Tuesday, 23 May 2017

By Habib Siddiqui

On Saturday, December 10, 2016, the Guardian ran a story on two Rohingya women, Noor Ayesha and Sayeda Khatun.

“Noor Ayesha held her last surviving daughter tight as their boat crossed into Bangladeshi waters. She left behind a firebombed home, a dead husband, seven slain children and the soldiers who raped her,” wrote the Guardian.

“A group of about 20 of them appeared in front of my house,” the 40-year-old Rohingya woman recalled of the morning in mid-October when her village was invaded by hundreds of Burmese government troops. “They ordered all of us to come out in the courtyard. They separated five of our children and forced them into one of our rooms and put on the latch from outside. Then they fired a 'gun-bomb' on that room and set it on fire. Five of my children were burnt to death by the soldiers. They killed my two daughters after raping them. They also killed my husband and raped me.”

Sayeda Khatun was more than five months pregnant, but said that did not deter the soldiers who arrived at her house in the village around noon on October 11. “They carried me at gunpoint to a large courtyard in the village where they had gathered around 30 other Rohingya women,” the 32-year-old said. “From among us the soldiers separated around 15 younger ‘good-looking’ women and took them away to an unknown place. I was in the group of about 15 older women who were raped in that courtyard by the soldiers. Fearing that they would shoot and kill us, all of us took off our clothing as the soldiers ordered.”

She considers herself lucky: she lost no family members and eventually found a way to escape to Cox’s Bazar (in southern tip of Bangladesh) with her husband, Oli Mohammad. But the violence has fractured their relationship, Mohammad believing the men who raped Khatun are also her baby’s fathers, “at least partly”.

Noor Hossain, a resident of a neighboring village, Ngasaku, told the Guardian by phone that the Burmese soldiers had arrived in Kyet Yoe Pyin on October 11 accompanied by Buddhist settlers known as Natala.

More than half the Rohingya community’s 850 houses were razed over the next two days and soldiers killed at least 265 people, he claims. “At least 100 women were raped and 25 of them were killed during the attack in Karyiprang. At least 40 Rohingyas were burnt alive in the village. Apart from killing people with gunshots and burning them, the soldiers also slaughtered many with knife. They also took away about 150 Rohingya men who have not returned as yet,” Hossain said.

The accounts of Ayesha, Sayeda and Noor are three of several such eye-witness reports of extra-judicial crimes in Suu Kyi’s Myanmar government that is committing genocide and is using rape as a weapon of war against the Rohingyas of Arakan (Rakhine) state, bordering Bangladesh. As a result of the latest pogroms since October 9, at least another 30,000 Rohingyas are now internally displaced. [According to UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data, as many as 500,000 Rohingya are already internally displaced.] Rohingya males -  old and young - are shot on site, while women – young and old – are raped by the Myanmar military to terrorize the community. To finish the job, the military is burning homes and villages.

Human Rights Watch has analyzed satellite imagery that shows more than 1,250 buildings in northern Rakhine state that have been destroyed, mostly by arson attacks.
At a rally in Kuala Lumpur last weekend, Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, likened the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar to a genocide.

Penny Green, a professor of law at the University of London, led a 12-month investigation into the Burmese military’s campaign against the Rohingya and concluded that the military was “engaged in a genocidal process” against the minority group. “It’s important to understand genocide as a process which may evolve over many years, beginning with the stigmatization of the target community and moving into physical violence, forced isolation, systematic weakening and finally mass annihilation,” she said.

“For four years now the Rohingya have suffered state-sponsored denial of access to healthcare, livelihood, food and civic life as well as debilitating restrictions on their freedom of movement.

“And now, since 9 October this year, the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state are facing a terrifying new phase in the genocide: mass killings, rapes, village clearings and the razing of whole communities, committed with impunity by the Myanmar military and security forces,” she said.

Many Rohingyas are finding it very difficult to trust Myanmar government for their safety and security and, in utter despair, are trying to flee to Bangladesh where they face push-back from Bangladesh Navy and the Border Guard (BGB). [As I write this essay, another 166 Rohingyas have been pushed back by the BGB.] Hundreds of Rohingyas have also been detained on both sides in the last two months attempting to illegally travel across the Naf River, which separates Myanmar and Bangladesh. And yet, some 22,000 Rohingya refugees have managed to pour into Cox’s Bazar. Every week, thousands continue to make the journey in spite of such obstacles.

Suu Kyi’s government is still in denial of such gruesome crimes of her military (Tatmadaw), and has not allowed international media and aid agencies to visit the northern Rakhine state to either verify the charges against the military or provide humanitarian aid to the Rohingyas.

The Kofi Annan commission is proving to be jawless. The former UN Secretary General was recently permitted to visit the Rakhine (Arakan) state for the first time since the crisis erupted. He was greeted by Buddhist protesters holding signs reading "Ban the Kofi Annan commission". [Obviously, they are opposed to any investigation of the Buddhist crimes against the Rohingya minority.] Mr. Annan interviewed villagers in Kyet Yoe Pyin on December 3. He told a press conference in Yangon on Tuesday (December 6) that his committee was deeply concerned by reports of “human rights abuses” in the Rakhine state and urged Burmese security forces to act within the law. [Obviously, Mr. Annan needs a History 101 lesson on Tatmadaw that has perfected the art of committing war crimes under the pretext of securing law and order in this apartheid country.]

The Myanmar government does not want the international community to learn of its genocidal crimes, and, thus, those interviewed by Mr. Annan were later arrested by security forces. The move was meant to discourage Rohingya victims to speak out. Worse yet, Burmese soldiers resumed operations in Rohingya villages two days after Annan’s visit, and at least 50 women were raped and four killed in last week in the village of Kyauk Chaung in northern Arakan.

As part of another very calculated ploy to deflect international backlash, Suu Kyi has recently formed a 13-member commission, which, not surprisingly, again, in this den of hatred and intolerance included no Muslim and is led by Vice President Myint Swe, a retired army general, formerly blacklisted by the United States. The commission is created with the sole purpose of parroting government propaganda. Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, said the new commission "doesn't look like it's independent or impartial".

According to the UNHCR data, since 2014 an estimated 94,000 asylum seekers have fled to neighboring countries by means of deadly sea journeys. The commonly preferred destination is Malaysia, which hosts approximately 142,000 people. Indonesia currently has approximately 1,000 Rohingya refugees, excluding unregistered asylum seekers, mainly based in Aceh.

The Rohingyas need unpretentious international help, esp. from the ASEAN countries and Bangladesh. The push-back, a familiar tactic employed by Bangladesh government, simply cannot be an option. It is both criminal and morally repugnant, let alone being inexcusable for a country that had witnessed ten million of its own people become refugees in neighboring India during the liberation war of 1971. The push-back policy blemishes the spirit of liberation!

The Bali Process, an international high-level forum on people smuggling, human trafficking and related transnational crimes, which aims to push for more practical arrangements including the implementation of burden-sharing and collective-responsibility principles, however, has proven to be a failure because of its non-binding nature and no consequences for non-adherence.  Bangladesh, for instance, has failed to uphold its commitment made during the 2016 Bali Declaration.

It is clear that Bangladesh and ASEAN member states have miserably failed to sober Myanmar - their rogue neighbor. If the current crisis lingers without restoring Rohingya rights, all these countries should be prepared to receive more Rohingya refugees and provide protection and necessary humanitarian assistance to them.

As noted by Shaffira Gayatri of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), there is no existing legal framework in ASEAN to deal with refugees and forced migration. [In the Southeast Asian region, only the Philippines, Cambodia and Timor Leste (East Timor) are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention.] ASEAN has preferred to focus on its economic functions, while turning a blind eye to more pressing political and human rights issue like the Rohingya crisis. This morally indefensible non-interference principle needs serious reevaluation. Ms. Gayatri opines that “ASEAN has to step up pressure on the Myanmar government to stop the persecution of and discrimination against the Rohingya people through persistent diplomacy. A stronger diplomacy is also needed to allow and ensure the admission of humanitarian aid agencies into the Rohingya area.”

My personal opinion is that a pariah state like Myanmar cannot be sobered by carrots; i.e., its decades of criminal habits cannot be reformed by diplomacy, and surely not be rewarded with trades and investment. It needs sticks, biting sanctions and trials of its leadership in The Hague for its crimes against humanity. The decision to lift economic and other sanctions was simply premature and foolish.

In recent weeks, protesters across South and South-east Asia have turned out for demonstrations against the genocidal violence, particularly in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia. They demanded their governments to stand up for the Rohingyas who are running away from state-sponsored extermination campaigns, acting in the name of race and religion.

Sadly, the powerful western countries, busy with the rise of ultra-nationalist populist parties in their midst, seem least concerned with gross violations of human rights in apartheid Myanmar. They seem more interested in opening up business with the new regime, which has a Nobel Peace Prize winner as its de-facto leader, no matter how she had disgraced the award. Lost in that transaction is the fact that the situation of minorities like the Rohingya has simply worsened under her rule.

Recently, a cross-party group of 70 British parliamentarians have urged the UK government to “intensify pressure” on the Myanmar government to allow full humanitarian access to Rohingya Muslims in the North Rakhine State of Myanmar. “Together with the international community, the UK government must intensify its pressure on the Myanmar government to allow full humanitarian access to the Rohingya,” the British parliamentarians, including co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Burma Rushan Ara Ali (MP), said in a letter to British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. They called on the British government to do all in its power to help those fleeing the violence to find a safe passage home. “We condemn any reprisal attacks that have followed the recent incidents of violence on the Myanmar border and call for an immediate end to the targeted use of violence of an already persecuted religious minority,” the parliamentarians wrote.
We need serious initiatives all across the globe urging governments and the UN Security Council to intensify pressure on Suu Kyi to stop war crimes of her Tatmadaw.

Truly, it is high time for the world community to demand a total halt to the on-going genocidal crimes of Suu Kyi’s government against the Rohingyas of Myanmar. Must the Rohingya people wander in the wilderness for two millennia and suffer repeated persecution, humiliation and genocide to qualify for our support for their existence? Do they need to be ‘children’ of a ‘higher’ God to qualify?