‘Crimes against humanity’ under Buddhist Burma’s generals and peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — Burma’s human rights situation is deteriorating despite consistent pressures by the United States and the wider international community to stem the humanitarian crisis.

In a rare address before the Security Council, Marzuki Darusman, human rights Rapporteur for Burma, aka Myanmar, presented a report which details “massive human rights violations in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States.”

Presenting evidence from the UN Fact Finding Mission highlights international efforts to focus on the ongoing abuses against almost a million Rohingya Muslims forced from their homes in Rakhine as well as other persecuted ethnic minorities from Kachin and Shan states.

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, center, with members of the Tatmadaw military on Feb. 12, 2017.
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, center, with members of the Tatmadaw military on Feb. 12, 2017.

The report states bluntly, “The mission established consistent patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States, in addition to serious violations of international humanitarian law. These are principally committed by the Myanmar security forces.” The document adds, “senior generals of the Myanmar military should be investigated and prosecuted in an international criminal tribunal for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

Though an overwhelmingly Buddhist country of 54 million, Myanmar, has a six percent Christian and four percent Muslim minority. The Myanmar military, the feared Tatmadaw, has been seriously harassing the Rohingya since 2012; the terrible ethnic cleansing and forcible relocation began in earnest in 2017. Nearly one million Rohingya have fled into neighboring Bangladesh, itself a poor country, to escape the violence which was according to the UN “the realization of a disaster long in the making. It was the result of the systemic oppression of the Rohingya.”

As the report advises, “The process of “othering” the Rohingya and their discriminatory treatment began long before 2012. The extreme vulnerability of the Rohingya is a consequence of State policies and practices implemented over decades, steadily marginalizing them. The result is a continuing situation of severe, systemic and institutionalized oppression.”

Rohingya are impoverished and don’t have citizenship rights in the otherwise slowly democratizing Myanmar society. Sadly the longtime and once lauded human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi while standing up to the Burmese military for her fellow Buddhists, has politely averted her eyes from the plight of the embattled Rohingya minority.

Moreover despite protestations from Britain, the former colonial power, and the U.S. and UN, Myanmar’s regime has acted with near political impunity shielded in the Security Council by
its allies in Beijing and Moscow.

Regarding the current report, UK Ambassador Karen Pierce stated, “It makes a specific recommendation to the Security Council to “ensure accountability for crimes under international law committed in Myanmar. Ensuring the prevention of such crimes, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, is one of the reasons that the United Nations and the Security Council were established in the first place.”

Amb. Pierce added plaintively, “I never thought in my diplomatic career that I would hear a briefing to the Security Council, a briefing as compelling but detailing such awful treatment of a people as we have heard today.” Reports of widespread targeting of civilians, sexual violence and a culture of impunity among the perpetrators are part of a picture of state targeted persecution.

The UN report states clearly, “The gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States are shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity. Many of these violations undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.” It adds, “Myanmar has a heavy responsibility to remedy the situation as a matter of the utmost urgency; otherwise, it risks destroying its democratic reform process.”

Since Myanmar has allowed a cautious power sharing agreement between the long ruling military and civilian opposition, there’s been an investment surge into this resource rich Southeast Asian country. This somewhat counters China’s dominant role in the country.

Now the European Union (EU) has threatened to end trade preferences for the garment industry, a major employer. Garment exports from Burma to the EU surged from $1.2 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion last year. The sector employs 450,000 factory workers.

Facing shortfalls in trade, tourists and investment, the Myanmar government has initiated a “Look East” policy aimed at China, Hong Kong and Japan. Recently Aung San Suu Kyi visited Tokyo to seek widening trade and investment; currently Japan is Burma’s 10th largest investor.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley advised, “Only accountability for the crimes against Rohingya will serve the cause of peace in Burma. This is not about finger pointing. It is about accepting the realities of what happened so that healing and accountability can occur.” So very true, but do Burma’s Generals really care?

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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