Crimes against humanity in Myanmar

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The Myanmar government has announced that it will not grant visas to members of a fact-finding mission appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate alleged human rights violations, such as murder, displacement, looting, rape, and the burning of houses and places of worship by members of the Myanmar army and security forces against Rohingya Muslims. The Myanmar government’s position in this regard was made clear in statements issued by different officials, including the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who holds the portfolio of the ministry of foreign affairs. She ordered foreign ministry officials not to grant visas to UN mission members saying that Myanmar has disassociated itself from the UN resolution because it is not in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground. She also noted that her government would not coordinate with the UN mission as the government had distanced itself from the UN decision to create such a panel. Since the decision of the UN Human Rights Council to send an international fact-finding mission to Myanmar, Suu Kyi has repeatedly stated that sending such a panel to Rakhine state would lead to a further worsening of the conflict between different sections of society in that region. She made the remarks as if these sections enjoyed equal rights and responsibilities. Suu Kyi is simply ignoring what is actually happening in the state where extremist racist groups from the majority Buddhist community, with the support of the government machinery, are engaged in killing, looting, raping and are driving away the defenseless and besieged Rohingya people, who have been deprived of their nationality, freedom of movement and other rights including the right of marriage. Myanmar security forces carried out a massive operation against Rohingya Muslims in October 2016 in response to an attack on a military post allegedly by some Rohingya insurgents. This happened at a time when there were no reports of the presence of any militant Rohingya groups. This attack might have been carried out by some extremist Buddhist groups in order to justify the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Musims. According to reports of the United Nations, after the October incident, soldiers and security forces killed more than 1,000 unarmed civilians and committed the gang rape of women and minor girls and forced more than 90,000 people to leave their homes. The UN came to the conclusion that this “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing. Subsequently, the UN Human Rights Council decided to send a fact-finding mission and appointed three legal experts and rights advocates as members of the mission to investigate the human rights situation in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine state. Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kyaw Tin confirmed what had already been stated by the leader of the country on several occasions as well as during her visit to Western countries that they would not allow members of the fact-finding mission to enter the country, and said the foreign ministry had informed Myanmar diplomatic missions abroad not to grant visas to members of the panel. “Suu Kyi said we would not coordinate with the UN mission as we have disassociated ourselves from the resolution because we do not think that the resolution is in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground. We will order Myanmar embassies not to grant any visa to UN members of the fact-finding mission. But this mission will travel to Myanmar’s neighboring countries and will ask in these countries what it wants to know and submit its report to UN,” he said. It is a well-known fact that the entire world stood by Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, when she was put under house arrest by the military government. However, the position taken by her toward Rohingya Muslims, who are victims of persecution, is flawed, humiliating and frustrating. Even if Suu Kyi did not order or condone the atrocities being perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims, she has maintained a cruel silence about it. Her negative stance was even more evident when the aggression and massacres against Rohingya Muslims intensified in 2012. When international human rights organizations and global figures, including Nobel Peace Prize laureates, such as South African Bishop Tutu and Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, called on her to exert efforts to save these Muslims from the brutality of Buddhist extremists, she ignored these calls and kept mum, as if she were giving tacit approval for what was being perpetrated in terms of the ethnic cleansing and genocide of these people. At that time, some people said that she was not in power and that she was not directly responsible for these crimes. However, now she is in power and hence should be held accountable. Will the government of Myanmar challenge the United Nations and prevent members of the fact-finding mission from investigating the crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims, and if so, what would be the appropriate response to such defiance? If the racist government of Myanmar persecutes a section of its people and deprives them of their right to citizenship, and prevents the entry of the fact-finding commission as well as the entry of journalists and aid workers, what sanctions will be applied against them? Is not what is happening in Myanmar ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity? Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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