Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sanctions on Burma should be re-imposed until the military ends offensives and war crimes against ethnic minorities and gives them full citizenship and their basic rights

Aung San Suu Kyi's release from jail and the elections in Burma are welcome, but the lifting of sanctions on Burma by the US and EUgovernments including Britain is premature while Burmese military atrocities and persecution against Burmese minorities continues (1) - (3).

Human Rights Watch report major and continuing Burmese military offensives against the Kachin people of Northern Burma involving rape, torture and killing of civilians and preventing emergency food and medical aid getting through (4).

Muslim Rohingya refugees fleeing Burma say the Burmese military have taken part in Sectarian violence between Rohingya and mostly Buddhist Rakhine in southern Burma, targeting the Rohingya more than the Rakhine - and that police have joined in attacks on Rohingya, as well as army helicopters having fired on Rohingya refugees' boats as they try to flee to neighbouring countries by sea. No aid has been allowed in to people in the region either. (5) - (7).

For decades Burma's military has refused Burmese Rohingya citizenship, calling them Bangladeshis, forcing them out of their homes, and making them do forcedlabour as slaves building houses for colonists of the supposedly "ethnically pure" Bamar majority (8) - (10).

Many of Aung San's Burmese supporters are also prejudiced against Rohingya, possibly victims of military propaganda themselves. She says she "doesn't know" if they're Burmese. The Independent newspaper quoted Mark Farmaner of the Free Burma Campaign as coming back from a month long trip to Burma saying “Anti-Muslim prejudice is endemic in Burmese society....Derogatory comments about Muslims are so commonplace it is quite shocking.” (11) - (12).

Aung San Suu Kyi is certainly in a difficult position and will fear that unless she compromises the military may ignore election results, place her back under house arrest and jail, torture or kill her supporters again. However while she and her party have the right to compromise on their own rights they have no right to agree to other people losing their basic rights in order to secure their own. Without outside pressure any compromise will not be a genuine one between equals either, but one forced on the majority by the men with guns.

Bangladesh's coast guards, as well as Thailand's and Malaysia's are forcingRohingya refugees back out to sea to die, while Chineseforces prevent Kachin refugees escaping into China , also forcing any they catch who get across the border back (13) - (17). (the photo at the top of this post shows Thai Coast Guards and Rohingya refugees (likely Burmese) in Thailand and comes from Asia News

Sanctions on Burma should be re-imposed until the massacres end, aid is allowed in and minorities are given full citizenship. This would remove Suu Kyi's dilemma and allow her to push for the rights of all Burmese people.

This isn't the first time the Burmese Generals have released Suu Kyi either. They've done it before many times when they're under economic and political pressure, only to jail her again once the pressure eased off. This time they've also released many other dissidents due to pressure from Amnesty International and others, so it might be different - but a democracy based on supposed ethnic superiority and ethnic cleansing would not be a real democracy in any case.

Burmese opposition members point out that the elections were only for 5% of the seats in the Burmese parliament,that 80% are reserved for representatives of the military and its supporters and that the military reserves most power to itself, leaving parliament almost powerless in (18).

While the military has made ceasefires with 17 rebel groups (mostly ethnic minorities) including the Karen National Union, so far the military does not seem to have offered any concessions or made any response to peace proposals from these groups (19).

All democratically elected governments should also suspend aid and trade with countries forcing Burmese Rohingya refugees back until they fulfill their Geneva Convention responsibility to take them in, offering extra aid if they do so.


(1) = CNN 12 Jul 2012 'U.S. eases sanctions on Myanmar', http://edition.cnn.com/2012/07/11/world/asia/us-myanmar-easing-sactions/index.html

(2) = guardian.co.uk 24 Apr 2012 'EU lifts Burma sanctions for one year', http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/23/eu-lifts-burma-sanctions

(3) = BBC News 13 Apr 2012 'David Cameron calls for Burma sanctions to be suspended',http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-17698526

(4) = New York Times 15 May 2012 'Where Myanmar Keeps Trampling Rights', by Matthew Smith, consultant to Human Rights Watch, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/16/opinion/where-myanmar-keeps-trampling-rights.html?_r=2&ref=global; 'In the remote, rugged mountains of the northern Kachin State, the Burmese Army has been engaged in a brutal war with the Kachin Independence Army,K.I.A., since last June, breaking a 17-year cease-fire agreement. In its renewed military operations against the K.I.A. — Myanmar’s second-largest armed rebel group, which has existed for 51 years — the army has attacked ethnic Kachin civilians and villages, pillaged properties, and committed severe abuses.

I have traveled twice to the conflict areas, spending more than six weeks interviewing more than 100 people. Burmese soldiers have raped Kachin women,tortured civilians, used forced labor on the front lines, and opened fire on villagers with small arms and mortars, causing tens of thousands to flee.

Of those displaced, an estimated 45,000 fled to 30 makeshift camps in K.I.A.-controlled territory along the Myanmar-China border, where the Burmes eauthorities have denied them access to international humanitarian aid.

President Thein Sein has granted U.N. agencies humanitarian access to the area only once, in December, six months after the conflict began.Grassroots organizations are providing aid but are in need of international support. Items like food, medicine, blankets and warm clothing are in short supply.

(5) = Amnesty International 19 Jun2012 'Myanmar: Meet immediate humanitarian needs and address systemic discrimination ',http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA16/008/2012/en/fc40e2b7-00e9-4df8-8eaf-acc27d64098b/asa160082012en.html;

The widespread violence in at least eight areas that began on 8June has reduced considerably, but human rights abuses continue to take place among the Buddhist Rakhine, Muslim Rakhine, and Muslim Rohingya communities, as well as by state security forces. This is especially the case in Maungdaw and Rathidaung.

According to the government, at least 50 people have been killed, and over 30,000 displaced by the violence. Several thousand homes have been destroyed.

The basic humanitarian needs of these people must be met immediately, as many still lack adequate food, water, shelter, and medical attention. The Myanmar authorities should allow local and international aid agencies full and unhindered access to all displaced persons—including an estimated 1,500 persons illegally denied refuge across the border last week by Bangladesh.

Yesterday the border guards similarly detained at least 150Rohingya men who were trying to enter Bangladesh in small boats on the Naf River. They were fleeing a wave of mostly arbitrary arrests by Myanmar border forces and the army since 15 June in Maungdaw. ....

(6) = Human Rights Watch 11 Jun 2012 'Burma: Protect Muslim, Buddhist Communities at Risk', http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/11/burma-protect-muslim-buddhist-communities-risk, 'Brutal violence in Arakan State in western Burma erupted on June 3, 2012,when an estimated 300 Arakan Buddhists attacked a bus of traveling Muslims,killing 10 passengers. The angry mob was reacting to information that an Arakan girl was allegedly raped and murdered in late May by three Muslim suspects. At the time of the attack, the suspects were reportedly in police custody. Clashes have intensified since, with the police opening fire and allegedly killing Rohingyas, and Rohingya mobs burning Arakan homes and businesses. Mobs of Rohingya and Arakanese, armed with sticks and swords, have reportedly committed violence that resulted in a number of deaths. The violence has spread from Maungdaw to the state’s capital and largest town, Sittwe.

On June 7, the Burmese government announced an investigation into the violence. As clashes worsened, on June 10,President Thein Sein issued a state of emergency in the area, ceding complete authority to the Burmese army.

(7) = Channel 4 News 25 Jun 2012'Dangerous waters for Burma's Rohingya minority', http://www.channel4.com/news/dangerous-waters-for-rohingyas-forgotten-people;

Information is scarce, but the camera team found people willing to talk.They spoke to Rohingya refugees who'd made the crossing to Bangladesh.

One illegal entrant, called Shahara, said: "My sisters, brothers and other relatives were burnt alive. They burnt my own children. We couldn't bear it anymore so we came to Bangladesh. The coastguard turned us back three times - andwe floated at sea for four days and four nights. Then we managed to sneak in.Three of our children were burnt to death in Burma. Another two died in the boat getting here."

Her husband Mohammad said that local policemen and members of the military in Burma had sided with the ethnic Buddhists - participating in attacks on Muslims. He said he saw a Burmese helicopter attack boats packed with refugees:"There were three boats together when we set off - and another three followed us. The three boats that lagged behind where attacked by a helicopter and caught fire."

He thinks almost 50 people were killed

(8) = Amnesty International 19 Jun 2012 'Myanmar: Meet immediate humanitarian needs and address systemic discrimination ', http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA16/008/2012/en/fc40e2b7-00e9-4df8-8eaf-acc27d64098b/asa160082012en.html, 'systemic discrimination against the Rohingya characterizes decades of state policy in Myanmar. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas were forcibly displaced by security forces in 1991-1992. Despite being a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Myanmar continues to deny Rohingya children the right to a nationality. Refused citizenship the under the 1982 Citizenship Act,the ethnic and religious minority is restricted to various degrees in their rights to study, work, travel, marry, practice their religion, and receive health services.

(9) = Human Rights Watch 11 Jun 2012'Burma: Protect Muslim, Buddhist Communities at Risk, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/11/burma-protect-muslim-buddhist-communities-risk

For decades, the Rohingya have routinely suffered abuses by the Burmese army, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor, land confiscation, and restricted freedom of movement.Arakan people have also faced human rights violations by the army. Using the army to restore order risks arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture, Human Rights Watch said.

For decades the Rohingya have borne the brunt of the earlier military government’s brutal state-building policies.The Rohingya have been formally denied citizenship and were excluded from the last census in 1983. They are widely regarded within Burma as “Bengalis” –people of Bangladesh nationality. Since the 1960s there have been multiple campaigns led by the Burmese authorities to expel the Rohingya from Burma,resulting in a litany of human rights violations. There are an estimated800,000 Rohingya in Burma, and about 200,000 live in Bangladesh, of which30,000 live in squalid refugee camps. '

(10) = guardian.co.uk 01 'Dec 2011'Little help for the persecuted Rohingya of Burma', http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/dec/01/rohingya-burma; 'When the military junta under General Ne Win, an ethnic Burmese, came to power in 1962, it implemented a policy of "Burmanisation". Based on the ultra-nationalist ideology of racial "purity", it was a crude attempt to bolster the majority Burmese ethnic identity and their religion Buddhism, in order to strip the Rohingya of any legitimacy. They were officially declared foreigners in their own native land and erroneously labelled as illegal Bengali immigrants.

By officially denying them citizenship, the government institutionalised the long-held and unofficial discriminatory practices in the Arakan State. As a result, the Rohingya have no rights to own land or property and are unable to travel outside their villages, repair their decaying places of worship, receive education, or even marry and have children without rarely granted government permission. In addition to the complete denial of their rights, the Rohingya were subjected to modern-day slavery, forced to work on infrastructure projects which include constructing "model villages" to house the Burmese settlers intended to displace them.'

(11) = Independent 21 Jun 2012 'Row over Aung San Suu Kyi threatens to split Burmese pro-democracy movement in Britain', http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/row-over-aung-san-suu-kyi-threatens-to-split-burmese-prodemocracy-movement-in-britain-7873238.html

Burmese Democratic Concern, which organised today’s meeting with Miss Suu Kyi, is one of the exile groups most vehemently opposed to Rohingyas. Its website contains numerous reports laying the blame for sectarian conflict squarely at the door of the Rohingyas – a view which is disputed by most human rights groups and the UN.

Myo Thein, the group’s founder, told The Independent: “There is no tension in Burmese community over Kachin community because we are behind our brothers and sisters there. We fully support them.But regarding the Rohingya issue we do have a problem. We don’t accept they are part of Burma or Burmese citizens. We see them as illegal immigrants, Bengalis from Bangladesh.”

Mark Farmaner, from the Free Burma Campaign, says there is little chance anti-Muslim prejudice will go away any time soon. He recently returned from a one month visit to Burma.

“Anti-Muslim prejudice is endemic in Burmese society,” he said. “Derogatory comments about Muslims are so commonplace it is quite shocking.”

(12) = Channel 4 News 21 Jun 2012 'AungSan Suu Kyi facing the challenge of a divided nation',http://blogs.channel4.com/world-news-blog/aung-san-suu-kyi-facing-the-challenge-of-a-divided-nation/22639

When asked about the crisis on her European tour, Aung San Suu Kyi skirted well-around it.

When asked whether the Rohingya should be regarded as Burmese, she replied,“I don’t know.” Ms Suu Kyi added, unhelpfully, that the problem was that,“there are no-clear cut rules regarding who qualifies as a citizen.”

(13) = Guardian 04 Dec 2009 'After 20 days adrift, Burmese boat people land with tales of abuse and starvation', http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/feb/04/burmese-boat-survivors

(14) = Human Rights Watch 20 Jun2012 'Bangladesh: Stop Boat Push-backs to Burma',http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/19/bangladesh-stop-boat-push-backs-burma

(15) = See (4) above

(16) = Independent 15 May 2012 'Nowhere to run: rebels trapped in Burma's escalating ethnic war', http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/nowhere-to-run-rebels-trapped-in-burmas-escalating-ethnic-war-7746811.html ; 'The leadership of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) – Christians who have fought, on and off, for self-determination since 1961 – are now sandwiched between Burmese artillery and the Chinese border, which runs directly through the centre of Laiza....Each Monday, in full view of the town's bustling marketplace, Chinese troops across the bridge hold drill sessions behind shields and rifles, apparently in preparation for a sudden rush of people fleeing a Burmese attack. "We have nowhere to flee," said a 23-year-old fisherman. "That is why we must defend ourselves to the last man."

(17) = guardian.co.uk 26 Jun 2012 'China accused of forcing Burma refugees back to war zone', http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/26/china-accused-returning-burma-refugees ; 'Chinese authorities are forcing back into Burma some ethnic Kachin refugees who have fled civil war, and is denying basic care to many who remain, Human Rights Watch has said. '

(18) = guardian.co.uk 02 Apr 2012 'Aung San Suu Kyi's victory does not bring Burma freedom', http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/02/aung-san-suu-kyi-victory-burma-freedom

(19) = BBC News 12 Jan 2012 'Burma government signs ceasefire with Karen rebels', http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16523691