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

"Genocidal (amyo pyone) killing, OK in Buddhism", tells Myanmar's best known monk Sitagu to hundreds of military commanders, 30 Oct 2017

"Genocidal (amyo pyone) killing, OK in Buddhism", tells Myanmar's best known monk Sitagu to hundreds of military commanders, 30 Oct 2017

Sitagu is patronized by Myanmar Commander in Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (in white jacket)

Burmese Expats Must Join The Chorus Of International Outrage Over The Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis


By Khin Mai Aung
October 31, 2017

As an American civil rights lawyer who was born in Myanmar (or Burma, as I still call it), I watched with horror this summer as the Myanmar government clamped down hard on innocent Rohingya civilians in response to an attack by the terrorist Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). While the Burmese military has long been brutal, the fact that this crackdown on civilians having no identified ties to ARSA occurred without any outcry by the country’s leader Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi or few others in Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement, just when it looked like the country might be turning the corner, was devastating.

I’ve lived most of my life in the United States, and am accustomed to being a racial and religious minority, like the Rohingya in Myanmar. The atrocities in Myanmar forced me to grapple with a different and uncomfortable vantage point – that of the majority and the oppressor. My father was born in Sittwe, a city in western Myanmar which has been a focal point of unrest between the Muslim Rohingya and predominantly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group. My mother is from central Myanmar. My family is staunchly Buddhist like the majority of Myanmar’s population, and comes from a class of educated professionals who make up the Myanmar government’s civil service, or serve as officers in the military. While my own parents were civilians, several of my relatives were Burmese military officers and government officials. The Rohingya crisis has brought me face to face with my own privilege as a child of the social class running Myanmar, and of the pressing need for more of us to speak out about the humanitarian disaster unfolding there. Few Burmese expats have condemned the genocide, and the Myanmar population’s almost universal hatred of the Rohingya is well documented. As a Burmese Buddhist, I have struggled to understand this. I’ve heard Burmese people make xenophobic or racist comments about the Rohingya and seen anti-Rohingya comments on social media. The core contention is that the Rohingya are fundamentally not Burmese, and Myanmar is a country of and for the Burmese people (the majority Bamar population and ethnic minorities like the Rakhine who are perceived of as “native” to Myanmar). The argument also has a religious component, as the nationalists believe Myanmar’s culture and identity as a Buddhist nation is at risk and under attack by the Muslim Rohingya.

I understand that separatists have at times wished to establish a Muslim state in western Myanmar. I also recognize that although Rohingya have been in Myanmar for centuries, newer arrivals from Bangladesh may have entered the country more recently. I acknowledge that the long arc of nation building necessitates a partnership between Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and the Burmese military after too many decades of bloodshed and dysfunction, and appreciate the Burmese citizenry’s reasonable desire for peace and stability. I appreciate the country’s widespread reverence for and the unifying force of Aung San Suu Kyi herself, whose leadership I still consider to be Myanmar’s most likely path toward a peaceful and stable democracy. And I know that within Myanmar itself, after decades of state-controlled media and censorship, much of the citizenry relies on social media for news but may be untrained at distinguishing the real from the fake, and those sympathetic to the Rohingya may be afraid to speak out for fear of backlash.

But what of the Burmese diaspora abroad, and why aren’t more of us actively denouncing Myanmar’s descent into hate and malice? We’ve seen numerous credible news reports that almost 600,000 Rohingya – the overwhelming majority of whom have no documented connections to ARSA – were driven from their homes in Myanmar. Furthermore, while this most recent exodus is unprecedented in scope, it’s well established that the Burmese military have been persecuting and driving out Rohingya for years. Even if one accepts the flawed premise that all Rohingya are illegal migrants from Bangladesh, the systemic discrimination against and subsequent expulsion of Myanmar’s Rohingya population is indefensible. And what of Buddhist nationalists’ sickening perversion of our religion and it’s central principle of non-violence?

The Rohingya catastrophe highlights how Burmese nationalism has evolved from a powerful unifying force around which an extraordinarily diverse British colony rallied for independence into a tool of oppression. It’s no longer a theory of liberation and self-determination, but one of exclusion and hate – an arbiter decreeing who belongs in and who is an outsider in Myanmar. Ultimately, Buddhist nationalists who contend the Rohingya and other Muslims will bring down Myanmar’s Buddhist identity unless expelled are the intellectual brethren of white supremacists who claim that the Aryan identity of the United States is at risk if immigration isn’t halted. As Myanmar spirals back toward its long held status as a pariah state, more Burmese Buddhists living abroad must speak out in outrage. Not only is it our moral imperative to do so, but we will live alongsideRohingya refugees in our countries of adoption for years to come. We must reckon with - and ultimately leave behind - Burmese nationalism and its outdated, sectarian underpinnings to begin the process of reconciliation with our Rohingya breathren.

Khin Mai Aung has written about civil rights issues in publications such as the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Salon, and was formerly a lawyer at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. 

Judgment of the People's Tribunal on Myanmar

From left: Judges Nursyahbani Katjasungkana, Shadi Sadr, Boehringer, Feierstein, Helen Jarvis, Nello Rossi and Zulaiha Ismal at the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal at Universiti Malaya on Friday. Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

How the Appetite for Emojis Complicates the Effort to Standardize the World’s Alphabets

“The spread of this new digital system is unlikely to go to scale,” Maung Zarni, a human rights activist who works on Rohingya issues, and Natalie Brinham, a Ph.D. fellow at Queen Mary University of London, told me in an email. They emphasized that the Rohingya do not have the autonomy to organize their own schools. But given the group’s history of oppression, the encoding of their language carries considerable symbolic weight because it legitimizes an oppressed minority and their language. “It becomes a tool of unity to help people come together,” Noor says.

By Michael Erard 
October 30, 2017

Do the volunteers behind Unicode, whose mission is to bring all human languages into the digital sphere, have enough bandwidth to deal with emojis too?

Anshuman Pandey was intrigued. A graduate student in history at the University of Michigan, he was searching online for forgotten alphabets of South Asia when an image of a mysterious writing system popped up. In eight years of digging through British colonial archives both real and digital, he has found almost 200 alphabets across Asia that were previously undescribed in the West, but this one, which he came across in early 2011, stumped him. Its sinuous letters, connected to one another in cursive fashion and sometimes bearing dots and slashes above or below, resembled those of Arabic.

Pandey eventually identified the script as an alphabet for Rohingya, the language spoken by the stateless and persecuted Muslim people whose greatest numbers live in western Myanmar, where they’ve been the victims of brutal ethnic cleansing. Pandey wasn’t sure if the alphabet itself was in use anymore, until he lucked upon contemporary pictures of printed textbooks for children. That meant it wasn’t a historical footnote; it was alive.

An email query from Pandey bounced from expert to expert until it landed with Muhammad Noor, a Rohingya activist and television host who was living in Malaysia. He told Pandey the short history of this alphabet, which was developed in the 1980s by a group of scholars that included a man named Mohammed Hanif. It spread slowly through the 1990s in handwritten, photocopied books. After 2001, thanks to two computer fonts designed by Noor, it became possible to type the script in word-processing programs. But no email, text messages or (later) tweets could be sent or received in it, no Google searches conducted in it. The Rohingya had no digital alphabet of their own through which they could connect with one another.

Billions of people around the world no longer face this plight. Whether on computers or smartphones, they can write as they write, expressing themselves in their own linguistic culture. What makes this possible is a 26-year-old international industrial standard for text data called the Unicode standard, which prescribes the digital letters, numbers and punctuation marks of more than 100 different writing systems: Greek, Cherokee, Arabic, Latin, Devanagari — a world-spanning storehouse of languages. But the alphabet that Noor described wasn’t among them, and neither are more than 100 other scripts, just over half of them historical and the rest alphabets that could still be used by as many as 400 million people today.

Now a computational linguist and motivated by a desire to put his historical knowledge to use, Pandey knows how to get obscure alphabets into the Unicode standard. Since 2005, he has done so for 19 writing systems (and he’s currently working to add another eight). With Noor’s help, and some financial support from a research center at the University of California, Berkeley, he drew up the basic set of letters and defined how they combine, what rules govern punctuation and whether spaces exist between words, then submitted a proposal to the Unicode Consortium, the organization that maintains the standards for digital scripts. In 2018, seven years after Pandey’s discovery, what came to be called Hanifi Rohingya will be rolled out in Unicode’s 11th version. The Rohingya will be able to communicate online with one another, using their own alphabet.

As a practical matter, this will not have much impact for the Rohingya who are suffering in Myanmar, many of whom are illiterate and shut off from educational and technological opportunity. “The spread of this new digital system is unlikely to go to scale,” Maung Zarni, a human rights activist who works on Rohingya issues, and Natalie Brinham, a Ph.D. fellow at Queen Mary University of London, told me in an email. They emphasized that the Rohingya do not have the autonomy to organize their own schools. But given the group’s history of oppression, the encoding of their language carries considerable symbolic weight because it legitimizes an oppressed minority and their language. “It becomes a tool of unity to help people come together,” Noor says.

Creating such interconnectedness and expanding the linguistic powers of technology users around the world is the whole point of Unicode. If the work is slow, that’s because standardizing a writing system for computers is a delicate art that relies on both engineering and diplomacy. And the time and attention of the volunteers who maintain the standard are finite. So what happens when a new system of visual communication like emoji emerges and comes under their purview? Things get even slower and the mission more complicated.

Shortly after finishing a linguistics Ph.D. at Berkeley in 1980, Ken Whistler was frustrated by the inability of mainframe computers to print the specialized phonetic symbols that linguists use. I can fix that, he thought, and he then hacked an early personal computer to do so. In 1989, on one of his first days on the job at a software start-up, his boss told him to meet with a Xerox computer scientist, Joe Becker, who had just published a manifesto on multilingual computing. “The people of the world need to be able to communicate and compute in their own native languages,” Becker wrote, “not just in English.”

At the time, computing in the United States relied on encodings like those from the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (usually known as ASCII), which assigned numerical identifiers to letters, numbers, punctuation and behaviors (like “indent”). The capital letter “A,” for instance, had an ASCII code of 065, or 01000001 in the 0s and 1s in the binary code of computers. Each textual character used by a computer needs its own unique sequence, a numerical identifier or “character encoding.” The problem with ASCII was that it had only 256 codes to distribute and far more than 256 characters in the world needing identifiers.

In order to work with more writing systems than ASCII was able to handle, technology companies like Apple, Xerox, IBM, DEC, Hewlett-Packard and even Kodak created their proprietary encodings. None of them worked with the others. To complicate things further, some nations insisted as a matter of national pride on their own standards for text data. “The proliferation of character encodings was chaos,” Whistler says.

Joe Becker gathered like-minded computer scientists to bring order to the chaos, arguing that cooperation was needed among companies. The result was the Unicode Consortium, which was incorporated in 1991. He also maintained that the solution had to be international and helped broker an alliance with the International Organization for Standardization, which maintains more than 20,000 standards related to products and services, from the tensile strength of yarn to the chemical composition of toys. Such standards are meant to ensure, among other things, that things from one country can be used in the industrial processes of another. Standardized shipping containers, for instance, have made international commerce far more efficient. Standards don’t become regulations; they’re conventions, “recipes for reality” in the words of Lawrence Busch, a sociologist emeritus at Michigan State University who studies how standards arise. Unicode unified all the numerical identifiers and made sure they were reliable and up-to-date.

As is the case in other standards organizations, full membership in the nonprofit Unicode Consortium comes with the right to vote on changes to the standard. Membership dues are $18,000 annually; current full members include global tech giants (like Apple, Facebook and Google) and the Sultanate of Oman (which wants to see digital Arabic improved). A second membership tier includes a university, government bodies in Bangladesh and India, a typeface company and an emoji search engine. Over the years, members came and went, depending on their immediate interest in issues of standardization.

Unicode’s idealistic founders intended to bring the personal-computing revolution to everyone on the planet, regardless of language. “The people who really got the bug,” Whistler says, “saw themselves at an inflection point in history and their chance to make a difference.” No fortunes have been made through Unicode, unless you count the platforms (like Twitter) and products (like the iPhone) that adopted the standard.

Unicode’s history is full of attacks by governments, activists and eccentrics. In the early 1990s, the Chinese government objected to the encoding of Tibetan. About five years ago, Hungarian nationalists tried to sabotage the encoding for Old Hungarian because they wanted it to be called “Szekley-Hungarian Rovas” instead. An encoding for an alphabet used to write Nepal Bhasa and Sanskrit was delayed a few years ago by ethnonationalists who mistrusted the proposal because they objected to the author’s surname. Over and over, the Unicode Consortium has protected its standard from such political attacks.

The standard’s effectiveness helped. “If standards work, they’re invisible and can be ignored by the public,” Busch says. Twenty years after its first version, Unicode had become the default text-data standard, adopted by device manufacturers and software companies all over the world. Each version of the standard ushered more users into a seamless digital world of text. “We used to ask ourselves, ‘How many years do you think the consortium will need to be in place before we can publish the last version?’ ” Whistler recalls. The end was finally in sight — at one point the consortium had barely more than 50 writing systems to add.

All that changed in October 2010, when that year’s version of the Unicode standard included its first set of emojis.

On a downtown San Francisco street last November, partygoers were lined up at a Taco Bell truck to get tacos. Inside the nearby co-working space, Covo, was the opening night party of Emojicon, a weekend-long celebration of all things emoji, held just days before the presidential election. Only foods that could be depicted with emojis were being served, while a balloon artist twisted approximations of various emojis.

In the late 1990s, when Japanese phone manufacturers first put emojis on their devices as marketing gimmicks, messaging standards required that emojis be sent as text data — as characters matched to strings of numbers, not as images. But emojis were unreadable on devices that couldn’t translate their numerical identifiers.

When a software engineer named Graham Asher suggested in 2000 that Unicode take responsibility for emojis, the consortium demurred on the grounds that pictures were subjectively interpreted. A few years later, companies like Apple and Microsoft realized that the increasingly popular Japanese emojis would appear as gibberish on their products and pushed the consortium to encode them. By 2009, 974 emojis had been assigned numerical identifiers, which were released the following year.

As the demand for new emojis surged, so, too, did the criticisms. White human figures didn’t reflect the diversity of real skin colors. Many emojis for specific professions (like police officer and construction worker) had only male figures, while icons for foods didn’t represent what people around the world actually ate. Millions of users wanted to communicate using the language of emoji, and as consumers, they expected change to be swift. One thing appeared to be slowing things down: the Unicode Consortium.

At Emojicon, resentment toward Unicode was simmering amid the emoji karaoke, emoji improv and talks on emoji linguistics. “Such a 1980s sci-fi villain name,” one participant grumbled. “Who put them in charge?” A student from Rice University, Mark Bramhill, complained that the requirements for the yoga-pose emoji he had proposed were off-puttingly specific, almost as if they were meant to deter him. A general antiestablishment frustration seemed to be directed at the ruling organization. One speaker, Latoya Peterson, the deputy editor of digital innovation for ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” urged people to submit proposals to Unicode for more diverse emojis. “We are the internet!” she said. “It is us!”

On the first morning of Emojicon, Mark Davis, president of Unicode, explained in a talk that the consortium also maintains the repository for time and date formats, currency and language names and other information that adapts computer functions to where a user is. Even more demanding technically is making sure that characters behave as users want them to. One major achievement has been ironing out how right-to-left alphabets like Arabic are used in the same line of text as left-to-right ones like Latin, which affects billions of users and can take years to adjust. Dealing with emojis, in short, is a small, though increasing, part of the consortium’s responsibilities.

Davis mentioned that once characters become part of the Unicode standard, they’re never removed. This inspired one young designer in the audience to announce that he’d ensure his legacy by proposing emojis until one was accepted. The crowd laughed; Davis smiled coolly, perhaps because Unicode committees have been overwhelmed with some 500 submissions in the last three years.

Not everyone thinks that Unicode should be in the emoji business at all. I met several people at Emojicon promoting apps that treat emojis like pictures, not text, and I heard an idea floated for a separate standards body for emojis run by people with nontechnical backgrounds. “Normal people can have an opinion about why there isn’t a cupcake emoji,” said Jennifer 8. Lee, an entrepreneur and a film producer whose advocacy on behalf of a dumpling emoji inspired her to organize Emojicon. The issue isn’t space — Unicode has about 800,000 unused numerical identifiers — but about whose expertise and worldview shapes the standard and prioritizes its projects.

“Emoji has had a tendency to subtract attention from the other important things the consortium needs to be working on,” Ken Whistler says. He believes that Unicode was right to take responsibility for emoji, because it has the technical expertise to deal with character chaos (and has dealt with it before). But emoji is an unwanted distraction. “We can spend hours arguing for an emoji for chopsticks, and then have nobody in the room pay any attention to details for what’s required for Nepal, which the people in Nepal use to write their language. That’s my main concern: emoji eats the attention span both in the committee and for key people with other responsibilities.”

Emoji has nonetheless provided a boost to Unicode. Companies frequently used to implement partial versions of the standard, but the spread of emoji now forces them to adopt more complete versions of it. As a result, smartphones that can manage emoji will be more likely to have Hanifi Rohingya on them too. The stream of proposals also makes the standard seem alive, attracting new volunteers to Unicode’s mission. It’s not unusual for people who come to the organization through an interest in emoji to end up embracing its priorities. “Working on characters used in a small province of China, even if it’s 20,000 people who are going to use it, that’s a more important use of their time than deliberating over whether the hand of my yoga emoji is in the right position,” Mark Bramhill told me.

Since its creation was announced in 2015, the “Adopt a Character” program, through which individuals and organizations can sponsor any characters, including emojis, has raised more than $200,000. A percentage of the proceeds goes to support the Script Encoding Initiative, a research project based at Berkeley, which is headed by the linguistics researcher Deborah Anderson, who is devoted to making Unicode truly universal. One the consortium recently accepted is called Nyiakeng Puachue Hmong, devised for the Hmong language by a minister in California whose parishioners have been using it for more than 25 years. Still in the proposal stage is Tigalari, once used to write Sanskrit and other Indian languages.

One way to read the story of Unicode in the time of emoji is to see a privileged generation of tech consumers confronting the fact that they can’t communicate in ways they want to on their devices: through emoji. They get involved in standards-making, which yields them some satisfaction but slows down the speed with which millions of others around the world get access to the most basic of online linguistic powers. “There are always winners and losers in standards,” Lawrence Busch says. “You might want to say, ultimately we’d like everyone to win and nobody to lose too much, but we’re stuck with the fact that we have to make decisions, and when we make them, those decisions are going to be less acceptable to some than to others.”

Michael Erard is writer in residence at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and the author of ‘‘Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners.’’

Like Trump, These Southeast Asian Countries Are Using 'Fake News' To Devastating Effect

Myanmar's State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (C) arrives for the second anniversary of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) ceremony at the Myanmar International Convention Center (MICC) in Naypyidaw on October 15, 2017. (AUNG HTET/AFP/Getty Images)

By Danielle Keeton-Olsen 
October 30, 2017

In the midst of political turmoil, heads of state in Southeast Asia have borrowed the language of the most prominent and outspoken national leader, U.S. President Donald Trump. Fake news has become a convenient cover up for attacks on human rights, democracy and criticism of the government. 

Whether in the name of nationalism or preserving public appearances, Burmese, Filipino and Cambodian government leaders have all directly referenced “fake news” or “alternative facts” since the U.S. president’s inauguration. 

The region already has a scourge of fake local news stories clogging Facebook and messaging apps. But political leaders’ unverified claims and lack of supporting evidence are making it even harder for news outlets and citizens to distinguish the real news from the fake. 

Attacks on Rohingya are “not happening”

The government of Myanmar, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has unrolled a steady stream of denialism on the systematic evictions, rapes and killings of the Muslim Rohingya community in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in the north. 

Maung Zarni, a Burmese human rights activists, decried Suu Kyi's public rejection of hundreds of rape cases, telling Al Jazeera this month that in this way, the State Counsellor was contributing to the genocide of the Rohingya people. 

Journalists who are publishing photos and reports of the massacre in the Rakhine state say they face harassment and dismissal, both from state bodies and communities on social media, according to reports from Al Jazeera. 

The campaign of denial extended into state television station MNTV, which cut BBC broadcasts at the mention of the Rohingya people. 

Simultaneously, the Yangon-based Myanmar Timesbarely hints at the ongoing crisis, while the cover of Global New Light of Myanmar lauded State Councellor Aun San Suu Kyi’s peace efforts and called her “mum,”as the international community condemned her inability to acknowledge the Rohingya genocide. 

“Duterte Diehard Supporters” and the Philippines’ fake news machine

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte may be criticized abroad for his harsh drug campaign. But within the nation, government leaders and a fervent base of online supporters work tirelessly to cover this image and spread fabricated praise for Duterte from other world leaders. 

Allies of the Duterte government have described thethousands of killings for suspected drug use to the international community as “alternative facts." Acclaimed journalists and opinion writers at the Manila Times have even propagated false reports that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley endorsed Duterte’s presidency and told the international community to end its interventions. 

Anti-government protesters display placards during a rally against extra-judicial killings, inside the state university campus in Manila on October 14, 2017. (TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

While Philippine leaders spin their own fake news narrative, they encourage and support fiery online groups in their attacks against those critical of the government. 

A group of nationalist fans called the Duterte Diehard Supporters—using the same acronym as the vigilante drug enforcer group Davao Death Squad—roll out dozens of articles and videos lauding Duterte’s leadership. 

Another pro-government online group, the Duterte Cyber Warriors, collects the names of Facebook users who criticize the government and name them purveyors of false information. Their crowdsourced complaints have pushed Facebook to suspend the accounts of television anchor Ed Lingao and The Philippine Daily, which was taken down by the social network three times. 

Cambodia creates evidence to silence opposing voices

At the end of 2016, Cambodia’s Information Minister Khieu Kanharith cautioned journalists against spreading fake news, interpreted both as an admission of the danger of viral Facebook videos and a threat to press freedom. 

Several months later, the government launched an unprecedented crackdown on news outlets that Prime Minister Hun Sen chided for spreading fake news and attacking the government, stifling independent radio stations’ broadcasts to the provinces and slapping an exorbitant tax bill on the Cambodia Daily (Disclosure: I was employed by Cambodia Daily between January and September this year.)

Hun Sen regularly quotes the U.S. president’s fake news rhetoric, both to combat some of the rampant fake viral videos but also attack opposition voices, from news outlets to outspoken political analysts

Meanwhile, through the prime minister’s speeches and government leaders’ Facebook pages, the ruling party simultaneously launched a string of color revolution conspiracies, intertwining opposition party leaders with the U.S. government in attempts to overthrow the government. 

With sources of scrutiny hushed, pro-government news outlets built an echo chamber, recirculating videos and claims of unsubstantiated evidence supporting the ruling party’s narrative. A clipped video of opposition leader Kem Sokha’s wonky political speech from 2014 was shared by several major officials, which later fueled treason charges and the midnight arrest of the leader in September. 

How do we know what’s real? 

Citizens of the region are already skeptical of government messages and news stories, because they have been laced with propaganda long before “fake news” became a popular term in the west, said Dr. Masato Kajimoto, a media literacy professor at the University of Hong Kong.

“Putting negative labels and casting doubts on opposing views and inconvenient facts is something many governments have always been doing in this part of the world,” he said. “‘Fake news’ is just another lexicon they have adopted.”

Though many people understand the need for news literacy, Kajimoto said he offers tools to teach the concept through a free massive open online course. For example, readers should think about the mnemonic “IM VAIN” when wondering whether a source is biased. Any sources in a news piece should be “independent,” “multiple,” “verified,” “authoritative,” “informed” and “named.”

Thinking critically about the information provided, rather than the person saying it, is the key to decoding the false or suspect rhetoric throughout Southeast Asia and the world, he said. 

“Trust should not be placed on the producers of information such as journalists but on the facts and evidence reporters include in the story, which should be verifiable by the news audience.”

Influx Viruses The Illegal Muslims in Arakan By U Shw Zan and Dr. Aye Chan

This is what Myanmar Fascist society looks like. Myanmar Muslims will be next.

This is what Myanmar Fascist society looks like.
Myanmar Muslims will be next.

Reforms in Myanmar: Challenges and prospects

Myanmar's reforms are more about the interests and longevity of the country's military than about public welfare.

President Thein Sein's government has embarked on reforms, ending Myanmar's international pariah status and half-century of isolation, both self-imposed and externally-maintained [EPA]
In a week's time, US President Barak Obama is scheduled to visit Asia's - and perhaps the world's - hottest destination: Myanmar. He should "see" the ugly realities of the country's reforms that lie just beneath their surface and hear the cries of the wretched of Myanmar, such as the Muslim Rohingya and the Christian Kachins.

These days, Myanmar's coming out party is the talk of the town since President Thein Sein's government has embarked on reforms, ending the country's international pariah status and half-century of isolation, both self-imposed and externally-maintained.

The generals' rule since 1962 has resulted in policy-induced poverty, prolonged internal conflicts and international isolation, with devastating societal consequences. Despite its firm grip on power, the generals never really felt either secure or confident about their reign. They have always felt they are riding on the back of an angry and wounded tiger. 

Through their eyes, reforms - and bringing on board Aung San Suu Kyi, their long-time nemesis - is the last resort both for themselves and the society at large. This is the existential background against which changes in Myanmar need to be understood.

As a welcome gesture, just about every leader of both the "free world" of the West and "un-free and semi-free worlds" of the East have hurried their way to Naypyidaw, Myanmar's purpose-built capital replete with North Korean-designed underground tunnels and bunkers. The freshly re-elected US President Barak Obama will top this list of international visitors who have thrown their weight behind the generals' reforms, with the Lady's blessings. 

Development and humanitarian packages worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged, a significant quantity of foreign debt to the tune of $3.7bn forgiven and official superlatives praise about Myanmar's changes thrown around in Washington, Tokyo, London, Berlin, Paris, Oslo, Brussels and so on. New offices are springing in Myanmar. Every visitor or long-stay visitor to Myanmar is now involved in "institution- and capacity-building" of one kind or another. Investors, insurers and do-gooders alike are all elated. Finally, Myanmar has arrived. 

But there is more to the hyperboles of this "model transition", as Washington put it, than meets the eyes. 

Collective future of Myanmar

What really triggers these changes is as important to understand what prospects - and challenges - lie ahead. Further, what real-world impact are these unfolding reforms having on the lives of the public, ethnic majority Bama and non-Bama ethnic minorities such as the Kachins in the North, the Rohingya in the West, the Shans and the Karens in the East? 

Historically, it was the generals' fear of the loss of their half-century grip on power and wealth that led to state-ordered chronic waves of bloodbaths since "8.8.88 Popular Uprising" when the entire nation rose up against the one-party military dictatorship of General Ne Win. In 2012, nearly a quarter century after the country's greatest revolt in modern history, it is again the same fear factor that has propelled the generals to make moves: Reform the institutions and reform the way they rule the population. 

Shwe Mann, Speaker of the Lower House, reportedly admitted the generals' collective fear. Within an hour of his meeting with the visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the parliament in December last year, the former third most powerful general in Than Shwe's ruling council was telling the Myanmarese journalists, "We do not want to end up like the Arab dictators. One day they were very powerful. The next day they died ignoble deaths." 

Of course, Washington's new strategy of "pivoting" back to Asia has also made it possible for the generals to come out of their bunkers, literally and figuratively. The Americans wanted the Myanmarese to walk away, as much as geo-strategically possible, from Beijing's embrace. The Myanmarese, on their part, are grateful to Washington in helping wean them of China's international protection, ironically, against Washington's perceived attempts at regime change in Myanmar. This is a classic geo-strategic symbiosis that is looking increasingly promising for the Myanmarese and the Americans.

However, through the natives' eyes, that is, the Myanmar public, the country's recent history stands in the way of embracing the outsiders' rose-tinted views of Myanmar's reforms. They don't share the international community's "reckless optimism" about its collective future. The generals' past waves of nation-building have been nothing but national nightmares. 

Since 1962, Myanmarese military leaders have made and re-made themselves first as "socialist soldiers" bent on building a socialist economy and now overzealous "capitalist democrats" embracing the Free Market with fist and fury.

Fifty years ago, the late General Ne Win, then commander-in-chief, green-lighted to deputies to end the country's fragile parliamentary democracy and build a "socialist democracy". Overnight, military officers who had never dreamt of socialism to be their guiding light were ordered to become the cadres of the Burma Socialist Programme Party. This socialist experiment ended up as a policy and system failure with devastating societal consequences in terms of human resources, public health, ethnic relations, economy and culture. The 25 years of continued military rule post-socialist dictatorship has only made the social legacy even worse. 

Almost 50 years after the late General Ne Win's military's socialist experiment, the "retired" Senior General Than Shwe ordered his juniors to discharge their new mission of building a "discipline flourishing democracy". Like the theatrical director, he slotted his deputies to play Speakers of the Houses, Chairman of the new army-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, Commander-in-Chief, and so on.

'Buy-the-impoverished-population' approach

In Naypyidaw's new play, the soldiers are to form the backbone of reform push as "democratisers", while western educated technocrats with developmental nationalism are to be advisers. Importantly, in this new cast of characters, the Lady too has an important role to play. The psyche-war savvy generals have worked on the Lady with a "soft spot" for the Army which her martyred father founded three years before she was born. Through the regime's eyes, it has bagged the only thing in the world it needed to make itself entirely acceptable to the West. 

Indeed Aung San Suu Kyi has ceremoniously helped sell the generals' new play to the world while unceremoniously choosing to remain silent on the military's war crimes against the Kachin minorities in Northern Myanmar, the ethno-religious cleansing of the Rohingya in Western Myanmar, or economic disempowerment of ordinary farmers whose ancestral land is being confiscated by army-owned mining and commercial agricultural companies. 

To belabour the obvious, the ex-military officers and their active-duty brethren retain complete monopoly control over all aspects of reforms. In the new era of "democratic transition", these men, in skirts or in green shirts, continue to hold all levers of state power at all levels of administration, including "people's bicameral parliament", judiciary, foreign affairs and finance, besides their legitimate domain, namely state security apparatuses. And it is these "men on horseback", not collaborating dissidents or the advisory developmental technocrats, who determine the reforms' nature, scope, priorities and pace.

This is the picture that increasingly worries the Myanmar public who have borne the brunt of the military's policy, leadership and system failures. Here, the cynical Myanmar public know best. 

Thousands displaced amidst Myanmar violence

In dealing with unhappy Arab Streets, the House of Saud, for instance, has thrown billions at the Sultanate subjects to placate the latter while the Jordanian crown has created wiggle room for its subjects. Former generals in Naypyidaw, or "Abode of Kings", have in part adopted this "buy-the-impoverished-population" approach. The catch here though is this: Unlike the House of Saud which sits on the world's largest reserve of "black gold", the cash-strapped reformist President Thein Sein - cash-strapped because the country's revenues have been stashed away in personal bank accounts of senior and junior generals - wants the international community, including the UN, international lending agencies and development banks, and "donor" countries, to foot his administration's bill. 

Take, for instance, the literal cost of Naypyidaw's peace negotiations with ethnic armed resistance organisations. According to former Colonel Aung Min, the Union Minister for Peace and a confidant of the President, his government does not even pay the hotel bills for peace negotiators. Thankfully from Naypyidaw's perspective, Oslo, bent on rebuilding its tarnished image of a global peacemaker par excellence post-Sri Lanka conflict, has stepped up to the plate, and so have the local Myanmar cronies from Myanmar Egress, the best-known proxy for the Myanmar intelligence services. Everyone in the peace process is poised to reap commercial and/or strategic gains, if and when the country's war zones are transformed into multi-billion dollar special economic zones and ethnic guerrilla fighters "swap their guns for laptops", as President Thein Sein poetically put it. 

Emphatically, the generals are, however, pursuing reforms largely for the wrong reasons - for their own long-term survival, both as powerful military families and as the most powerful institution with "a deeply ingrained corporate sense of entitlement to rule". Motives do matter. As a direct consequence, they remain wholly unprepared to do the needful in terms of what will really promote public welfare and advance the cause of freedom, human rights and democracy.

Negative consequences of the generals' reforms 

As a matter of fact, the reforms are contradictory, reversible and fragile. They are confined to such narrow domains as freedom of speech, new business and investment law. That is, the areas important to middle class Western liberals and attractive to venture capitalists and corporations. Further, reform moves bypass active conflict zones, strategic buffer areas and resource-rich virgin lands. 

When it comes to economically and strategically important regions on the country's peripheries, that is, the ancestral homes of the country's 40 percent of ethnic minorities such as the Kachin, the Rakhine, the Shan, the Karen, the Mon and the Karenni, the reforms simply translate into forced displacement, the rise in militarisation, a sharp increase in war-fleeing refugees, loss of livelihoods and so on. It is indeed no coincidence that all fresh waves of violence, atrocities and raging wars happen to be in the ethnic minority regions designated to be homes of virtually all mega-development initiatives, commercial projects, resource extraction, Special Economic zones and industrial agricultural schemes - worth billions of dollars.

Curiously, both the origin and tail of China's 2,800-plus kilometre-long twin pipeline bear witness to the unfolding violence: Ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in the coastal region where the pipelines begin and the hot war against the Kachins in the Sino-Myanmar highlands of Northern Myanmar. To date, close to an estimate 100,000 Rohingyas have been caged in new UN-financed refugee camps on the west coast while roughly the same number of Kachins in the North have fled the war on their ancestral highlands. On the eastern side of Myanmar along Thai-Myanmar borders, donor agencies, for instance, Britain's Department For International Development (DFID) and the host country of Thailand are preparing to repatriate another 150,000 Karen and Karenni war refugees back to their regions, despite the absence there of either a meaningful and functioning ceasefire or lasting peace.

Because these wars and atrocities are off the beaten-path and largely inaccessible to the UN and other aid agencies, the dark side of Myanmar's economic reforms by and large go unnoticed except by the US military's surveillance satellites, which captured images of entire neighbourhoods in the strategic deep-sea port city of Kyauk Phyu razed to the ground. Why pay compensation for relocating a popularly disliked ethnic and religious minority community from strategically and commercially important locations if you can drive them out to the sea and torch their homes completely? These state-orchestrated crime scenes also lie outside the purview of the growing pool of visiting dignitaries, renowned experts and international statesmen and women on their whirlwind state visits to Myanmar. 

More ominously, many international agencies and national governments by and large view this ugly side of development - ethnic, class and provincial conflicts, large scale displacement, pervasive land confiscation, absence of human and food security, growing income disparity, etc - as the necessary cost locals must bear if they are to enjoy projected fruits of developmental reforms in some distant future. Here, the prevailing two-fold ideology of unfettered development and "sustainable economic growth" is at work.

Even the country's iconic politician Aung San Suu Kyi, who has never set foot on active war zones of ethnic minorities, lacks any empirical understanding or experience to truly appreciate the negative consequences of the generals' reforms she is helping market in Western capitals with great success.

New era of reforms and 'Buddhist' racism

The regime's pursuit of peace with armed ethnic resistance communities warrants a closer scrutiny than has been subject to. While running the country that has not seen real peace since independence from Britain 60-plus years ago, the generals talk the talk of peace, but do not walk the walk.

Take, for instance, its hyped-up ceasefire talks with two of the country's oldest and most resolute revolutionary organisations - the Karen National Union in Eastern Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Organisation in Northern Myanmar. The widespread perception among the Kachin and Karen negotiators, and respective communities, is that the reformist government is more intent on imposing peace on its own terms, more or less. Naypyidaw is far more interested in exploiting natural resources in minority regions and securing strategic and commercial routes there than discussing seriously about the root cause of the country's ethnic rebellions, namely political autonomy founded on the principle of ethnic equality. 

The Kachins who maintained a truce for 17 years no longer feel they could trust the Myanmar generals who attempted to lure them into trading the Kachins' collective drive for political autonomy in a genuinely federated Union of Myanmar for commercial deals for the Kachin upper crust.

This has led to Ko Mya Aye, one of the most prominent dissidents from the 88 Generation Group who travelled to the war zone and met with the Kachin resistance leaders, to remark pointedly, "The Burmese government knows what to change in order to have peace, but they do not want to do it. The government just does a little to look good to the international community". Myanmar's reforms are, upon closer look, more about the interests and longevity of the country's military and army-bred crony interests than about inter-ethnic and inter-faith peace, public welfare or democracy. 

Upon a closer and honest look, Myanmar's extraordinary reforms begin to lose their lustre. 

There is no denying that the country's quasi-civilian government has ushered in a new era of reforms. However, the types of reforms that President Thein Sein - an ex-general and a figurehead - is pursuing are the ones that will protect the military's core interests above all else. At heart, the reforms are largely geared towards creating a "late developmental state" along the lines of Vietnam and China, a benign Leviathan that will secure the generals' electability on the basis of its economic performance and along popular "Buddhist" racism. When the illiberal society's deeply ingrained racism thunders the traditionally liberal discourses of human rights, democracy and multi-culturalism go muted. 

The current reform movement therefore lacks any real potential to result in a new democratic polity which will build, and in turn feeds off, a new and sustainable economic system. Sadly, the West and the rest alike are choosing to overlook the apparent pitfalls of Myanmar's reforms, ignoring the cries of the wretched of a new Myanmar.

Maung Zarni is founder of the Free Burma Coalition (1995-2004) and a visiting fellow (2011-13) at the Department of International Development, London School of Economics. His forthcoming book on Myanmar will be published by Yale University Press.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera English, 14 November 2012
Go to Original

Myanmar's "Ethnic Cleansing" of Rohingyas and the Indifference of Aung San Suu Kyi and her Western supporters: Feb 2006-dated Confidential Dispatch from Bangladesh High Commission in Myanmar

Myanmar's "Ethnic Cleansing" of Rohingyas and the Indifference of Aung San Suu Kyi and her Western supporters: Feb 2006-dated Confidential Dispatch from Bangladesh High Commission in Myanmar

Dr Zarni's reaction to US measures against Myanmar Military regarding Rohingya genocide

‘Suu Kyi government played into the hands of the military’

Director of Euro-Burma Office Harn YawnghweCourtesy

By Syed Zainul Abedin
October 25, 2017

Harn Yawnghwe, director of Euro-Burma Office (European Office for the Development of Democracy in Myanmar), Brussels, recently spoke to the Dhaka Tribune’s Syed Zainul Abedin on the Rohingya issue and Myanmar leader Suu Kyi. He shed light on the political instability in Myanmar against the backdrop of recent developments in Rakhine.

Harn is the youngest son of Sao Shwe Thaike, the first president of the Republic of the Union of Burma. Sao was the president of the union from 1948 to 1952. He was arrested in a military coup led by General Ne Win and died in prison in November, 1962. Sao Shwe Thaike and General Aung San were the architects of the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which formed the basis for the modern nation of Burma (the colonial name for Myanmar).

Harn has been in exile in Canada since he was 15 years old. He was forced to leave Myanmar along with his family following the coup on March 2, 1962.

Harn also served as Advisor to Dr Sein Win, prime minister of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), which claims to be Burma’s government in exile.

What is happening in the Rakhine state of Myanmar?

What is happening in Rakhine State is genocide. Article 2 of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1951) defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole, or in part, a national, ethnic, 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. All these conditions apply to the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres admitted as much when he said on September 13, 2017 that ethnic cleansing is taking place in Myanmar. Genocide includes ethnic cleansing. He did not use the word genocide because if he did, the UN would be legally obliged under the Genocide Convention to take action. For the UN to take action, the Security Council would have to authorise it. But Guterres knows that if he took it to the Security Council, Russia and China would veto it. That is the dilemma.

You have been working on the peace process in Myanmar/Burma for a long time. What are the hurdles in the way of the peace process?

First, the Myanmar military still believes that might is right. They entered into negotiations as a delaying tactic when the then President Thein Sein, a former military general himself, called for peace talks. He defined the peace talks as a political matter which under the 2008 Constitution falls under the mandate of the civilian government. Under the Suu Kyi government, the military has managed to define the peace talks as a security matter which under the constitution falls under the mandate of the military. This means the military will exert force on those who will not agree to peace on the government’s terms. If they continue to resist, they will be labeled ‘terrorists’ and the military can use full force against them – as they are doing now with the Rohingya. The Suu Kyi government does not have a plan or strategy on how to bring the peace talks back to the political arena. It also does not have experienced advisors and negotiators.

In the short-term, the future of the peace talks is bleak. The best that can be done is to keep the talks going in the hope that the government will change its position. Nobody wants to go back to war.

Why are the Rohingya people, from among 135 ethnic groups, being specifically targeted by the government/army of Myanmar?

Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing said on September 1, 2017, that the ongoing clearing operations in northern Rakhine is ‘unfinished business’ from World War 2. After the war, during the division of India, some Rohingya wanted to become part of East Pakistan. There was a Mujahid insurgency which the Myanmar military put down. His ‘unfinished business’, though, means that the Myanmar military does not accept the outcome of the political settlement in the early 1960’s that recognised the Rohingya as citizens of Myanmar.

The military also does not recognise the 1947 Constitution, which states that all people who live within the boundaries of Myanmar at independence (1948) are citizens. That is why after seizing power, General Ne Win launched an operation to drive out the Rohingya in 1978. Not satisfied with that, he also changed the Citizenship Law in 1982, making the Rohingya stateless. Another attempt was made in 1998 to drive out the Rohingya.

This third and current exodus is part of the same plan to make Myanmar a homogeneous and ‘pure’ nation. It is racist. The Rohingya being Muslim makes it easier for the military to garner support from the Buddhist majority who believe that it is their duty to protect Buddhism from all external influences.

How would you describe the future of democracy in Myanmar?

The future of democracy in Myanmar is precarious. Everybody wrongly believed that Aung San Suu Kyi would strengthen the democratic transition and make it impossible to return to a military dictatorship.

It is somewhat similar to the situation in Iran when the Shah was overthrown and the Ayatollah Khomeni came to power. He consolidated his power and imposed his own brand of authoritarian rule. The same is true in Myanmar. Democracy is not practiced within the ruling National League for Democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi makes all the decisions. Younger generation leaders are not being groomed. Internal dissent is not tolerated and opposition parties are not encouraged. The active civil society networks are shunned by the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi. Other than the military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party, there are no viable nationwide political parties to choose from as an alternative to the NLD. Media freedom is also at risk.

Is there any geopolitical issue behind the ongoing situation in Myanmar, triggering this Rohingya crisis?

As mentioned before, geopolitics do play a part. Myanmar is considered to be in China’s backyard. Neither Russia nor China want Myanmar to move into the orbit of western powers. They have long seen human rights as a western tool to infiltrate into the region. But the main trigger is domestic. The Myanmar military does not want a democratically-elected government to succeed. It wants to prove that a civilian government does not have the capacity to govern Myanmar.

The Rohingya crisis was re-ignited in 2012 when the Thein Sein government started making headway with its peace talks with the other ethnic minorities. The crisis became full-fledged in 2016 after the Suu Kyi government took power. When it became clear that the Suu Kyi government did not have the capacity to deal with the peace talks, the military took advantage of that weakness to carry out its plan to finally expel the Rohingya as terrorists under the cover of a democratic government. The government’s denial of any human rights abuse by the military and the refusal of Suu Kyi to allow a UN Fact-Finding Mission have all played into the hands of the military.

How do you describe the communal harmony in Myanmar?

Myanmar is and has always been a multi-ethnic and a multi-religious society. Different communities used to exist harmoniously in the past. Things changed after Ne Win took over. He expelled all foreigners, especially Chinese and Indians, confiscating their businesses. His agenda, like the Shah’s, was to create a modern homogeneous nation and this created problems. Each ethnic group began to look after its own interests for survival. Today people look on each other with mistrust. Fake news and rumours can trigger inter-communal violence as it did in 2012. Many people today are preaching hatred and religious bigotry. People who disagree do not dare to speak out. Fear is beginning to take hold again.

How are the rest of the people in Myanmar responding to this crisis?

Most would not react unless it affected them personally. This is especially true of the ethnic minorities. They do not want to draw attention to themselves by speaking out about the Rohingya. But for the majority, they believe what the government is saying – that the Rohingya are foreigners who bought their way into Myanmar; they have four wives and their population is growing rapidly; their plan is to Islamise Myanmar.

Please describe the role of the state-run media in Myanmar.

The state-run media has been managed by the military for over 5 decades. They are putting out the same propaganda as when the country was still under military rule. The sad part is that the private media that used to fight for human rights have also started to toe the government line – that the Rohingya are terrorists and have to be defeated to protect Myanmar’s sovereignty.

You wrote an open letter criticising Suu Kyi. Could you please elaborate on that?

I am concerned that she is not nurturing democracy for the time after she steps down. If we want democracy to flourish, we have to start practising it. Authoritarianism, no matter how well-intentioned, will not bring democracy. Democracy is messy and people make mistakes but without starting to practice it, we cannot expect democracy in Myanmar in the future.

Where does the solution to this crisis lie?

The crisis is two-fold. One is the crisis of democracy – how do we ensure that the military does not come back in the future? How can we entrench democracy in the nation? The solution lies with the people of Myanmar. They need to wake up to the crisis and start practicing democracy. It is not too late. We have until 2020, 3 years, to promote democracy.

The other crisis is the Rohingya people. We do not have time. People are dying and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. The clearing operations are continuing in spite of government denials. The UN, Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries need to exercise their Responsibility to Protect. If they do nothing now, the Rohingya will be driven out of Myanmar. But in the longer-term, the solution lies in treating the Rohingya as human beings created in the image of God, equal with all Myanmar citizens.

This will take moral courage on the part of the Myanmar government and determined and well-thought out long-term programmes to eliminate racism, and religious bigotry from Myanmar – something like the civil rights movement in the US.

Statement by Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar at the 72nd session of the General Assembly

(Photo: UN)

Statement by Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar at the 72nd session of the General Assembly

Third Committee, Agenda Item 72 (c), 25 October 2017
New York

Mr. Chair, 
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

A lot has happened between now and from the time I had finalized my report in late August following my visit to Myanmar in July. A lot has been reported on the situation in Rakhine State in the last two months and many allegations have been made of terrible inhuman violent acts.

While much that has happened is still uncertain, some undeniable facts have come out. What is undeniable is that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from northern Rakhine and that hundreds of their villages have been torched and burnt down since the alleged attacks by Rohingya militants on 25 August. 

Yet Myanmar's State Counsellor asked us to consider the 50 per cent of Muslim villages that have not been destroyed. The Commander-in-Chief then supposedly suggested the number of those who have fled has been exaggerated and that they must have fled because they felt safer in Bangladesh. And the Minister responsible for the safe return of those who have fled reportedly speculated that the hundreds of thousands of people who fled did so as a ploy to give an appearance of ethnic cleansing.

Mr. Chair,

Before I speak further on the crisis that has unfolded dramatically these last weeks, please allow me to present the main highlights from my latest report as well as some developments since July which cover a range of issues from across the country.


Earlier this month, Myanmar ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights albeit with a declaration in relation to the right of self-determination. I look forward to the government taking steps towards achievement of the full realization of the rights in the Covenant.

I remain of the view that constitutional reform must proceed to allow for proper operation of therule of law in Myanmar. I take the opportunity to again draw the attention of Myanmar officials and lawmakers to the non-exhaustive list of laws which I have identified to be in contravention of international human rights standards and consider their repeal or amendment. If those laws are not prioritized for review, the legislative reform necessary for Myanmar to transition to democracy will certainly be incomplete.

I have in the past commended Myanmar's flourishing, widening democratic space; however, I find that the protection of reputation in Myanmar's national legislation appears to go beyond what is permissible under international law, effectively resulting in the criminalization of legitimate expression under which people, including journalists, continue to be prosecuted.

Distinguished Delegates,

During my July visit, I met representatives from civil society and communities affected by all threespecial economic zones currently in progress in Myanmar, specifically in Yangon, Dawei and Kyaukphyu. For all three zones, communities reported that initial phases or preparatory work had had a largely negative impact on their lives, with many of those affected still suffering negative consequences. There is a need for these projects to be carried out transparently, with communities receiving continuous information, being genuinely consulted and given the opportunity to suggest alternative options.

Land confiscation remains a major concern for not only communities affected by special economic zones but also thousands of others across the country. Though the government has established bodies to tackle the issue of land compensation, with over 9,000 cases pending, fully addressing all cases remains a big challenge, and communities are frustrated when their attempts to seek redress are unanswered.

Just over a week ago, the two-year anniversary of the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was commemorated. Yet it is unclear whether the peace process has actually advanced since that time. Additionally, reports of violent clashes between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups continue, including against a group who is party to the ceasefire. I am extremely concerned at not only the ongoing escalation of conflict in Kachin and Shan States, but also continuing and increasing reports of allegations of serious rights violations as well as decreasing humanitarian access.

There appears to be an increasing number of cases of civilians being killed or injured by mortars or artillery shells, including an incident in July in which a two-year old child was killed. The regularity of incidents raises concerns that parties to the conflict, including the Tatmadaw, are either not distinguishing between military and civilian targets or not systematically taking precautions to protect the civilian population. In addition, people continue to be displaced by conflict, and the large numbers of long-term displaced people in Kachin and northern Shan States, and Kayin State remain unchanged. I encourage efforts to address factors preventing returns, including the continued presence of the military in areas of origin, concerns about housing, land and property rights and difficulties in accessing civil and identification documents.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It has been said that dangerous and dehumanizing speech tends to precede incidents of mass atrocities. And the reports that I have received certainly point to widespread use of hate speechdirected against the Rohingya population amounting to incitement to hostility and even violence. Unfortunately, there seems to be little sympathy, let alone empathy, for the Rohingya people in Myanmar. For decades, it has been cultivated in the minds of the Myanmar people that the Rohingya are not indigenous to the country and therefore have no rights whatsoever to which they can apparently claim.

I have also been receiving consistent reports of incidents against Christians and Muslims from across the country. There are reports of villages with signage either to keep Muslims out or to announce that they are Muslim-free. Mosques that have been standing for generations and other religious structures are being shut down ostensibly for administrative reasons though affected communities are rarely informed ahead nor provided with alternative places to practice their religious beliefs in congregation. Christian worshippers participating peacefully in a service commemorating six years since renewed conflict in Kachin were deemed unlawful protestors. Christian converts are threatened to revert back to Buddhism and subject to state sanctioned violence. Local Rakhines are threatened and punished for interacting and trading with Muslims. In one instance, a Rakhine woman was publicly humiliated, had her hair shaved, made to wear a sign saying she is a traitor and walk around her village for allegedly selling food to the Muslim camp community that had been blockaded and running out of food.

In the wake of the exodus of over half a million Rohingya individuals and others from northern Rakhine, much debate and analysis have come out regarding who exactly is responsible and can be made responsible for the violence that has caused this massive number of people to flee in just matter of weeks. It has been highlighted over and again how the Constitution is such that the military remains very much in control over the issue of national security and state law and order, with little oversight possible by the so-called civilian part of the Government. 

Yet I believe that there is much that can be done by the civilian government. Starting with public messaging that embraces the entire make-up of the Myanmar population, of so many ethnic groups, and of various faiths. Use the show of the inter-faith alliance and solidarity from a few weeks back to combat prejudice and bigotry. Take advantage of the majority in Parliament to strike down laws that are discriminatory to show that all groups in Myanmar have equal rights.

Mr. Chair,

I have found events of past weeks devastating. The reports of villages in northern Rakhine that have been torched and destroyed are of villages that I had personally visited. The people reported to have fled must have included those I have met in my past trips, people who had appealed to me to be given the opportunity to live in peace, to be given the opportunity to work, to move freely to visit friends and family, to have access to doctors and medicine, and to help their children get an education or even simply feed them a proper meal regularly.

Already two weeks before 25 August, an army battalion was flown into Rakhine State to help augment the security there. I then issued a statement expressing concerns of a repetition of the alleged violations which followed the 9 October 2016 attacks. About 87,000 people reportedly fled between last October and August. After the 25 August attacks, almost seven times that number have fled inunder two months. 


I will not go into the details of the alleged violations which led to the exodus but would strongly appeal for there to be an honest and impartial accounting of what has happened and for those responsible to answer for their action. Giving access to the Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission would be a good start. 

My main concern is the current situation of the Rohingya community and what will happen to them next. Genuine implementation of the Kofi Annan Commission's all-encompassing set of recommendations would have gone far in addressing not only the root causes to the cycles of violence in Rakhine State that affect all communities there but also the protracted statelessness of the Rohingya population and decades-long persecution of them. 

However with there likely being more of the Rohingya population located in Bangladesh now as compared to Myanmar, I am concerned that only a fraction of them will be allowed back, though all have the right to return. I am also concerned as to how long it might take for the government to ensure that the conditions for their return would be safe and dignified, as well as their being able to rebuild their lives when so much has been destroyed. 

I am informed that the Myanmar government has insisted that UNHCR and IOM – expert entities on the issues of statelessness, refugees and voluntary returns – should be excluded from the bilateral discussions regarding the repatriation process. I find this unreasonable and unacceptable. 

Distinguished Delegates,

The Rohingya population in Cox's Bazar – who have had their food supply blocked and been starving, been shot at while fleeing, walked for weeks to reach safety, lost family members on the way to refuge, and are now living in plastic sheets – should not be made to meet with stringent requirements if they so wish to return to Myanmar. Citizenship verification should be a different process for them to undergo, voluntarily after consultation once they are home, and not be part of repatriation. Once they return, they must be permitted to return to their place of origin, and not made to live in temporary camps as these camps may not turn out to be temporary as those who were displaced in 2012 have learnt.

Most importantly, the Myanmar government must take steps to let the Rohingya population know that they are welcomed back and that necessary steps will be taken to ensure their safety and protection. Their welfare and well-being and that of the other communities in Rakhine State – including the Rakhine, the Kaman, the Mro, the Hindu, and the Daignet – should be assured equally ahead of efforts to reconcile them and advance on economic development of the region.

Given the critical situation of the Rohingya population and its unlikely resolution in the near future, I ask the General Assembly to remain seized of the situation not just in Rakhine State but for the whole of Myanmar. The duality in Myanmar's government structure to which Mr. Kofi Annan has spoken of does not only have impact in Rakhine State but also in the rest of the country.

I also recommend that the Security Council includes Myanmar as an agenda item, and I hope it passes a strong resolution in due recognition that the crisis in Rakhine State had not only been decades in the making – but has been spilling over, and continues to spill over, beyond Myanmar's borders. For a very long time now this issue has not been simply a domestic affair.


Friends and Colleagues,

I can say without a moment of hesitation that no one would like to see the democratic process of Myanmar derail. At the same time, I cannot erase from my mind the large bright eyes of a young toddler whom I met in Cox's Bazar. He was rescued by his mother after he was thrown into a fire. His eyes were sparkling with hope and eagerness to meet what life has in store for him.

Shouldn't this little boy be given the opportunity to join with others who are part of Myanmar's democratic transition and be able to enjoy his inherent rights?

Time is of the essence ever more so in Myanmar now!

Thank you for your attention.

Original here.