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

Buddhist Nationalism in Burma

Jonathan Saruk/Getty images. Thousands of unregistered Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma live next to the registered refugee camp at Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Bangladesh. 

Institutionalized racism against the Rohingya Muslims led Burma to genocide By Maung Zarni 

This was originally published in Tricycle, Spring 2013. 

For those outside Burma, the broadcast images of the Theravada monks of the “Saffron Revolution” of 2007 are still fresh. Backed by the devout Buddhist population, these monks were seen chanting metta and the Lovingkindness Sutta on the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay, and Pakhoke-ku, calling for an improvement in public well-being in the face of the growing economic hardships afflicting Burma’s Buddhists. The barefooted monks’ brave protests against the rule of the country’s junta represented a fine example of engaged Buddhism, a version of Buddhist activism that resonates with the age-old Orientalist, decontextualized view of what Buddhists are like: lovable, smiley, hospitable people who lead their lives mindfully and have much to offer the non-Buddhist world in the ways of fostering peace. 

But in the past year, the world has been confronted with images of the same robed monks publicly demonstrating against Islamic nations’ distribution of aid to starving Muslim Rohingya, displaced into refugee camps in their own country following Rakhine Buddhist attacks. The rise of genocidal Buddhist racism against the Rohingya, a minority community of nearly one million people in the western Burmese province of Rakhine (also known as Arakan), is an international humanitarian crisis. The military-ruled state has been relentless in its attempts to erase Rohingya ethnic identity, which was officially recognized as a distinct ethnic group in 1954 by the democratic government of Prime Minister U Nu. Indeed, in the past months of violent conflict, beginning in June 2012, the Rohingya have suffered over 90 percent of the total death toll and property destruction, including the devastation of entire villages and city neighborhoods. Following the initial eruption of violence in western Burma, several waves of killing, arson, and rampage have been directed at the Rohingya, backed by Burma’s security forces. 

Over the course of the past few years an extremely potent and dangerous strain of racism has emerged among Burma’s Theravada Buddhists, who have participated in the destruction and expulsion of the entire population of Rohingya Muslims. The atrocities occurring in the name of Buddhist nationalism in Burma are impossible to reconcile with the ideal of metta. Buddhist Rakhine throw young Rohingya children into the flames of their own homes before the eyes of family members. On June 3, 10 out-of-province Muslim pilgrims were pulled off a bus in the Rakhine town of Taunggoke, about 200 miles west of the former capital, Rangoon, and beaten to death by a mob of more than 100 Buddhist men. The crime occurred in broad daylight and in full view of both the public and local law enforcement officials. 

One of the most shocking aspects of anti-Rohingya racism is that the overwhelming majority of Burmese, especially in the heartland of upper Burma, have never met a single Rohingya in person, as most Rohingya live in the Rakhine State of western Burma adjacent to Bangladesh. 

Thet Htoo/Zuma Press/Newscom. Rakhine men and a Buddhist monk hold handmade spears and watch as a fire burns in Sittwe, capital city of Rakhine State. Two weeks of clashes between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists left an official death toll at 50, with 58 injured and more than 2,500 houses burned down. 

Physical appearance—aside from language, religion, culture, and class—is an integral marker in a community of nationalists. The importance of complexion is often overlooked when examining racism across Asia. Rohingya are categorically darker-skinned people—sometimes called by the slur “Bengali kalar.” Indeed, the lighter-skinned Buddhists of Burma are not alone in their fear of dark-skinned people and belief that the paler the skin, the more desirable, respectable, and protected one is. 

The virulent hatred and oppression directed at Muslims extends to any Buddhists who are considered to have helped them. In October 2012, local Rakhine Buddhist men were named, degraded, punished, and paraded around public places wearing handwritten signs that said, “I am a traitor.” Their crimes? Selling groceries to a Rohingya. 

The rose-tinted Orientalist take on Buddhism is so hegemonic that Westerners are often shocked when they hear of the atrocities carried out by militarized Buddhist masses and the political states that have adopted or manipulated Buddhism as part of the state ideological apparatus. Buddhism’s popular image as a peaceful, humanistic religious doctrine immune to dogma contradicts a long history of violent Buddhist empires—from Emperor Ashoka’s on the old Indian subcontinent to the Buddhist monarchies of precolonial Sri Lanka and Siam, and the Khmer and Burmese kingdoms—some of whom sanctioned war with recourse to the dharma. The oppression carried out under Burmese President Thein Sein and his Sri Lankan counterpart, President Rajapaksa, is just the latest from a long line of violent Buddhist regimes. 

Prejudice arises wherever communities of different faiths, classes, and ethnicities coexist and interact. But genocide is not an inevitable outcome of group prejudice; there have to be institutional mechanisms and an organized harnessing of forces, generally enacted by the state. Burma’s lay public and political society, while supposedly informed by the worldwide ideals of human rights and democracy that spread across formerly closed leftist polities, have evidently failed to undergo what Aung San Suu Kyi famously called “the revolution of the spirit.” Instead, they have chosen to pursue a destructive nationalism that is rooted in the fear of losing property, land, and racial and religious purity. 

The Burmese state has mobilized its society’s Islamaphobia through various institutional mechanisms, including the state media outlets and social media sites, the presidential office’s Facebook page among them. Burmese-language social media sites, which thrive out of the purview of international media watchdogs, are littered with hate speech. Postings of graphic images of Muslim victims, including Rohingyas, on Facebook—easily the most popular social media website in the newly opened Burma—have been greeted with approving responses from the country’s Buddhist netizens, both within the country and throughout the diaspora. The few Burmese and foreign human rights activists and journalists who dare to speak out against this rising tide of racist, fascist tendencies in Buddhist society have been increasingly subjected to slander, cyber-threats, and hate speech. Journalists have repeatedly expressed dismay over the volume of angry hate email they receive from Burmese citizens whenever stories are published condemning the recent violence. 

In a documentary first aired by Al Jazeera on December 9, 2012, Professor William Schabas, one of the world’s foremost experts on genocide and until recently the president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, characterized the sectarian violence against the Rohingya as genocide. “We’re moving into a zone where the word can be used,” Schabas said “When you see measures preventing births, trying to deny the identity of the people, hoping to see that. . . they no longer exist, denying their history, denying the legitimacy of the right to live where they live, these are all warning signs that mean that it’s not frivolous to envisage the use of the term genocide.”

Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty/Newscom. Rakhine Buddhist monks pray in Langon, Burma, in June 2012. Several thousand monks took to the streets of Mandalay to protest against a world Islamic body’s efforts to help Muslim Rohingya in strife-hit Rakhine State. 

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which entered into force on January 12, 1951, states: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: 

( a ) Killing members of the group; 
( b ) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; 
( c ) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 
( d ) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; 
( e ) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. 

The ruling Burmese, both the Buddhist society and the Buddhist state, have committed the first four of these acts, though the state denies wrongdoing by their security forces during the nearly six months of violence in 2012 that left 167 Rohingya Muslims dead and 110,000 refugees. 

As for paragraph (e), malnourished, poorly educated Rohingya children have not been “forcibly transferred” to another group, but there have been instances of Rohingya children being brutally murdered—stabbed, drowned, burned alive—by the Buddhist Rakhine. 

During a public lecture in Brunei, Southeast Asia, on December 2, 2012, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was asked by a student what the OIC—with its 57 member states representing, in theory, at least 1.5 billion Muslims—was doing to address the persecution of Muslim minorities around the world. In his response, Ihsanoglu described the Burmese democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as a human rights activist for Burma’s Buddhists. Suu Kyi, he said, is “only interested in the human rights of the Buddhists because they are human beings and the Muslims are not.” While the emotion behind the statement is understandable, there is a political calculus at play. Aung San Suu Kyi has little to gain from speaking out against the treatment of the Rohingya Muslims. She is no longer a political dissident, she’s a politician, and her eyes are fixed on a prize: winning the 2015 election with a majority Buddhist vote. 

Prior to his lecture in Brunei, Professor Ihsanoglu sent a letter to Suu Kyi on behalf of the OIC in which he pressed the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader to use her enormous awza, or earned societal influence, to help stem the tide of Buddhist racism against the Rohingya and the Muslim population at large. The letter was met with silence. In failing to decry the human rights abuses against the Rohingya, Burma’s iconic leader—who is seen in some Burmese Buddhist circles as bhodhi saddhava (“would-be Buddha”)—has failed to walk the walk of Buddhist humanism. 

On January 4, 2013, the 65th anniversary of Burma’s independence from British rule, Suu Kyi said in a speech at the NLD headquarters that Burma’s people need to rely on themselves if they want to realize their dream of a free and prosperous nation. “Don’t expect anyone to be your savior,” she warned. But as the Burmese magazine The Irrawaddy pointed out in a recent editorial, “Suu Kyi is right that Burma doesn’t need a savior; but it does need a leader.”

Jonathan Saruk/Getty images. An unregistered Rohingya child draws on the wall of a classroom provided by the charity Islamic Relief at Leda Refugee Camp, Bangladesh. 

The current leaders of Burma’s 25-year-old human rights movement now speak the language of national security, absolutist sovereignty, and conditional human rights, echoing the language and sentiment of their former captors, the ruling military. The NLD and the democracy opposition have failed to see their own personal and ideological contradictions. Their embrace of conditional human rights and their absolutist reading of sovereignty indicates that they have talked the talk of Buddhism, with its ideal of universal lovingkindness, but have failed to walk the walk. Many student leaders and human rights activists of the 1988 uprisings who spent half their lives behind bars in the notorious military-run Insein Prison as “prisoners of conscience” are unprepared to extend such human rights ideals to the Rohingya Muslims, a population that the United Nations identifies as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. 

Buddhism, as a religious and philosophical system, has absolutely nothing to say about the political, economic, and cultural organizations that we call nation states. Buddhism is not about people imagining a national community predicated upon adversarial relations but rather about using one’s own intellectual faculties to see through the nonexistent core-essence of self. Yet in Burma, this humanistic philosophy has proven itself indisposed to guard against overarching societal prejudices and their ultranationalist proponents, those Burmese who vociferously profess their adherence to Buddhist faith, practice religious rituals and patronize Buddhist institutions, and then proceed to commit unspeakable atrocities against anyone they imagine to be an enemy of Buddhism, the Buddhist state, Buddhist wealth, Buddhist women, and Buddhist land. Instead of propagating the guiding societal principles of religious tolerance, nondiscrimination, and social inclusion among lay devotees, the influential Buddhist clergy themselves have, in their outspoken criticism and picketing against the Royingya, become an entire people’s most dangerous threat. 

Throughout the alien British rule from 1824 to 1948, the Buddhism of colonial Burma contributed to the formation of a common national identity, providing a basis for concerted anti-imperialist efforts among disparate social classes and ethnolinguistically diverse Buddhist communities with conflicting political interests. The current resurgence of racism is a direct result of a half century of despotic military rule. The careful construction of an iron cage—a monolithic constellation of values, an ad hoc ethos—locks in and naturalizes a singular view of what constitutes Burma’s national culture. The dominant population remains potently ethnonationalist, essentializing Buddhism as the core of an authentic Burmese national identity. 

For a minority of Burmese Buddhists, the combination of Buddhist nationalism and strong racial distinctions that served as an ideological springboard and a rallying cry against the British Raj is now scorned as a thing of the past. But for many Burmese Buddhists, the same ethnoreligious nationalism that once served the Burmese independence movement has provided an environment in which their racism can flourish. 

Buddhist-inspired social forces have proven to be a double-edged sword over the years. In the newly independent post–WWII Burma of the late 1940s, Marxist-inspired revolutionary nationalists led by the martyred Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi’s father) set out to forge a new multiculturalist, secular, and civic nationalism. In 1948, after Aung San was assassinated by a rival Burmese politician (and less than 90 days after the country’s newly acquired independence), Burma plunged into a long series of armed revolts against the central state. Aung San’s successors gradually abandoned any attempts to secularize Burmese nationalism along the lines of civic nationalism, which would have moved the Burmese away from the premodern provincialist blood- and faith-based view of national identity. 

Against this backdrop, the popular racism of the Buddhist majority presents itself as a potent social force that can be appropriated by Burma’s national security state to unify and rally anti-Muslim Burmese citizens. Burma’s state authorities, consisting predominantly of generals and ex-generals, are also generous patrons of Buddhist institutional activities such as dana and pagoda and temple building. These military leaders will continue to feed the masses their opiate—the pretension of Buddhism, with its effect of normalizing human suffering—to the masses, as long as the Buddhists believe that their faith, and not their political economy, promises better rebirth. As one regime official told me, “The bottom line is, we don’t want any more ‘Mus’ in our country, but we can’t possibly kill them all.” As a solution, the reformist state leadership has outsourced the job of cleansing its Golden Land to the Rakhine Buddhists. 

Maung Zarni is a Burmese activist and scholar. He is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and the founder of the Free Burma Coalition. 

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The Slow Genocide of (Myanmar's) Rohingyas: Interview with Dr Zarni, Indonesia's National News Weekly, 20th Anniversary Special Issue, 24 Dec 2014

The Slow Genocide of The Rohingya

He spoke loudly, full of energy. That's Maung Zarni, 51 years old. He held a doctorate degree in political science from University of Wisconsin, U.S, and is one of the very few Buddhist intellectuals from Myanmar who dares to speak bluntly about the condition of Rohingya.

Zarni, who founded Free Burma Coalition (1994) , did not hestitate to point fingers to generals in Myanmar's regime, accusing them of crime against humanity toward the Rohingya. Such accusation is not without consequences. He already fled from Burma due to safety concerns. For the past seven years he lived in London, becoming a visiting fellow at London School of Economics. 

Last Novemver, together with Nobel laurate Amartya Sen, Zarni spoke in an international conference on Rohingya in Harvard University, disucssing the fate of 1,3 million Rohingya now still reside in Myanmar.

This December, hecame to Indonesia on the invitation of University of Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta (UMY). He gave a public lecture at UMY, visited the Borobudur temple, had a meeting with members of Indonesia Buddhist Association (Walubi), members of Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), and also with members of Committe I of Indonesian House of Representatives – the committee which handles defense and foreign policy.

Last Thursday, the man who married a British woman visited Gatra and had a discussion with members of the editorial board for more than three hours. Here are the excerpts:

How do you view the problem of Rohingya refugees?
The Rohingyas are experiencing a slow genocide. I need to explain to you about this term, because it's easily misunderstood. Genocide is not about the numbers of people being killed. Genocide happens when a group of people is killed because of their race, religion, ethnicity or other identity. 

For example I want to kill all of you Indonesians. I dont know whether you are a good or bad person. But although you're a good person, it's not relevant. I want to kill you because you're Indonesian. Now, can you become non-Indonesian? Of course you can't. The identty of Indonesia is already attached to you. So you are killed because a identity which you cannot change.

Is that your definition of genocide?
It's the definition of 1948 UN convention about Genocide. In that convention there are several characteristics of genocide. First, you kill a group of people because of their identity. Secondly, you hurt or torture that group of people, so it's not always about killing. And thirdly, which is relevant with the Rohingya, you deliberately create a condition with the purpose of systematically destroy that group of people. 

Isn't there a real conflict between muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist population in Myanmar?
That's the mistake of many journalists. They framed the Rohingya conflict as religious conflict, or conflict between communities. They failed to see the important factor, that is the organizationing of the conflict. The violence toward Rohingyas are organized, launched by the regime.

Can you give an example?
I lived for 25 years in Myanmar, graduated from University of Mandalay. I came from an educated family. My mother was a teacher, and my father was a college graduate. But for my 25 years living in Myanmar, I have never heard the word 'Rohingya'. That word doesn't exist in history books, on radio or tv programmes. There's not even a single poetry contains the word Rohingya. The word we have is Bengali, Bangladesh immigrants living near Myanmar's border. About 10 years ago I even still don't know the word 'Rohingya'. When I met a Rohingya activist in overseas conference I usually said to myself, 'Oh, he is a Bengali.'

So how did you come to know the word Rohingya?
I only know it after leaving Myanmar, after I was no longer exposed to regime's propaganda. After I left, I realized that the regime deliberately ommited the word 'Rohingya' from any text available. Such a systematic destruction is an appaling characteristic that a genocide has happened.

Can you explain what's the systematic destruction like?
Let's go back to history. Before Myanmar became a military junta, Myanmar was led by U Nu, the first prime minister in 1948. At that time the word Rohingya was already used to describe the people living on Myanmar's border. Indonesia migh still remember U Nu, because he and President Soekarno --Indonesia's first president-- was active in Asia-Africa Conference in 1955. 

But in 1956 the junta took power. They considered Rohingya a threat to security and national identity. The destruction began in 1974. The junta issued Immigation Act which deliberately excluded Rohingya. A census was conducted, but the Rohingya were excluded. The Rohinhgya were instantly, on the spot, considered illegal immigrants. Then the Citizenship Act 1982. The bill does not recognize Rohingya as one of 134 ethincs in Myanmar. I know several people who formulated the citizenship act 1982, whom most of them were already dead. They told me that they deliberately exclude Rohingya from the list of recognized ethnics.

What about know? Does systematic destruction still occur?
Until now if there were Rohingyas able to enter university, they are not allow to take medical and engingeering department. It resulted in a very imbalance doctors-patient ratio in Rohingya. In Myanmar, the average ratio is 1 doctor for 700-1000 patients. For Rohingya, the ratio is 1 doctor for 13.000 patients. The child mortality in Rohinhgya is very high, higher than the national average. This is an attempt to control the population. Rohingya are also only allowed to have two children. But such restriction does not apply to other ethnics. They also cannot move from their location, must get permission from officials to get married. These regulations are very much alike the regulations issued by Nazi toward Jews in 1930ies. This is a genocide.

Why do you think the regime chose a slow-genocide, instead of quick-genocide?
This tactic has proved effective.. If it's working, why you want to change it? The propganda has caused the general public opinion to shift against Rohingya. By labelling them as illegal immigrants, the regime said to ASEAN that this is Myanmar's domestic affairs. They said, 'You yourself have a problem with illegal immigants, don't you?' But genoce is not a domestic affair. What truly happens, the regime has learned that they can subcontract genocide to a certain group in society. The regime dont need to take care it themselves.

How do you view the role of ASEAN, especially Indonesia, in this matter?
Indonesia has quite an influnce in ASEAN. But I can tell you one thing. I spoke to a fomer Indonesian foreign minister and he told me that Indonesia in fact lobbied OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) so that OIC does not pressure Myanmar too hard on Rohingya issues.

Do you think the regime managed to play the economic cards, especially on Myanmar's natural resources?
This is a smart regime. How many years Soeharto managed to stay in power? Only 32 years. These generals were in power since 1956 and they are now still in power. The slow-genocide tactic proved effective. The regime even seemed to already swicth to 'auto pilot' with this tactic. Now Myanmar opens up to foreign investment and even United States ended sanctions agains Myanmar without any conditions, which I think was a mistake. 

How do we position Aung San in this issue?
Aung San is already inside the pockets of the generals. The regime spreads rumor that Aung San's driver is a muslim, that the identity of a Buddhist can only be secured if the generals are in power. As an moral icon, Aung San has already fallen.

Do you know any recent updates about the situation of Rohingya?
About four weeks agos several NGOs which track the movement of Rohingyas on the ground reported that about 10.000 Rohingyas already left by boats. What's frightening is there is no news after that. What happened to them? Where did they land? For the past four weeks, not a single country reporting any sight of Rohinga boat refugees? So where are they now? I can only imagine that in such a vast sea, with poor boats, 10.000 people are merely a dot. They might have drowned and we dont even know. 

- Basfin Siregar-

In Behasa Indonesian Language

Genosida Perlahan Rohingya 

Nasib warga Rohingya masih terkatung-katung, meski sudah mendapat perhatian masyarakat internasional. Koalisi Burma Merdeka menilai ada penghancuran secara sistematis. 

Bicaranya lantang, penuh energi, dan tidak sungkan mengecam. Begitulah sosok Maung Zarni, 51 tahun. Doktor ilmu politik lulusan Universitas Wisconsin, Amerika Serikat, ini termasuk sedikit di antara intelektual Budha asal Myanmar yang berani bicara blak-blakan tentang kondisi warga Rohingya. 

Pendiri organisasi Free Burma Coalition (1994) ini tanpa takut menuding petinggi rezim Myanmar telah melakukan kejahatan terhadap kemanusiaan terhadap warga Rohingya. Ucapan macam itu bukannya tanpa konsekuensi. Zarni seorang exile. Ia kabur dari negaranya setelah merasa jiwanya terancam. Ia sudah tujuh tahun tinggal di Inggris, menjadi visiting fellow di London School of Economics. 

Awal November lalu, bersama pemenang Hadiah Nobel Amartya Sen, Zarni menjadi pembicara konferensi internasional tentang Rohingya di Universitas Harvard, Amerika Serikat, yang membahas nasib 1,3 juta warga Rohingya yang masih tinggal di Myanmar. Desember ini, atas undangan Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta (UMY), Zarni berkunjung ke Indonesia. Selain memberikan kuliah umum di UMY, mengunjungi Candi Borobodur, bertemu pengurus Perwakilan Umat Budha Indonesia (Walubi), pengurus Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), juga beranjangsana ke Komisi I DPR RI. 

Kamis malam pekan lalu, pria yang menikah dengan wanita Inggris ini menyempatkan datang ke kantor GATRA, berdiskusi dengan awak redaksi selama hampir tiga jam. Berikut rangkuman diskusi itu: 

Bagaimana Anda melihat permasalahan pengungsi Rohingya? 
Warga Rohingya mengalami genosida perlahan (slow genocide). Saya perlu menjelaskan istilah ini, karena sering kali disalahpahami. Genosida bukan soal berapa korban yang dibantai. Tak peduli cuma 100 orang atau 1 juta orang, tetap sebuah genosida. Genosida terjadi ketika sekelompok masyarakat dibunuh karena identitas ras, agama, suku, atau identitas lain. 
Misalnya saya ingin membunuhi Anda semua, orang Indonesia. Saya tidak kenal Anda. Saya tidak tahu Anda orang baik atau orang jahat. Tapi kalau toh Anda orang baik, itu tidak relevan. Saya ingin membunuh Anda karena Anda orang Indonesia. Sekarang, bisakah Anda menjadi orang non-Indonesia? Tentu tidak. Identitas Indonesia sudah melekat di diri Anda. Jadi, Anda dibunuh karena sebuah identitas yang tidak bisa Anda ubah. 

Itu definisi genosida menurut Anda sendiri? 
Ini menurut kovensi PBB tentang genosida pada 1948. Dalam konvensi itu ada beberapa ciri genosida. Pertama, Anda membunuh sekelompok orang berdasarkan identitas mereka. Kedua, Anda sengaja melukai baik secara fisik maupun mental kelompok itu, jadi tidak musti sampai membunuh. Ciri ketiga, yang paling relevan dengan Rohingya, Anda dengan senjaga menciptakan kondisi yang secara sistematis bertujuan menghancurkan kelompok itu. 

Bukannya memang ada konflik antara muslim Rohingya dengan warga Budha di Myanmar? 
Ini kesalahan banyak jurnalis. Mereka membingkai konflik Rohingya sebagai konflik antar-agama atau konflik horisontal. Mereka lupa melihat faktor penting, yakni pengorganisasian. Kekerasan terhadap Rohingya adalah kekerasan terorganisasi, yang dilancarkan rezim 

Bisakah Anda memberikan contoh kongkret? 
Saya 25 tahun hidup di Myanmar, lulus dari Universitas Mandalay (638 kilometer sebelah utara bekas ibu kota Yangon -Red.). Saya dari keluarga berpendidikan. Ibu saya guru, ayah saya seorang sarjana. 
Tapi, selama 25 tahun tinggal di sana, tidak pernah sekali pun saya mendengar kata Rohingya. Kata itu tidak ada di buku sejarah, di radio, atau di siaran televisi. Bahkan tidak ada satu pun puisi menyebut kata Rohingya. Yang ada adalah Bengali, imigran Bangladesh yang tinggal di perbatasan Myanmar. 
Sekitar 10 tahun lalu saya bahkan masih tidak kenal istilah itu. Ketika saya bertemu aktivis Rohingya di konferensi di luar negeri misalnya, saya berkata. ''Oh, dia orang Bengali.'' 

Bagaimana Anda bisa mengenal istilah Rohingya? 
Saya baru tahu justru setelah keluar dari Myanmar, setelah tidak lagi terekspose propaganda rezim. Setelah di luar, saya baru tahu bahwa rezim memang secara sistematis menghilangkan kata Rohingya dari teks apa pun. Penghancuran sistematis ini juga ciri paling relevan bahwa telah terjadi genosida. 

Seperti apa penghancuran sistematis itu? 
Kita kembali ke sejarah. Sebelum Myanmar dikuasai rezim junta militer, Burma dipimpin oleh U Nu, perdana menteri pertama, pada 1948 (setelah merdeka dari penjajahan Inggris --Red.). Ketika itu, istilah Rohingya sudah dipakai untuk menyebut warga di perbatasan. 
Indonesia mungkin masih ingat U Nu, karena dia dengan Presiden Soekarno aktif di Konferensi Asia Afrika 1955. Tapi pada 1956 terjadi kudeta dan rezim militer berkuasa. Mereka menganggap Rohingya ancaman terhadap keamanan dan identitas nasional. Upaya penghancuran dimulai pada 1974. Rezim militer menerbitkan Undang Undang Imigrasi yang meniadakan suku Rohingya. 
Berdasakan UU Imigrasi dimulai sensus penduduk, tapi warga Rohingnya tidak diikutsertakan. Warga Rohingya, seketika, langsung on the spot, dinyatakan oleh rezim sebagai imigran gelap asal Bangladesh. Lalu, UU kependudukan tahun 1982 tidak mengakui Rohingnya sebagai salah satu suku resmi di Myanmar, dari 134 suku yang ada. 
Saya kenal beberapa petinggi yang ikut merumuskan UU itu, yang kini banyak di antaranya sudah meninggal. Mereka bercerita bahwa mereka memang sengaja mengeluarkan Rohingya dari daftar suku yang diakui. 

Bagaimana kondisi sekarang? Masih terjadi penghancuran sistematis? 
Sampai sekarang, kalau ada warga Rohingya yang bisa kuliah di universitas, mereka tidak boleh mengambil jurusan teknik dan kedokteran. Akibatnya, rasio dokter-pasien sangat timpang. Di Myanmar, rata-rata rasionya satu dokter untuk 700-1.000 pasien. Di Rohinghya, rasionya satu dokter untuk 13.000 pasien. Tingkat kematian bayi Rohignya sangat tinggi, lebih tinggi dibandingkan dengan tingkat kematian bayi Myanmar. 
Ini upaya untuk mengontrol jumlah populasi. Mereka juga hanya boleh memiliki dua anak. Tapi pembatasan itu tidak berlaku bagi suku lain. Mereka tidak boleh berpindah lokasi. Harus mendapat izin aparat bila hendak menikah. Ini mirip berbagai aturan yang dikeluarkan Nazi pada 1930-an terhadap Yahudi. Ini genosida. 

Mengapa rezim memilih taktik genosida perlahan? Mengapa tidak genosida secara cepat sekalian, misalnya? 
Taktik ini terbukti efektif dan menguntungkan. Kalau menguntungkan, buat apa diubah? Akibat propaganda, opini publik di Myanmar sangat menentang Rohingya. Rezim bilang ada konfik horisontal dan pemerintah justru berusaha menjadi juru damai. Dengan cap Rohingya sebagai imigran gelap, rezim bilang ke ASEAN bahwa ini masalah dalam negeri. Mereka bilang, ''Kan di negara Anda, Anda juga mengalami masalah imigran gelap.'' 
Padahal genosida bukan masalah dalam negeri. Yang terjadi, rezim ini sudah belajar bahwa mereka bisa mensubkontrakkan genosida. Tidak perlu mereka sendiri yang turun tangan. Mereka bisa mensubkontrakkan genosida ke kelompok lain di masyarakat. 

Bagaimana Anda melihat peran Indonesia, atau ASEAN dalam mengatasi hal ini? 
Indonesia adalah negara berpengaruh di ASEAN. Tapi saya bisa bilang bahwa seorang mantan menteri luar negeri Indonesia pernah cerita ke saya bahwa Indonesia justru membujuk OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation - Organisasi Kerja Sama Islam) agar OIC jangan terlalu keras pada Myanmar. 

Apa rezim berhasil menggunakan sumber daya alam Myanmar sebagai alat tawar? 
Ini rezim cerdas. Berapa lama Soeharto bertahan? Tiga puluh dua tahun. Para jenderal ini berkuasa sejak 1956 dan sekarang masih berkuasa. Taktik genosida perlahan terbukti efektif. Mereka bahkan sudah seperti auto-pilot dengan taktik ini. Sekarang Myanmar mulai membuka diri terhadap investasi asing. Amerika bahkan mencabut sanksi ekonomi terhadap Myanmar tanpa syarat, yang menurut saya sebuah kesalahan. 

Bagaimana menempatkan sosok Aung San Suu Kyi dalam konflik ini? 
Aung San bisa dibilang sudah berada di kocek para jenderal. Rezim meniupkan rumor bahwa sopir pribadi Aung San seorang muslim, bahwa identitas sebagai umat Budha hanya bisa diselamatkan ketika para jenderal yang berkuasa. Sosok Aung San sebagai ikon moral sudah jatuh. 

Ada kabar terkini yang Anda dengar tentang Rohingya? 
Sekitar empat minggu lalu beberapa LSM yang terus melacak kondisi lapangan di Rakhine melaporkan sekitar 10.000 warga Rohingnya mengungsi dengan kapal. Yang menggiriskan, setelah itu tidak ada kabar lagi. Apa yang terjadi pada mereka? Mereka terdampar di mana? Sepanjang empat minggu ini tidak ada satu negara pun yang melaporkan penemuan kapal warga Rohingya. 
Lantas mereka di mana sekarang? Saya cuma bisa bayangkan bahwa di laut yang luas, apalagi dengan kapal bobrok, 10.000 pengungsi itu cuma titik kecil saja. Mereka mungkin sudah tenggelam dan kita tidak tahu. 

Basfin Siregar

The Slow Genocide of (Myanmar's) Rohingyas: Interview with Dr Zarni, Indonesia's National News Weekly, 20th Anniversary Special Issue, 24 Dec 2014

GATRA National News Weekly - Cover Page

Myanmar and Its Manufacturing Genocidal Racism towards Rohingya

There was inter-ethnic solidarity for the Rohingya/Muslims of Arakan dating back to 17 May 1978, the year of the first state-sponsored campaign of terror and destruction against the Rohingyas.

"We, the Representatives of the peoples of Kachin, Karen, Palaung, Lahu, Shan and Wa, in deep sorrow, hereby express our heart-felt sympathy to the defenceless Muslims who fled to escape the compound racial and religious persecution by the Rangoon Government armed forces."

Read on the solidarity statement from 1978 in the attached full text (in 2 JPEG files).

Note the Ngagamin Operation (or King Dragon Operation) launched under the then Home Minister Brigadier Sein Lwin, known as the Butcher of Rangoon in 8.8.88 reached Sittwe in Feb 1978 - in fact on 11 Feb 1978, ironically one day before the Union Day, to celebrate Burma's ethnic diversity in unity!)

By the end of June 1978, over 200,000 - some say a quarter million - Rohingyas and other Muslims fled the country across the border into Bangladesh.

The Bangladeshi Government then led by General Zia Raman opened the border and let the Muslim refugees in to his country to escape the immediate violence, death and rape by the Burmese and Rakhine combined forces (local law enforcement in Rakhine state were made up primarily of Rakhine while senior commanders and administrators were Bama from Rangoon, starting with Home Minister Brigadier Sein Win in Rangoon and Western Command commander based in Sittwe).

Subsequently, Ne Win's Foreign Minister Tin Ohn was invited to Bangladesh capital where Bangladeshi senior officials veiled a threat of arming Rohingya refugees - number over 200,000 - if Burma did not take back their own nationals - Muslims from Arakan.

Bangladeshi general and PM Zia also traveled to Indonesia, Malaysia and other Muslim countries to rally support for the persecuted muslims in Arakan. 

Finally, Ne Win backed down and agreed to take the Musim refugees back from Bangladesh. 

By July and August UNHCR got involved in repatriating Rohingyas back to Arakan.

In the next 2-3 years, Ne Win and his anti-Muslim/anti-Rohingya deputies including Rakhine academics such as San Thar Aung (physics professor and director general of higher education) and Aye Kyaw (Australian-trained historian of nationalist movements in Burma) connived a legal strategy - and the result was the drafting of the 1982 Citizenship Act.

By Oct 1982, the draft was completed and Ne Win's legal adviser and clerk Dr Maung Maung (British and Dutch-trained lawyer and legal scholar who had a stint at Yale Law School) oversaw the whole legal campaign to strip the Rohingyas of nationality by a stroke of a legal pen. (Hitler and his legal advisers also enacted laws stripping the Jews of Germany of nationality and paving the way for the eventual physical destruction of the Jews as a national/ethnic/religious community in Germany and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe).

Like the Germans under Nazi rule who were told that the Jews were a threat to German nation, the Burmese public has been told a similar genocidal lie about the Rohingyas. (Myanmar Peace Center's Dr Min Zaw Oo is also playing the role of a Nazi-ish adviser, writing a series of delusional essays in Burmese framing the Rohingya issue in the larger equally delusional discourse of 'the War on Terror' - published in THE VOICE - portraying the helpless, half-starved Rohingya as an Islamic threat to "Buddhist" Burma!)

In 1978, the estimated population of the Rohingyas was 1.3 million.

In 2014, Khin Yi, Immigration Minister, former military intelligence and ex-police chief put the Rohingya population at 1.3 million.

Meanwhile the country's overall population is estimated to have grown from 26 millions in 1978 to about 50 million in 2014. 

Meanwhile the Burmese regime is telling the public that there is a Rohingya population explosion posing a serious demographic threat to the country, parading around in the Burmese official media some Rohingya family - perhaps rare exceptions - with 4 wives and 30 children (not exact number). 

(Khin Yin, Kyaw Yin Hlaing and Ban Ki-Moon's Special Envoy Vijay Nambia were lobbying the UN and governments around the world to drop the Rohingya's self-identity - Rohingya - and telling every official they meet 'Rohingya is a toxic name that will inflame popular opinion among ultra-nationalist "Buddhist" Rakhines, thereby making it difficult to resolve the 'sectarian conflict' - a verifiable distortion of the fact that it is the military - and successive military regimes since Ne Win - that initiated the campaign to destroy the Rohingya, both symbolically via the erasure of the name, the identity and history - and literally as a cohesive ethnic, religious and national group). 

This Zero Growth in population is the DIRECT result of a genocidal policy of Burma maintained since 1978. 

Ex-General Khin Nyunt also confirmed that there was NO IN-FLOW Muslims from "Bengali', only the fleeing of Arakan's Muslims across the borders into Bangladesh. He did so in his 'top secret' lecture, to a cadre of officiating Burmese brigadier generals at the then National Defense College, (Khin Nyunt was the founder of the notorious Na-Sa-Ka, Burmese equivalent of SS as far as the Rohingyas in Arakan). 

It is incredibly pathetic that the entire regime of Nwa Thein Sein - in fact all successive regimes of Bama generals - have been feeding the Burmese public this racist poison for the past nearly 40 years.

All genocidal atrocities are typically preceded by constructing a target community or people as 'viruses' 'threats' 'pests' 'illegals' etc. As Amartya Sen - who lived through violent racial and religion-justified killings in South Asia - Lahore - observed perceptively any otherwise good and peaceful people can be turned to a genocidal lot by carefully crafted state-manufactured propaganda. 

Every year the Burmese military regimes since Ne Win's era brought hundreds of Burmese senior and junior teachers to Civil Servant Training School at Hpaung Gyi where high ranking military officers, including Khin Nyunt, would come and spread lies, fear and hatred of the Rohingyas among the country's educators - teachers and other civil service members.

Tragically for those of us the 'good and informed Burmese', our country is populated by the good Buddhist public who have been thoroughly duped and brainwashed into behaving like the German Nazis in the Third Reich. 

The result of nearly 40 years of Burmese military's genocidal propaganda is that our country in 2014 is overwhelmingly genocidal and racist towards the Rohingyas. Hatred is never defeated by historical facts. Germans in the Allied- occupied Germany post-Hitler denied any knowledge of atrocities committed against 6 million Jews and another 4-5 millions Poles, 'gypsies', Russians, German communists, the disabled German, Jehovah Witnesses, etc. The American troops forced these defeated ordinary Germans to go and see - and remove by their hands - piles of hundreds of corpses in numerous concentration camps. Even then some Germans, both men and women, were seen laughing and giggling - before they entered these camps as if they were heading to a community picnic! Only when they saw first hand rotten corpses, gas chambers, charred bodies, etc. were they forced to accept that their nation was GENOCIDAL. 

No two genocides or cases of mass atrocities are exactly alike. 

But denial on the part of the perpetrators and perpetrating nations is an integral to all genocides. I was 15 feet behind (through the glass wall in the International Tribunal Chamber) Brother Number Two of Khmer Rouge - a Thammasat University (Bangkok)-trained law student and education minister - claiming his innocence and 'I was not aware of the atrocities' - during his closing statement. 

The Burmese public is of course going to deny that they are genocidally racist. Many a good people who know better keep to themselves against the overwhelmingly genocidal Burmese public sentiment towards the Rohingya. 

Back in 1978, other minorities such as Wa, Lahu, Kachin, Karen, Shan, Palaung, etc. dared express their solidarity and empathy for the persecuted Muslim minorities of Arakan.

Now in 2014, even the Kachin Independence Organization's spokesperson ex-Colonel James L. based in BKK denied any knowledge of Rohingya and denied showing any sympathy for the Rohingya. 

That IS the direct effect of Nazi-like anti-Rohingya propaganda by the Psychological Warfare Department of Ministry of Defense in Burma. 

The thought of Burma's good "Buddhists" turning Nazis really gives me chills down my spine. I hope it does for you too.

Burma’s Struggle for Democracy: A critical appraisal (DRAFT)

Reclaiming Activism
Chapter 3

Burma’s Struggle for Democracy: A critical appraisal

By Maung Zarni with Trisha Taneja


This chapter draws upon the author’s direct political engagement in Burma’s pro-change opposition, and on his own research, to reflect critically on the struggle of the last twenty-five years between the ruling military and the opposition movements.

Aung San Suu Kyi is widely acclaimed as the face of Burmese democratic activism, as a dignified and principled exponent of non-violent resistance, and the symbol of the aspirations of the Burmese people for a government, freely and fairly elected, that champions the rights and welfare of its people. Suu Kyi’s iconic status is exemplified by the award of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize—awarded a mere three years after she became politically active. 

This chapter questions the simplified heroic narrative commonly associated with Suu Kyi, and portrays a more complex story behind the struggle for human rights and democracy in Burma. Transnational activism centred on Burma has been plagued by disunity among national actors, and has evolved to follow the Western-Policy Lobby Model outlined by de Waal in chapter 2, with Suu Kyi acting as a national link for Western advocacy/lobby organisations. This anointing of Suu Kyi at the apex of the Burmese struggle has allowed Western policy makers to selectively craft a singular narrative about the country that is aligned to their strategic and domestic interests, without ensuring a corresponding positive change in Burmese struggles.

Time Line of Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) Attacks on the Kachins

Maung Zarni's comment: 

The use of Rohingyas as porters in the war will kill 2 birds with one stone:

1) Kachin troops will inevitably shoot and kill the Rohingyas who will be marching as mine sweepers in front of Burma Army columns. The Kachins will then be labeled as killers of civilians.

2) It helps the Burmese military to reduce the number of able body Rohingya males (who were kept in jail as part of mass arrests since 2012) - which is an integral part of Burma's slow genocide.

For more information, contact

Gum San NSang
Kachin Alliance, President
Carlisle, PA 17013

What Obama should tell Thein Sein

By Maung Zarni
November 14, 2014

WASHINGTON - United States President Barack Obama will be in Myanmar this week for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit. Unlike his state visit in November 2012, Obama is said to be acutely aware that the upcoming stopover cannot be used as a platform to congratulate himself as "Myanmar as a success story" for his foreign policy. 

This is because Obama's Myanmar policy honeymoon has already turned into what New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof calls "a global nightmare". Uncharacteristically, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has recently told the international media that the US government is "overly optimistic" about reforms in her country and challenges anyone to prove her wrong. 

On the home front, Obama's Democrats lost control of the Senate in mid-term elections held on November 4, underscoring Obama's lame duck position. Still, he may be tempted to continue to talk up his administration's supposed successful contributions to Myanmar's "opening" and justify his administration's plan to stay the course of unconditional, if unstrategic, engagement. 

Against this background, Obama and his advisors would do well to take a deep breath, go back to the policy drawing board, and confront the some of the crucial stumbling blocks in Myanmar's much ballyhooed "democratic transition". So far they have instead gone on the defensive about their failing engagement with Myanmar's clique of supposed "reformers", including President and ex-general Thein Sein. 

The emerging reality in Myanmar needs to be appreciated, however inconvenient or unpalatable for Washington: that the generals' top-down reforms are hardly about public welfare or advancement of human rights and civil liberties, but rather about the military and its leaders realigning their strategic interests, personal and institutional, with powerful external players, including the US, European Union and international financial institutions like the World Bank. 

In Obama's lingo, the generals' reforms may best be understood as a military strategy of "re-balancing", as opposed to democratizing Burmese politics and devolving the unitary power structure of the state to give the country's ethnic minorities a fair share of power. 

Not surprisingly, the reforms have spectacularly failed to live up to the media hype and international policy discussions, which were fueled in the first place by the military's psychological warfare program and its proxy "Myanmar Peace Center, as well as their friends and allies in Rangoon's foreign diplomatic circles, including the Norwegian, British and US embassies. 

Reforms, including the freeing of political prisoners, allowing jailed dissidents including Suu Kyi to sit in the military-controlled parliament, media liberalization, economic privatization and the pursuit of ceasefire negotiations with the country's ethnic armed resistance movements, have all been touted by Thein Sein's international supporters as "extraordinary" and "unthinkable only several years ago". Under closer scrutiny, however, they all are now clearly more form than substance. 

Both the quasi-civilian parliament and President Thein Sein's administration have opposed categorically any push for amending the anti-democratic constitution devised by and for the military leadership, witnessed in the 25% parliamentary seats automatically allotted to the Ministry of Defense and the clause that bars Suu Kyi and any able Burmese with foreign spouses or offspring from holding the country's highest office. 

The discourse that Myanmar is now home to one of Southeast Asia's freest media has been punctured by the stories of the army torturing to death Ko Par Gyi, the former-Aung San Suu Kyi-bodyguard-cum-freelance journalist and the jailing of three Burmese journalists who uncovered part of the military's secret weapons program, with alleged involvement of North Korean experts, using British colonial-era 1923 Official Secrets Act. 

Thein Sein's speeches are peppered with buzzwords such as "good governance", "inclusiveness" and "tolerance", but stand in sharp contrast with his government's ranking at the bottom of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. 

It was under his presidential watch that the military broke its 14-year-old written ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization in June 2011, thus re-igniting conflict in the country's strategic and resource rich northern and eastern regions bordering on India and China. Nor has he done anything substantive or significant to curb the hate speech and violence directed against the country's estimated 4-5 million Muslims. 

Indeed, Myanmar's reforms are not simply backsliding. Rather, they hold little or no prospect for bringing about genuine and substantive changes, without which neither peace nor prosperity is conceivable. Not in a country with the world's longest political and ethnic strife and pervasive absolute poverty. 

Obama needs to understand that the intransigence of Thein Sein's government - not the economic or personal interests of the ethnic minority leaders and their armed resistance organizations - is damaging the prospects of a nationwide ceasefire on which political solutions and lasting inter-ethnic peace will have to be built. 

Bleak peace prospects Despite the millions of euros and dollars spent in "peace support initiatives" by the likes of Norway, Japan and the European Union, the prospects for peace, stability and development, especially in the border regions of Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Karen, Mon and Wa communities, remains bleak. The absence of any progress in the pursuit of peace by Thein Sein and his deputies is in spite of the United Nations and neighboring China's involvement in the ceasefire negotiations. 

How can there be a nationwide ceasefire, let alone lasting peace, when the most powerful stakeholder - the military's leadership - rejects both equality among the country's diverse ethnic and religious communities and the federalist political vision those groups maintain is the only viable and pragmatic way forward in a country with about two dozen armed ethnic movements? 

Whoever is in the driver's seat and whatever form the new politics and administration may assume, the military remains wedded to its deeply internalized corporate vision of a unitary state where the armed forces and the officer corps doggedly play the simultaneous roles of referee, coach, and player in national politics. 

Besides the military's unitary vision for the state, the ruling generals and top ex-generals possess deep commercial interests in conflict zones which will necessarily be diminished if the state's administrative and political power is devolved to ethnic groups. For instance, many ranking generals and ex-generals have ties to the hundreds of mining companies in the multi-billion dollar jade industry at Hpar-Khant in Kachin State. Ironically, these jade mining companies pay both the Kachin Independence Organization and army, filling both sides' war chests in the process. 

For their part, the ethnic minority armed groups have tired of government ceasefire negotiators who have proven to be unable or disempowered to honor past agreements. For instance, in September this year all sides reached an initial agreement on the federalist nature of a new national polity and amendments to the military's 2008 Constitution as the basis for a nationwide ceasefire deal to be signed by all armed groups, including the central government's Armed Forces. 

A month later, the government's military representatives walked into the negotiation rooms and informed the leaders of the ethnic armed groups that the September deal was off. They then presented new conditions for a national ceasefire, which included keeping the 2008 Constitution intact and subordinating the ethnic minority armed groups under the government's central command as "border guard forces". 

Washington needs to be clear-eyed about the fact that Myanmar's government is still committing widespread crimes against humanity and other mass atrocities, particularly against both Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities such as the Shans and Kachins. 

Last week, Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic released the findings of its three-year study of "war crimes" committed by three serving generals in eastern Myanmar, including a powerful minister in President Thein Sein's government. 

In the last two-and-a-half years, there has been an alarming and sustained rise in violence, death and destruction against Rohingyas in western Myanmar - so much so that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, one of the foremost leading institutions dealing with cases of global mass atrocities, recently issued a clarion call to stop the unfolding genocide in Myanmar. 

At a Harvard University conference held last week on the worsening plight of the Rohingyas, Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen weighed in on the subject by framing Myanmar's persecution of over 1 million Rohingyas as a "slow genocide" unfolding over nearly 40 years, a far more sinister process of state-sponsored intentional destruction of a people than the Holocaust, Rwanda's genocide or the Khmer Rouge's mass atrocities in Cambodia. 

Notwithstanding legal and policy debates over the terminologies of the atrocities, including slow genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, or just plain war crimes, it is unmistakable that large scale mass atrocities are being committed against various ethnic and religious minorities by both official government troops and non-state actors such as the country's ultra-racist monks and Nazi-inspired ethnic Rakhine extremists. 

In Washington, a typical American confidence about how to facilitate and support Myanmar's transition from an outright military dictatorship to a more benign entity has given way to policy confusion, uncertainty and defensiveness. As Obama's government ponders why and how the top-down reforms it previously strongly endorsed but now recognize have stalled, it would do well to review the four biggest challenges to engaging Thein Sein's essentially military-led government. 

Needless to say, there is no possibility of the US reversing its current unconditional engagement policy and support for the "reformist" clique in Naypyidaw, who are believed to regularly congregate in Thein Sein's office. 

However, if US policy is to advance its hidden and official policy objectives, including the severing of Myanmar's ties with North Korea, promotion of democracy, freedom and human rights, and economic liberalization, as well as counterbalancing China's influence and role in the country, Washington's engagement needs to be strategically re-calibrated during Obama's visit. 

Tough talking points

First, Obama should make it clear to Thein Sein that as chairman of Myanmar's National Defense and Security Council, the country's de facto ruling body, he must reign in and stop immediately the Armed Forces' continuing war crimes against the Shan and Kachin ethnic minorities. Any claims that Thein Sein, an ex-general and Prime Minister under the former ruling junta, does not control the military's Central Command should be diplomatically refuted as disingenuous. 

Second, the US should put a moratorium on any and all military-to-military engagements between the Pentagon and the Myanmar state security sector, including workshops and training programs in human rights and civil-military relations. 

The Pentagon, with its own atrocious record of human-rights violations in the name of the "global war on terror" is neither the most obvious choice for the task nor best equipped for the job. Leave that to some other credible organizations such as Asian Human Rights Commission, Harvard Law School's International Human Rights Clinic or the Global Minorities Alliance. 

Third, the Obama Administration, represented US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize winning expert on genocides and the author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, should entertain the idea of punitive measures against Myanmar's genocidaires, including against top-ranking government officials as well as communal Rakhine leaders. 

If Washington is not prepared to push for UN Security Council authorization for the referral of Myanmar's genocidal military leaders and ex-leaders, including the "reformist" Thein Sein, it should at the least call for the revision of the racist 1982 Citizenship Act, which serves the legal justification for Rohingya persecution. 

It should also consider curbing its present ambassador in Rangoon, Derek Mitchell, who reliable sources say is pressuring Rohingya leaders and community elders to accept Thein Sein government's official erasure of the former's voluntary ethnic identity and adopt the government-imposed label "Bengali" - a term that effectively indicates that Rohingyas do not belong in Myanmar. 

In a move widely popular with the public, the US Treasury recently blacklisted ex-Brigadier Aung Thaung, chair of the Finance Committee for the military's ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and a very powerful confidante of the now officially retired despot Senior General Than Shwe, on the grounds he has been directly involved in recent violent campaigns against Myanmar's Muslims. The Obama Administration should also propose and lead similar punitive moves using established global justice mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court or Responsibility to Protect (R2P). 

Fourth and finally, as a point of departure from its current policy of unwavering support for Thein Sein's government (and its "less-corrupt" super-ministers and "cleaner" cronies), Washington needs to realign its long-term strategic interests, both commercial and strategic, with those of the public, including farmers, laborers, ethnic and religious minorities and genuine - as opposed to proxy - opposition parties. 

The US's short-sighted preference for supporting elite-led quasi-transitional processes in the Middle East and former Soviet Union has already boomeranged. The sustained popularity of Vladimir Putin in Russia and the widespread and palpable hatred of the US on the Arab Street spring to mind. Washington should recognize that Myanmar's persecuted and oppressed ethnic and religious minorities - not only the Rohingyas but also the Kachin, Mon, Shan, Karen and others - would like to see a more decisively pro-democratic and pro-human rights US policy and practice in Myanmar. 

The country's various oppressed constituencies are intensely resentful of both meek, mild and ineffectual UN officials and China's narrow interests and slanted policies in favor of their common oppressor in Naypyidaw. They still hold out hope that the US's involvement and pressure on the country's current military leaders will eventually bring genuine democratic reforms and an end to decades of internal conflict. For that to happen, Obama must change his previous tact of unconditional engagement, beginning with a strong message to Naypyidaw that current trends and practices will be met with renewed punitive measures. 

Maung Zarni is a lecturer in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author with Alice Cowley of The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya in the Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal (University of Washington Law School, Spring 2014).

This analysis article was originally published on Asia Times.

In this 9-minute radio interview with Malaysia's top Business FM station Dr Zarni dissects the state of Burma and Washington's real agenda in his native country.

In this 9-minute radio interview with Malaysia's top Business FM station Dr Zarni dissects the state of Burma and Washington's real agenda in his native country.

Persecution of Rohingya is Asean's disgrace

By Charles Santiago
November 12, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR — With Barack Obama gracing the halls of Naypyidaw this week, the world has quite rightly been calling loudly for the President of the United States of America to raise concerns regarding the backslide in human rights and democracy in Myanmar, not least of which being the institutionalized persecution and ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya minority.

The New York Times Editorial Board on Monday 10 November wrote in no uncertain terms that President Obama had a duty to be clear about the message he was taking to President Thein Sein regarding the lifting of sanctions and other positive measures in support of Myanmar’s transition to democracy.

“Mr. Obama should firmly remind them that his administration still has tools to accelerate, or delay, that process,” The New York Times wrote. “Between now and next fall, when Myanmar is scheduled to hold a general election, there is time to press forcefully for meaningful democratic reforms and an end to the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims.”

At the same time, United to End Genocide launched the powerful “Just Say Their Name” campaign, seeking to ensure President Obama stands up for the Rohingya, and their basic human rights in a country where the government refuses to acknowledge their existence as a people, seeking to wipe out their historical and ethnic identity.

This week, we also saw a powerfully written and timely opinion piece by veteran Burmese human rights campaigner Khin Ohmar in The Irrawaddy. In it, she highlighted the many issues facing her country under the current military-led government, and the need for Obama to take a stand for human rights and democracy if his administration wishes to count its support for an opening Burma as a genuine “foreign policy success”.

“This is President Obama’s chance to acknowledge that the situation in Burma has regressed since his last visit and to tell the people of Burma that the US will stand with them for human rights and democracy with concrete actions that reflect the challenges facing Burma’s reform process,” Khin Ohmar wrote.

While this is indeed an important message, and Obama’s influence on the generals and former generals that continue to rule Myanmar is arguably greater than any other individual’s in the democratic world, it is our enduring shame as a region that there has been barely a whimper of a voice regarding ASEAN’s own responsibility to halt the tide of genocide rising within our borders. We have a responsibility under international law to protect all human beings from genocide – a responsibility each and every ASEAN leader is failing to live up to.

Why has there been no call for action from ASEAN leaders on the Rohingya? Perhaps that is because our “association” of nations is seen as ineffectual and centered around power and wealth only – void of any genuine ability or desire to progress human rights in our region.

It hasn’t been that long since we last saw people slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands in our region. Less than 40 years ago, just one generation back, at least 1.7 million people – nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population – were killed by execution, disease, starvation and overwork under the Khmer Rouge’s brutal rule from 1975 to 1979.

We must make sure something like this can never happens again. But a quote from a Thai police officer in a Reuters article this week sums up the failures of the ASEAN project and how far we have to go before we become anything close to a “community.” A Thai district police chief was quoted as saying that hundreds of boat people that had turned up in Thai waters after fleeing persecution in Myanmar were not Thailand’s responsibility. 

“They are Muslims from Myanmar … They are illegal migrants,” Police Colonel Sanya Prakobphol, head of Kapoe district police told Reuters.

“If they come in then we must push them back … once they have crossed the sea border into Myanmar then that’s considered pushing them back. What they do next is their problem.”

But they are Thailand’s responsibility, Thailand’s “problem”. Protecting their dignity and rights as human beings is the responsibility of all of us, under international human rights law, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, and our own moral imperative.

The Rohingya are facing a situation of deep despair – persecuted and hounded from their homes in Myanmar where they are denied all basic rights, including to education, work, marriage and travel. Desperate, they flee into boats and the hands of unscrupulous human traffickers, to be traded as commodities – slaves.

Even if they reach Malaysia, they face a harsh existence, and difficulty in being recognised as the refugees and asylum seekers that they are.

For more than two years now ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights has been seeking to generate the political will for ASEAN leaders to step up and act as a community to protect the Rohingya from persecution and intolerable human rights violations – and prevent another genocide.

The failure of legislators, political leaders and of our citizens to make a demand on their leaders to take action to heal the pain of the Rohingya and avoid much, much more says a great deal about the expectations people have of their governments, and of ASEAN institutions. 

The concept of the ASEAN community remains nothing more than a convenient myth, used only by the powerful to further their own limited agendas. Certainly for the Rohingya there is no such community.

But if not us to step up and end this tragedy, who? It may be President Obama’s moral duty to make a stand, but it is our shame for having to rely on him to do so.


Charles Santiago is a Member of Parliament for Klang Constituency in Malaysia and President of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), an organization made up of legislators from across Southeast Asia working to promote justice and human rights in the region.

Another Man's War - The Story of a Burma Boy in Britain's Forgotten African Army

"Through Isaac’s story I’ll look at the role played by African soldiers in Burma during the Second World War. They numbered 100,000 and they took part in some of the fiercest fighting of the Arakan Campaign, but they have been largely forgotten. I’ll also discuss how the Muslim (Rohingya) population supported the British, whilst the Buddhist population tended to support the Japanese. I will argue that it’s impossible to understand the problems in Rakhine State today without an appreciation of what happened there during the early 1940s.I studied history at Oxford and reported from Africa for the BBC for 15 years. I’m now a Senior Correspondent for Al Jazeera English TV."