May 26, 2017
NY Times Book Review: The Fix by Jonathan Tepperman
May 26, 2017
May 26, 2017
by Rebecca Schectman
This is pure and unadulterated bullshit, coming from Myanmar’s Nobel Peace Laureate. The Rohingyas are powerless and stateless. But push them in a corner, they will fight back in order to survive. Malaysia is equally to blame for lacking the political will to deal with human trafficking. Our Police Force is incorrigibly corrupt.
On Sunday, 21 May, Rohingya community members, local leaders, and NGOs working on human trafficking gathered at a Rohingya graveyard near Alor Setar, Kedah to commemorate the second anniversary of the discovery of mass graves and trafficking camps at Wang Kelian. I attended the event representing Tenaganita, an organisation that has worked on migrant rights and human trafficking issues in Malaysia since 1991.
Some 300 Rohingya gathered at Kampung Kepala Bendang near here today(May 21, 2017) to pay tribute to the discovery of several mass graves in Perlis, thought to contain bodies of fellow migrants.
Penang Stop Human Trafficking Campaign and Tenaganita have called on Malaysian authorities to address the corruption that allows Malaysia to be a trafficking hub in the region. At the Wang Kelian memorial, Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid of MAPIM, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisation, stated that authorities should work with trafficking survivors to identify the ‘big fish’, the leaders of trafficking syndicates and the corrupt Malaysian officials who allow them to operate. Tenaganita recognises that the camps and bodies found at Wang Kelian are just the tip of the iceberg—currently, the Global Slavery Index estimates 128,800 individuals are trapped in modern day slavery in Malaysia. That’s about 0.4% of Malaysia’s total population, putting Malaysia among some of the least responsive countries to combat human trafficking.
While the trafficking camps and mass graves found two years ago are potent reminders of the deadliness of trafficking, it is also important to note that there are multiple trafficking schemes seen in Malaysia. Beyond forced labour and sex trafficking, Tenaganita has uncovered cases of marriage trafficking, the sale of babies, organ harvesting, child prostitution, and child marriage. Not all trafficking happens across the Malaysia-Thai border. Traffickers often use budget flights to bring men, women, and children into Malaysia for exploitation. Many of Tenaganita’s cases involve women trafficked to Malaysia for forced labour as domestic workers, which counters the stereotype of trafficked women only being victims of sex trafficking. Like refugees and migrant workers, domestic workers are not adequately protected under Malaysian law. Traffickers know this and often exploit people who are eager to come to Malaysia, such as asylum seekers fleeing their countries or women desperate to support their families.
Corruption, inadequate training of enforcement officers, and limited awareness of trafficking dynamics all contribute to the lack of enforcement of Malaysia’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Act (ATIPSOM). Only a fraction of all prosecutions for trafficking crimes result in convictions according to the 2016 US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, which states, ‘accountability for traffickers remained disproportionately low compared to the scale of the human trafficking problem in the country’.
Trafficking prevention has not been adequately addressed at the national or regional level. For example, there are no mechanisms for safe repatriation, or the protection of trafficking survivors upon return to their country of origin to ensure they are not re-trafficked. Traffickers nimbly operate across borders—governments and enforcement agencies must also work closely together when prosecuting traffickers, protecting survivors, and preventing trafficking crimes. The newly ratified ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP) takes steps in the right direction, but does not incorporate cooperation by civil society organisations like Tenaganita who have been fighting human trafficking for decades.
At the graveside memorial, I saw that the lives lost at Wang Kelian had not been forgotten, at least by the Rohingya community and organisations working on the issue. But despite some efforts to enact legislation, the Malaysian government still lacks the political will to address issues that mostly affect non-Malaysian workers, migrants, and refugees, all of whom are acutely vulnerable to trafficking, forced labour, and debt bondage. It is now time for Malaysia to get serious about enforcing existing legislation and especially going after the collusion between authorities at all levels and trafficking syndicates. The horrors of Wang Kelian must not be allowed to continue, whether through the trafficking of refugees across the Thai border or the trafficking of young women into domestic servitude within Malaysian homes. Unless there is a concerted effort to tackle the human trafficking business in the country, Malaysia will continue to be a trafficking destination.
Rebecca Schectman has worked with UNHCR and Tenaganita in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as a 2016-17 Luce Scholar. She graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2016 with a degree in International Relations and Latin American Studies. She has worked on issues ranging from preserving memory of human rights abuses in Argentina to studying citizen feedback platforms in Uganda. Her research interests include migration, forced displacement, development, and human rights.
May 25, 2017
Comment: It is life’s irony that a man who was regarded a “Malay Ultra” by the Late Lee Kuan Yew and a long serving 4th Prime Minister with blemished track record of failed institutions and Malay-centeric policies is the preferred choice to be the Prime Minister should Pakatan Harapan win the GE-14 elections.
It shows to me at least how desperate Malaysians have become to want a 92 year old ex-UMNO President to lead our country. This is good news to the incumbent Najib Razak because he can beat Dr. Mahathir quite easily. He has enough information about his predecessor twice removed to sway voters against Pakatan Harapan. It will then be from “Ada Harapan to Tiada Harapan” (Hope to No Hope).
I make no bones about my choice as our country’s next Prime Minister. He is no other than the village boy (he is not a member of the Malay aristocratic class) from Chrok Tok Kun in Penang called Anwar Ibrahim. He is not perfect (neither am I and you) but he is the most experienced Malaysian politician and a charismatic personality cum public intellectual with ideas about democracy, freedom, social justice and good governance. He has been through a lot as a result of being in jail on trumped up charges of sodomy. Yet Anwar is unwavering in his commitment to the people of Malaysia the way Nelson Mandela was to the people of South Africa. Mandela became President after spending 27 years in jail. Anwar can be Malaysia’s Prime Minister.
I should know about Anwar Ibrahim as I was once working for him in 2007-2009. In 2008, I traveled with him in his car day and night to campaign throughout the length and breadth of our country. We spent countless hours chatting about his vision for Malaysia and empathy for the ordinary man. He united the Opposition including PAS and created a movement that eventually led to the political demise of Abdullah Badawi, our inept and sleepy head 5th Prime Minister. He replaced by Najib Razak, Mahathir’s choice as UMNO President and Prime Minister.
Unfortunately for Anwar and us Malaysians , Najib Razak was able to create Sodomy 2 (I am not sure if Tun Dr. Mahathir and his associates had hand it in this) that landed him in Sungei Buloh for the second time. Today, he remains our prisoner of conscience, who is strong in will and very committed to the cause of justice, freedom and dignity for Malaysians. Here is to you, Anwar Ibrahim: Salam Reformasi. Lawan Tetap Lawan. –Din Merican
An overwhelming majority of Malaysiakini’s readers have endorsed Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Pakatan Harapan’s Prime minister candidate.
According to the 12,777 who voted in the new portal’s poll, 8,926 (69.9 percent) said Mahathir should be made a candidate while 3,276 (25.6 percent) disagreed. A small group answered “Not sure” or “Don’t care” in the poll, which ran for six days since May 19.
As the poll was conducted in three languages, the results showed different voting patterns among the various demographics.
Respondents who took part in the English-language version were the most supportive of naming Mahathir as a candidate for the premiership, compared to Bahasa Malaysia or Chinese-language readers.
Of those who answered the English-language poll, 76.6 percent were in favour of naming Mahathir as prime ministerial candidate while 68.6 percent of those who answered through the Bahasa Malaysia poll voted the same.
However, only 51 percent of those who answered the Chinese-language poll backed Mahathir for the top post, with 43.9 percent disagreeing.
One of the reasons for the Chinese-language poll results could be related to Mahathir’s words and deeds during his tenure as Prime Minister, for example, the Suqiu election appeals issue. In 2000, even DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang, who has since buried the hatchet with Mahathir, lambasted the former Premier over the Suqiu matter.
After accepting Suqiu’s election appeal, which included a review of the National Economic Policy, Mahathir, following the 1999 polls, had likened the movement to the communists. Another reason for the lack of support among Chinese-language readers is perhaps because they prefer jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to helm the nation.
Harapan has been under pressure of late over their nominee for Prime Minister, with BN claiming that this proves that the opposition coalition was not united.
May 25, 2017
If you feel that strongly about something, you have an obligation to try and change my mind.”
– Aaron Sorkin
While some armed forces personnel – active and retired – have nothing but vitriol for my writings for Malaysiakini, I am glad to report on an anecdotal level at least, there has been far more support – most often qualified – for what I write amongst serving and retired members of our security services.
Loyalty to King and Country
Anecdotal levels are of course cold comfort when the reality is that most people would rather not say anything unless cloaked in anonymity and people often confuse the echo chambers they live in as the “real world”, which is unfortunately far more complicated and diverse than what they read online.
I have always disliked the propagandising of the security services and while I believe that there are many people who do the hard work of keeping our country safe, they are hampered by the petty fiefdoms of their immediate superiors and hobbled by a self-serving political apparatus. The latter is more interested in maintaining political hegemony than by ensuring that these institutions are independent and serve the people of Malaysia.
The former meanwhile hampers the legitimacy of these institutions by eroding public confidence by its official statements, but more damagingly by engaging in practices that apes the accepted political culture that has resulted in our country being categorised as a kleptocracy.
Malaysian Armed Forces Veterans Association (PVATM) Deputy President Sharuddin Omar’s rejoinder to old soldiers, or in my case old sailors, “to the principle that we are always loyal to the current government” misses the point about loyalty, obligation and serving the country.
On a professional level, while I have always observed the chain of command, truth be told my duty – however, you define it – was always to the men and women under my charge. This of course is old school military thinking but one shared by many old timers who put the welfare of the men and women under their charge ahead of politics, racial or religious. Times have changed, of course.
While many would dismiss this veteran’s association as just another government appendage, I was impressed that they disavowed former soldier Mohd Ali Baharom’s (aka Ali Tinju) racist actions in the strongest possible terms. As reported in the media – “His actions are contradictory and incompatible with the principles and practices of all armed forces veterans in the country.
“In the future, we also hope that the media will only relate the actions of Ali Tinju as that of an individual and a Malaysian civilian, and not that of a Malaysian armed forces veteran,” said the association.
Quoting the Malay proverb “kerana nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga” (one bad apple spoils the whole barrel), the association expressed hope that its reputation and that of all armed forces veterans would not be ruined by the actions of one man.
Many retired armed forces veterans make a distinction between loyalty to the institution and the people who make up those institutions. While I get that principle, I have never been unable to separate the office from the individual. To me, if the person in the office is corrupt then why bother defending the institution? I would much rather channel my energies in advocating change rather than spend my time defending the institution.
Honestly, what really bothers me is not that the “gomen is corrupt” but rather that our security apparatus is riddled with the kind of scandals that should make every retired armed forces personnel hang their heads in shame. To list the numerous corruption scandals perpetrated by service people is disheartening and we cannot solely blame the hegemon for that.
But what does loyalty to the government mean?
Does it extend to postal vote fraud? Remember in 2011, when four retired military personnel admitted they were marking postal ballots on order from higher up? To recap – “The four – Major (Rtd) Risman Mastor, Kamarulzaman Ibrahim, Mohamed Nasir Ahmad and Mohd Kamil Omar – said they were ordered by their commanding officers to mark postal votes for the hundreds and thousands of personnel who were out in the field.
“Their expose today is the second after an ex-army man came forward earlier this month, making a similar claim that he was ordered to mark postal votes for other personnel.”
The problem with advocating loyalty to compromised institutions is that armed forces personnel who have served with distinction and honour are tarnished by those who would dishonour the codes they claim to hold in service of their political masters. Besides the existential threat that a certain religion poses, this has been one of my main themes that I have revisited – unfortunately – over the years.
I wrote about how the armed forces was sinking in UMNO’s quagmire – “(Navy chief) Abdul Aziz (Jaafar), if you remember was one of the service chiefs lined up behind (looking rather sheepish) Armed Forces chief General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin when he made an emotional appeal, which also included subtle threats and comments which were unacceptable, not to mention unprofessional, for an officer holding the highest rank in the military to make. He made this appeal when confronted with accusations by retired service personnel of vote/voter manipulation in the armed forces.”
Another example is when the current Prime Minister had a sit down with retired personnel to discuss the Lahad Datu incident.
As reported to me by concerned retired service personnel – “The whole atmosphere seemed surreal to some who attended. When the Prime Minister walked in, ‘Negaraku’ was sung and the armed forces marching song ‘Barisan Kita’ (which one general quipped ‘Has the song been annexed by Barisan National?’) also got an airing. Apparently, it got quite comical when one retired air force general was frothing at the mouth that stern disciplinary action should be taken against generals who showed support for the opposition, the PM was chuffed up of and reminded those who attended that ‘spirit of this general’ was what was needed.”
These days many young people are speaking up. I am not talking about mainstream oppositional politics. I am talking about young people who rightly feel that current establishment politics is nothing but the same manure but with a different shovel.
What veterans should be doing, and this applies to anyone who has worked in the civil or security services, is to encourage these young people in their efforts to change the paradigm. We had it our way and we should encourage and support those people who truly believe in what this country could be.
Ultimately when we pledged to serve the King and country, our oath goes far beyond loyalty to the government. We are really serving the people of this country and our loyalty is with them. It does not matter if you support the establishment or the opposition, your loyalty should be with the people and not with political elites, especially when they dishonour the institutions you pledged to serve and protect.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
May 21, 2017
“When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that, in our democracy, government is us.”
– Barack Obama
They say we are afraid of what we do not understand and if this is true, we should be afraid of May 13 because we do not really understand what happened that day. Each side has a narrative, the official narrative and narratives such as author Kua Kia Soong’s which I happen to subscribe to.
They also say that ignorance breeds fear, which again points to why we should be afraid of May 13 because many people are ignorant of what happened on that day and are fed a steady diet of fearing the other, of losing power but most importantly, of their religion in danger of becoming irrelevant.
I have often referenced May 13 not because I wanted to be provocative but because especially in the alternative media, the issue of May 13 is not provocative enough. In ‘Ghost of elections past’, I wrote – “So the reality is that all these ‘ghost’ from our past don’t really scare us any more, not because we have not learnt from them but because there are more than enough monsters in our present to give us pause.
“If we discount the bravado of those who would make light of these threats of violence and those who would propagate such threats, what we are left with is the certainty that the only option we have is to vote with our conscience and let the chips fall where they may.”
However, because threats of racial violence have been normalised in this country, because people in power have Janus-faced agendas towards Malaysians of different ethnic origins, what we have become is numb to threats of racial violence. We are also cavalier to the very real threats of Islamic violence that lurk around the corner, hatched in the hearts of zealots raised on a diet of religious and racial supremacy and stamped with the imprimatur of foreign devils.
What really is terrifying of May 13 is the way how the state uses it to demonise Malaysians based on ethnicity. The people making the threats, the aggressors become the victims and heroes of their own narratives, and Malaysians who do not subscribe to orthodoxy become the villains and scapegoats for all that the system has wrought.
A really interesting complex example of this can be found in Lim Kit Siang’s blog post – “Ex-top cop Yuen Yuet Leng confirmed that the May 13, 1969 ‘urination’ incident at the Selangor MB’s residence was totally fictional as he never heard of it although he was based in KL during the riots.”
Readers are encouraged to read it because Lim references an email by former top cop, the late Yuen Yuet Leng (to The Sun daily) in a discussion about a very specific lie against the DAP leader. I’ll quote the opening because I think it summarises what most people forget about that day –
“While I appreciate your article in general summarised well what I wanted to be known to the nation on what were greater truths, I have to make clarifications. Information I imparted are in deliberate interest of objective nation and so that nation gets the right tutoring message and feel strongly why May 13 incidents should not ever be allowed to happen again either because of too much insensitivities or too much sensitivities on any side.
“The major redeeming factor in 1969 was the courage of non-racial Malaysians who were still there to put to shame the worse of their respective communities who rampaged, hurt or killed. This best of Malaysians dared to risk their lives in saving or sheltering fellow Malaysians of another ethnic community.”
Readers may not really be interested but one of the reasons I began writing about the state of our nation was because of a public disagreement I had with Yuen about the Bersih 2 rally. In a response to his piece, I wrote by first establishing my credentials – “… having worked with his predecessor, the late Tan Sri ‘Jimmy’ Khoo Chong Kong, who was assassinated by communists in Ipoh. I worked with Khoo in Kuching where I was the resident naval officer and a member of the State Executive Security Committee.”
Readers interested in such subjects should track down my piece, ‘Abandon immature rhetoric of our past’. Here is the ending which I think sums up the piece – “Lastly, I end with this rather telling quote from Tan Sri. ‘The timing is such that there appears to be a united front against the government, and this frightens them.’
“Firstly, there seems to be a united front against the Barisan Nasional. I think this difference is very important. For far too long, this refrain of being ‘anti-government’ has been labelled against the ‘opposition’. The opposition is not anti-government. It may be anti-BN, but this is par for the course in any mature democracy, and I think we are indeed a maturing democracy and that we should abandon the immature rhetoric of our past.”
The consequences of May 13 have had far reaching implications. I have argued that it heralded the birth of the Malay middle class and the social engineering that came after it changed the racial landscape of this country.
It also meant that the opposition had to fight all its political battles with one hand (sometimes even two) tied behind its back. Actually, if you have seen the brilliant David Mamet film ‘Redbelt’, the idea of fighting with one hand tied behind your back has deeper intellectual and moral implications but again I digress.
The only reason why there has been a slow change in this lopsided way of fighting is because the hegemon is failing, mired in infighting and stumbling because of the corrosive effects of unchecked corruption. The alternative media and the anonymity of the internet mean that the market place of ideas has destabilised the official narratives of the state.
I think most young people today are not, and should not, be afraid of May 13. What they should be concerned about is the threat of religious extremism that is invading our public and private spaces. Combatting this is difficult because race and religion are not mutually exclusive in this country.
I would argue that the official narratives of the state about May 13 is the earliest example of “fake news” but no matter, apparently we are living in a “post-truth” world and ultimately people will be afraid of what they do not understand or because of their ignorance.
May 21, 2017
Newborn babies crushed under the weight of a soldier’s heavy boot. Children having their throats slit as they try to protect their mothers from rape by security forces. Women and girls facing rape or sexual assault and humiliation. The elderly and infirm burnt alive in their homes. 1,000 killed and another 75,000 displaced to Bangladesh. These atrocities were documented in a disturbing February 2017 United Nations report which concluded that they are ‘very likely to amount to crimes against humanity. More recently, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Yanghee Lee has named them ‘definite crimes against humanity’.
The most recent reports have not emerged in a vacuum. In 2015, the Yale Law School found ‘strong evidence of genocide against the Rohingya’. The same year, the International State Crime Initiative from the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London concluded that genocide was taking place in Myanmar. In 2013, Human Rights Watch identified crimes against the Rohingya which it argued amounted to ethnic cleansing.
Sheer hypocrisy of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto Foreign Minister: ASEAN’s Non-Intervention Policy VS Responsibility to Protect(R2P)
National League for Democracy chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, right, and central committee member Win Htein, center. (Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)
The government of Myanmar has denied this charge. U Win Htein, a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s now more than one year old National League for Democracy (NLD) government, rejects claims of crimes against humanity, and says this is an internal affair that has been exaggerated. This rhetoric is eerily close to that of the previous governments that the NLD vowed departure from.
Certainly, this is not a popular concern domestically. The Rohingya are not recognised in Myanmar, and are instead called Bengali. Their history in Rakhine State and rights to citizenship are heated issues of contention. While the NLD has appointed several commissions to investigate the situation in Rakhine State, they are lacking either the mandate or capacity to deal with the situation that has arisen since October 2016.
Given this, there is a need for an accessible publication which brings together the complex history and discussion of the increasingly brutal persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar today. Unfortunately, Azeem Ibrahim’s The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide is not that book. Instead it is hastily written and poorly considered, offering an inaccurate rehashing of history, no new arguments and a failure to engage with current debates.
A large section of the book summarises convenient arguments from the contentious debate over the origins of the Muslim community in Rakhine State and the Rohingya ethnic label, despite recognising that the discussion is peripheral. There are numerous factual errors throughout not just this section but the whole book, such as the claim that most rulers of the Arakanese Mrauk U dynasty were Muslim (p. 24). There are other claims which would be significant if any evidence was provided. Rather, unreferenced passages assert that the 1784 Burmese invasion of Arakan was ‘in part as there were so many Muslims in Arakan’ (p. 65); and that the British never used the term ‘Rohingya’ in their records because the administration was in the habit of categorising the population by religion, not ethnicity (p. 31) — the latter simply an untenable statement. Errors such as these are surprising, given the author’s extensive academic qualifications.
There is little discussion of genocide before the reader arrives at the chapter devoted to the topic. Here, we find that the book is not actually arguing that there is genocide underway, but that the Rohingya are ‘on the brink of genocide’ (p. 99).
While invoking the term genocide is sure to attract interest, the discussion is lacking in depth. The 2015 Yale Law School report noted, significantly, that it was difficult to establish intent for genocide on the part of the Myanmar state. However, this book does not engage with this report or the question of intent, despite it being crucial to any allegation of genocide. Instead, outcome appears to be equated with intent. The overwhelming focus on the crime of genocide could perhaps have been substituted with a discussion of other crimes against humanity in relation to the Rohingya, as noted by the UN and others.
One of the most striking flaws of the book is its failure to consider Rakhine perspectives. This is reflected not only in the considerable confusion and misinformation about contemporary Rakhine political parties (p. 121). The author appears to have spent very little time in either Rakhine State or Yangon, and not to have consulted the Rakhine communities who have long lived alongside the Rohingya. In a chapter devoted to solutions there is little mention of the Rakhine, despite the fact that any resolution must include both communities. Instead, solutions offered refer primarily to international pressure, reflecting the publication’s target audience.
In this respect, the book makes an important point about the failure of the international community to address this issue. Western governments’ vision of what is occurring in Myanmar has been blurred by their ‘indulgence’ of Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, the book argues (p. 133). There is a reluctance to pressure her government, which was hailed in the US as a foreign policy success of the Obama administration. Ibrahim pushes back both against the argument that Aung San Suu Kyi is doing her best as well as claims that the plight of the Rohingya is a hiccup to be expected during a difficult transition from military rule to democracy. The book rightly notes that such a perspective flies in the face of evidence that Aung San Suu Kyi has proved herself unwilling to show leadership and to prioritise the Rohingya issue — and that ultimately she must hold responsibility.
Therefore, the book argues, international pressure is going to be crucial for the Rohingya. We are told via a ‘Media Pack’ on Ibrahim’s website that he has an address book to rival a Prime Minister’s. If the book serves to bring attention to this desperate situation, then it may redeem itself somewhat.
James T Davies (pic above) is a PhD candidate researching Myanmar at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He should write a book on the Rohingyas since he is very critical of Azeem’s attempt to expose the plight of the people of the Rakhine State.–Din Merican