Friday, May 22, 2015
Article by Dr. Nancy Hudson-Rodd from 2013, comparing Rohingya issue in Burma to West's denial of Jewish issue during World War II
Denial of the Living Hell of Burma
Happening in Burma today is a story of betrayal, failure, indifference, hatred, war, crimes against humanity, genocide, international silence and denial. When extermination camps were uncovered in Europe over five decades ago, the world promised the un-measureable acts of horror would never again be allowed to happen again. The term ‘bystander nations’ was originally used to describe the lack of response by Allied governments to early knowledge about the unfolding destruction of European Jews, the reluctance to believe allegations of genocide and their refusal to adopt policies to act. Genocide in Burma is a reality. The rulers committing genocidal acts are charming the world getting away with murder. Why?
There is a long history of bystander nations’ selective refusal to act. Global awareness of the prevalence of genocide and ethnic cleansing were heightened by a 1993 massacre in Rwanda where UN Force Commander-Lieutenant General Romeo D’Allaire and a small band of UN peacekeepers were abandoned by the world’s major powers. D’Allaire’s desperate calls to the UN for help were ignored, a failure of humanity to act. Linda Melvern (1998) drew attention to the complicity of western nations through the United Nations failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide. She points out that genocide was planned without secrecy and after months of careful preparation, still international community held back. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, foreign countries continued to invest money into the economy, engaged in trade negotiations with Rwandan authorities, contributing directly to the conditions which made the genocide possible. Why did individual nations turn their backs? Why did they deny the reality?
In Burma, a similar pattern of official denial and international silence concerning genocide and crimes against humanity being committed by the military regime against civilians is unfolding. Former General Thein Sein, now President Thein Sein, is welcomed and pampered around the world, applauded for transforming Burma from a military dictatorship into a democratic nation. The World Bank, foreign investors, governments, and technical experts complicit in this denial, profit at the expense of the survival of citizens of Burma. The remote border regions of Burma, home to the ethnic groups, and 55% of the lucrative natural resources of Burma, are the sites of decades of genocidal conflicts between the Burmese army and armed ethnic nationality groups. Despite decades of documentation concerning crimes against humanity in Burma, why is there no action?
The mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma was established in 1992. Each year since, the Special Rapporteur has reported serious violations of human rights of citizens, denounced the ruling military regime for failing to cooperate with the international community and to take serious steps to end the ongoing grave violations of international law. The regime has consistently denied these allegations and continues to act with humanity. The 2008 Constitution drafted by former General Thein Sein, now President Thein Sein, carefully included a clause which protected current and former military rulers from being held accountable for crimes committed against the citizens. Foreign governments have supported these crimes through denial.
Crimes in Burma, a 2010 report by the International Human Rights Clinic Harvard Law School was commissioned by four people, each of whom had dealt directly with severe human rights abuses in the international system and have witnessed the painful consequences of inaction, commissioned a study into the grave human rights situation in Burma. “We have seen how severe human rights abuses are not simply condemnable acts but require concerted efforts to achieve some semblance of accountability and justice”. The report, to evaluate the extent to which UN institutions have knowledge of reported abuses occurring in the country that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity against humanity found UN bodies had consistently acknowledged abuses and used legal terms associated with these international crimes. Violations were widespread, systematic, and part of a state policy.
The commissioners asked the UN Security Council urgently to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate and report on crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma. “If the international community and the UN Security Council fail to take action”, the grave humanitarian situation in eastern Burma and elsewhere in the country will continue unchecked and perpetrators of serious human rights and humanitarian violations will remain unaccountable. “A culture of impunity will persist that is highly conducive to the continuance and escalation of violations”. “The world cannot wait while the military regime continues its atrocities against the people of Burma”.
Sixteen countries supported a proposed UN Commission of inquiry into serious violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to Burma’s internal armed conflicts. No country took leadership at the UN to make it a reality. Foreign ‘bystander nations’ did not deny the violations but expressed their optimism about government reforms despite abundant evidence about continuing systematic repression. This rationalisation of violations institutionalised in international bodies such as the United Nations is described by Leo Kuper (1991, Genocide: A Critical Bibliographical Review) as “the technology of denial developed by member states of the United Nations as they shield offending governments”.
In their independent research 2010 report, Crimes Against Humanity in Western Burma: The Situation of the Rohingyas, the Irish Centre for Human Rights, concluded that there is “a reliable body of evidence of acts constituting a widespread or systematic attack against Rohingya civilian population in North Arakan State. These appear to satisfy the requirements under international law and confirm the perpetration of crimes against humanity”. The report warned that failure to deal with the root causes of the dire situation of the Rohingyas would lead to a bleak future for the minority. “People committing, allowing, aiding, and abetting these crimes must be held accountable. The international community has a responsibility to protect the Rohingyas, to respond to allegations of crimes against humanity and ensure that violations and impunity do not persist for another generation”.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma (March 2013) condemned widespread and systematic human rights violations being committed against Rohingya in Arakan State. “There continues to be absolutely no accountability for what is occurring there”. He detailed severe violations and abuses of international human rights including: detention of over 250 prisoners of conscience and ongoing torture in places of detention; ongoing arrest and detention of peaceful protesters; misuse of defamation laws to enforce censorship and heavy censorship of public broadcasting; increasing violations of land and housing rights; the judiciary’s lack of independence from the executive branch; ongoing conflict in ethnic border areas with increased troop presence in various states has increased human rights violation in Kachin and northern Shan States with ongoing attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and rape, forced labour, portering, arbitrary arrests and detention, and torture.
The UN Human Rights Council adopted March 2013 a resolution on the human rights situation in Burma. The resolution urged the regime to conduct a full and transparent, and independent investigation into all reports of violations of international human rights violations and international humanitarian law.
The Burmese government refuted the report (Observations by Myanmar on the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar) in classic denial approach. The Myanmar delegation pressed for a new rapporteur, one more favourable to Burma.
Each year since 1992 this dance has occurred between the UN and the military regime of Burma.
Prisoners of conscience: “Nobody is arrested on political grounds. Maintenance of law and order is a key responsibility of the government. Legal action is taken against those who violated the laws”.
In the upside down world of Burma, there are no prisoners of conscience only those who disobey the many laws of the nation which are designed to silence defenders of freedom and challenge the authority of the rulers. Human rights defenders are criminalised.
Conditions of detention and treatment of prisoners: “Necessary measures are already in place, an investigation took place. Allegations that Muslim prisoners detained in Buthidaung Prison after violence in 2012 were tortured and beaten to death. “The authorities have examined these allegations. After verification, they found the allegations were baseless”.
Death may occur in prison but allegations of torture are unfounded as prison authorities would not do this.
Conflict and Situation of ethnic minorities: “Allegations of attack against civilian population and other forms of human rights violations are unfounded. The Report has omitted the destructive, terrorist acts committed by the KIA in Kachin State. It is an undeniable fact that the KIA has committed terrorist acts there. These terrorist acts are too obvious to ignore”.
Attacks against civilian populations are unfounded as the people attacked were really terrorists.
Situation in Rakhaine State: “Allegations of harassment, arbitrary arrest, arbitrary restriction of movement, destruction of places of worship and restrictions thereon were unfounded. They do not match with the real situation on the ground”.
Total denial of the violent acts.
The Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to amend the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Act is unacceptable. No country is obligated to get citizenship to everybody who is living there. The 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Act does not target any particular group. People living legally in Myanmar for three successive generations are eligible to apply for the naturalised citizenship. Therefore, we see no reason whatsoever to review or amend the Act”.
Total denial of existence of Rohingya.
“Time is not ripe to consider the amendment of our constitutional provisions”.
Prisoner of Conscience
“We cannot agree to the Special Rapporteur’s observation that Dr Tun Aung is a prisoner of conscience. He was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment after having been found guilty of charges such as the instigation and incitement to cause racial discord, the falsification of national registration certificate etc”.
Dr Tun Aung, a retired medical doctor, Rohingya Muslim community leader, was tortured, denied medical treatment, a lawyer, held incommunicado in Sittwe Prison, having done the exact opposite of what he was charged for, inciting communal violence. On 8 June 2012, the Burmese authorities asked Dr Tun Aung to aid the police in stopping ethnic violence starting. Dr Tun Aung actively tried to calm an agitated crowd. He then sought refuge in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) where 157 staff of the UNHCR and several members of his family were sheltered. The same police who asked him to restore calm came to take him to the headquarters of the special border security force, who tortured him, then sent him to Sittwe prison, where his family could not visit due to travel restrictions on Rohingya. He was charged with having 6 yuan foreign currency and an out of date sim card from Bangladesh. He had no lawyer, no family members. The only witnesses were police and security authorities. He has since been sentenced to an extra 6 years in prison. The prosecution charged that his sentence was too lenient. He has been denied the urgent medical care that he needs.
The Burmese regime finally submitted a report on the violence against Rohingya in Arakan State. They accused the UNHCR of harbouring a ‘Bengali’ Doctor who had incited violence. Dr Tun Aung is a Rohingya, a long time respected leader and medical doctor. As a member of the Hobart, Tasmania, Amnesty International Group, I and my Amnesty friends write to Senator Bob Carr, the Foreign Minister of Australia and to U Soe Thane, chairman of the Committee for Scrutinizing the Remaining Prisoners of Conscience, in the Ministry of President Thein Sein’s office, for the immediate unconditional release of Dr Tun Aung. Minister Bob Carr met with U Soe Thane on his recent visit to Burma. Did they discuss Dr Tun Aung?
The reports continue. All You Can Do Is Pray: Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State, the Human Rights Watch 2013. Endemic discrimination against the 800, 000 stateless Rohingya Muslim in Arakan State continues after convulsions of violence in June and October 2012. Homes, businesses, mosques, Islamic education centres were destroyed, men, women, and children murdered, stoked by hate campaigns sponsored by Buddhist monks and other groups. Security forces, police, soldiers tended to either ignore violence against Rohingya, were active in violence, with government officials complicit. There are ongoing allegations of harassment, detentions, sexual violence and rape, arbitrary restriction of movement, and destruction of places of worship. At least 120,000 Rohingya are internally displaced from their homes and interred in camps denied movement and inadequate food and shelter. Access by international organisations to all of these camps has been denied by security forces. President Thein Sein took no serious steps to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks or to prevent further acts of violence.
Dr Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, the International Alliance to End Genocide, describes genocide as a process that develops in eight stages (classification, symbolisation, dehumanisation, organisation, polarisation, preparation, extermination, denial). These stages are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage preventative measures can stop it. The process is not linear. Logically later stages are preceded by earlier stages, but all stages continue to operate throughout the process. Listed as crimes against humanity the military regime is committing against the Rohingya are: denial of citizenship, imprisonment in displaced person camps; widespread murder of civilians; denial of the right to travel; denial of education rights of children; denial of food and medicines. Burma remains at stage 7 the process of extermination due to ongoing wars against minorities, especially Karen, Shan, and Kachin.
In every research study mentioned, authors have stated that measures should be urgently taken to prevent further crimes against the population. Genocide Watch has stated that preventative measures are available. All studies reveal that if measures are not taken to stop criminal actions, the regime will act with impunity. There has been no international response to these appeals. There has been no Burmese military response and no person held accountable for these crimes. Atrocities are being committed. Children, women, and men are suffering.
Adama Dieng, the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide voiced deep concern at reports of increased violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities in central Burma (29 March 2013). Given the convulsions of violence in June and October 2012, he called upon government leaders in Burma to urgently put in place measures to address the immediate consequences of the current violence and also the root causes of the problem to prevent further escalation of violence. “Failing to do so can have serious future consequences which the international community has solemnly promised to prevent”. Dieng urged the Government to clearly demonstrate “that it is serious about holding accountable those responsible for the past and present violence, regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliations”. The government “must also take measures to protect populations at risk”. Noting that that the State has the primary responsibility to protect its population, Mr. Dieng called on the Government to address the situation as a matter of urgency, develop a comprehensive national strategy that upholds international human rights standards and promotes reconciliation and tolerance among Buddhist and Muslim communities in the country.
Where is the outrage? Why has the international community not held the Burmese military accountable for their crimes?
Why does the Australian Government supportive of the Burmese semi-civilian government? Why does the Australian Government not speak out against the continuing human rights abuses against civilians of Burma? It is time to take a sober analysis of what is really happening in Burma.
Australia was the first western nation to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Development with the Myanmar Government in January 2013. It is the second largest bilateral aid donor to Burma. Australia encourages increased trade and investment links with Burma, appointed a Trade Commissioner and opened an Austrade office in Rangoon in May 2013. Closer bilateral relations have led to significant increases in senior visits between Burma and Australia.
Foreign Government Language of Denial
Speaking from Burma, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Honourable Bob Carr, was interviewed by ABC AM, 10 July 2013. Senator Carr raised the plight of Rohingyas during meetings with President U Thein Sein, Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin, and Ministers U Aung Min and U Soe Thane who “pointed to efforts they had made to bring communities together and promote tolerance”. (What efforts? None visible, but stay out of a cultural situation you know nothing about). Carr refused to criticise political leadership for lack of strong action concerning violence against Rohingyas. He emphasised how difficult the “problem” was as explained by the minister for reconciliation “we’ve got 11 armed ethnic groups and we’ve got 135 recognised ethnic groups going back to before colonial times”. (Classic military response to claim ancient history, no one outside could understand. No mention that the regime created a nation of 135 artificial races denied one the rohingya, not a country of citizens).
Already the second largest contributor of aid to Burma, Senator Carr committed an additional $3.2 million not contingent on any action to be taken by the government towards resolving the Rohingya crisis. “We go on giving aid while, with the credibility that gives us and being seen as something of a champion of Myanmar, we will continue to press with the government and with opposition leadership the plight of the Rohingya”. (What happens when the state which should protect its citizens and therefore be the vehicle of international aid is actually the perpetrator of crimes against the very people it is supposed to protect? The Burmese regime has denied access to people in internally displaced camps and in Arakan State has forced Rohingya to pay for the donated food. There are still members of international non-governmental aid organisations in prison). Public condemnation of the regime practices and calls for changes are required not quiet support.
International news headlines focussed on “ethnic and sectarian tensions in Rakhaine and not about the fact that the government has concluded peace agreements, ceasefires with 11 armed ethnic groups, which is an awe inspiring achievement, one that the country can truly be proud of”. The regime of Burma, culpable for crimes against humanity and genocide, should be held accountable not courted. Ethnic and sectarian tensions are words to deny the truth of genocide, to slide over the culpability of state actions.
The Australian government “a champion of Myanmar” is no friend of the people of Burma. The Australian Government needs to publicly denounce the actions of the Government of Burma and call for an international inquiry into crimes against humanity. Disorder and violence are institutionalised and normalised in Burma. The culture of denial encourages turning collective blind-eyes, leaving abuses unexamined and normalised as part of every-day life. The Australian Government knows atrocities committed by the regime. It is time to speak the truth, deny support for the regime, and support the people of Burma. Or do they just want to be another bystander nation?
Posted by Kyi May at 11:15 AM