Myanmar/Burma 2017

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The Dangerous Rise of Buddhist Chauvinism
By Yuriko Koike, newly elected Governor of Tokyo, former defense minister, national security adviser, and a member of Japan’s National Diet.
(Project Syndicate) For now, Suu Kyi is precluded from running for President by a cynical constitutional provision that excludes anyone whose spouse or child has a foreign passport (Suu Kyi’s two sons by her late English husband hold British passports). Nonetheless, the regime, still fearing her popularity, is playing the race and religion card in order to discredit her and her party, the National League for Democracy, which won all but one of the parliamentary seats contested in the recent general election (and swept the annulled 1990 election).
By stoking Buddhist violence against the Rohingya, the regime aims to damage Suu Kyi and the NLD’s chances of victory in two ways. If she speaks out for the Rohingya, her appeal among Buddhists, the vast majority of Myanmar’s citizens, may be dented enough to preserve the army’s grip on power. If she does not defend the Rohingya, her aura of moral leadership may be dimmed among her own supporters, both at home and abroad.
So far, Suu Kyi has circumvented this booby trap with the verbal evasiveness that one would expect of an ordinary politician, rather than someone of her courage and standing. But, as the violence grows and the election nears, her room for maneuver will undoubtedly narrow. Instead of highlighting the country’s real needs – serious land reform, an anti-corruption drive, and freeing the economy from oligarchic control – she may instead be drawn into defending an unpopular minority. (28 July 2015)

The Hateful Monk
(NY Review of Books) Ma Soe Yein is the largest Buddhist monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar.
The contrast between the monastery’s inner calm and this exterior display of violence is a fitting inversion of Ma Soe Yein’s most infamous resident, Ashin Wirathu, the subject of Barbet Schroeder’s new documentary, The Venerable W. On the outside, Wirathu is composed and polite, with large brown eyes and a sweet, impish grin. His voice is smooth and its cadence measured. Yet beneath this civil disguise seethes an interminable hatred toward the 4 percent of Myanmar’s population that is Muslim (the wall of carnage stands outside his residence). Wirathu is responsible for inciting some of the worst acts of ethnic violence in the country’s recent history, and was described by Time as “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”
The film charts Wirathu’s rise from provincial irrelevance in Kyaukse to nationwide rabble-rouser. It centers on the crucial moments of his budding ethno-nationalism, such as in 1997, when he says his eyes were “finally opened” to the “Muslims’ intentions” after reading a pamphlet entitled In Fear of Our Race Disappearing, which appeared in print by an unknown author; or 2003, when he delivered a chilling sermon—caught on camera—against Muslim “kalars” (kalar is the equivalent of “nigger”). “I can’t stand what they do to us,” he says to rapturous applause. “As soon as I give the signal, get ready to follow me…I need to plan the operation well, like the CIA or Mossad, for it to be effective…I will make sure they will have no place to live.” One month later, in Kyaukse, eleven Muslims were killed, and two mosques and twenty-six houses were burned to the ground. Wirathu was arrested by the military junta for inciting violence, and spent nine years in Mandalay’s Obo prison.
The state of race relations in Myanmar is far more complex than Schroeder’s film allows. It is not uncommon to hear members of the Bamar majority say they “hate Islam” but, when pressed, admit they have no issue with Muslims living in their towns. One of the film’s other blind spots is the military. Aside from a brief glance at the mass population shifts between Rakhine and Bangladesh in the late 1970s, there is very little on how the army had been inciting ethnic violence in places like Rakhine long before Wirathu appeared, nor is there any mention of a popular theory that Wirathu is paid, or at least encouraged, by senior generals, some of whom are often photographed at his monastery. (31 August 2017)

26 September
Aung San Suu Kyi Shows Feet of Clay
By David T. Jones
We are seeing a textbook illustration of “real politik.” While she is technically Burma’s leader as “prime minister,” the Burmese armed forces hold defining power with constitutional authority over security affairs and 25 percent of the parliamentary seats. She will not act to succor an unpopular minority at the potential cost of vital domestic support. She has relatively narrow parameters within which she can operate. Her vision for Burma does not include Quixotic charges at windmills to which she is indifferent
(Epoch Times) If there were statues to Aung San Suu Kyi outside of Burma, they would be surrounded by angry crowds seeking to pull them down.
Her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, which critics want revoked, now seems as meaningless as that awarded to President Barak Obama.
And even Jean Chrétien’s former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy (1996-2000) has chimed in suggesting that Ottawa should cancel her honorary Canadian citizenship. (Probably not high among her concerns).
Over her long years in house arrest by Burmese generals unwilling to do away with her, but unable to contain her image as an iconic representative of democracy, she built a global following akin to Mother Teresa’s.
And, having finally been released from custody with the overwhelming victory of her political party, democracy representatives around the globe expected that she would embrace the Muslim Rohingya as a persecuted minority needing her support and protection.
Instead, we have seen the other side of the coin: Suu Kyi as a Burmese nationalist, more than a little skeptical of the position of the Rohingya in Burma and dismissive of UN demands that she act on their behalf. Indeed, she (reflecting the attitudes of other Burmese) refers to them as “Bengalis,” claiming falsely that their presence in Burma is relatively recent, and they should settle in Bangladesh.
Democracy Under Gunpoint in Burma
By David Kilgour
(Epoch Times) On Aug. 24, the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state, chaired by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, released its report, accepted in full by State Counselor Suu Kyi, suggesting peaceful ways to end the regional conflict. Rohingya, who have lived in Burma for centuries, were citizens until 1982, when legislation by the military removed citizenship, rendering them stateless and subject to forced labor and arbitrary confiscation of their property.
Burma’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo addresses two new concerns: the rise of transnational insurgent groups and the demographic balance in Rakhine State. The government is worried that the indigenous population—already a minority in the state—will be overwhelmed if the Rohingya are given citizenship.
He credits Suu Kyi with resurrecting the peace process between the army and various ethnic militias, and organizing two conferences to provide space for dialogue among antagonistic parties. She also began the process of seeking a solution to the situation in Rakhine State.

25 September
The Misunderstood Roots of Burma’s Rohingya Crisis
“This fear is very deeply felt and not understood in the West—and it comes from a real place rooted in history.”
(The Atlantic) That “real place” dates back to the aftermath of World War II, when the forebears of the Rohingya appealed to Pakistan, which at the time included what is now Bangladesh, to annex their territory. Pakistan did not do so. Subsequently, many of the Muslims took up arms and fought a separatist rebellion until the 1960s, though vestiges of the rebellion continued until the 1990s.
“So when the Rakhine and others in Myanmar look at what’s going on with the name Rohingya, the desire for recognition as an accepted ethnicity, now this militant activity in their name, and calls by some for international intervention, including a safe zone, they see that as a separatist agenda by other means,” [Derek Mitchell, who served as U.S. ambassador to Burma from 2012 to 2016] said. “And those caught in the middle are hundreds of thousands of innocent Rohingya.”
The Rakhines themselves are an ethnic minority in Burma, though they are predominantly Buddhist, and so share the same faith as nearly 88 percent of the rest of the country.

18 September
Aung San Suu Kyi, a Much-Changed Icon, Evades Rohingya Accusations
(NYT) … she expressed uncertainty about why Muslims might be fleeing the country, even as she sidestepped evidence of widespread abuses by the security forces by saying there had been “allegations and counter-allegations.”
It was a remarkable parroting of the language of the generals who locked her up for the better part of two decades, and in the process made a political legend of her: the regal prisoner of conscience who vanquished the military with no weapons but her principles.
But she is also the daughter of the assassinated independence hero Aung San, who founded the modern Burmese Army. And she is a member of the country’s elite — from the highest class of the ethnic Bamar Buddhist majority.
Kyle Matthews on CTV discusses the current situation in Myanmar and the persecution of the Rohingya, what Canada can do – revoking Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary citizenship would send a strong message.
Myanmar Follows Global Pattern in How Ethnic Cleansing Begins

16 September
Violence against Rohingya ‘looks a lot like ethnic cleansing,’ Freeland says
Comments come as pressure mounts for Canada to help establish safe-zone, take concrete action

11 September
(Quartz) Myanmar spurned a ceasefire offer by Rohingya rebels. The government said it would not make a deal with “terrorists” after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the militant wing of the country’s repressed Muslim minority, announced a truce on Sunday. The United Nations said the targeting of Rohingya Muslims “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

8 September
Desmond Tutu condemns Aung San Suu Kyi: ‘Silence is too high a price’
Nobel laureate issues heartfelt letter to fellow peace prize winner calling for her to speak up for Rohingya in MyanmarThe 85-year old archbishop said the “unfolding horror” and “ethnic cleansing” in the country’s Rahkine region had forced him to speak out against the woman he admired and considered “a dearly beloved sister”.
Despite Aung San Suu Kyi defending her government’s handling of the growing crisis, Tutu urged his fellow Nobel peace price winner to intervene.
“I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness,” he wrote in a letter posted on social media.

Kyle Matthews: Time to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship
Aung San Suu Kyi’s denialism and lack of leadership and courage to try to reign in the Myanmar military from committing human rights abuses against the Rohingya is a disgrace to humanity and conduct unbecoming of a Canadian. Her honorary Canadian citizenship must be revoked.
(Ottawa Citizen) Few Canadians know of the Rohingya and their plight in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). That is about to change. The reason is that atrocity crimes are now being committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority by the Myanmar government. And who is Myanmar’s political leader at this precise moment in time? None other than 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who also happens to be one of Canada’s six honorary citizens.
… What is even more worrying is that the plight of the Rohingya will follow the same farcical and inhuman path that so many Syrians have suffered recently: that is, both Russia and China might once again use their veto power to protect the government of Myanmar from censure and condemnation at the UN Security Council. Hope that the UN system will work this time to protect civilians seems a bit naïve, as does the idea that Myanmar will correct its behaviour as a signatory of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

6 September
What has happened to Aung San Suu Kyi?
(Globe & Mail editorial:) It’s true that the generals maintain a grip on many parts of the state, and she needs them to govern. But that’s why this looks suspiciously like another triumph of realpolitik, and a trade of moral authority for political power.
Rohingya crisis: Suu Kyi says ‘fake news helping terrorists’
(BBC) Ms Suu Kyi was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her work bringing democracy to Burma, but some have called for her Nobel Peace Prize to be taken back.
While she has previously acknowledged problems in Rakhine state, she has denied there is ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya,
Several fellow laureates have called on her to act in the latest conflict, and the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar this week said she must “step in”.
Her biographer Justin Wintle said he was “flabbergasted” by Ms Suu Kyi’s response – telling the BBC he thought she was “impervious” to international opinion and was now “in the army’s pocket”.
(Quartz) Narendra Modi visits Myanmar. The Indian prime minister is set to discuss the plight of the Rohingya people who are fleeing Myanmar (paywall), after the Indian government said it plans to deport the 40,000 or so refugees who are taking refuge in India.

5 September
Take away Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel peace prize. She no longer deserves it
George Monbiot
Once she was an inspiration. Now, silent on the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, she is complicit in crimes against humanity
In her Nobel lecture, Aung San Suu Kyi remarked: “Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.” The rage of those Rohingya people who have taken up arms has been used as an excuse to accelerate an existing programme of ethnic cleansing.
She has not only denied the atrocities, attempting to shield the armed forces from criticism; she has also denied the very identity of the people being attacked, asking the US ambassador not to use the term Rohingya. This is in line with the government’s policy of disavowing their existence as an ethnic group, and classifying them – though they have lived in Myanmar for centuries – as interlopers. She has upheld the 1982 Citizenship Law, which denies these people their rights.

Photograph: KM Asad/AFP/Getty Images

Myanmar’s Suu Kyi under pressure as almost 125,000 Rohingya flee violence
(Reuters) – Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi came under more pressure on Tuesday to halt violence against Rohingya Muslims that has sent nearly 125,000 of them fleeing over the border to Bangladesh in just over 10 days.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of the risk of ethnic cleansing and regional destabilization. He urged the U.N. Security Council to press for restraint and calm in a rare letter to express concern that the violence could spiral into a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
The International Organization for Migration said humanitarian assistance needed to increase urgently and that it and partner agencies had an immediate funding gap of $18 million over the next three months to boost lifesaving services for the new arrivals.

4 September
Myanmar conflict: Aung San Suu Kyi ‘must step in’
(BBC) Satellite images show many fires across northern parts of the state, and Human Rights Watch has released an image which it says shows that more than 700 homes were razed in one Rohingya village.
The military says it is fighting a campaign against Rohingya militants who are attacking civilians. Independently verifying the situation on the ground is very difficult because access is restricted.
Myanmar blocks all UN aid to civilians at heart of Rohingya crisis
Exclusive: Military offensive against insurgents leaves thousands stranded without life-saving supplies
The UN halted distributions in northern Rakhine state after militants attacked government forces on 25 August and the army responded with a counteroffensive that has killed hundreds of people.
Staff from the UN refugee agency, the United Nations Population Fund, and Unicef have not conducted any field work in northern Rakhine for more than a week – a dangerous halt in life-saving relief that will affect poor Buddhist residents as well as Rohingya.

Why Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize Won’t Be Revoked
(NYT) “Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment,” Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani Muslim and the youngest recipient of the award, said in a Twitter post on Monday. “I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same. The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting.”
Last year, several Nobel laureates — including Ms. Yousafzai, Desmond Tutu and 11 other recipients — signed an open letter that “warned of the potential for genocide.”
Both the open letter and Ms. Yousafzai’s Twitter post were met online by critics of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who blamed her for the crisis and called for her prize to be revoked.
The Nobel Committee, all Norwegian citizens appointed by the country’s Parliament, has never rescinded a prize and will not in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s case either, said Gunnar Stalsett, a former committee member. … “The principle we follow [in] the decision is not a declaration of a saint,” Mr. Stalsett said. “When the decision has been made and the award has been given, that ends the responsibility of the committee.”

29 August
UK calls for UN meeting on Myanmar violence
UK urges Security Council to hold meeting after reports of Rohingya civilian casualties from raids by Myanmar forces.
(Al Jazeera) Deadly attacks on border posts broke out on Friday that killed one soldier, 10 police officers, an immigration official and 77 alleged fighters of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), the Office of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said in a statement.
Media reports emerged later that said security forces used disproportionate force and displaced thousands of Rohingya Muslim villagers, destroying homes with mortars and machine guns.
Satellite data accessed by a rights body and released on Tuesday showed widespread fires burning in at least 10 areas in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Residents and activists have accused soldiers of shooting indiscriminately at unarmed Rohingya men, women and children and carrying out arson attacks.
Bangladesh is already host to more than 400,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar since the early 1990s. Dhaka has asked the UN to pressure Myanmar over its treatment of the Muslim minority, insisting it cannot accept any more.
Still, more than 8,700 have registered in Bangladesh since Friday, the UN said.

28 August
Pope Francis to visit Bangladesh and Myanmar in November
Pontiff’s visit to Myanmar, the first by any pope, set to focus international attention on plight of Rohingya Muslim minority
Francis has regularly spoken out in defence of the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.
On Sunday he bemoaned the latest “sad reports of the persecution of a religious minority, our Rohingya brothers” adding: “I would like to express my closeness to them and all of us ask the Lord to save them and to prompt men and women of good faith to help them and ensure their full rights.”

At least 96 people have died since Thursday in clashes between the security forces in Myanmar and the Rohingya ethnic minority. Myanmar is overwhelmingly Buddhist, but roughly 1 million Muslim Rohingya live in Rakhine, the western state where the violence is taking place. State officials said government forces were trying to restore peace in the area, while a Rohingya insurgent group accused the army of using civilians as human shields. Advocates for the Rohingya told Al Jazeera that at least 800 people from the minority group, including women and children, have been killed in the violence

9 August
The Rohingya: Silent Abuse (film)
Denied citizenship, forced from their homes, and subjected to cruelty; we investigate the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya.
(Al Jazeera) The government says these reports are exaggerated – but the UN has since reported a raft of human rights violations. It has even gone as far as suggesting that Myanmar’s strategy may be to expel the Rohingya altogether. It announced a fact-finding mission to Myanmar but the government said in June that it would deny entry to officials taking part in the UN investigation.
Former Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi now holds the post of State Counsellor and is effectively the head of the Myanmar government. But since her days as an anti-government campaigner, she has been accused of ignoring the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

20 February
With Sustained Violence Against Rohingyas, Is Myanmar on the Edge of Islamist Insurgency?
Since Myanmar’s approach to the Rohingya has been marked by extreme prejudice, it was only a matter of time before the reaction set in.
(The Wire) Over a quarter century ago, a Karachi-based newspaper known as Ummat carried an interview with the late Osama bin-Laden where he issued a dire warning that should echo with policy makers and government leaders in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, especially now: “There are areas in all parts of the world where strong jihadi forces are present, from Bosnia to Sudan and from Burma to Kashmir.”
Even if we do not reflect on the ‘K’ word, we should be curious and concerned about the reference to Burma, the old name for Myanmar, by the late Saudi founder of al-Qaeda. Because there can be little to dispute that he was probably referring to the Rohingya, today one of the most oppressed and wretched of the earth, stateless and homeless, driven from their towns and villages by relentless strikes by the Myanmar army, living in fear and poverty.
Today, for the first time in the recent history of the region stretching from the Himalayan foothills of Nepal to the plains for Myanmar, the impact of years of neglect, oppression and discrimination have triggered what appears to be a stunning new spectre – the incipient growth of a Islamist insurgency in the Rohingya areas. The closest situation is the long-simmering unrest in southern Thailand.
15 February
Facing disaster: The Muslim Rohingya of Myanmar
The plight of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Myanmar, mirrors the struggle of the Palestinians, the Sahrawi and other oppressed Muslim groups which have suffered from decades of relentless state-backed persecution.
The region, home to an eponymous city and the longest stretch of beach in the world, also hosts a growing number of Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled from neighbouring Rakhine state in Myanmar. There, roughly a million Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions, coexisting with the dominant ethnic Rakhine community, who are largely Buddhist.
This mostly stateless minority have endured decades of persecution in Rakhine, punctuated by occasional pogroms, the latest of of which may be occurring now.
In 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were burnt out of their homes across Rakhine and forced to live in squalid camps for the displaced. According to Human Rights Watch, it was part of an ethnic cleansing campaign involving state security forces and Buddhist mobs.
Since then, the Rohingya Muslims have seen their few remaining rights eroded further, a process culminating in outright disenfranchisement prior to an historic poll in 2015, the first openly-contested general election in 25 years.
A report released on 3 February by the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), accuses Myanmar’s military of committing possible crimes against humanity as part of “clearance operations” against rebels, allegedly resulting in “hundreds” of deaths, and involving systematic rape (around half of the women interviewed by the organisation said that they had been violated). Reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch corroborate many of its claims.
Until recently, the Myanmar government in Naypyidaw simply responded to such charges with blanket or pat denials. A foreign ministry spokeswoman summarised the official stance by stating that, when it comes to allegations of abuse levelled by the Rohingya Muslims, “the things they are accusing us of didn’t happen at all.”

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