speaking out against Aung San Suu Kyi covering up Rohingya genocide, The Guildhall protest against "Freedom of the City Award", London, 8 May 2017

At the London School of Economic "Rule of Law Roundtable", 16 June 2012

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

Drafting the Oslo Communique calling for the end to Myanmar's Rohingya Genocide, Voksanaasen, Oslo, 27 May 2015

Giving the Annual Owen M. Kupferschmid Lecture at the Holocaust and Human Rights Project, Boston College Law School, 13 Apr 2015

Myanmar/Burma's Ceasefire Negotiations and Peacemaking: 50 years of failures

(Photo: Reuters)


#Myanmar #Burma

A glance at the history of ceasefire/peace negotiations - all failed.


MYANMAR’S HISTORY OF CEASEFIRE NEGOTIATIONS

In 1963, the first military government under General Ne Win named the Revolutionary Council government initiated ceasefire negotiations with different ethnic armed movements, as well as the Burmese Communists - “insurgent organizations” in the government’s official lingo – in order to end the country’s civil war that broke out within 90-days of independence from Britain. At the time Ne Win's deputy named Colonel Hla Han, a University of Michigan-trained medical doctor, led the negotiations.

When the negotiations collapsed the military leaders adopted a policy of what it called “annihilation” of all those who demanded that the country’s founding principle of ethnic equality be honored in the form of federal power structures – as opposed to a unitary, centralized system of government where the majority Burmese arrogated to themselves monopoly power to decide on the national affairs. (As soon as the negotiators were dropped off in various regions where they travelled on foot to the capital Rangoon Ne Win sent assassination teams to embush them).

In the early 1980’s the same military leadership under General Ne Win re-initiated ceasefire negotiations with select ethnic armed organizations, for instance, the Kachin Independence Organization, operating along the long and porous Sino-Burmese borders, at the urging of China’s leaders. However, no concrete outcome resulted from the second round of negotiations.

Again in the early 1990’s, General Ne Win, then in his semi-retirement, ordered the Burmese military leaders, particularly his protégé and Chief of the Military Intelligence, to sue for peace with ethnic armed organizations. The trigger for the third wave of negotiations was the fact that the Burmese military regime was facing internal revolt among the ethnically Burmese public in the form of a popular movement for democracy and human rights led by the National League Democracy and its charismatic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. This time the Burmese military leadership and about a dozen Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) - then called 'insurgents' - reached bi-lateral/separate ceasefire agreements whereby the EAOs were allowed to retain their own arm and pursue commercial activities as well as local development initiatives. All but one bilateral deals were, in effect, “gentlemen’s agreements” between the EAOs and the military’s chief negotiator, namely General Khin Nyunt. The only ceasefire agreement in writing was between the Kachin Independence Organization and the Burmese military. In the fall of 2004, General Khin Nyunt was sacked and placed under house arrest, and the Burmese military began new initiatives to end the existing ceasefire agreements with various EAOs by pressuring them to become subordinates in the country’s central armed forces under the arrangement called “Border Guard Forces”. This arrangement was made constitutional and legal under the military’s Constitution of 2008. Some small EAOs were unable to withstand the Burmese military’s pressure and accepted its arrangements while the stronger EAOs such as the Kachin Independence Organization, the United Wa State Army, and so on refused to comply with the Burmese military’s demands.

Beginning in August 2010, the Burmese military began fresh rounds of military attacks to annihilate EAOs such as the Kokant Han Chinese’ militia known as Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) – and succeeded its mission swiftly. Emboldened by its military victory against the Kokant, the Burmese military with its quasi-civilian government under ex-General Thein Sein unilaterally broke the ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in June 2011.  
Contrary to its expectation for a quick defeat of the KIO, the Burmese military suffered unprecedented degree of casualties – by the thousands. A combination of the failure to crush the Kachin resistance, the growing domestic pressure for ending the civil war from the civil society networks of activists, the attempts by Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD to seize the initiative for reviving federalist dialogue among different constitutive ethnic communities of the country and the need to create a stable environment for foreign investors and businesses in the newly opening country provided the impetus for the Burmese military to initiate the 4th wave of ceasefire negotiations in 50 years since the military came to power in 1962.

Therefore, two years after the failed military operations against the KIO, the government of Thein Sein launched ceasefire negotiations without any pre-conditions in 2013.
 

Burma’s half-hearted commitment to democracy

U Shwe Mann, speaker of the lower house of Burma’s parliament, speaks during a meeting with locals in his constituency on Aug. 22. (Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

By Editorial Board
August 28, 2015

BURMA’S PARLIAMENTARY election Nov. 8 should have been a moment to anticipate with joy: another step in the nation’s emergence from military rule. But democracy is not strictly about the ballot box. It is also about the process — the nature of the competition for power, and whether that political struggle is free, fair and inclusive of all. By this measure, Burma is falling short.

Some of the problems are long-standing. Twenty-five percent of parliament seats are reserved for unelected members of the military. The country’s most popular figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from running for president by a provision in the constitution, written with her in mind, that the military and its allies recently refused to alter.

The regime of generals and former generals who began the transition away from military rule still exert a heavy hand on the political process. This month, President Thein Sein dramatically ousted a rival from the ruling party’s leadership — the rival was speaker of the lower house of parliament and considered a potential future president — in an abrupt and arbitrary purge that appears to have been at the behest of the military. Not very democratic at all.

“We are supposed to be going along the path of democratization but events over the last couple of weeks show that we are not very far along that path yet,” Aung San Suu Kyi said in an interview with Agence France-Presse.

Burma’s regime is aggravating and exploiting ethnic conflicts in the Southeast Asian nation of 56 million people also known as Myanmar. Most egregious has been its treatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that has long been persecuted and that increasingly has been subject to violence and denied citizenship. In recent days, the country’s election commission ruled that a sitting Rohingya member of parliament who had served in the government’s ruling party could not run for reelection because he was not a citizen, and thus ineligible. The New York Times reported that the commission said the parents of U Shwe Maung were not citizens at the time of his birth. He said the finding was absurd, that his father was a career-long officer in the national police force, and he is appealing.

Behind the incident is a much larger process of culling Rohingya from voter rolls being carried out as a result of pressure from Buddhist nationalists. Tens of thousands of Rohingya voters may lose their right to vote in November, although they have voted in the past. This kind of mass disenfranchisement is intolerable for a genuine democracy.

For too long, the Obama administration has been overly optimistic about Burma’s transition. Before the election — now — would be a good time to broadcast a necessary and unvarnished message to Burma’s leaders that a Potemkin democracy just won’t do. The election process and the vote itself must be free, fair and all-inclusive.

The Trafficking Of Stateless Rohingya: A Problem Of Organised Crime Or State Crime?

By Natalie Brinham
August 28, 2015

In 2013 Natalie Birnham met and interviewed a Rohingya survivor, named Jamal, in an above-shop office of a local CBO in Kuala Lumpur. He recounted his journey fleeing from Western Myanmar/Burma to Malaysia. 

Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, September 2013

In 2013 I met Jamal in in Kuala Lumpur. He recounted his journey fleeing from Western Myanmar/Burma to Malaysia. Jamal (all names have been changed to protect the identity of interviewees) arrived two days before, and was visibly emaciated. Twelve men from his village were not so lucky – they had died after the food and water ran out on board the boat. Jamal sobbed as he told me how he had helped throw their bodies over-board.

Jamal survived both mass state-sponsored violence in Myanmar and the now notorious human trafficking networks that operate the route from the Bay of Bengal to mainland Southeast Asia. He was, in other words, a survivor of both state crimes and of organised crime. 

On route, he encountered the Myanmar Navy after the over-crowded boat he was travelling on ran out of fuel and food.

They told us to come aboard the navy boat two or three at a time. They told us to lie down flat on our stomachs with our face to the floor. They beat each of us as we lay down. We all got five lashes. Some among us could speak Burmese fluently. But those who spoke Burmese got extra lashes. They shouted, ‘Why do you speak Burmese? You are not Burmese.’ Then we were told to get back on our own boat. They gave us no food. No water and no fuel. The Navy boat towed our boat for many hours into the open sea. They confiscated our anchor. When they untied our boat, they told us Thailand is in that direction.[i]

The process of persecuting and de-nationalising Rohingya in Myanmar has intensified since he made his journey – yet by the end of May this year, the Myanmar Navy had been tasked by the international community with searching for and “rescuing” Bangladeshi and Rohingya “irregular migrants”.

So, how did it happen that the military of a government- accused by Human Rights Watch of Crimes against Humanity and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya -should be considered an appropriate body to “rescue” the very same people fleeing their persecution?

No small wonder that questions have been asked about the fate of the rescued Rohingya.

Earlier this year, the Thai government, under rising pressure, began cracking down on the “trafficking camps” where Rohingya and other migrants were held in hostage-like situations during the overland leg of the journey to Malaysia until payment was provided by relatives. The scale of the abuse, exploitation and extortion inflicted on those in the camps became apparent. Mass graves were found and evidence of rape and torture was gathered. Traffickers were arrested – amongst them government officials long complicit.

Despite over ten years of developing anti-trafficking initiatives in the region, protections for victims of trafficking remain grossly inadequate – especially where victims are stateless - and the crackdowns came at a cost for the Rohingya in transit and those needing to flee persecution in Myanmar.

As a consequence of the crackdown, boatloads of refugees and migrants were prevented by state authorities from landing in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia as Southeast Asian states closed down the informal routes of refuge that had previously facilitated Rohingya entry. There was an immediate humanitarian crisis for those abandoned by their agents and drifting at sea.

At the end of May this year, prominent government officials from 17 countries met in Bangkok to discuss how to resolve the immediate humanitarian crisis as well as the on-going issue of “irregular maritime movements”. In a bid to get Myanmar to the table and to extract their cooperation, the decades of persecution of the Rohingya as a root cause of the displacement was not addressed. In fact the word “Rohingya” - a term which is officially rejected by the government of Myanmar – was not even uttered in official transcripts.

Plans were made to cooperate on search and rescue and strengthen responses to human trafficking primarily through prosecution of traffickers. Meanwhile across the world at a conference in Oslo, Nobel laureates and international human rights experts discussed whether the situation for Rohingya in Myanmar constitutes genocide or simply Crimes against Humanity. 

The Bangkok meeting essentially concluded that the “migrant crisis” was due to unscrupulous individuals that were part of human trafficking networks. At the same time George Soros hit the headlines comparing Myanmar’s official segregation and persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar to his personal experience of Nazi occupation of Hungary. 

Anti-trafficking frameworks were developed primarily to tackle cross-border organised crime. To do this, they broadly focus on Prosecution, Protection and Prevention. The aim is to prevent trafficking by prosecuting criminal individuals, educating populations about risks and sometimes by providing safe migration alternatives through bilateral agreements between states. Where victims are stateless, and have also experienced state crime in their countries of origin, such frameworks are impotent. Meetings about the migrant crisis in the Andaman seas took the root cause of the crisis and displaced it from the primary arena of state crime into the secondary realm of international crime syndicates.

Rohingya are extremely vulnerable to organised crime abroad because they are fleeing state crimes at home. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking recently noted that refugees and asylum seekers are at increased risk of trafficking and many will leave home knowing they may be exploited.

Mohammed, the uncle of another Rohingya youth I met in KL - who was too traumatised to recall his experience of torture in a trafficking camp on the Thai/Malaysia border that rendered him unable to walk - explained this to me in his own way. In the recent past Rohingya leaving Rakhine State for Malaysia would generally have time to gather financial resources and the support of relatives overseas before getting on the boats. These days they are compelled to leave with urgency and desperation, without resources or contacts –just as his nephews did.

This leaves them more vulnerable to exploitative agents. Mohammed, having initially refused to pay the ransom, was lured into coming to pick up this young nephew’s dead body for burial – only to have the ransom fee extorted in order to take him home, crippled but alive. A week later and the evening before I met Mohammed, he was contacted by agents demanding payment for his two other nephews. He wasn’t sure where the money would come from. He was desperate - the agents, he told me, were resorting to increasingly cruel measures to extract payment.

Despite Myanmar’s state crimes being established as the root cause of the displacement of Rohingya by numerous human rights organisations, policy remedies for the trafficking of Rohingya only tackle organised crime. The tragic outcome of such an approach is that desperate Rohingya are finding it harder and harder to leave Myanmar. The fire door has been blocked off and no equipment has been left to fight future fires. 

The risk of mass violence against the Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine State is increasing ahead of Myanmar’s scheduled elections in November, with the intensification of the de-nationalisation process and the enacting of more discriminatory laws. If lessons from the past are learnt, there is one sure way to increase the risk of a situation of ethnic cleansing turning into one of mass killing - and that is to shut off escape routes. 

Of course the killing, torture, rape and extortion of Rohingya on route to a safe country should never be allowed to go unprosecuted. However, there are real risks that come with prosecuting traffickers when the result is to close escape routes. When anti-trafficking frameworks in the region do not provide adequate protections for victims and when organised crime is tackled without addressing the root causes of displacement - namely persecution - it is the victims that pay the ultimate price, not the traffickers.

We don’t yet know what price Rohingya in Myanmar will pay for the crackdown on trafficking syndicates. We do know that for Rohingya and other stateless or persecuted persons, anti-trafficking frameworks are never going to muscle-up unless they are integrated into approaches that also tackle the primary cause of victims’ flight: state crime.


[i] Interviews I conducted as part of my work with Equal Rights Trust. Also quoted in Zarni, M. and Cowley, A. (Natalie Brinham’s pseudonym) “The Slow-burning genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya”, Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal, University of Washington, volume 23 no.3, June 2014.

Natalie Brinham studied an MA in Education, Gender and International Development while working as a Senior Support Worker with women trafficked into the UK. Since graduating in 2009, Natalie has continued to blend front-line support work for refugees, migrants and survivors of trafficking with research and advocacy. From 2011 to 2015, Natalie worked as a consultant on the Equal Rights Trust’s statelessness projects, based in London, Brunei and Malaysia.

This included a multi-country study of the human rights of stateless Rohingya from Myanmar and involved desk and field work with Rohingya survivors of mass violence and trafficking. Natalie co-authored a study with Maung Zarni, entitled “The slow-burning genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya”, under the pseudonym Alice Cowley which was published in the Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal. This continues to be used to advocate for better protection for Rohingya and Myanmar Muslims at international conferences. Natalie continues to work on the issues of migration, statelessness, citizenship and trafficking. She was recently awarded a PhD scholarship at the newly formed UK Institute of Migration Research in Canterbury exploring the topic of life after trafficking: short and long term outcomes for survivors of trafficking in the UK.

#Myanmar and Its Nation-Builders (1962-present)





#Myanmar and Its Nation-Builders (1962-present)


They come. They loot.  They lie.  They rape   They rob.  They steal.  They torture.   They burn villages.  They now scapegoat Muslims - just as they scapegoated Communists and Chinese.  They spread hate.  They promote racism.  They sponsor violence.  They outsource a genocide (of the Rohingya).  They offer 'nationwide ceasefire' - before they bomb you again.  

Alas, that's our nation-builders.  

They once called themselves the 'Revolutionary Council'.

They took off generals' uniform, put on head dress and silk longyi, and called themselves, cadres and "socialists". 

They gave us the "Burmese Way to Socialism" and 1974 one-party "Socialist" Constitution. 

It turned out to be one-general dictatorship.  The created a military Hell and  produced a nation of 51 million ill-educated and malnourished paupers.

The changed the countrt's name from Burma to Myanmar, and tried "Myanmar Way to Capitalism".  That too turned out to be a  general-crony kleptocracy.

They called themselves 'State Law and Order Restoration Council.  They loved peace so much they incorporated the word 'peace' into their new and fanciful name: the State Peace and Development Council.

They took off generals' uniform, again.  And they wrote their democracy-proof Constitution of 2008.  They launched 'reforms', short-lived, superficial and inconsequential.

And now their reforms are acknowledged dead or in reverse, having resulted in 'Discipline Flourishing Democracy'.  It wll be binned, sooner or later.  

A new crop will come and they will keep on building our nation - until they are all dead.​


What’s holding up Burma’s nationwide ceasefire?

In this file photo, Lt-Gen Myint Soe of Burma's Defense Ministry (r) shakes hands with Maj-Gen Gun Maw of the Kachin Independence Army during peace talks in Myitkyina, Kachin State in October 2013. (PHOTO: AP)
 
By Maung Zarni
Democratic Voice of Burma
August 12, 2015

Last week, the ninth round of ceasefire negotiations between Burma’s quasi-civilian government and the negotiators representing the country’s Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) ended without any conclusive agreement in Rangoon.
 
Now the Burmese government is to hold a high-level meeting involving President Thein Sein and EAO senior leaders in Naypyidaw on 19 August on one condition: that the EAOs agree to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) leaving out the following ethnic militias: Kokang group Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA); the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA); Arakan Army (AA); Wa National Organisation (WNO); Lahu Democratic Union (LDU); and Arakan National Council (ANC).
 
Such an agreement would be a decisive step towards ending the world’s longest running civil war, which is now in its 67th year. The immediate and first obstacle to peace can be seen as the exclusionary nature of the government’s offer of ceasefire.
 
Despite the possibility of even such an exclusionary ceasefire agreement, the current prospects for lasting peace in Burma remain unchanged. Two years ago, I wrote in the New York Times [Myanmar’s Drive for Peace, Maung Zarni, 3 Nov, 2013]: “On the eve of independence in 1948, the Burmese nationalist leaders promised that ethnic equality would be a cornerstone of the new Burma. But equality has remained elusive. Until the promise of equality and the vision of a federated union are genuinely pursued, the government’s offer of peace will have few local takers.”
 
Peace in Burma remains as elusive as it was two years ago – still hinging on the issue of genuine equality.
 
The government insists on excluding the above-named EAOs from the signing of the NCA, despite the explicit readiness of all ethnic armed groups to end hostilities towards the central Burmese government. This is officially justified on grounds that these groups do not have as yet bilateral ceasefire agreements with the central authorities as a requisite for nationwide ceasefire.
 
When these groups issued a joint statement to immediately start bilateral ceasefire talks the government simply ignored their call. Such is Naypyidaw’s credibility, or lack of it, and its anti-federalist deeds which disregard ethnic equality as a key principle of governance.
 
Burmese government representatives and ethnic leaders sit for talks at Myanmar Peace Centre in Rangoon in August 2014. (PHOTO: DVB)
 
On their part, the Senior Delegation argue that the official exclusion of a good number of EAOs who, in good faith, seek not only formal signing of a ceasefire nationwide, but whose civilian communities wedged in conflict zones desperately need the immediate cessation of ongoing military attacks.
 
The ethnic delegates contend that because of the overlapping and zigzag nature of boundaries and troop positions across the ethnic regions — all of which have experienced active armed conflicts — leaving some armed conflicts to simmer while holding fire in other regions raises a very real possibility of renewed wars in the foreseeable future.
 
Further, the ethnic minorities commonly see the exclusion of certain groups from the ceasefire pact as “a classic divide and rule strategy”, as an adviser to the Senior Delegation of EAOs put it.
 
The second obstacle is the lack of Burmese government credibility regarding its offer of ceasefire. The EAOs are extremely reluctant to sign the NCA in light of the irreconcilable gap between Naypyidaw’s official rhetoric of ceasefire, peace and ethnic equality encapsulated in the discourse of federalist power-sharing, and its troops’ ongoing, vicious military assaults against some of the ethnic communities.
 
Only recently, Burmese troops laid siege to Mali Yang, a Kachin Independence Army outpost named after a small Kachin village. According to the Free Burma Rangers, a professional non-governmental organisation that monitors active armed conflicts in the country’s ethnic minority regions, in the month of June alone there were 81 clashes and over 2,700 Burmese troop movements including airdropping reinforcements.
 
In addition, integral to its war efforts to break the will of the Kachin troops, the Burmese army is engaged in arbitrary arrests, forced labour and torture of innocent villagers, while blocking humanitarian assistance and the emergency rescue of civilians trapped in active war zones.
 
The third and perhaps most fundamental barrier to ceasefire and peace is the Burmese leadership’s refusal to accept ethnic equality to be enshrined as a foundation for a new and federated union of Myanmar. Less than two months ago, the country’s military-controlled parliament voted down a proposal to amend Article 261 of the military-drafted constitution so that the power to appoint chief ministers of different (ethnic) regions would be transferred from the central government to regional legislatures.
 
To the dismay of the country’s ethnic minority communities, the government refuses to devolve power to local legislatures – an anti-federalist move which effectively denies local ethnic constituencies of both the constitutionally recognised right and the real power to manage their own affairs, including choosing their own executive leaders.
 
With good reason, the minority negotiators continue to hold the view that Burma’s central authorities remain locked in an internally colonial mindset vis-à-vis other ethnic communities.
 
The EAOs’ Senior Delegation is fully aware of the government’s behind-the-scenes attempts to cut off all forms of support and involvement from China to some of the key EAO members.
 
The Christian Kachins, one of the militarily strongest ethnic groups along the porous 1000 mile-long Sino-Burmese border, have commercially, culturally and strategically important ties with their giant neighbor.
 
In a recently leaked video, a Burmese official was seen explaining to a group of anti-Chinese and anti-Muslim nationalist monks the reason why the government had arrested and then swiftly released 155 Chinese loggers from neighbouring Chinese province of Yunnan caught felling trees in northern Kachin State: as a strategic leverage to extract Beijing’s promise to choke off groups in the ceasefire negotiation process.
 
On the propaganda front, the Burmese government frames the ethnic leaders and negotiators who insist on an “inclusive ceasefire” where no ethnic community, armed or unarmed, is left behind as “idealist”, “rigid”, and “un-pragmatic” or “unrealistic”. Instead of bringing all who desire and clamour for ceasefire and peace on board the process, the government has opted for bilateral negotiations.
 
Unfortunately, some of the international peace supporters that wish to see Burma’s war zones transformed into stable sites for economic development, agricultural industries, new tourism businesses, and other lucrative enterprises have opted to accept this official but disingenuous portrayal of ethnic leaders in ceasefire negotiations.
 
Angering the senior delegates of EAOs, EU Ambassador to Myanmar Roland Kobia was seen lecturing the Senior Delegation of ethnic leaders in which he extolled, rather patronisingly, the virtues of “pragmatism” and the need to “make compromises” for the sake of ethnic communities in conflict zones during the official dinner the night before last week’s negotiations in Rangoon.
 
Between 2004 and 2008, I worked as a voluntary facilitator of Track II negotiations or “diplomacy without license” between Burmese military intelligence and former dissidents in exile, as well as certain Western governments. I know intimately how Burma’s military leaders approach any negotiations.
 
Importantly, I am from the dominant Burmese majority – from a large military clan whose members include the very first commanding officer to the now semi-retired Snr-Gen Than Shwe and a VIP military pilot for his predecessor, the late despot Gen. Ne Win. I confess how colonial we Burmese typically are in the way we perceive, treat and relate to the rest of the country’s ethnic peoples.
 
Burma’s leaders, particularly ex-generals and generals, lack both genuine acceptance of multiethnic peace on equal terms and an appreciation for the decades of bitter experiences of war-torn communities. Without these two essential pillars, sustainable peace in my country of birth is not conceivable, formal ceasefire or not.
 
Ten years ago, I trekked through parts of the mine-infested Karen war zones of Eastern Burma, while staying with the Karen National Liberation Army troops – the same troops that nearly killed my uncle, then a decorated Burmese army officer, in a battle. Through my stay there, I learned first-hand and came to appreciate deeply how desperately ethnic minority communities want and need not just an NCA on paper, but peaceful political solutions to their grievances and the resultant lasting peace.
 
After all, it is these ethnic peoples, nearly 40 percent of the country’s total population, who have borne the brunt of the nearly seven-decade civil war. They have been subject to all kinds of human rights violations, war crimes and atrocities at the hands of government troops, including rape of ethnic women and girls; forced labour; the wholesale burning of villages; confiscation of paddy, agricultural land, livestock and anything of value; countless loss of limbs and lives because of anti-personnel landmines; lack of personal and communal security; and the absence of a normal life.
 
One of the key negotiators and prominent leaders of the Mon people, Nai Hongsa, identified a fundamental obstacle to ending Burma’s civil war when he said: “We will achieve a sustainable Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement if we maintain our unity; it is our strength and we cannot let the Tatmadaw [Burmese army] divide us.”
 
Even in the 11th hour of negotiations – the self-chosen deadline for signing the ceasefire agreement by the end of this month – the Burmese government and its military are still resorting to divide-and-rule tactics; international pressure through donor governments such as Japan and Norway; military attacks; and blocking humanitarian assistance to innocent civilian communities in war zones.
 
Tragically, Burma’s peace remains elusive. And that’s bad news for the country’s war-torn communities and war refugees. 
 
Maung Zarni is a Burmese dissident scholar in exile with 27-years of involvement in the country’s politics. He has just completed concurrent visiting academic fellowships at Harvard and the London School of Economics.
 

Election will be neither historic nor consequential

File photo of military appointees at a parliamentary session in April 2012. (PHOTO: Reuters)

By Maung Zarni
July 26, 2015

Last week on BBC, Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said confidently that he “expects a free and fair election” sponsored by his military scheduled for November this year, and will honour the electoral results. The BBC hailed not only the general’s pro-democracy pledge, labelling this year’s polls “historic”, but also the very fact that the country’s most powerful soldier – generals in Myanmar are traditionally media-shy – sat down with the BBC for an interview.

Sitting across from a row of microphones in the BBC’s London studio, the World Service Newsday’s presenter Clare McDonnell asked me what I thought of the general’s promise and his unprecedented interview to the BBC. My answer: the generals are getting PR-wise.

Alas, the once media-shy Burmese soldiers have come of age: they have grown media-savvy and supremely confident in dealing with the outside world.

Over the last four years, since US-led Western powers embraced Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government of ex-general and current president Thein Sein, Burmese generals have acted incredibly relaxed about talking to the international media, whether to the regime-friendly outlets such as Singapore’s Channel News Asia or the Voice of American Burmese Service, or more professional programs like BBC’s Hard Talk.

After all, the Burmese generals have forcibly pushed through their amendment-proof constitution of 2008, which effectively elevates the military, both as an institution, and the generals, as a class, above the law. It shields the most powerful institution from any popular pressure, accords the military a veto on any policy and institutional measures, and, most importantly, legalises any future military coup deemed necessary by the commander-in-chief.

In addition, today’s Burmese generals and ex-generals have been ably assisted on public relations matters by a small but highly educated group of Burmese advisers, as well as international friends including the regime-friendly diplomats, politicians, academics and policy lobbyists. As a consequence, the generals have learned to parrot pro-democracy liberal spins while pursuing the same old illiberal agenda dictated by the typical anti-democratic mindset instilled through military academies and decades of working in the country’s militaristic, authoritarian political culture.

Upon closer look, in spite of being touted as “historic” in Western media, world’s capitals and investors’ circles, Myanmar’s upcoming elections lack any democratic substance.

Burma’s Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing (PHOTO: DVB)

One only needs a cursory glance at how political power is divided – or not divided – among the country’s stakeholders: non-Myanmar or non-Burman ethnic communities such as the Kachin, the Karen, the Shan, the Mon, the Rakhine [Arakanese], the Karenni, the Chin, etc. who make up roughly 30-40 percent of the total population of 51 million; and the pro-democracy Myanmar civilian communities.

As a matter of fact, Myanmar’s power set-up in 2015 resembles far more closely that of India under British colonial rule in 1918 than any political system that can be characterised as even remotely “democratic”. In his book The Future of Burma (1937), F. Burton Leach, the then chief secretary to the (colonial) Government of Burma and the political secretary to the Burma Chamber of Commerce in Rangoon, wrote: “When Mr Montague and Lord Chelmsford set about to prepare their scheme of reform in 1918, the two outstanding features of the system of Government in India which had survived all previous changes, were …. first, the marked centralisation of power in the hands of the [British colonial] Government of India, and the small amount of power, either legislative, administrative or financial, possessed by the Provincial Governments, and secondly the complete independence of the [colonial] Executive from any control by the Legislature, either in the Central or in the Provincial Governments”.

Anchored in their constitution adopted in 2008, Myanmar’s military leaders introduced a new political system – “Discipline-flourishing Democracy” – after the military’s political proxy – the Union Solidarity and Democratic Party (USDP) – won over 80 percent of the popular votes in a country where the military and the generals are most widely reviled. This new system devised by and for the military contains the two anti-democratic features which were the pillars of British colonial rule in India almost 100 years ago.

While ignoring the blatant disenfranchisement of nearly one million Rohingya in western Burma and possible disenfranchisement of Kachins, Karen, Shan and Rakhine in active war zones in the upcoming elections, Western governments have made an issue out of Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the most popular Burmese politician, being constitutionally barred from holding the highest office in the land on grounds of her two children – and late husband – being foreigners.

However, structurally speaking, the two most important issues that expose the most anti-democratic pillars of Myanmar’s “democratic system” hark back to the British colonial era political system that was deemed necessary to reform even as early as 1918: the concentration of political and administrative power in the central government vis-à-vis the non-ethnic Myanmar “peripheries”, for lack of a better term, and the constitutionally guaranteed absence of democratic accountability for those in the Executive branch, made up almost exclusively of Myanmar generals and ex-generals.

Just last week, the military bloc-voted against a motion designed to devolve the central/national government’s existing power to appoint chief ministers of states and divisions to local legislatures, dealing a blow to any hope for an evolution of the military-controlled Parliament over time.

Furthermore, only Myanmar’s commander-in-chief is endowed with the power to appoint crucial cabinet posts such as defense; home affairs; foreign affairs; border affairs; as well as endorse or reject any presidential and vice-presidential nominees from the elected political parties; assign military officers to man the 25 percent of parliamentary seats in all national and state/provincial legislatures; and organise a military take-over against any sitting parliamentary government.
The fact that any constitutional amendment requires more than 75 percent of the approving votes gives the commander-in-chief veto power over virtually all aspects of Myanmar’s political system. The 25 percent of military representatives are organised as a brigade within the parliament. Unfailingly, the military representatives vote as a bloc, whatever the issue, as ordered from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief.

Aside from the categorically anti-democratic constitutional arrangements of political and administrative power, there is also a profoundly disturbing issue, namely the military’s capture of what academics call the State, that is, the governmental/administrative ethos, culture and practices, institutions, and personnel. During the past 53 years – of which 49 were direct military rule and four are quasi-civilian – the Burmese generals have staffed virtually all strategic administrative positions at both state and national/central government levels with military personnel: literally thousands upon thousands of bureaucrats are either in-service military officers or military veterans.

Some token civilian administrative heads and advisors notwithstanding, all important decisions are taken by the officer-cum-civilianised-bureaucrats. The buck stops at the military’s desk. The futility of ceasefire negotiations in the face of the Burmese military’s push for the surrender of the ethnic armed resistance organisations is a case in point.

To ensure there is no split in culture, ethos and loyalty in the country’s vast security sector, the military has infused its loyal officers into police and intelligence services. Further, the military has organised a vast nationwide circle of veterans whose loyalty and support can be counted upon in terms of popular mobilisation for the military’s strategic ends. This is in addition to the military’s ultimate control of the ruling USDP.

With these kind of British colonial-style safeguards for the ruling military’s vested interests, both political and economic, there is little wonder that the commander-in-chief had no problem making the promise of respecting the outcome of the November elections.

Economically, since the early 1950s when the country’s civil war with multiple fronts increased the central role of the military in Burma’s national politics, the generals have built up an economic base for the military as an institution. To date, virtually all important sectors of Burma’s national economy – including an informal economy – is tied to the military’s interests, and is under either the direct or indirect influence of the Ministry of Defence.

The military’s conglomerates, and their associates – known as cronies – run vast economic enterprises and mega-development projects. Not only are the Burmese generals and their base – the military – above the law and beyond accountability, but their conglomerates not only oppose any external audit but also laugh at any foreign ideas such as “corporate social responsibility”.

To be sure, transition from 50 years of military rule to a representative system of government is going to take years and monumental efforts – even in cases where the military leaders are aware of their own failures at nation-building and as policy makers.

In the case of the Burmese military leadership and the military, this transition from dictatorship to democracy is made incomparably harder. For the military has internalised the self-serving justification that without its strong hand – that is, concentration of power and control in the military and its loyalists – the multi-ethnic country is going to disintegrate.

No number of election cycles nor amount of election monitoring will make a dent in the military’s structures of power. Seen in this light, Burma’s upcoming elections will change nothing in terms of power and control.

Maung Zarni is a dissident scholar and activist with 27 years’ involvement in international activism, pushing for democratic change in his native Burma.

Muslim Prisoners deliberately excluded from Myanmar Preisdent Thein Sein's Amnesty

Monks in the audience at the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion’s two-year anniversary conference in Insein Township. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Muslim Prisoners deliberately excluded from Myanmar Preisdent Thein Sein's Amnesty


Date: August 1, 2015

Location: Insein Ma Ba Tha Central, Rangoon, Burma




Return of Myanmar’s state thugs raises fears over election violence

A photo on the March 12 front page of local-language journal The People's Age shows Swan Arr Shin militia men detaining student protestors in Yangon.

By Swe Win 
August 8, 2015

YANGON, Myanmar - A solemn commemoration ceremony was taking place on the edge of a pond near Kyi village in Depayin Township, in northwest Myanmar’s Sagaing Division, on May 30.

Dozens of long-time supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) gathered at the site of a brutal attack on her campaign convoy exactly 12 years previously. The popular opposition leader narrowly escaped, but four of her supporters were killed and dozens more injured.

One supporter, Zaw Phone Myint, recalled witnessing hundreds of thugs attack the NLD convoy with bamboo sticks and knives. It later emerged they belonged to the former military regime’s political organisation, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), and a vigilante group called Swan Arr Shin.

“This will remain an unforgettable event in our lives,” Zaw Phone Myint said recently. “But we don’t think this is the proper time to call for justice in this case.”

Indeed it might be too early to call the thugs to account.

The Swan Arr Shin - which means Masters of Force in Burmese - had not been seen since the army installed a nominally civilian government in 2011, while the USDA became the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in 2010.

But in March, the plainclothed thugs appeared again. The despised vigilantes reemerged during crackdowns on a student protest and a labour strike in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.

An investigation by Myanmar Now has uncovered how local authorities have recruited the men from impoverished areas and used them during the clampdowns.

The return of the thugs has concerned opposition politicians and activists, some of whom fear the Swan Arr Shin could be used to disrupt a general election scheduled on Nov.8, or during its potentially complicated aftermath. The NLD is expected to roundly beat the USDP of the ex-generals in Myanmar’s first democratic polls in 25 years.

“If some parties canvass, provoking racial or religious sentiments, then violence can happen. Also during the elections, if there are some irregularities in the voting list, some people may provoke violence,” said Sai Ye Kyaw Swar, director of the People's Alliance for Credible Elections.

HOW TO RENT A THUG

On a dreary night in March, a group of tattooed Burmese men sat in a dingy alcohol shop in Set Sun, a poor village near Yangon overlooking the muddy waters of the Hlaing River, and recounted the violent dispersal of a student protest a few days earlier.

“I kicked that guy in the groin. And did you see blood coming out from another guy’s head? That’s the one my son attacked,” an authoritative-looking, middle-aged man told his friends, while pointing at a tall, stout young man waiting for customers.

This reporter, who overheard the conversation while sitting at a table nearby, instantly recognised the young man. Pictures of him dressed in shabby red trousers while dragging away a student activist by the neck were splashed across the front pages of local newspapers.

On March 5, authorities in Yangon deployed dozens of men in plain clothes to help police carry out a high-profile crackdown on an education reform protest in downtown Yangon. A day earlier, a garment factory protest in the city’s Shwe Pyi Thar Industrial Zone was also quashed by police and plainclothes men wearing red armbands with the word “duty.”

The images of the thuggish-looking men forcefully dragging away young protestors incensed the public and word spread that the Swan Arr Shin were back.

Myanmar Now spoke to more than a dozen locals, officials and opposition members in Set Sun and nearby villages, and discovered more about the two men.

The older man, in his mid-forties, runs a riverside alcohol shop on Bayinnaung Street in Set Sun. Local residents said he is a salaried organiser of the USDP and was appointed chief administrator in Set Sun and two other villages in early 2014. They accused him of being involved in violent crimes in the neighbourhood for which he was never punished.

The man, who could be seen in some of the crackdown photos, flatly rejected having been involved. “You must be mistaken. I have nothing to do with that,” he said when the reporter called him to ask him about the accusations.

DEPLOYING THE SWAN ARR SHIN

Several villagers said they saw the man take about 30 people, including his son, to the administrative office of Kyimyindaing Township on the afternoon of March 5.

Soe, an ex-convict who requested not to use his full name for fear of reprisal, was one of them. He remembered how a person at the administrative office issued catapults and sharp iron spikes about eight inches long to the men, though in photos of the crackdown the militiamen were only armed with bamboo clubs.

“Many people with criminal backgrounds like me had to go if we were sent for by the ward officials. If we don’t obey them they can cause us trouble because of our background,” he said.

They were then driven in two buses to Yangon City Hall where a small student demonstration was underway. It called on the government not to resort to violence in the handling of an ongoing student march from Mandalay to Yangon.

When Soe arrived, he saw others like him recruited from other townships. “We were instructed to go in front of the police line and stand facing the protesting crowd,” he said. When protesters failed to disperse after a warning, plainclothed officials ordered the Swan Arr Shin to “wrestle [the protesters] and take them away to the trucks,” Soe recalled.

Photos and videos published by local media showed the vigilantes punching the protesters. A young man with brightly-dyed hair grabbed a young female protester in a chokehold; another young man, apparently the son of the alcohol shop owner from Set Sun, dragged a male student off by the neck.

Journalists who witnessed events said several dozen of these men were at the scene, but only about 20 of them violently tackled the protesters.

Myanmar Now managed to track down a few more in Set Sun and discovered they included five ward officials, boatmen and porters.

Despite rumours that authorities paid the men between $5 and $8 for their work, Soe said they were only served free beer and meals later that night.

RECRUITING AMONG THE POOR 

Set Sun is one of five villages on the western side of the Hlaing River, situated across from the city’s port in Kyimyindaing Township. The area got electricity for the first time some six years ago; it remains poor, education levels are low and the villages suffer from crime and lawlessness.

Major Soe Thin, the police chief in charge of Set Sun and nearby villages, said he has just 36 officers to police some 50,000 people. He said four out of 21 murders in the area last year occurred in Set Sun.

The village men work as porters in Yangon’s biggest wholesale fish market across the river, or as boatmen or trishaw drivers. “People here are so poor that sometimes they dive into the river and steal materials from ships anchored there at night,” a villager said, pointing at cargo ships and fishing trawlers on the river.

Areas like Set Sun are fertile recruiting grounds for Swan Arr Shin-type men.

Tin Myint is a former ward administrator in the neighboring village of Alatt Chaung who has joined the opposition NLD. He admitted recruiting Swan Arr Shin to break up protests or monitor activities of opposition groups for the junta from 2008 to 2010.

“In this kind of poor neighbourhood where many people are trying to eke out a living, people compete with each other for any sort of petty power from authorities,” he said.

In this way, ward and village-level administrators became influential and some found ways to supplement their meagre income through this power. In exchange for such a position, they also have to carry out assignments from higher authorities such as repressing local dissent, he said.

During his days as the administrator of Alatt Chaung village, Tin Myint said he provided each Swan Arr Shin recruited from his area with $3 and a meal per day.

'WELL-INTENTIONED MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC'

In the wake of the crackdowns in March, which caused a firestorm of public criticism and concerns among the international community, authorities sought to defend the deployment of the thugs, while obscuring who had given the orders to bring them in.

In a phone interview, Htin Kyaw Lin, a former army captain and current administrator of Kyimyindaing Township, whose authority extends to the villages of Set Sun, Auk Yone and Alatt Chaung, said: “The ones we recruited were just well-intentioned members of the public who wanted to restore order. This was not something that happened just in our town, but in other towns in Yangon as well.”

He declined to comment on who ordered the deployment of the men, but said, “When we were asked to send over members of the public, which was legally allowed, we did not have to check their criminal background.”

Zaw Htay, a spokesman for the President’s Office, in March briefly posted a screenshot on Facebook of Article 128 of the 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows authorities to raise a civilian force in order to break up an unlawful gathering.

Kyaw Hoe, a Yangon human rights lawyer, disputed that the British colonial-era law justified the use of vigilantes against student protestors. “This law can be applied only in cases of breaking up riots, not peaceful assemblies,” he said.

During the days of the military junta, the Swan Arr Shin were deployed as “mass-based” organisations on occasions where the government felt particularly threatened by street protests and opposition activities, according to Human Rights Watch, which researched its operations during the 2007 crackdown on the Saffron Uprising.

Organised by local authorities, the Swan Arr Shin groups provide a way to put a civilian face on repressing dissent and “a means of further dividing Burmese society and undermining a broad social movement,” the rights group said.

A US Embassy cable from 2009 published by Wikileaks said that Khin Yi, then national police chief, had told UN human rights rapporteur for Myanmar Tomás Ojea Quintana that the government provides training to the militia, which is sometimes allowed to be armed.

A senior police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the recent use of Swan Arr Shin was “a continuation of the former government’s policy of getting media to fight with media, students with students, the public with public, and the monks with monks.”

The government has sought to placate concerns over the use of civilian thugs, but carefully avoided taking responsibility. 

Yangon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe held a closed-door meeting with the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, a leading activist group, to discuss the events. President Thein Sein ordered a commission of inquiry to determine whether the crackdown had been in accordance with legal procedures. Its findings were sent to the president on March 31, but have not been made public.

THREAT OF ELECTION UNREST

Opposition politicians and activists said they are concerned over the return of the junta-era tactics such as using vigilantes during the elections, though they reserve their most serious concerns for a potential outbreak of communal violence between Buddhists and the Muslim minority. Such outbreaks have led to dozens of deaths in western and central parts of the country since 2012.

“The military ideology is that the generals never bow to their opponents,” said Myat Ko Ko, a co-founder of Yangon School of Political Science. He added, however, that the use of the thugs had now tarnished the image of Thein Sein’s government. “The government did not factor in how the use of Swan Arr Shin would dent its public image or its projected reform agenda,” he said.

In July, the government announced that it plans to hire an additional 40,000 police officers on a three-month basis to provide security at polling stations across Myanmar during the elections. A senior officer told local media that recruits should be “[in] good health, high school graduates aged from age 18 to 60, with a clean record and no connection to a political party.”

The plan has raised concerns with some independent observers, who privately said they fear “Swan Arr Shin-types” will be recruited for the work.

Nyan Win, a NLD spokesman, said it was likely that the election process would run smoothly as it formed part of the army and ruling party’s carefully planned democratic transition. “We don’t anticipate any chaos or violence, but at the same time we don’t rule out anything. We will wait and observe the whole process with caution,” he said.

USDP lawmaker Thar Win said the vigilantes had nothing to do with his party and he sought to assuage concerns over potential disturbances during the elections. “I am positive that the transition will continue as peacefully as it started,” he said.

Rohingya: Does the name kill?

Buddhist extremists protesting against the presence of Rohingyas in Myanmar. Myanmar must take into account the gentle nature of the Rohingyas.

By Datuk Syed Ahmad Idid
August 8, 2015

I FIRST heard the word “Rohingya” at the Sedona Hotel in Yangon during my first visit to Burma way back in November 1997. I had left the judiciary a year before. 

On an invitation by a university, I was placed as a member of the First Asean Business Mission to Myanmar. The English name was Burma but the SLORC, or The State Law and Order Restoration Council, changed it to Myanmar in 1989. The mission was organised by the Asean Business Forum. The mission leader was Datuk (now Tan Sri) Ajit Singh, the then secretary-general of Asean. My name was listed as a mission member at 07 in the programme.

While I was standing in the lobby of the hotel, a dark-skinned man approached me. He immediately told me he was a Muslim and a “Rohingya” from a village in Myanmar. Hurriedly, he said he was in some trouble and needed help. But before I could respond, a Chinese-looking man, clad in Burmese sarong (known as “longyi”) and white shirt, came forward and sort of manhandled the villager. The second man pushed the villager to another two men, who took him away. The Chinese-looking man, who identified himself as a security officer, explained to me that the villager had been causing ruckus in town and was of unsound mind. So, I left the incident at that.

Little did I know then of the plight of the Rohingyas and the dispute over that name. And I knew much less of the killings of Muslims in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine state. There was little news coverage and even when there was, such news had been brief. Readers with no background information would not understand, much less appreciate the significance.

I visited Myanmar several times since then and on each occasion, it was to meet friends who were either lawyers or bankers doing business in Yangon or a doctor friend. A Burmese gentleman I was introduced to said that the chief justice of Myanmar was a close relative. On my third visit, I met Tan Sri Dr Robaayah Zambahari, then head of IJN (National Heart Institute), attending a conference at Traders Hotel. 

I also came across Brigadier-General D.O. Abel, who had retired from the junta and was a consultant. I believe he was the only non-Buddhist in the ruling clique. I remember him because I ate dinner at his beautiful home during my 1997 visit. He was then the minister for national planning and economic development. He helped me get a fair price in a gems shop when I wanted to buy a “pigeon-blood” ruby.

From this, one can understand that even those who visit Myanmar cannot realise the undercurrents of the Rohingyas/Muslim vs Buddhists in the country. The people appear to go about their business quietly and both citizens and residents alike seem to live in peace. What one may learn later is that the security was so strong that troubles are suppressed before they are expressed. And one can also come to know that many of the ethnic problems were and are in the states outside of Yangon.

In late 2000s, I started to write but only managed the title “Rohingyas Will See Their Worst Year Yet”. I was too busy relocating to my pondok in the north and did not complete that piece. I did learn, however, that along the Kedah/Perlis border, the town Karpan has many Myanmar (Burmese) and there is a Bukit Burma in Perlis. I shall come back to these places.

Rohingya: A licence to be killed?

I had wondered why a word describing a race or ethnic group is so repugnant to the Myanmar junta. Way back in 2009, Myanmar’s then consul in Hong Kong disseminated information to the press and embassies to dissuade the international community from giving aid to the Rohingyas. According to Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post, the Burmese diplomat showed his racist side by stating that the Rohingyas “are as ugly as ogres” and they were “unlike us, who have fair and soft skin”. 

A military coup ended Burma’s democracy in 1962. Out went any official recognition of the Rohingyas. And in 1982, new citizenship laws left many of them stateless and forgotten. The government restricted their movements and denied them basic human rights. Can you imagine yourself becoming a citizen of no country when your family had remained in Burma for the past several hundred years? Thousands are placed in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps which are not fit for humans. Why did Burma/Myanmar do this?

The junta decided that the Muslims in Rakhine state are “Bengalis”, which implies they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The Buddhist inhabitants of Rakhine state had felt that they were losing jobs to the Rohingyas. And they mounted a hate campaign. Added to this were the false stories fuelled by certain monks from Yangon. And by 2012, the uneasy relations not only crumpled but exploded. Thousands of Muslims, men, women, children and the aged were speared to death and burned. The police arrived in slow vehicles. They did not rush to rescue the helpless but looked on as if they were watching a cartoon movie. WorldViews reported in 2013 that more than “140,000 Rohingyas eke out squalid existence in ramshackle camps” with no water, no food, no clothes and no medical attention. 

One sure quality of the Rohingyas was their steadfast belief in Allah and the afterlife plus kismet. They did not see any reason to arm and they did not prepare for such an impactful eventuality where their Buddhist neighbours suddenly turned on them. Their livelihood hitherto was just sufficient for their day-to-day living and they therefore had no inkling that they would be murdered. They did not organise any military preparations nor did they set up any centre to monitor dangers.

Myanmar must take into account the gentle nature of the Rohingyas. They do not copy the character of the ethnic minority rebels in Kachin state. The Myanmar military battled the Armed Wing (KIA) of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and lost several outposts. They had to resort to the use of air power. The KIO are supported by Christian churches and donations from outside Myanmar. They run secret channels to arm the KIA. The Muslims in Myanmar are not aided or sided by any Muslim or Islamic organisations secretly.

The Burmese accepted the Muslims who arrived hundreds of years ago and called them Karman. These were assimilated into Burmese society and got on cordially. But my guess is that the “fair skinned” Burmese, thanks to the British who had begun the collation of Indian Immigration census in 1939, saw an increase year on year. The Baxter Report on Burma noted that the Indian population “grew continuously in numbers and its rate of growth exceeded that of the population as a whole”. At that time, no Rohingya was recorded; only Indians. The term “Indian” comprised Hindus and Mohamedans (nowadays known as Muslims). This was the first alarm.

The second alarm could be the influx of “enemies” into Burmese territories for habitation purposes. This was during the Burma Campaign 1944-1945 when Burma sided with the Japanese and the Indians (including the people who later became Bangladeshis) fought for the Allies. During the battles, “tens of thousands of wretched Indian refugees were harassed and murdered by the Burmese population as they struggled to gain Indian soil” (per Michael Hickey). Major-General Orde C Wingate led the Chindit columns to retake parts of Burma. The “enemies” I refer to are the Indian soldiers who, after the war, decided to remain in Myanmar particularly in the areas they had fought for the Allies. Added to these were the other Indians, mostly Muslims, who entered Burma then. Naturally, the local Buddhists (who suffered the ignominious defeat by the Allies) could not take them as friends. And this animosity could have continued to this day.

President Thein Sein met the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on July 11, 2012 and told him that “the Bengalis came to Myanmar prior to 1948 because the British colonialists invited them”. This helps corroborate my submission regarding the “enemies”. 

Buddhist nationalists did not really fully appreciate that the Rohingyas contributed towards their commercial interests. And by God’s creature, a prominent monk called a UN official a “whore” for her comments in defence of the defenceless Rohingyas. Such words cannot be part of any religious leader.

And much to the surprise of the whole Buddhist priesthood in Burma, international Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama and those from several countries, had expressed their concern “about the growing ethnic violence and the targeting of Muslims in Rakhine state and across the country”. These foremost Buddhist leaders’ exhortation fell on deaf ears because one monk, Ashin Wirathu, defied them. Today, he is abbot in Mandalay Masoeyein monastery. He also claimed he is “Burmese ben Laden” when in actual fact he heads killer squads to eliminate Muslims. He leads an ultra-nationalist group billed as “969”. He was jailed from 2003 for inciting hatred and urging sectarian conflicts. When he was released in 2010, he started the “Kill All Rohingyas Muslims” campaigns with a vengeance and with renewed vigour. The Myanmar government has not stopped him and the military seems to abet if not look the other way.

Human Rights Watch stated in 2013 about Myanmar’s government and local authorities being complicit in the violence against the Rohingyas: “Burmese officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks organised and encouraged ethnic Arakanese backed by state security forces to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim neighbourhoods and villages in October 2012 to terrorise and forcibly relocate the population”. Wirathu, who urged all Buddhists to boycott Muslim shops, justified the violence by saying that he had information the Muslims were planning to establish an Islamic state in Rakhine!

The murders were so gruesome that international independent reporters who witnessed at first hand have described these as “slow genocide” or ethnic cleansing. Among the reports are those from Reuters: “Myanmar gives official blessing to anti-Muslim monks” (in the War on the Rohingyas) and “The Buddhist War on Myanmar’s Muslims” regarding the Saffron vs Green (or understandably the Buddhist monks vs Islam).

One more Buddhist leader who instigates violence against the Rohingyas in Rakhine state is Dr Aye Maung, president of the Arakan National Party. He is known to hate the Rohingyas with a burning passion. According to Dr Azeem Ibrahim, international security lecturer in the United States, who is writing a book Rohingya: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide, Dr Aye Maung is aiming to become chief minister of Rakhine state. Many believe his ambitions could trigger full scale genocide”. 

I quote from the May 26-28, 2015 Oslo Conference to End Myanmar’s Persecution of the Rohingyas: “George Soros who escaped Nazi-occupied Hungary sees a parallel between his experience of life under the Nazis in 1944 and inhuman conditions for the Rohingyas in Western Myanmar, which he witnessed at first hand during a recent visit to the country”. 

TOMORROW: Any chance of reconciliation? 

The writer is a former judge of the Malayan and Borneo High Courts.

Rohingya Children’s Visual Stories of Why They Left Their Homes



August 8, 2015

Genocide Watch Board Advisor, Dr. Nora Rowley, is a Human Rights Advocate/Activist for Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar/Burma. During her work at an Internally Displaced People Camp in Myanmar, she asked the Rohingya children at the camp one simple question: “why did you leave your home?”. Here are their powerful drawings.












Francis: Burmese treatment of Rohingya minority a form of ‘war’



By Joshua J. McElwee
August 8, 2015

Vatican City -- Pope Francis has again entered into controversial geopolitical territory, saying sharply Friday that Burmese treatment of its populous and persecuted Rohingya minority constitutes war against them. 

In remarks to a group of young people at the Vatican that partly focused on the role of conflict and tension in daily life, the pontiff spoke of global conflicts “that do not know how to resolve and end up in war.” 

“Let’s think of those brothers of ours of the Rohingya,” the pope continued, referring to the Burmese minority of some 1.3 million people who attracted global media attention earlier in the year because of their boat migration by the tens of thousands to other countries across Southeast Asia. 

“They were chased from one country and from another and from another,” Francis said of the situation. “When they arrived at a port or a beach, they gave them a bit of water or a bit to eat and were there chased out to the sea.” 

“This is a conflict that has not resolved, and this is war, this is called violence, this is called killing!” he continued.

“It is true: If I have a conflict with you and I kill you, the conflict is over,” said the pope, crying out: “But this is not the way!”

The Rohingya people are an ethnic group mainly located in the western part of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Some 25,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar by boat between last January and March alone, according to UN estimates.

The Rohingya are not recognized by the Burmese government and are also not granted citizenship. Some 810,000 people in Myanmar are without citizenship, according to the UN estimates.

Francis spoke of the Rohingya’s situation as part of a lengthy, off the cuff discourse with the youth at the Vatican that also saw him give extensive, personal advice on how young people should live with tension and conflict in their families and daily lives.

The pope was speaking to youth who are part of the Eucharistic Youth Movement, an international Catholic group that seeks to form young people in spirituality and faith. The group is hosting an international congress in Rome to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Answering questions posed by six of the youth members, the pope also spoke of the greatest difficulties he has faced in his own spiritual life and reiterated his common exhortation for young people to get to know their grandparents.

But Francis spoke most of at length about the role of conflict and tension in life.

“What would a society, a family, a group of friends be without tensions and without conflicts? Do you know what it would be?” he asked the youth.

“A cemetery,” said the pope. “Because there are only no tensions and no conflicts in dead things. When there is life, there is tension and there is conflict.”

“How is a tension resolved?” the pontiff asked. “With dialog. When in a family there is dialog, when in a family there is this capacity to say spontaneously something someone is thinking, tensions resolve themselves well.”

“Do not have fear of tensions!” he exhorted the group. “But also, be cunning! Because if you love the tension for the tension, this will make you ill and you will be a young person that loves always being in tensions. No: This no. Tension comes to help us make a step towards harmony.”

The pope spoke of the situation of the Rohingya in response to a question from a young Indonesian man, who had asked about conflicts in his own country.

“Conflict, to be well undertaken, must be oriented towards unity,” Francis said. “In a society like yours that has one culture with many diverse cultures inside it, you have to search for unity but with respect for each identity.”

“Conflicts resolve themselves in respecting identities,” he said.

The pontiff then spoke of the Middle East, saying that many religious minorities across the region, especially Christians, are not being respected and are being persecuted or killed for their beliefs.

In response to the question about his own greatest spiritual struggle, Francis said that his greatest struggle is to know how to distinguish between the kind of peace granted by God and that offered by the Devil.

Where Jesus offers a peace of deep joy, the pope said, the Devil offers a “superficial” peace that only makes you happy for a short time. Inside the Devil’s kind of peace, he said, there is a “scam.”

“Here it is necessary to ask this grace, to know how to distinguish, to know how to know which is the peace of Jesus and which is the peace that comes from the enemy, that destroys you,” said Francis.

“The Devil always destroys,” said the pope. “He makes you believe that this is the way, and then, at the end, he leaves you alone. “

“Remember this,” Francis continued. “The Devil is a bad salary-giver; he never pays well; always scams you! He is a crook! He disguises things so you believe that they are good, that they give you peace, so you go to them and at the end you do not find happiness.”

“What is the sign of the peace of Jesus?” the pope asked. “The sign is that joy, the deep joy: the Devil never gives you joy. He gives you a bit of fun; he makes a bit of the circus, makes you happy for a moment, but does not give joy.”

Francis ended his audience with the youth by asking them to remember to speak to their grandparents, who he called the “great forgottens” of our time.

Grandparents, the pope said, “have the memory of life, the memory of faith, the memory of tensions, the memory of conflicts.”

Recalling an anecdote, the pontiff said that at one of his recent general audiences in St. Peter’s Square he saw an older woman in the crowd and had his driver stop the popemobile to greet her.

Getting out of the car, he said he asked the woman her age. Saying she was 92, Francis said he asked her “recipe” in order to live so long.

“I eat ravioli!” the pontiff said she responded, joking.

“This is an anecdote to tell you that you always find a surprise with grandparents,” Francis told the youth. “Grandparents always surprise us: They know how to listen to us, they have patience.”

The pope ended the audience with a sense of encouragement in what he has called a violent era, of a “third world war fought piecemeal.”

“The world is at war,” he told the young people. “But there are many beautiful and good things. There are many hidden saints among the People of God.”

“God is present,” said Francis, repeating: “God is present. And there are many signs of hope for going forward. Have courage and go forward!”