As UN convenes, N. Korea is only one crisis: Consider China-backed Burma’s ethnic cleansing

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metzlerBy John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Amid the backdrop of global conflicts and humanitarian crises, presidents, prime ministers, and potentates from 193 member states have gathered in New York for the 72nd annual General Assembly of the United Nations.

The Autumn Assembly comes at a time of renewed political and humanitarian crises from the Middle East through East Asia.

Presidents, from Donald Trump, France’s Emmanuel Macron and South Korea’s Moon Jae-In, will visit as will Prime Ministers such as Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Britain’s Theresa May. One hundred heads of state and government are expected to attend among other ministers.

Rohingya refugees arrive in Bangladesh on Sept. 10 after crossing the border with Burma by boat.
Rohingya refugees arrive in Bangladesh on Sept. 10 after crossing the border with Burma by boat.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that as leaders assemble, the world faces major threats “from the nuclear peril to global terrorism, from inequality to cybercrime.”

Yet the new Secretary General from Portugal stressed the two top global concerns remain the deteriorating situation in Myanmar /Burma and North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons tests.

Myanmar’s aka Burma’s “humanitarian situation is catastrophic,” Guterres told correspondents, “last week there were 125,000 Rohingya refugees who had fled into Bangladesh. That number has now tripled to nearly 380,000.”

Despite longterm conflicts between Burma’s Buddhist majority government and ethnic minorities, the killing and forceful displacement of the Muslim Rohingya have brutally intensified.

When asked whether the term ethnic cleaning applies to the ongoing crisis, the Secretary General responded, “Well, I would answer your question with another question. When one‑third of the Rohingya population had to flee the country, can you find a better word to describe it? ”

The Rohingya minority, living in Burma was never given the right of full citizenship. Though Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar military and police in a series of terrorist attacks a month ago, the central government has reacted with massive disproportionate force burning villages and forcing out civilians.

After a half century of suffocating military rule, Burma today is governed by an emerging democratic system led by longtime dissident and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ironically, this former pro-democracy idol, has been painfully quiet about the plight of the non-Buddhist Rohingya.

Suu Kyi visited the UN a few years ago for a victory lap after bringing democracy to Burma; now she shall avoid the current Assembly session as she seemingly left the camp of the angels.

Why has this tragedy been sidelined in the UN Security Council?

Look no further than Beijing who has long backed the Burmese military, has stifled international human rights inquiries, and now supports the government’s hyper-nationalist crackdown on hapless Rohingya civilians being pushed unceremoniously into Bangladesh. Ethnic cleansing plain and simple. Remember Kosovo?

North Korea’s nuclear and missile proliferation takes front and center stage at the Assembly. The nuclear tests by the quaintly titled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), have in the words of the Secretary General “created great instability and tension on the Korean peninsula, throughout the region and beyond.”

North Korea’s sixth nuclear test followed by an encore missile firing over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, the second rocket in three weeks, reminds the world of Pyongyang’s ongoing provocations against peace. Though the DPRK regime is increasingly boxed in by suffocating UN economic sanctions, the fact remains that these military tests may see a miscalculation which may go terribly wrong.

South Korea, Japan and the USA, are on the short list for dictator Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear ire.

Tragically too, the world is confronted by devastating humanitarian crises in places like Somalia, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic where at least 13 million starving people receive UN aid.

The smoldering six year civil war in Syria has been out of the headlines largely due to the military setbacks to Islamic State and a gaggle of other terrorist groups which have kept this tragedy boiling and seen the deaths of over half million people and the dislocation of millions of others. Slowly Syria may stabilize, but a durable political solution remains elusive.

Yemen, long presented as the former Obama Administration’s successful Mid-East benchmark, has been reduced to a vicious civil war between proxies in Saudi Arabia and Iran resulting in massive starvation and refugee dislocation.

Miroslav Lajcak, the Slovak Foreign Minister elected as President of the 72nd Assembly goes beyond the lofty rhetoric making a clear case; “The UN was created for people, the people who need the UN the most are not sitting in this hall today.” He implored. “It is one of the tasks of the General Assembly to make sure that their voices can still be heard.”

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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