viewing the persecution of the Rohingya – and now the widening campaign of violence against all Muslims of Burma – through the valid lens of genocide/ethnocide.

One of the foremost scholars in the field of genocide studies Professor Gregory Stanton of George Mason University in Virgina, USA and President of the Genocide Watch, have reached his own professional conclusion – that the Rohingya are undergoing a slow-cooking process of genocide.

We are all aware that neither the ‘great powers’ nor Aung San Suu Kyi are said to have any appetite for calling the 35-years of the Rohingya persecution by its proper name – genocide - for their own divergent reasons. 

I did not and do not expect that the BBC will step in and take up the cause of the Rohingya people. But I did expect the BBC to uphold high journalistic standards, which were clearly spelled out in your BBC Trust official report “A BBC Trust Review of the Breadth of Opinion Reflected in the BBC’s Output (released just last month July 2013; Accessed 20 Aug 2013 . 

My complaint is more than an act of disappointment by a listener and sometime contributor to the BBC programs, including Radio Four. I am gravely concerned that the BBC with its global reach and influence is broadcasting racist views and less-than-factual information which have become a discursive foundation for the state-sponsored ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Rohingya people whom the United Nations quite rightly calls “friendless” and “one of the world’s most vulnerable peoples”.

If the high standards BBC Radio Four is found to be broadcasting verifiably racist program with poorly sourced content then I think it is highly likely that the BBC Burmese Service caters to the millions of anti-Rohingya Burmese viewers with their typically anti-Muslim views may be putting racist slants on its Burma news, discussions and other Burmese language programmes regarding the plight of the Rohingya in particular and the Muslim affairs in general. 

With Burmese editors at the Burmese Service who do not problematize the now world-infamous “Buddhist” racism and who do not care to independently source the Rohingya-relevant ‘facts and figures’ other than the official government reports and pronouncement, I sincerely request an independent evaluation of the BBC World Service Burmese language broadcasts with specific respect to the Rohingya and the anti-Muslim violence since the anti-Rohingya pogroms broke up in June 2012, which left hundreds of mainly Rohingya deaths and over 150,000 Rohingyas displaced.

I genuinely do not think that the British license fee payers and the public at large should be funding programs that verifiably end up reinforcing, amplifying and justifying the framing of the Rohingya as a threat to Burma’s national security, Buddhist face and local ‘races’. For all genocidal acts begin with framing the Cultural and Ethnic Others as ‘an enemy’ ‘an existential threat’, ‘viruses’, ‘snakes’ and so on.

Finally, I am sending copies of this public complaint to the individuals and organizations that have expressed publicly their deep concerns for the Rohingya people.

Thank you very much.

With my warm personal regards,

Maung Zarni
Visiting Fellow, Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, LSE 


  • Amartya Sen, Thomas A. Lamont University Professor, and Professor of Economics and Philosophy, Harvard University & Honorary Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford
  • Geoff Whitty, Professor and former Director, Institute of Education, University of London
  • Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor, Columbia University, New York
  • Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor, MIT
  • Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
  • John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, UK
  • Gregory Stanton, Research Professor, George Mason University & President, Genocide Watch
  • William Schabas, Professor of International Law, Middlesex University & National University of Ireland at Galway
  • Desmond Tutu, S. Africa
  • His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibet
  • Sulak Sivaraksa, International Network of Engaged Buddhists
  • Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former Prime Minister, Malaysia 
  • Youk Chhang, Cambodia Documentation Center
  • Michael Chertoff, Chair, the Committee on Conscience, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and former Secretary of Homeland Security, USA
  • Barack Hussein Obama, US President
  • John Kerry, US Secretary of State
  • Derek Mitchell, US Ambassador to Burma, Rangoon
  • Andrew Patrick, UK Ambassador to Burma, Rangoon

Interview with UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar

Tomás Ojea Quintana (Photo: UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

October 24, 2013

BUENOS AIRES - Myanmar’s government has signed individual ceasefire agreements with 14 main non-state armed groups since 2011, and is pressing ahead with plans for a national ceasefire agreement, originally scheduled for the end of October, but now delayed. The most recent round of negotiations with northern Myanmar's Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) brought further hope of nationwide reconciliation

But the government faces ongoing tension in western Rakhine State between ethnic Rakhines (primarily Buddhist) and Rohingyas (mostly Muslims), continued fighting in Kachin State which in the past year has left more than 83,000 people displaced in 42 camps, and allegations of human rights abuses against the country’s ethnic minorities. 

Following his most recent mission to Myanmar in August 2013, IRIN met Tomás Ojea Quintana , the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, in his home city of Buenos Aires, to discuss the prospects for a nationwide ceasefire; segregation in Rakhine State, and allegations of army or police brutality against Rohingyas, as well as the implications of the transition to democracy for the country’s ethnic minorities. 

IRIN: Given the history of broken ceasefires between non-state armed groups and the Myanmar government, what assurance is there of lasting peace with the latest round of peace talks? 

Quintana: Now what is totally different is that it is a civilian government in transition to a democracy. As a human rights rapporteur, I would not say that it is a democracy yet. Democracy will take a long time. But it is a civilian government that is progressively gaining respect, particularly from Western countries. 

This respect has given the civilian government some kind of [room for] manoeuvre to have this discussion with the ethnic armed groups [to disarm], which is of course very important [for the peace process]. 

The ethnic groups, all of them, have reservations about where this might go in terms of lasting peace, in terms of receiving the benefits from development, and in terms of their participation in the exploitation of natural resources. 

They have reservations in terms of the political structure of the country, which currently does not [allow] ethnic groups the participation they would like to have [in governing themselves], and regarding their [own political autonomy]. 

Nonetheless the government has signed [peace deals] with most of the NSA [non-state actor] groups. There is only one group, the Kachin, the KIA [Kachin Independence Army], which is still holding conversations. They have recently signed an agreement... which is not exactly a ceasefire... but it goes in that direction. 

And now, after my last mission [in August 2013]... I talked to the president and [his] advisers who are in charge of the peace process and they are planning to hold a national ceasefire agreement by October 2013. 

IRIN: How would a national ceasefire differ from individual ceasefires? 

Quintana: It will be a very important message to the international community that all [of] Myanmar is united towards the very important objective of peace. A lot of pressure is being put on the KIA [to sign]. 

The problem... is how these ceasefires will be implemented on the ground and how they will reflect the interests of all the villagers living in remote areas. We don't see a comprehensive plan to implement these decisions. For example, one of the issues is what will happen to the [Burmese] refugees in Thailand? If you were a refugee would you want to go back? 

There is no transparency, no plans [for implementation]. Nobody knows about the problem of the landmines, the problems with the land. There is a lot of land confiscation. It is a really serious problem how to move from a ceasefire - from stopping the bullets from flying - to something different, to build a united country. That is still very difficult and will take a long time. 

IRIN: What are the barriers in Kachin State, the only place where the government has not reached an agreement with rebels? 

Quintana: It is not clear. The KIA allegations are that the military is not actually following the decisions of the civilian president and there is still a militarization in the area, which they won't accept. The Kachin community in particular has a strong stance on the possibility for [it] to run [its] own businesses in Kachin State [instead of competing with the military for business and income]. 

The government, though, is not opening up any spaces for these kinds of issues to be included in the dialogue so far. That is why it has been quite difficult to reach an agreement. 

IRIN: How representative are non-state armed groups of people in their communities? 

Quintana: That’s a difficult question because there is not a formal democracy and no formal electoral process, so how do you say to what extent they are representative. 

What I have that ordinary people in villages really don't understand and don't believe that ceasefires and peace processes will bring concrete benefits to them. That is a problem. The leaders of ethnic groups need to have better connections with their own people.

And the same with the refugees. When you talk to the refugees about returning and the information they have in respect to what is going on in Myanmar, they don't know. They don't trust. They still fear a lot. It seems that the ethnic leaders need more work in this respect. 

At the same time, the people and the ethnic army leaders have faced oppression from the military regime for decades and that is very, very tough to lead, and to recover from that, and to try to [be] more organized with your communities is not easy. 

IRIN: What can be done to engage communities more in peace talks? 

Quintana: The government and the ethnic leaders are doing a lot... to settle the problems at the top, at the highest levels. But they need to involve the communities in a more widespread and comprehensive plan of action. You don't see the communities being involved. And that has been the practice in Myanmar for decades. I mean that is how the military operated... giving instructions and expecting instructions to be implemented - period - without consulting. It’s part of a historical problem in Myanmar. It is still there. 

IRIN: And what about the Rakhine commission established by the Myanmar government? What are your thoughts on its recommendations on ways to prevent violence?

Quintana: They [the commission] never addressed what happened - the human rights abuses. This is a clear shortcoming and it is one of my concerns. And I am calling for the [UN Human Rights Council] to continue to address this. The allegations of what happened are very serious. Widespread human rights abuses, torture of hundreds of prisoners in Buthidaung [a prison in Rakhine State holding an estimated 1,000 Rohingyas], a place I have visited, and the government has not done anything about that. The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical.

IRIN: What is the potential of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help mitigate what is now a regional crisis

Quintana: ASEAN countries don't want to get involved. Based on the non-interference provision of ASEAN charter, they do not want to interfere. There is no potential [for ASEAN] as a regional mechanism [to pressure the Myanmar government to resolve the conflict]. I tried many times to address ASEAN, to let them know they have an important role to play... It is becoming a regional, not a national problem. 

IRIN: Is the government putting any foundation in place to allow Rohingyas to return to their homes in northern Rakhine State? 

Quintana: No... The original places of the Rohingyas are being used for some other purposes by the government. 

IRIN: How can the humanitarian community support shelter for the displaced? 

Quintana: There is a dilemma because the [displaced] people still need access to humanitarian aid. So if you do not provide that because you say you do not agree with [the government’s] policies of making settlements permanent, then you are not delivering the aid. So you have a problem there. And the humanitarian agencies or donors try not to get involved in the political arena of a country. 

IRIN: What are the risks of long-term segregation of Buddhists and Rohingyas, where government- monitored encampment have cut displaced Rohingyas from their land and livelihoods? 

Quintana: It's going to be a disaster because many of the areas that you can look into in respect to the Rohingyas, how Rohingyas are treated, you always see obstacles, limitations, and intentions to not help them at all. 

IRIN: What role can civil society play in reconciliation? 

Quintana: I hope they are included as participants in the implementation of the [ceasefire] agreement. That is the role they need to play but that is the role that their own leaders need to address with them [ethnic communities]. The[se communities’] leaders need to say that they want their own people to be involved. 

My job as a rapporteur is to say, ‘You are an ethnic general of armed forces. I understand... you have been fighting for years against your army. But now you need to play some other role and let your people participate.’ It will take time… 

[During my] last mission my convoy was attacked by Buddhist mobs [where I was addressing the issue of communal violence]. And the police stood by so it was kind of planned somehow... It was more than tense. I was frightened. But I am still holding the mandate [as Myanmar's special rapporteur on human rights]. 

Part 3: A class above, the heaven-born

By Maung Zarni

Military-controlled regimes in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, have gone through various incarnations since General Ne Win's initial military takeover of 1962. With a favorable ideological climate, intellectual and academic justification, political and diplomatic recognition, and strong Western material support, the stage was set for Ne Win's military, the Tatmadaw, to tread its chosen path without accountability - a course it has maintained to the present. 

With ties to and assistance from the US military and West Germany's state-owned arms manufacturer Fritz Werner, for decades the military has engaged in what might be termed "selective professionalization". The Tatmadaw upgraded its organizational and technical capacities, but when it came to professionalizing its relations with civilian institutions vital to forging a modern political state out of a myriad of multi-ethnic communities, it shunned democratic civilian leadership. 

Some 60 years ago generals, brigadiers, colonels, and commanding officers felt disdainful towards "inefficient" and "talkative" democratic politicians. During the country's parliamentary democracy period immediately following independence (1948-58), a young captain would typically assume "attention" position upon entering the office of a civilian township administrative officer. If a military officer violated the general civil law of the land, he would be liable for prosecution at a court of law in the politically independent judiciary. 

Today, Myanmar's military class feels that they are a cut above the rest of society, the Burmese equivalent of the "heaven-born". The military now plays judge, jury and prosecutor within the legal system which it doesn't observe itself. Constitutionally, the military is governed by its own set of laws, norms and regulations. These take precedent over any other legal frameworks and no military personnel, past and present, may be prosecuted for deeds which they have engaged in while discharging their duties. 

In short, civil laws do not apply to military personnel. For its part, the Burmese public has come to despise the once honorable military, both its leadership and institutional power base. The public knows that the military as an institution has become a class in and of itself. From their formative years as cadets in the country's defense academies, two successive generations of officer corps, numbering in the thousands, have been subject to an intense and sustained indoctrination process designed to make them think, feel and act as a distinct nationalist class. It thinks and acts as if it were the natural ruler of the people. 

The most important of all officers' training schools is the Defense Services Academy (DSA) at Pyin Oo Lwin (formerly May Myo, British colonial era summer station) whose alumni now occupy virtually all important positions in the military, including the most powerful Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces as well as other civilian organs of the state, such as the cabinet and the various line ministries which it runs. 

Since the DSA's inception at the then newly built Bahtoo military town in Shan State in 1955, it has undergone significant changes, both quantitatively and qualitatively. It has been massively expanded in terms of the number of graduates it produces in a single batch. Its original motto for the officer-cadets was circumspect, professional and modest: "Future Victorious Warriors for the Country". Today the DSA instills in thousands of young cadets between the ages of 16 and 21 a new ethos, with a stated aim of training "The Future Ruling Elites of the Nation". 

In the early years, the academic curriculum was developed and managed by civilian academics in various arts and science fields, with the aim of instilling due respect for the civilian public, modesty, love of truth, fairness, honor, and national duty in graduating soldiers. The military curriculum was developed by Burmese graduates of Britain's Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and US staff and command colleges. 

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were no more than 50 officer cadets graduating annually from the DSA. Upon graduation they would be assigned to three different branches of the Armed Forces (Infantry, Navy and Air Force). Towards the end of the first military dictatorship of General Ne Win in 1988, about 120 officer cadets graduated in a single in-take. The military was 125,000-strong in 1988, while the country's population was estimated to be about 26 million. 

By 2011, its graduating class was somewhere between 2,000 - 3,000. In 2010, the country's military was estimated to be nearly half-a-million strong, making it Southeast Asia's largest military after Vietnam. The total population of the country doubled in the two decades since the collapse of Ne Win's rule in 1988 (and that of the Beijing-backed insurgent Burmese Communist Party a year later), while the country's armed forces grew 400%. 

In 2011, 24% of the country's national budget was reportedly earmarked for the military, compared with 4% for education and 1.3% for health services. In addition, bypassing its own military-controlled Parliament, the military leadership declared the establishment of the extra-legal, supra-Constitutional National Defense Fund (NDF). An unspecified amount of state funds is stored at the NDF, which authorizes the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces as the only state official with access to its resources. It is effectively unanswerable to any organization or individual. 

Cost of the coffin

The Burmese problem is not simply the country's successive ruling cliques of generals aggrandizing themselves at the expense of the public. Those Burmese who grew up hearing the hope-filled speculation that things would get better once Ne Win's reign was over are no longer fooled by this once-the-old-guards-are-gone buzz. As the Burmese saying goes, "Once you have been dead you know the cost of the coffin." 

The old generation of nationalist soldiers, including Ne Win, left intact a process of distinct class formation with recognizably feudal features - minus the old cultural and customary constraints of the Indic moral guidelines for conduct of rulers. Nearly 70 years since its founding by Aung San, the Tatmadaw officer corps, and the soldiering class as a whole, have come to view themselves as a cut above the predominantly agrarian masses. This ruling military class has effectively set the political clock back to the country's feudal past. 

Naypyidaw has belatedly jumped on the global bandwagon of free marketization and privatization, though with distinct Burmese characteristics. Under the banner of privatization, public assets (land, forests, immovable infrastructure such as office buildings, power industries) are being divided among the families of senior and junior generals, as well as their cronies who, inter alia, serve as the generals' portfolio managers. 

With all these signs of bountiful state-sponsored cronyism, the country's soldiering class has taken an increasingly kleptocratic turn, a throw-back to the old feudal days in which the monarch and his men "ate" the kingdom in terms of land, labor, and natural resources. The Burmese have a wonderfully descriptive term for this type of phenomenon: "Hungry hounds stumbling on a pagoda feast." 

Ne Win and his men deliberately set in motion the revolutionary process of class formation, revolutionary in the sense that the military that was originally created by, of, and for the people no longer sees itself as part of the people. It is now a class of the "heaven-born", entitled to rule, not simply govern, the country in accord with the needs, concerns and interests of senior and junior generals. 

All these men began their military careers as cadets or other ranks pledging before every meal the mantra, "We pledge our allegiance to the country that feeds us." As a class, they have failed to uphold this cardinal pledge, acting instead with blind obedience to frequent and indiscriminate "shoot to kill" orders against various segments of society - monks or Muslims, Bama or Karen, farmers or laborers, young or old. 

The military has drifted away from a sense of gratitude to the country and honor to serve the people towards institutional/class allegiance and personal loyalty towards the chief. It is telling that when some ex-military officers who publish their biographies (ex-Brigadier General Tin Swe and ex-Lieutenant General Gen Tun Kyi, for instance) describe not the people but the armed forces as their "surrogate parents". 

This is a fundamental regression with dire national consequences, as the military as an institution and the soldiering class no longer serves or defends the people from any enemy, including unscrupulous military leaders. In the process, the Tatmadaw has established its own economic base and interests, fostered a distinct class consciousness informed by their own sense of superiority vis-a-vis the rest of society, and wrote its own radical revisionist history where the military is the sole national liberator and guardian of the nation. 

Military re-feudalization

Since 1988, a re-feudalization of the country's military class and political culture distinguishes the present phase of class formation from Ne Win's previous socialist revolutionary military rule. The process has paradoxically removed any cultural or traditional constraints on governmental conduct, including the once conditioned belief in honor as a warrior, as well as the Indic code and notions of the "righteous ruler", who is said to possess, among other things, compassion, wisdom, integrity, sacrifice, and fairness. 

It has led to the creation of a crony capitalist economy via a pool of its own economic agents, better known as "cronies"; class consolidation and reproduction through a combined policy of setting aside a high percentage of admission slots in military academies exclusively for the army-bred, and of careful screening of family backgrounds of officers and their spouses, especially for influential posts within the military; and, last but not least, the widespread practice of active participation of the wives of military officers in intra-military and political affairs, including the hiring and firing of deputies for their husbands and managing the flow of bribes and business deals.

Some of the more superficial acts of re-feudalization of the military and the state include former junta leader Senior General Than Shwe's and his family's well-known royal pretensions, whereby family members are known to address one another using the arcane language of the long-gone feudal courts and which today is spoken only in the Burmese theatre. 

Than Shwe built a brand new capital, Naypyidaw, and named it and all its residential quarters and streets auspicious-sounding old royal names selected from Buddhist Jartaka tales. At Naypyidaw, Than Shwe required comically obsequious gestures and demeanors from all subordinate members of the bureaucracy, military and society. For instance, subordinates, their spouses and families are required to get down on their knees, even in informal gatherings, and abide by the royal protocol of subordinates speaking only when spoken to in the presence of their military superiors. 

During the 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster, victims were instructed by military officials to greet Than Shwe and other generals during their propaganda journeys to the storm-ravaged Irrawaddy Delta, as if they were Boddhiisattva, or would-be-Buddhas. Military-led re-feudalization has gone to comic extremes, as the scenes of Burmese citizens kowtowing to these military men of vainglory becomes more and more commonplace. 

To paraphrase the late Ernest Gellner, a Cambridge anthropologist and noted author of "Nationalism", in feudal societies it is power that generates wealth, not the other way round. Economically, Than Shwe whetted, and subsequently unleashed, the economic appetites of other senior and junior officers. 

As a point of departure from Ne Win's military regime, which pushed out a large number of alien commercial and technical elements from the economy (for instance, 300,000 Indians) with its catastrophic economic nationalization scheme, Than Shwe and his deputies have strategically chosen to build and expand the military's economic and commercial base. In so doing, they have resorted to nepotistic practices which involve patronizing only the army-bred, ex-military officers and business-minded civilians who have unquestioningly embraced the primacy of the military class. 

The best known case is Tay Za, Myanmar's wealthiest and most influential tycoon with close personal ties to Than Shwe's family, who also serves as the military's principal arms-dealer. A son of a former deputy of Brigadier Maung Maung, who was the chief architect of the military's institutional developments including the establishment of military and defense academies in the immediate post-independence years, Tay Za was himself a cadet at the DSA in the early 1980s. 

He was expelled from the academy for violating the then strict code of conduct for cadets. Aung Thet Mann and Toe Nay Mann, the two sons of Thura Shwe Mann, until recently the regime's third-ranking general and now Speaker of the military's newly established parliament, have also joined the country's top 10 most influential and richest "businessmen". 

The famous tycoon Zaygaba Khin Shwe, a close friend of former prime minister General Khin Nyunt, who headed the powerful military intelligence until his demise in a 2004 purge, also served with the Army Engineering Corps during Ne Win's rule. Khin Shwe is now a member of the military-controlled parliament representing the regime's Union Solidarity and Development Party, while his daughter is married to one of Shwe Mann's sons. 

President Thein Sein, for his part, is known to hold major shares in Skynet, the country’s most popular TV network. The company is fronted by ethnic Kokant businessman Shwe Than Lwin Kyaw Win, a nephew of the late drug lord Lo Sing Han. Than Shwe’s family owns Myawaddy TV, the sole TV network established exclusively for the armed forces personnel and their families. 

There are lesser known cronies who are army-bred and thus army-backed, (for instance, Hla Maung Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Center and Myanmar Egress, a local nongovernmental organization which the regime has used as its "civil society" proxy. It is, without a doubt that these men, and many others like them, owe their personal fortunes to military rule and the generals . 

Hijacked nation

In exchange for their entrepreneurial services to this growing military class, of which they have long been an integral part, the ruling junta has allowed the nouveau riche to exploit the country and its resources. Recently, Yuzana Htay Myint, another in-house businessman, has been permitted to take over 100,000 acres in the ancestral land of the Kachin minority in the northern most part of Myanmar. It was originally designated by the regime as a national wildlife sanctuary. 

In his otherwise insightful analysis titled "The Future of Tatmadaw's Political Role in Myanmar: Prospects and Problems," Maung Aung Myo, an army-bred former lecturer at Myanmar's National Defence College, observed that the Tatmadaw has been "hijacked by a small group of generals" for their own personal aggrandizement. Upon closer examination, it is really a case of intra-class symbiosis where juniors and seniors divide their ill-gotten gains at the expense of the citizenry. If anything has been hijacked, it is the country and its future that has been stolen away by its own soldiers. 

In feudal systems of the country's bygone eras, all the king's men served at the monarch's pleasure, and they rose and fell, lived and died, precariously. This scenario has been re-enacted in Than Shwe's Myanmar and in Ne Win's Burma, as the country was then known. Whimsically, these despots carried out large scale purges, for instance, the purge of military intelligence under the directorship of Brigadier Tin Oo in 1983 and the ousting of Khin Nyunt and the dissolution of the entire Directorate of the Defense Services Intelligence in 2004. 

Consequently, military officers, as well as other ranks, have opted to optimize their administrative and political authorities by translating them quickly into riches through bribery, big and small, while in office. To get rich quick was indeed glorious for Deng's China post-Chairman Mao Zedong. But in Than Shwe's Myanmar, "eating" as much of the country as fast as possible may not be glorious, not at least in the eyes of the traditional pious Buddhist population, but it has become the wisest and most strategic course of action for virtually all military officers who are clever enough to recognize that theirs is a class kleptocracy. Only the naive remain moral in this new thoroughly feudalized military class. 

Since the early 1990s, the Ministry of Defense has taken over state-owned enterprises and re-established them as "private" businesses owned solely by the Tatmadaw. The military now has its hand in virtually every economic pie, ranging from poultry farms, small factories, real estate, tourism, transportation, construction, rental of regimental facilities, shipping, power, banking, export and import, agriculture, energy and mining. Virtually no business entity of commercial significance can operate without being linked to the military, institutionally or to individual commanders, thereby bringing the entire economy under the Tatmadaw's effective control. 

Unlike Ne Win's socialist military government, the current regime does not alienate commercial elites. Instead, the generals have made local entrepreneurs work for military rule through an evolving economic and political symbiosis. In this new arrangement, which harks back to the old monarchical days of commercial and trade monopolies, the military has learned to patronize the economic class for its own benefit. 

Than Shwe has effectively leveraged the twin pervasive elements of greed and anxiety about the soldiering class's future, encompassing both the officer corps and emerging crony capitalists. Internationally, Than Shwe knows well how to dangle the possibility of economic liberalization before foreign investors and venture capitalists who view Myanmar primarily as "the world's last economic frontier". Western governments and corporations have tripped over themselves in recent bidding for telecommunications and other infrastructure and resource-related concessions. 

Only time will tell whether the forces of the free market will overpower Myanmar's ruling soldiering class. Unlike the military in Indonesia, the Philippines and Turkey, Myanmar's military is marching backward along feudal lines. The Tatmadaw is consolidating its class hold on society, economy and polity, while at the same time trumpeting "democracy and free market", which they know resonates well in Western ears. 

During the formative years of post-independence, the pro-capitalist West had looked at Myanmar's regressive evolution only through the self-serving lens of the Cold War and thus hailed soldiers as "modernizers". Western concerns then were the containment of anti-market Maoist and Soviet influences. Sixty three years later, post-Cold War Western governments and their affiliated interests are now bent on overlooking not only the military’s war crimes against ethnic minorities, but also the general's attempts to build a military apartheid, wherein the military and its commercial, technocratic and ethnic proxies rule over the bulk of the population as a class above, as the heaven-born. 

Maung Zarni ( is a Visiting Fellow at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics. A former admit to Myanmar's Military Officers' Training Corp (1980), he hails from an extended military family. He has worked with three separate heads of the military's intelligence service from 2004-8 as an initiator of Track II negotiations.

This article was originally published here

Part 2: Fascist roots, rewritten histories

By Maung Zarni

This is the second article in a three-part series.

One of the best known historical facts about Myanmar's armed forces is that it was originally the product of fascist Japan's military strategy to recruit, train and arm local nationalist elements in Asia against British and Allied forces during World War II. 

Subbas Chandra Bose of the Congress Party and Aung San of the Burma Freedom Bloc, the respective founders of the Indian Independence Army (IIA) and the Burma Independence Army (BIA), both rose to prominence under Japan's strategic patronage. While Tokyo's efforts at using the IIA as its local proxy to repel the British out of the Indian sub-continent ultimately failed, Japan's sway over the nationalists they trained and armed to become the nucleus of the BIA was successful but short-lived in the country then known as Burma. 

It was only three years, from 1942-45, before the Burmese turned against the Japanese. Upon entering and replacing British colonial rule with its own military occupation, Tokyo reneged on its promise to grant independence in exchange for local assistance to its war effort under the fascist banner of "Asia for Asians". 

The original Burmese admiration for Japan as the most dominant non-European global power was based primarily on its military victory in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. But 40 years after its victory over Tsarist Russia, Japan had not only lost its political and military independence to the United States but also its standing in the eyes of the Burmese. 

Despite the special psychological ties with its former Burmese military proxies, which some Japanese veterans maintained decades after World War II ended, Japan's influence over the Myanmar military was minimal after the humiliation of its "total surrender" to the United States and Allied Forces in August 1945. 

Even if Japanese veterans aspired to revive old military ties, it would have been inconceivable under Japan's US-imposed constitution, which barred Tokyo from maintaining its own national armed forces. Instead, Burmese nationalists, both civilians and their military comrades, looked to the new victors, namely the US, as a source of support and new great power inspiration. 

The Cold War indelibly shaped Myanmar's military as a standing armed organization, as did developments outside the military's institutional boundaries. These included relations and competition with other constitutive elements of the new modern state, including political parties, business and commercial elites, autonomy or independence-minded ethnic minority groups, and an armed communist resistance movement. 

While the civilian democratic government of U Nu was a prominent player in the then newly hatched Non-Aligned Movement, military leaders such as Brigadier Maung Maung, a personal staff officer assigned to Aung San during the Japanese occupation period, were developing ties with and seeking support from the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK. They sought outside assistance specifically for the military's expansion, qualitative upgrades of its weaponry, and the build-up of a human resource base of cadets and officers. 

As powerful head of the Directorate of Military Training (DMT), Maung Maung was hugely influential in shaping a new generation of military officers as he presided over the founding of both the military's most prestigious Defense Services Academy (DSA) and most advanced staff college, the National Defense College (NDC), in the mid-1950s. Many members of the faculty in these institutions were drawn from Burmese graduates of Britain's Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and the US's Staff and Command Colleges. 

The fact that the military, then under the leadership of commanders and directors who received their training from the Japanese, made a conscious decision to model the military's command structures, its human resource development and intelligence training on the United States' military discounts explanations of the institution's current unseemly conduct on its original links to fascist Japan. 

For its part, the US more or less embraced mildly socialist, nationalist civilian politicians such as U Nu, Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein - all of whom were staunchly anti-Communist and lead efforts to squash underground and above-ground communist movements. Even if senior military leaders such as Ne Win felt the need to strike a balance in its external relations by maintaining cordial ties with both eastern and western bloc countries and their militaries, the rank and file officers of the military have long been pro-US. 

According to a Voice of America interview in April 2011 with former General Tin Oo, defense minister under Ne Win in the mid-1970's and later co-founder of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, many officers were unhappy with Ne Win's decision to reject out of political concerns the US's offer of sophisticated fighter-bombers stored at US Air Force bases in Thailand for a mere US$1 million per plane after the US ended its military involvement in Vietnam. 

Forgotten legacy

In addition to this near complete break from its Japanese fascist roots, the military also moved away from the fragile legacy of its founder and national independence hero, Aung San. In particular, the military totally abandoned Aung San's commitment to keep the military under the control of civilian politicians and political revolutionary leadership. 

As evidenced by the re-naming of the national holiday "Resistance Day", in reference to resistance against Japan's fascist military occupation from 1942-45, to "Armed Forces Day", the military has over the past 50 years made concerted efforts to rewrite its own institutional history, as well as that of the country's nationalist movement. 

It continues to portray itself incorrectly as the sole vanguard of the country's liberation struggle against first British imperialism and later Japanese fascist military rule. The revolutionary leadership which led the well-timed armed resistance against Japan's military occupation in the hot season of 1945 arose from Burmese Communists such as Thakhin Soe and Thakhin Than Tun, as well as from the then head of the Burma Defense Army, Aung San. 

Aung San himself cut his political teeth as a Marxist-influenced student agitator at Rangoon University and was one of the five founding members of colonial Burma's first communist cell. Under these men's leadership, local resistance commands were formed along the communist resistance model, according to which military commanders were answerable to the political commissars attached to their commands. 

Shortly after the end of World War II, Lord Louis Mountbatten invited Aung San and a group of nationalist leaders including prominent communist leaders such as Than Tun and Thein Pe to Kandy, Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was previously known), where Mountbatten was headquartered as the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Southeast Asia. They met to discuss inter alia the future of the Japanese-trained army under Aung San's military leadership. 

As the British had restored colonial rule over Burma post-World War II, Aung San was presented with a choice between staying on as the uniformed head of the soon-to-be-downsized Burmese nationalist army, or relinquishing his military post and becoming a national, civilian politician. 

Under the British proposal, only a certain number of qualified Burmese officers would be given "direct commission" in a significantly downsized military, with their old ranks transferred automatically into the newly restructured military along the British model of a professional armed forces. 

Aung San's communist rivals pressured him to stay on as head of the new Burma Army so that political leadership of the post-World War II popular nationalist movement - and conceivably the power to shape the future course of post-colonial Burma - would no longer be in his hands. Against their advice, Aung San chose the civilian politician role, giving up official military titles and ties with the newly restructured Burma Army. 

Instead, he handed over command of the military to Colonel Letyar, his close comrade and long-time friend from his Rangoon University student agitator days. Following this arrangement, Aung San was no longer officially the "General", but the Burmese public continued to address and refer to him as "Bogyoke", or Commander in Chief, until his assassination on July 19, 1947. 

Despite the official uses of hagiographic tales of Aung San by his close personal aides and comrades-in-arms, there have been no known attempts to restore his legacy of keeping the military as a professional organization accountable to a civilian democratic leadership during the past half-century of authoritarian and unaccountable military rule. 

Aung San's British-involved assassination was tragic not only for the country's ethnic relations but also because early attempts by this remarkable nationalist revolutionary to professionalize the military in the soon-to-be independent British colony were buried with his remains in 1945. 

At the time, his daughter Suu Kyi was barely two years old. Relying on her secondary knowledge of her father's political legacy, including his short-lived and little known efforts to keep the military a professional force under civilian control, she is now advocating from her weak position in the political opposition for the reform of the military along more professional and honorable lines. It is a reform call that has fallen on deaf ears for the past 22 years since she first asked the question "Whose military is the Tatmadaw?", whereby she stated specifically that the army of her father should be the people's national army. 

The generals were not the only ones who felt the need to keep the military at a healthy distance from the country's necessarily messy democratic politics during the decade that immediately followed independence in 1948. Armed rebellions by both Burmese communist parties and non-Burmese ethno-nationalist organizations such as the Karen National Defense Organization inadvertently ensured that the military's political influence, including over civilian leadership selections, remained vital throughout the parliamentary period spanning January 1948 to March 1962. 

As the Cold War raged on, the intellectual and ideological climate in the US and Western Bloc was such that academics and policy-makers portrayed anti-communist soldiers in the newly independent countries of the "Third World" as "bureaucratic modernizers" and "efficient nation-builders" vis-a-vis "incompetent" "quarrelsome" and "argumentative" civilian politicians within their necessarily messy parliamentary and political contexts. 

In Burma, the West was known to be concerned about the ability of prime minister U Nu to keep the country safe from insurgent communists at a time when Washington's main preoccupation was to prevent communist "dominos" from tumbling across Southeast Asia. 

Thus when the Burmese military sought active US support for its institution-building efforts, including the training of military personnel in various areas including intelligence gathering operations, Washington was a willing partner. The US Central Intelligence Agency and other allied agencies in Taiwan and Israel helped to train officials in the dark arts of espionage and domestic surveillance. 

The US Pentagon, meanwhile, brought Burmese officers to US command and staff colleges for further training under the US International Military Exchange Program during the Cold War. During the administration of Jimmy Carter, arguably the most pro-human rights of all US presidents, Washington provided the Burmese military with civilian dual-use aircraft, including Bell helicopters, ostensibly to combat opium production. The craft were promptly refitted upon delivery with weapons systems that were duly used against communist and ethnic armed resistance groups. 

When Ne Win ended Burma's 12-year-old experiment in parliamentary democracy in a March 1962 coup, the event was not deemed headline news by the Western media. Four years later - after Ne Win locked up over 100 democrats, judges, journalists and other prominent Burmese deemed a threat to military rule, US president Lyndon Johnson hosted an official welcome dinner to the visiting Ne Win and Madam Ne Win at the White House. 

Towards the later phase of Ne Win's military rule, British banks, insurance companies and other commercial interests maintained their Burma-based businesses as usual. At Buckingham Palace, the Burmese general was even a welcome guest of Queen Elizabeth, who sipped tea with him and even thought the general to be a "nice chap", according to Derek Tonkin, former Burma desk officer at Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office and retired British ambassador to Thailand. 

The West's pursuit of strategic symbiosis with Ne Win's coup-installed regime was then viewed as a useful bulwark against the spread of communism. But Western support abetted the militarization of Burmese society, a legacy of military rule that survived subsequent Western-led sanctions and will inevitably be strengthened by the West's latest round of unconditional diplomatic and strategic engagement initiatives. 

Maung Zarni ( is a Visiting Fellow at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics. A former admit to Myanmar's Military Officers' Training Corp (1980), he hails from an extended military family. He has worked with three separate heads of the military's intelligence service from 2004-8 as an initiator of Track II negotiations.

This article was originally published here.