Aung San Suu Kyi was never the Heroine of Human Rights Community


July 21, 2018

Aung San Suu Kyi was never the Heroine of Human Rights Community

by Napat Rungsrithananaon

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Image result for aung san suu kyi from human rights activist to a racist

Talk is cheap; Action demands Courage and Compassion, Madam

Before coming to power in a landslide victory for her party, the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi was widely perceived as the embodiment of hope, a brave symbol of defiance against the Myanmar military dictatorship and a heroine of the human rights community.  It is a perception that has sadly collapsed, having foundered on the treatment of the country’s Muslim Rohingya population, who make up just 4 percent of the country’s 53 million population.

This week, Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hliang have convened a five-day conference in Naypyidaw, the country’s administrative capital, meeting with representatives of the country’s long-oppressed ethnic minorities in an effort to reach a lasting peace. The off-delayed 21st Century Panglong Conference is given little prospect of success by analysts. But for the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority, the chances for success are even less.

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Aung San Suu Kyi, look yourself in the mirror, instead of pointing fingers at genocide victims

Among the Oxford-educated Suu Kyi’s many honors is the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in 1991 for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, having spent 15 of her 21 years in the country under house arrest. In her 2012 acceptance speech more than 20 years after being awarded the prize, Suu Kyi reaffirmed her values. She spoke about creating “a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless” and “a world of which each and every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.”

That same year, however, saw an outbreak of communal violence in Myanmar that resulted in the displacement of more than 100,000 Rohingya people who were forced into makeshift refugee camps. At least 200 people were killed in clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine state, a territory of 3.1 million people on Myanmar’s west coast.

Although Muslims have been in Myanmar since at least the 9th century, their numbers increased markedly during British imperial rule. Nonetheless, the majority Buddhists, who make up 90 percent of the country’s population regard them as interlopers.  The violent blow-up generated by ethnic differences has largely discredited the country’s heralded transition to democracy, which began in 2010.

As the leader of the opposition at the time, Suu Kyi at first deflected the blame and responsibility to the government, claiming that the crisis was “the result of our sufferings under a dictatorial regime” which in turn created a “climate of mistrust.” Once in power as State Councillor, the equivalent of Prime Minister, she pledged to “abide by our commitment to human rights and democratic values.”

Fast forward six years, the crisis shows no sign of abating. In fact, it escalated further when government troops launched a massive security operation in response to coordinated attacks in October 2106 by the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, resulting in the deaths of nine police.  A second attack occurred in August 2017, with more than 30 onslaughts against police posts in northern Rakhine state.

Since the onset of the crisis, outside observers have continued to document numerous mass atrocities including widespread killings, torture and rape committed by Myanmar’s army and other state security forces. As widely reported, more than 717,000 people have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017. Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the UN Human rights chief, has called the security operation in Myanmar “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Having joined the government, Suu Kyi could no longer deflect the blame and responsibility. Unfortunately, her response has not been any more commendable. She has repeatedly failed to speak out against the violence inflicted on the Rohingya or address the allegation of ethnic cleansing, insisting that the crisis was instigated by “terrorists” and distorted by a “huge iceberg of misinformation” – something her government has bizarrely continued to maintain by obstructing independent investigations into the crisis.

Barring the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar from entering the country, the government has offered a further indication that whatever is being concealed in the Rakhine state must be something terrible.

Suu Kyi’s refusal to condemn the violence or attempt to lead her government away from it has made her the target of worldwide criticism as her country’s military wages its campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Image result for aung san suu kyi from human rights activist to a racist

Her defenders argue that while she makes the majority of important decisions, the military retains control of three crucial ministries – home affairs, defense and border affairs – and is hence the real power in northern Rakhine state and along the border with Bangladesh. There is therefore an argument that Suu Kyi is in fact powerless – that she is not in charge of decisions capable of alleviating the suffering of Rohingya or that she cannot do so without risking the stability of the whole country. While that argument is popular among her supporters, it doesn’t explain her failure to at least speak up for the Rohingya.

But it is more likely that the world got Suu Kyi wrong from the beginning, that she was never really truly a political saint. Western leaders have a tendency to champion individuals – often activists who have made high-profile heroic sacrifices – as one-stop solutions to the problems of dictatorship or shaky new democracy. Then, in their zeal to find simple solutions to complex situations, they overlook their champions’ flaws, fail to see the fundamental challenges of being in power and assume that countries are the products of their leaders – when it is almost always the other way around.

Looking back, there were early signs that Suu Kyi might not after all be a determinedly unquestioned champion of human rights. In a 2013 interview with the BBC, for instance, she refused to acknowledge the rising violence directed at the Rohingya and pointed out that Buddhists had also been displaced from their homes and similarly subject to violence.

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Then she went on to claim that Myanmar as a whole – as do many other parts of the world – live in fear of “global Muslim power.” Instead of raising eyebrows, this Islamophobic remark went largely unnoticed, with Western leaders continuing to embrace her advancement.

Leaving aside her more recent effort to consolidate and centralize her authority – she also serves as foreign minister and the chair of various committees – it should still be reasonably clear that the world might have really got her wrong from the beginning. A champion of human rights and democracy could not have possibly made such an Islamophobic remark.

Andrew Selth, a professor at the Griffith Asia Institute, sums up the issue very neatly when he writes: “If Suu Kyi had so far to fall, it is because the international community raised her so high.”

Napat Rungsrithananaon is an intern at Free the Slaves. 

Update: Cambodia in ASEAN


March 7, 2018

 Update: Cambodia in ASEAN

The article below below should be read in conjunction with:

https://www.mfaic.gov.kh/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/4T2-Stability-12-February-2018.pdf

https://www.project-syndicate.org/onpoint/the-asian-values-debate-returns-by-andrew-sheng-2018-03?barrier=accesspay

Image result for cambodia kingdom of wonderOne of Cambodia’s star golf courses is Angkor Golf Resort. Here, its the heritage and unique traditions that make is stand out from the crowd …

 

Cambodia  is allergic to foreign interference in its internal affairs. The leadership opts for Stability and Development First.  20 years of Peace, Stability and Development bear testimony to the success  of Hun Sen’s Win-Win Policy.  It should not be forgotten that Cambodia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty was violated with impunity during the period of the Cold War.

“The 1970 coup was the genesis of the worst suffering of the Cambodian People” Cambodia has, therefore, learned many lessons from its recent past and will resist any attempt by self-righteous power to impose their values on its people.”

The document from The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Affairs  states:

“The 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which was blamed for the failure to bring (total) peace in Cambodia due to the imposition of the (genocidal) Pol Pot regime in the equation,sought to transplant in one swoop a perfect model liberal democracy in a country that never knew this kind. Their Western authors uncompromisingly disregarded the aftermath effect (s) of a lost generation almost entirely deprived of a huge majority of its qualified human resources…They snubbed out the consequences of 12 years of economic and political  embargo and worse they inflicted mercilessly sanctions on the  survivors (the genocide), hindering them  from rebuilding their devastated country. It was up against all these odds that the Cambodian government did their utmost to rebuild the people, and introduced the fundamentals of a liberal democracy system…

“History has proved  that foreign-imposed agenda has never been favorable to Cambodia and on the contrary, it has led to bloodshed and senseless destruction.That cruel reality notwithstanding, some those countries are bent on repeating their past mistakes as they push to provoke regime change albiet in more sophisticated and covert forms.”

https://www.mfaic.gov.kh/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/4T2-Stability-12-February-2018.pdf

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Richard Nixon and Kissinger violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cambodia by massively bombing  the countryside. CIA orchestrated a coup against Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970. Read My War with The CIA by Norodom Sihanouk.

The article by Abiodun Owolegbon-Raji (below) is but one of many designed to paint a negative image of Cambodia and its people. Over the last two decades, Cambodia has made considerable socio-economic strides in an environment of peace and stability. That is Fact, not Fiction. And the outlook in the years ahead is good.–Din Merican

Cambodia Crackdown Casts a Shadow on ASEAN

By   Abiodun Owolegbon-Raji

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In what has become a conventional trait among ruling parties in nascent democracies, the Cambodian government dissolved the country’s main opposition party on November 16, 2017, for “plotting a coup.” This was the nadir of a systematically coordinated state-sponsored crackdown on the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) by the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Hen Sen has also orchestrated the closure of independent media outlets and restricted NGO activities, moves analysts have described as attempts to consolidate power in the wake of national elections billed for July 2018. To recall, the CNRP’s leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested for treason in a midnight raid in September 2017, and many of the party’s leadership have since fled into exile.

Expectedly, the dissolution was ordered by the Supreme Court of Cambodia in order to lend some tone of legal validity to the sham process. For someone who has been accused of repression, corruption and political violence in his three-decade rule, Hun’s actions come as no surprise.

Needless to say that Dith Munty, the Supreme Court’s President, is one of Hun’s long-term political allies and occupies a seat on the CPP’s highest decision-making body. “It makes a mockery of fair justice to have someone in a leadership position within one political party sit in judgment on the conduct of that party’s main opposition. … There can be no starker example of an inherent conflict of interest,” says Kingsley Abbot, senior international legal advisor for the International Commission of Jurists, a rights group.

To many, this comes as no surprise. The Cambodian government has a notorious history of rights abuses and stifling press freedom. In 2015, it took extensive negotiations by unions and pressure from buyers such as H&M to increase the minimum wage of workers in the garment sector to a paltry $140/month (now set to increase to $170 in 2018), despite the sector being the country’s key export earner; most workers hardly earn decent remuneration for their work. Likewise, 2017 saw a consistent crackdown on the media, the culmination of which 19 radio stations were knocked off-air for “violating contracts” they had with the government. By September, Radio Free Asia had to discontinue its operations in Cambodia when the atmosphere became unbearable.

The opposition leader, Kem Sokha, is still in prison and has faced series of interrogations, despite the fact that he has recently refused to respond to questions, citing the illegality of his detention.

Consequently, the crackdown on the opposition has had a ripple effect both regionally and internationally. The US, which Sen has accused of working with the CNRP to coordinate the alleged coup, has promised “concrete steps” against Cambodia. The EU has also said that “the European Union’s development cooperation and trade preferences are reliant on [Cambodia’s] respect for fundamental human rights and democratic principles,” in a statement by its foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

The Chinese, on the other hand, appear to be backing the Cambodian authorities, with China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, stating that his government supports Cambodia’s efforts to “protect political stability.” However, nothing appears to be forthcoming from Cambodia’s immediate regional body, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

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ASEAN is an intergovernmental organization of 10 Southeast Asian nations, including Cambodia. Some may argue that ASEAN, a regional bloc with a mandate to promote economic, political, security, military, educational and socio-cultural integration among its members, should not interfere in the crisis. However, a union with a charter built upon principles such as “upholding international law with respect to human rights, social justice and multilateral trade” and “development of friendly external relations and a position with the UN” cannot ignore gross human rights abuses and political repression in its own backyard.

Article 9 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” and article 10 that “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” Not only has the Cambodian government trampled upon these tenets, but almost the entire declaration is being violated, including the right of citizens to elect their leaders. The moral ground upon which ASEAN stands to claim that it upholds human rights, therefore, comes into question.

Worthy of note is the fact that in November 2012, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration was unanimously adopted by all members at a meeting in Phnom Penh. The declaration is supposed to assert ASEAN nations’ commitment to human rights protection. Though widely criticized, it was a positive development, but ASEAN must show further commitment.

First, the ASEAN declaration should be revised to reflect a full commitment to protecting human rights. Fundamental freedoms such as the right to freedom of association and the right to be free from enforced disappearance should be included. Also, ambiguous clauses that could be used to undermine human rights, such as “The realization of human rights must be considered in the regional and national context” (Article 7) and that human rights might be limited to preserve national security, public order, public health, public safety, public morality, etc., (Article 8) should be removed. This can be made an incontestable condition for continuous membership of ASEAN by member nations.

While some may suggest that the poor living standards and economy in some ASEAN countries should be given top priority, this will simply amount to misconstruing human processes. Guaranteeing the fundamental human rights of citizens is the very basis of economic prosperity. Therefore, the decision not to prioritize human rights protection will not only keep millions of people under repression but also exacerbate these economic problems.

If there is any good time for ASEAN to take constructive steps in the full protection of human rights and democracy, the recent Cambodian crackdown provides a good platform.

*[Updated: January 22, 2018.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

The Guardian view on the Rohingya in Myanmar


September 9, 2017

THE GUARDIAN

The Guardian view on the Rohingya in Myanmar: the Lady’s failings, the military’s crimes

The Guardian view on the Rohingya in Myanmar: the Lady’s failings, the military’s crimes

Editorial

“When the safety of one’s country is at  stake,there must be no scruple of justice or mercy or blame;on the contrary, one should wholly pursue that policy that saves the life of the state and preserves its liberty,regardless of any other consideration.”–Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses, Book 1, Chapter 9. Does this apply to Aung Sun Suu Kyi re The Rohingyas?

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The killing and abuse of civilians is a crime against humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi must speak out – but this violence is the army’s

Aung San Suu Kyi’s long silence over the desperate plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar has been shameful. With tens of thousands now fleeing atrocities in Rakhine state, the Nobel peace prize winner’s aura of moral sanctity lies in tatters. The Muslim minority are denied citizenship by a government which claims, against the evidence, that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. After decades of discrimination, matters got much worse. Since 2012 the Rohingya have endured not just immiseration and the denial of basic rights and services – many live in internment camps – but three major waves of violence by government forces and Buddhist Burman nationalists. Myanmar’s de facto leader has turned a blind eye.

Speak up, people have urged her. Do something. So far her words and actions have been as bad as her reticence. The government has blocked access to United Nations human rights investigators and aid workers. A post on her Facebook page blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” about the current violence. Whether she shares the widespread prejudice towards the Rohingya is a moot question: she does not challenge it. Perhaps the populist Islamophobic forces thriving elsewhere encourage such indifference. On Wednesday, shortly after she met Narendra Modi – no stranger to condoning and exploiting vicious Islamophobia – India’s Prime Minister said his country shared Myanmar’s concerns about “extremist violence” in Rakhine state.

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Elegantly said, Madam, but meaningless. Your long silence over the desperate plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar has been shameful. 

The Rohingya were already described as the most persecuted people in the world and hundreds of thousands had escaped to Bangladesh, where their conditions are dire. Many have warned of the dangers of radicalisation and attacks on police by a new militant group late last month sparked a wave of violence by government forces. In less than a fortnight, more than 160,000 – from a population of something over 1 million – have fled. Officials say the hundreds who have died in this “clearance operation” are mostly insurgents who have torched Rohingya villages themselves. But there is widespread evidence that the death toll is far higher and most are civilians. Survivors of one massacre told the Guardian of infants and the elderly shot or thrown into the water to drown. Others have spoken of entire families burned alive in their homes. A UN report earlier this year accused security forces of similar crimes. But this violence is on an immense, unprecedented scale.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, is pushing hard for concerted action and warns of the risk of ethnic cleansing (several Nobel peace prize laureates say that point has already been reached). But Myanmar has said openly that it is working with China and Russia to prevent a security council rebuke.

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Aung San Suu Kyi cannot halt the atrocities at a command. Despite her landslide electoral victory, the military controls key government functions and apparatus on paper as well as in reality – notably security. But a leader who rose to power armed with only her words and moral authority can and should use them in a cause – human rights – which she purported to champion. She is able to shape Burmese public opinion, and to channel it towards curbing the military. A leader who embraced and exploited the support of the international community cannot dismiss its concerns so casually. She is able to press foreign backers to exert more pressure on the armed forces.

Her cloak of virtue has helped to shield them from scrutiny and accountability. The danger is that now her shortcomings will divert attention. The military’s head, Min Aung Hlaing, has no pedestal to topple from. Few even know his name. But they should; he is the man who calls the shots. Finding ways to exert pressure on the military is essential. Suspending the UK’s training of Myanmar’s army would be a good start.

Aung San Suu Kyi has a moral duty to protect the Rohingya. She has ducked it. But she is only a small part of the problem, and of a solution that remains all too distant.

 

Book Review: Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer


June 27, 2017

BOOK REVIEW:

Man or Monster?: The Trial of a Khmer Rouge  Torturer

by Sharon Wu

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Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, during trial proceedings at ECCC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 20 July 2009

In Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, Alexander Laban Hinton examines the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, who oversaw the torture and execution of prisoners during the Khmer Rouge’s rule of Cambodia in the 1970s. Bringing together creative ethnography, fieldwork and interviews and drawing on personal experience, this elegantly written and nuanced appraisal tackles the challenge of assessing the complexity of its central figure’s crimes, life and character, while addressing larger questions of transitional justice. writes Sharon Wu

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Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer. Alexander Laban Hinton. Duke University Press. 2016.

Perpetrators of mass crimes are easy to condemn, but harder to understand. Although their crimes may be evident, the degree of guilt and level of responsibility can be difficult to establish. This becomes all the more complex when the perpetrator is put on the stand. In his latest book Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, Alexander Laban Hinton, a professor at Rutgers University and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, dives deep into the tribunal of Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, and elegantly tackles this exact challenge of sifting through the many shades of one mass criminal’s life and character.

From 1975 to 1979, Duch served as the Deputy and then the Chairman of S-21 (also known as Tuol Sleng), the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime’s most notorious political prison and security complex. As many as 20,000 prisoners passed through Tuol Sleng’s doors to be tortured and executed on Duch’s instruction. In July 2007, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) arrested him on charges of crimes against humanity, breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the murder and torture of over 12,000 prisoners. His eventual guilty verdict was delivered almost five years later in February 2012.

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Khmer Rouge Brutality on Cambodians will never be forgotten

But what Hinton exposes is a man more nuanced than the sum of his crimes. Born in Kompong Thom, Cambodia, Duch began his career as a school teacher. He excelled in his studies, and was observed to be incredibly meticulous and hard-working in his professional and academic pursuits. Even at Tuol Sleng, prisoners and guards alike found him to be equally scrupulous and diligent in record-keeping, experimentation in torture methods and political education sessions. He memorised French poetry, had a wife and four children, acknowledged the severity of his crimes and publicly apologised before the courtroom. The duality demonstrated by these details muddled the public’s perception of Duch and had a clear impact on his trial. Hinton captures all of these intricacies.

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Only Cowards like Khmer Rouge  executioners dare take on innocent and helpless children

Like any other criminal of mass atrocities appearing before an international tribunal, Duch was presented with a range of dilemmas during his time as a murderous leader and again during his trial. Was he taking orders from the elite to save his own life or was he instrumental in ordering executions at S-21? Was he also a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime or was he complicit in carrying out its atrocities? Was he truly remorseful or did he publicly apologise in the hope of going free? In a shocking and bizarre  turn at the end of the trial, Duch ultimately redacted his public apology and insisted that he was not guilty for his crimes. This manoeuvre led victims and courtroom witnesses to ponder his actions as a former chairman and as a defendant. His involvement at S-21 was indisputable, but his degree of guilt and responsibility less so.

In focusing on this one particular case and this one peculiar man, Hinton further expands on the ECCC and the intricate process of bringing justice, truth and reconciliation to post-conflict Cambodia through legal mechanisms. He includes the trial’s extensive witness testimony and spoke directly with many victims, illustrating the spectrum of emotions they endured in watching the trial unfold. Unlike the ad hoc tribunals of Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge tribunal was a hybrid court that combined both Cambodian and international law, and incorporated legal practitioners from Cambodia and abroad. But like the ad hoc tribunals, the ECCC also witnessed its own share of politicisation, controversy and criticism. Hinton discusses the ECCC’s decision to try only five top Khmer Rouge officials, choosing to focus only on a handful of big fish and thereby limiting the reach of the court. He also mentions the ECCC’s failure to introduce certain evidence from the years before the Khmer Rouge’s regime. Many believe this information to be crucial to understanding the defendants, but it would also implicate the United States and other Western powers for their more controversial involvement in Southeast Asia.

Man or Monster? is more than a microhistory of one specific case. Not only does it offer a detailed overview of the Khmer Rouge as a rebel group or government, but Hinton also uses Duch’s earlier life to briefly walk us through postcolonial Cambodian history, from gaining independence to the strengthening of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot to US military involvement in the region. He then draws on Duch’s time at Tuol Sleng to elaborate on the Khmer Rouge’s operations, goals and ideology as well as the various crimes and atrocities committed under their direction.

Hinton trades traditional textbook jargon for a more literary and theatrical approach in examining these court proceedings. He inserts himself into the narrative, speaking directly about his interviews, his relationships with various actors of the tribunal and his memories of visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. He succeeds in casting off dry academic and legal language, rendering this book easily readable and oftentimes thrilling. He tastefully describes the drama and intricacies of the courtroom and gives vivid personality to its many characters.

However, he falls short when discussing the actual decision to write in a more literary style. He addresses his own experimental approach three separate times — in the foreword, the final chapter and the epilogue — in each instance repeating what was already previously stated. In the last chapter, titled ‘Background: Redactic (Final Decision)’, he even writes, ‘I have tried to bear in mind the creative writing imperative “Show, don’t tell”’, and acknowledges his struggle to follow ‘this imperative’, which is at times evident. Nevertheless, these multiple explanations do not take away from the true success of the book.

Hinton does the reader a tremendous service by not reducing Duch to a single identity. The book is certainly not a sympathetic take on Duch’s character, but it is a concerted effort to create a multidimensional understanding of a complicated man acting in complicated circumstances. Duch was defined not only by his murderous actions, but also by his life before and after the Khmer Rouge. Hinton invites us to contemplate the notion that what one person, or even one nation, may think of Duch may not be an unequivocal truth, but rather one of many frames through which to examine him. Simply calling him a ‘monster’ is reductive and unhelpful: the label overlooks his agency, his actions and those of the individuals around him as well as the many dilemmas he faced in this perilous time period.

By using Duch’s trial as a case study, Hinton also addresses the many larger questions of transitional justice. How is a former war criminal reintegrated into a peaceful post-conflict society? How does a court best avoid politicisation? Do legal mechanisms truly deliver justice and foster reconciliation? These questions may never have definitive answers, but Hinton asks us to consider them regardless.


Sharon Wu is an MSc candidate in the Conflict Studies program at the London School of Economics. She received her undergraduate degree from New York University and previously worked for an independent publisher in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on Twitter at @sharonlxwu.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2017/05/08/book-review-man-or-monster-the-trial-of-a-khmer-rouge-torturer-by-alexander-laban-hinton/

The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide


May 21, 2017

Book Review:

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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’.

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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.

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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.

Image result for James T Davies is a PhD candidate researching Myanmar at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

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.

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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.

Image result for James T Davies is a PhD candidate researching Myanmar at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy.

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

Also READ:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/azeem-ibrahim/who-is-instigating-the-vi_b_7810972.html