The Powerless Lady evades the Rohingya Issue in her speech to the World


December 19, 2017

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto leader of Myanmar, stood before a room of government officials and foreign dignitaries on Tuesday to at last, after weeks of international urging, address the plight of the country’s Rohingya ethnic minority.

But those who expected Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to deliver an eloquent requiem for an oppressed people were disappointed.

In her speech, delivered in crisp English and often directly inviting foreign listeners to “join us” in addressing Myanmar’s problems, she steadfastly refused to criticize the Myanmar military, which has been accused of a vast campaign of killing, rape and village burning.

“The security forces have been instructed to adhere strictly to the code of conduct in carrying out security operations, to exercise all due restraint and to take full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians,” she said.

As she spoke, more than 400,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority long repressed by the Buddhists who dominate Myanmar, had fled a military massacre that the United Nations has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The lucky ones are suffering in makeshift camps in Bangladesh where there is not nearly enough food or medical aid.

A stark satellite analysis by Human Rights Watch shows that at least 210 of their villages have been burned to the ground since the offensive began on August 25. Bangladeshi officials say that land mines had been planted on Myanmar’s side of the border, where the Rohingyas are fleeing.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi tried to mollify her critics by saying she was committed to restoring peace and the rule of law.

“We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” she said. “We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people caught up in the conflict.”

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Supporters of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, on Tuesday. Credit Lynn Bo Bo/European Pressphoto Agency

But asking why the world did not acknowledge the progress made in her country, she also boasted that Muslims living in the violence-torn area had ample access to health care and radio broadcasts.

It was a remarkable parroting of the language of the generals who locked her up for the better part of two decades, and in the process made a political legend of her: the regal prisoner of conscience who vanquished the military with no weapons but her principles.

Officials in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government have accused the Rohingyas, who have suffered decades of persecution and have been mostly stripped of their citizenship, of faking rape and burning their own houses in a bid to hijack international public opinion. She has done nothing to correct the record.

A Facebook page associated with her office suggested that international aid groups were colluding with Rohingya militants, whose attack on Myanmar police posts and an army base precipitated the fierce military counteroffensive. In a statement, her government labeled the insurgent strikes “brutal acts of terrorism.”

It has been a stunning reversal for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 72, who was once celebrated alongside the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to her for her “nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.”

During her address, made from a vast convention center in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi tried to evoke a program of grand goals including democratic transition, peace, stability and development. But she also cautioned that the country’s long experience with authoritarian rule and nearly seven decades of ethnic conflict in Myanmar’s frontier lands have frayed national unity.

“People expect us to overcome all these challenges in as short a time as possible,” she said, noting that her civilian government only took office last year. “Eighteen months is a very short time in which to expect us to meet and overcome all the challenges that we are facing.”

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Myanmar police officers at the Bangladesh border near Maungdaw Township in Rakhine State last month. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But there were worrisome signs from the moment she entered a power-sharing agreement with the military after her National League for Democracy won 2015 elections.

Myanmar’s generals — who ruled the country for nearly half a century and turned a resource-rich land also known as Burma into an economic failure — stage-managed every facet of the political transition. The Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar Army is known, made sure to keep the most important levers of power for itself.

It also effectively relegated Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to the post of state counselor by designing a Constitution that kept her from the presidency.

“It’s always a dance with the generals,” said U Win Htein, an N.L.D. party elder. “She needs to be very quick on her feet.”

Mr. Win Htein, a former military officer who served alongside some of the Tatmadaw’s highest-ranking generals, warned that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had to placate an army with a history of pushing aside civilian leaders under the pretext of defending national sovereignty.

“The army, they are watching her every word,” he said. “One misstep on the Muslim issue, and they can make their move.”

Yet even before the compromises that accompanied her ascension to power, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was already distancing herself from the hopes invested in her by the international community.

“Let me be clear that I would like to be seen as a politician, not some human rights icon,” she said in an interview shortly after her release from house arrest in 2010.

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Rohingya refugees resting after crossing into Bangladesh from Myanmar last month. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times

Such a recasting of her role has disappointed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates. In an open letter, Desmond Tutu, the South African former archbishop, advised his “dearly beloved younger sister” that “if the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, was even more pointed.

“She should not have received a Nobel Peace Prize if she says, sorry, I’m a politician, and the norms of democracy don’t suit me,” he said in a telephone interview with The New York Times. “The whole world stood by her for decades, but today she has become the mirror image of Aung San Suu Kyi by destroying human rights and denying citizenship to the Rohingya.”

“All we can do,” he said, “is pray for the return of the old Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Beyond her personal legacy, the direction of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership carries global consequence.

“People are invested in her because we need her to succeed. This is a democratic moment, and she represents Burma’s democratic promise,” said Derek Mitchell, the former American ambassador to Myanmar. “The country sits at the crossroads of Asia in a region where democracy is in retreat, which makes Burma’s success even more important.”

In Tuesday’s speech, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, acknowledged the state of democracy in her country.

“We are a young and fragile democracy facing many problems,” she said, “but we have to cope with them all at the same time.”

But she also stressed that “more than 50 percent” of Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine remained “intact.” And she seemed to borrow vocabulary from a self-help manual when she described the need to research why certain villages had not been touched by the violence.

“We have to remove the negative and increase the positive,” she said.

As the daughter of the assassinated independence hero Gen. Aung San, who founded the modern Burmese Army, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been unapologetic about her fondness for the military, even as it has driven out the Rohingyas and stepped up military offensives against other ethnic armed groups.

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Fires in Myanmar as seen from the Bangladesh side of the border this month. The Myanmar military has been accused of a vast campaign of killing, rape and village burning. Credit Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

“We do not have any trust in Aung San Suu Kyi because she was born into the military,” said Hkapra Hkun Awng, a leader of the Kachin ethnicity from northern Myanmar, one of more than a dozen minorities whose rebel armies have fought the Tatmadaw over the decades. “She is more loyal to her own people than to the ethnics. Her blood is thicker than a promise of national reconciliation.”

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi belongs to the country’s Bamar ethnic majority.

Even before the mudslinging of the 2015 election campaign, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was sidestepping questions about the sectarian violence in Rakhine that disproportionately affected the Rohingya. Rather than condemning pogroms against the persecuted Muslim minority, she has dismissed accusations of ethnic cleansing and called, instead, for rule of law to solve any problem.

Because most Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship by the military, it has not been clear how any laws might apply to them. Indeed, even though Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday that Myanmar was prepared to repatriate refugees who can establish that they are residents of Myanmar, that may be a formidable task for people who are unlikely to have documents proving they lived in Myanmar before fleeing across the border.

“I can confirm now that we are ready to start the verification process at any time, and those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problems and with full assurances of their security and their access to humanitarian aid,” she said.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has largely shielded herself from the media and has holed up in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s bunkered capital, which was unveiled more than a decade ago by a junta paranoid that the former capital, Yangon, might be vulnerable to foreign invasion.

Earlier this month, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi chose not to attend the United Nations General Assembly, where her stance on the Rohingya would surely have met with criticism. Just a year ago, as the nation’s new civilian leader, she attended the annual assembly and was celebrated by world leaders.

Still, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is attuned enough to public sentiment to understand the deep reservoir of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar. Even though a Muslim bloc had been a loyal patron of the N.L.D. for decades, the party did not choose to stand a single Muslim candidate in the 2015 polls.

If anything, her equivocations on the Rohingya have given currency to the widely held assumption in Myanmar that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who have occupied land that rightfully belongs to the Burmese.

Since Myanmar’s political transition began, a virulent strain of Buddhist extremism has pushed such attitudes further into the mainstream. Influential monks have preached anti-Muslim rhetoric and pushed successfully for a law that circumscribes interfaith marriage. N.L.D. elders have prayed at the feet of one of the movement’s spiritual godfathers.

“Buddhist nationalist radicalism has been allowed to spread basically unchecked,” said Min Zin, the executive director of the Institute for Strategy and Policy Myanmar. “The government is doing very little to stop it.”

Technology–The Liberator and Great Equalizer, says Dr. Bakri Musa


September 19, 2017

Technology–The Liberator and Great Equalizer

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.–Dr. M Bakri Musa

Modern technology, specifically digital, brings us to the outside world, and it to us. Today what happens in the isolated caves high in the mountains of Kabul can be recorded on a cell phone and then posted on the Web for the whole world to see. Even a repressive regime like China could not control the dissemination of images of its tanks bulldozing innocent citizens back at Tiananmen Square in 1989, though not for lack of trying.

The success of the Arab Jasmine Revolution owes much to this digital revolution. Through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, ordinary citizens communicated with each other in real time to organize massive demonstrations that brought down powerful leaders like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

I assert that the digital technology is a much more powerful and consequential instrument of liberation than the AK47, hitherto (still is) the favorite with not-so-bright revolutionaries worldwide.

Eygpt’s Hosni Mubarak was derailed not by a gunman, like his predecessor Anwar Sadat, but by a social revolution made possible by the online social network. If there were to be a leader of that movement, it would be Google executive Wael Ghonim. Unlike earlier Arab revolutionaries who were military officers, this guy was, for lack of better word, a geek. What an incredible achievement what he had done! No one could have predicted that Hosni Mubarak, who only a few months previously was the most powerful man in the Arab world, would face charges of premeditated murder for the deaths of those protestors.

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Digital technology is not the only modern agent of liberation. Modern transportation has reduced if not removed the barrier of geography. Today I can fly from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur in less time than it took my sister to get from Kuala Pilah to Teachers’ College in Kota Baru via Malayan Railway back in the 1950s.

Travel, in so far as it affords one the opportunity to experience different cultures and realities, can be liberating. While the digital revolution might afford a virtual reality on the convenience and safety of your sofa, travel lets you experience reality in its raw, unfiltered physical form.

The liberating effect of travel works both on the traveler as well as the host. This liberating result, however, is not guaranteed. Seeing how the rest of the world operates may not necessarily open up minds; in some it would result in the exact opposite.

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The Chinese Emperor of the 15th Century sent out explorers out to the vast Pacific and Indian Oceans. Far from opening up Chinese minds, those exotics foreign expeditions merely reaffirmed their smug superiority that they had nothing to learn from the barbarians outside, a manifestation of a collective “confirmation bias” at the societal level.

The Chinese were so confident of their superiority that they eschewed the need for further foreign explorations. They went further. They ordered the dismantling of their advanced and massive maritime infrastructures and banned the building of boats, declaring that to be frivolous and resource-wasting exercises.

Meanwhile the Europeans continued with theirs. The scale was considerably much less, their ships pale imitations of the Chinese. The length of Columbus’s flagship Santa Maria was less than half the width of Cheng Ho’s.

Unlike the ancient Chinese, the medieval Europeans had no pretensions of grandeur; they explored the world with an open mind. They had no delusions about their ways being the best; instead they observed in those foreign lands things they could take home, like tea and spices. It did not take them long to recognize the enormous potential in trading those commodities by introducing new culinary experiences to European palates. The Europeans also soon discovered that the Chinese had a voracious appetite for opium, which the Brits could secure with ease from India. Lucrative commercial domination soon led to the political variety, and thus colonialism was born.

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Why one culture reacted a certain way and another, the very opposite, is intriguing. In the final analysis, it boils down to a culture’s openness to new ideas and experiences, its collective open mindedness. The ancient Chinese had closed minds; the medieval Europeans, open.

Today some foreigners arrive in a new country, and on encountering an alien culture would retreat, fearing it would “contaminate” their pristine values. They would close ranks and congregate in their own little ghettoes, refusing to integrate with the native majority. We see this in America as well as Malaysia.

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“…the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Technology and Digitization) is empowering the empowering the economically disadvantaged by giving them access to digital networks, increasing the efficiency of organisations, improving medical care with personalised drugs and providing a technological solution to climate change”.–Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, President, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

 

Others view their new experiences as open opportunities and endless learning. Some are simply grateful to be given a new lease on life after escaping the wretchedness of their native land. Eastern Europeans who came to America early in the last century were grateful and thus more than eager to join the American mainstream. They readily gave up their old ways to integrate as quickly as possible into their new society. They learned English quickly and changed their names to make them sound more Anglo-Saxon, with Pawlinsky morphing into the less jaw-breaking Paul.

Even when they were actively discriminated against, and the early Jews, Irish and Italians in America definitely were, they continued to adopt American ways. They did not rush to build Italian or Jewish schools; instead they built their own English schools so their children would not be handicapped in integrating into mainstream American society. They did not consider such actions as repudiating or denigrating their own culture. Far from it! They realized that their own culture and ways of life would more likely survive if were to thrive and be successful in their adopted land.

Today St. Patrick Day and Octoberfest are celebrated more exuberantly in Chicago and Milwaukee respectively than in Dublin or Berlin.

It is tempting to attribute the contrasting reactions of early immigrants to America from Europe to later ones from Asia and Latin America to the differences in circumstances that prompted them to emigrate. The Europeans were forcibly thrown out of their native lands through pogroms or wars. In contrast, recent Asian and Latin American immigrants cross the border voluntarily, for the most part (the South Vietnamese being the most recent notable exception). The Europeans did not ever want to return to their homelands. By contrast, many recent Hispanics consider their stay in America temporary, remaining just long enough to accumulate some money so they could return and live comfortably back in their native land. As such, they do not feel compelled to learn English or in any way integrate into American society.

A similar “temporary abode” mentality occurred with immigrants from China and India into Malaysia early last century. Brought in by the colonials to work the tin mines and rubber plantations, their mindset was to work hard, accumulate enough savings, and then balik Tongsan (return to their motherland, China). Hence there was little need to learn the local language or adapt to local culture. They remained insular, xenophobic, and closed-minded.

They were completely different from the Chinese men and women who much earlier voluntarily settled in the Straits Settlement, the Peranakan. They absorbed many of the elements of Malay culture, including the language and attire. They were not obsessed with balik Tongsan. When the British were in charge, those Chinese learned English; in independent Malaysia, they worked with the majority Malays.

The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Ignoble Laureate


September 17, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Ignoble Laureate

“I am just a politician. I am not quite like Margaret Thatcher, no. But on the other hand, I am no Mother Teresa, either.”–Aung San Suu  Kyi

During her fifteen years under house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi—now the de-facto leader of Myanmar—found solace in the poetry and novels of authors such as George Eliot, Victor Hugo, John le Carré, and Anna Akhmatova. Another favorite, she has said, was Rebecca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon,” an epic travelogue about Yugoslavia written on the eve of the Second World War. West described a country that Aung San Suu Kyi would have recognized as being much like her own: a fragile mosaic of ethnicities, languages, historical backgrounds, and cultural traditions.

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In a short essay called “Let’s Visit Burma,” published in 1985, Aung San Suu Kyi described the “colourful and diverse origins and customs” of her compatriots. Rakhine state, in the west of Myanmar, was something of a “mystery” in this respect, she wrote. Its population had originated from “Mongolian and Aryan peoples who had come over from India.” Owing to its geographical position, Bengal had also “played a major part” in its history and culture. Among the state’s numerous ethnic groups —Arakanese, Thek, Dainet, Myo, Mramagyi, and Kaman—others displayed “the influence of Bengali.” But she assured readers that while there are “more people of the Islamic faith to be found in [Rakhine] than anywhere else in Burma,” it had been “predominately Buddhist” for centuries.

By groups that “displayed the influence of Bengali”, Aung San Suu Kyi certainly meant the Rohingya, a stateless minority in northern Rakhine that most Myanmar people consider to be Bangladeshi immigrants. Since August 25, when militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts and an Army base, as many as a thousand Rohingya have been killed and over three hundred and seventy thousand (more than third of the Rohingya population) have been forced into neighboring Bangladesh, human-rights groups estimate. Aung San Suu Kyi’s champions are now contemplating her fall from grace, appalled that the Nobel Peace Prize winner remains silent about and unmoved by a crisis described this week by the U.N.’s human-rights chief as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” There have been widespread calls for the Nobel Committee to strip her of the prize. But there is no statutory procedure for doing so, nor is it clear how this would end the murder, rape, and mass exodus of the Rohingya at the hands of Myanmar’s Army.

The most urgent and powerful appeals to Aung San Suu Kyi have come from her fellow Nobel laureates. The Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who won the prize for her advocacy of girls’ education, condemned the “tragic and shameful treatment” of the Rohingya. “I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same.” Addressing a letter to his “dear sister,” the anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu wrote of his “profound sadness” and called on Aung San Suu Kyi to end the military-led operations. “If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep,” he wrote. The Dalai Lama subsequently urged her to find a peaceful solution to the humanitarian crisis, saying that Buddha would have “definitely helped those poor Muslims.”

This is not the first time that laureates have spoken of their displeasure with Aung San Suu Kyi. In December last year, when the military conducted another brutal offensive against the Rohingya, thirteen Nobel winners, including Muhammad Yunus, Shirin Ebadi, and Leymah Gbowee, signed an open letter deploring the Army’s use of helicopter gunships, arbitrary arrests, and the rape of women. “Despite repeated appeals to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” they concluded, using her honorific, “we are frustrated that she has not taken any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas. Daw Suu Kyi is the leader and is the one with primary responsibility to lead, and lead with courage, humanity and compassion.”

When Aung San Suu Kyi accepted her own prize, in Oslo, in June, 2012, she said that, under house arrest, “it felt as though I were no longer a part of the real world. . . . What the Nobel Peace Prize did was to draw me once again into the world of other human beings outside the isolated area in which I lived, to restore a sense of reality to me. . . . I began to understand the significance of the Nobel Prize.” Since becoming State Counsellor, in 2016, however, she has retreated into the solitude of her former life. Her husband, Michael Aris, died, of cancer, in 1999—she was prevented by the military regime from saying goodbye to him—and she rarely sees her sons. People close to her describe a life of morbid isolation, living alone in the administrative capital, Naypyidaw—arguably the dreariest city on earth—pouring over state documents late into the night. She rarely gives interviews, and is reluctant to delegate responsibilities (there is no obvious successor to lead her party when she’s gone).

There’s no evidence that the laureates’ chorus of indignation has any bearing on Aung San Suu Kyi, or whether their declarations can break the spell of isolation and bring her back to the outside world. The only response she has made to the present crisis in Rakhine was a Facebook post, detailing a phone conversation she had with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In it, she criticized the “huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities and with the aim of promoting the interest of the terrorists.” While Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent, the offices and ministries under her charge have not, describing the Rohingya as Bengalis and publicly advocating the use of force in certain situations. “If they are going to harm you, you can shoot them,” Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, U Zaw Htay, said. The most egregious case of the recklessness of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government came last month, when it accused international aid workers of supporting terrorists, prompting fears for the safety of thousands of people in Myanmar employed by charities and N.G.O.s. There have been demands that the U.S. government stop using the name “Rohingya”, and when a Rohingya women gave details of an alleged gang rape, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office dismissed it as “fake rape.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s biographer, Peter Popham, writes in “The Lady and the Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Democracy” that she “has become an object lesson in the slipperiness of the concept of heroism, and the folly of hero-worship.” Indeed, the tenor of the denunciations suggests that Aung San Suu Kyi’s critics are angered as much by a sense of personal betrayal as they are by her silence. She has exposed the artlessness with which many in the West reduced a complex personality into a Rapunzel of the East, emptied of her more illiberal traits, such as an authoritarian leadership style, and some potentially unsavory views on Muslims. The BBC correspondent, Fergal Keane, who probably knows Aung San Suu Kyi better than any other foreign journalist, has admitted that “we knew too little of Myanmar and its complex narratives of ethnic rivalries. . . . And we knew too little of Aung San Suu Kyi herself.” In a rare interview with Keane in April, she denied ethnic cleansing was taking place in Rakhine, and resisted the cruder perceptions of her persona: “I am just a politician. I am not quite like Margaret Thatcher, no. But on the other hand, I am no Mother Teresa, either.”

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Unlike Thatcher, a consummate political operator, many have commented upon Aung San Suu Kyi’s weakness as a politician. Her failure to act against the military operation in Rakhine, so the argument goes, is not a result of her bigotry but because she is unable to outmaneuver the generals in Myanmar’s very own game of thrones.

Few can blame Aung San Suu Kyi for her political impotence. The constitutional arrangements of Myanmar would foil the shrewdest operative. Designed by the military, in 2008, the constitution gives the armed forces control of three ministries—the interior, borders, and defense—that are beyond the oversight of the civilian government. It bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming President, and allows the Army to veto any attempt at constitutional reform. The irony, then, is that if Aung San Suu Kyi once represented the power of the powerless, she is now powerless in power, taking the flak for the Army’s unrelenting inhumanity in its fight against ethnic rebels on the borderlands, and the Rohingya.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s powerlessness hardly matters on this issue, anyway: hatred of the Rohingya is one thing that unites Myanmar. Despite their political differences, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, and the military are in lockstep when it comes to the problem of northern Rakhine. Years of xenophobic, anti-Rohingya propaganda, pushed from the late nineteen-seventies by the military government, endures in the nation’s collective memory, and is stoked by the hate sermons of Buddhist monks like Ashin Wirathu. By speaking up for the Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi imperils her standing in the eyes of her fellow-citizens.

When she was thrust into the public eye, in 1988, it was her lineage, rather than her politics, that was the driving force. As the daughter of General Aung San, the nationally revered founder of modern Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi was at the mercy of activists who recognized the dynastic force that her name, and looks (she is the spitting image of her father), lent to their struggle against the generals. Responsible for negotiating Burma’s independence from the British Empire, Aung San was assassinated by paramilitary forces of the former Prime Minister U Saw, in 1947, six months before its official declaration. Aung San Suu Kyi was just two years old at the time, but there’s no doubting her love and admiration for him. In a 2013 radio interview with the BBC, she described her father as “my first love and my best love.” This filial piety is perhaps the key to understanding Aung San Suu Kyi as saint and sinner.

Her father was an extraordinarily tenacious, even ruthless, man who navigated between the British and Japanese empires in order to achieve his objective—a unified, independent Burma. He was also a Burmese nationalist who cared little for the nation’s ethnic minorities. Today, he is universally venerated in Myanmar, while few outside the country know who he is. This has almost certainly influenced Aung San Suu Kyi, who mimics his leadership style, moral code, and political priorities. The Rohingya are a distraction from her overriding ambition: to complete her father’s dream of unifying the country and ending a civil war that has raged between ethnic rebel forces and the Myanmar government since 1948. As Rebecca West wrote in “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon,” in a passage that Aung San Suu Kyi likely associated with her father when reading the book under house arrest, “it is the habit of the people, whenever an old man mismanages his business so that it falls to pieces as soon as he dies, to say, ‘Ah, So-and-so was a marvel! He kept things together so long as he was alive, and look what happens now he has gone!’ ”

 

MP Nurul Izzah to The Donald–Support Democracy, Justice and Freedom, not Kleptocracy in Malaysia


September 13, 2017

MP Nurul Izzah to The Donald–Support Democracy, Justice and Freedom, not Kleptocracy in Malaysia

by Nurul Izzah Anwar, MP

Nurul Izzah Anwar is a member of the Malaysian Parliament and Vice President of the People’s Justice Party. She is a Graduate of SAIS, John Hopkins University

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/09/11/heres-what-president-trump-should-tell-malaysias-prime-minister/?utm_term=.857897e8f561

Image result for Najib I am not a crookThe Donald is hosting this Malaysian Prime Minister at The White House. A slap in the face of all freedom loving Malaysians–the unintended consequence of his invitation

 

On Tuesday (September 12), President Trump will host Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in the White House. The two men will discuss cooperation on counterterrorism and economic development. But what should be foremost on the agenda is the hatred and fear fueled by Najib’s own party’s support of extremist groups that routinely harass and frighten the country’s significant Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities. Any conversation with a purported partner against extremist violence who fails to address these concerns at home is pointless.

As a Malaysian, I am sorry to say that my country faces a desperate situation. For the 60 years since independence, we have been under single-party rule. The corruption scandal surrounding our sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, the largest of its kind ever investigated by the U.S. Justice Department, alleges that Najib’s government routinely pilfers public funds for its own enrichment and the funding of its political survival. Our political leaders are so accustomed to power that they will do anything to keep it. Our elections are routinely corrupted just enough to maintain the ruling status quo. Print and broadcast media are more than 95 percent owned or controlled by the ruling party, and peaceful political protest is routinely a cause for detention under laws meant to fight terrorism.

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I know this from first-hand experience. As an opposition member of Parliament, I was arrested under sedition laws and imprisoned with actual terror suspects simply for daring to raise questions in the legislature about the political imprisonment of my father, detained opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Before he was thrown in jail, my father championed a multi-ethnic and multi-religious opposition movement in Malaysia that garnered 52 percent of the votes in the 2013 parliamentary election — a victory set aside because of gerrymandering. His arbitrary detention has been condemned by the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Delegation are staying at Trump International Hotel Washington DC 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC, 20004, United States of America. What a coincidence!

 

All the while, a growing cohort of educated young people facing high unemployment is growing deeply mistrustful of their leaders. These energetic young men and women are frustrated by the absence of democratic institutions. That they may feel compelled to seek recourse for this dissatisfaction outside the political system represents a major threat to Malaysia’s future.

Tensions between different ethnic and religious groups have also reached alarming levels. Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) party has not just turned a blind eye to extremism — they have actively encouraged it. Religious extremists are permitted to promulgate their views with impunity, and the government has actually incorporated those views and personalities into its own platform. As if this weren’t astonishing enough, in 2014, Najib himself encouraged his own party followers to emulate “brave” Islamic State fighters.

If Najib’s autocracy and extremist actions are not condemned and resisted, all of us are at risk.

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Yet despite our challenges, I love my country and I know that we have incredible potential. In fact, that is what makes this issue so important. Unlike many autocratic Muslim-majority countries, Malaysia can be a true functioning pluralistic democracy with real economic strength and growth potential. Our coalition of opposition parties follows the leadership of our imprisoned leader, Anwar Ibrahim, in asserting that the only acceptable way forward for Malaysia is as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, democratic and freedom-supporting state.

But to achieve this, the Malaysian people need the help of true friends and partners around the world. Najib must hear from every nation that his actions are a threat to international security and undermine genuine efforts at countering violent extremism.

President Trump has the opportunity to deliver this message. As a former golfing buddy of the prime minister, he has an established rapport with Najib. And Trump set a precedent in his recent recalibration of aid to Egypt, where he laudably recently recognized the opportunity to stress civil society reforms by cutting some U.S. aid to Egypt. The same frankness should be applied when assessing Najib as a potential recipient of anti-terror funding from the United States.

To advance his foreign policy goals and the mission of international security cooperation, Trump must hold Najib to account. Trump must make clear that Washington will no longer be silent when U.S.-Malaysia cooperation on countering violent extremism is undermined by the Malaysian government itself. To start, Najib should immediately cease persecution of journalists and opposition leaders, and release all political prisoners, including my father. Trump must also make clear that the United States does not tolerate partners who harbor and protect terrorists, much less partners who actively encourage such behavior.

Without reforms, the Malaysian government is not a reliable partner on counterterrorism, international security or economic development. A clear message, followed by strong action, is the only way to transform Malaysia from a liability to a credible ally.

 

Addressing the Root Causes of Conflict-Driven Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia


September 13, 2017

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Number 396 | September 12, 2017
ANALYSIS

Addressing the Root Causes of Conflict-Driven Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia

by Ruji Auethavornpipat

On July 19, 2017, Thailand witnessed its largest human trafficking trial. This court case involved 102 defendants and resulted in 62 convictions for crimes committed against migrant asylum seekers mostly from Myanmar (Burma). While this is a high-profile case signaling Thailand’s serious commitment to combatting human trafficking, the conversation is still missing a discussion about the root cause of trafficking in the region – conflict in Myanmar. More attention is needed to alleviate and inhibit circumstances that drive migrant populations in Myanmar to use smuggling networks, where they are vulnerable to trafficking.

The aftermath of the largest human trafficking trial in Thailand

The trial took place following the May 2015 discovery of mass graves in southern Thailand near the Malaysian border. Human Rights Watch reports that at least 30 bodies were found and that the victims – mostly migrants identified as ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh – lost their lives due to inadequate food and disease while traffickers were waiting to receive ransoms from the families before smuggling them into Malaysia.

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The unearthing of mass graves occurred one week prior to the humanitarian “boat crisis” that took place in May of 2015, during which regional governments pushed back the boats carrying Rohingya migrants, leaving them stranded at sea. The development also came at the height of international criticism on the prevalence of human trafficking in Thailand. The US government downgraded Thailand to Tier 3 – the lowest tier – in the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report in 2014 and again in 2015 for not complying with the US standards for the elimination of human trafficking. While Thailand’s anti-trafficking efforts are assessed based on the “3P” approach (prosecution, protection, prevention), the issue of official complicity is among those consistently raised by the United States. Most recently, the 2017 TIP Report, published before the July 2017 trafficking trial, states that Thailand “did not aggressively prosecute and convict officials complicit in trafficking crimes, and official complicity continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts.”

Meanwhile, from the Thai government’s perspective, progress has been made against official complicity in human trafficking. For example, the discovery of the mass grave in 2015 was followed by an investigation by senior police officer Paween Pongsirin, which implicated “influential figures” in the Thai government, military, and police in human trafficking. Subsequently, due to the fear for his life after the investigation, Paween left for Australia to claim political asylum. Then, in 2016, the government reported increasing numbers of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions.

In July 2017, the court delivered the 500-page verdict which took over 12 hours to read. Many of the 62 defendants were found guilty on charges of forcible detention leading to death, trafficking, rape, and membership in transnational organized criminal networks. Moreover, the jail sentences for the convicted officials range from 27 to 78 years and those convicted of human trafficking are also required to pay 4.4 million baht or approximately USD $132,000 to 58 victims.

The severe punishment of perpetrators has been welcomed not only by civil society but also foreign governments such as that of the United States. Lengthy prison terms are undoubtedly imposing higher risks for the “business” of trafficking, and sending a strong message to traffickers that human trafficking is a heinous crime. It also illustrates that state officials no longer have impunity. Prosecution consequently seems to serve its purpose of deterring or at least disrupting future trafficking activities.

Image result for the rohingya's of myanmarBangladeshi villagers covered the bodies of Rohingya women and children who died when the boats in which they were fleeing violence in western Myanmar

 

Although these developments are rightly regarded as a step forward, it is questionable whether the root cause of trafficking, among the Rohingya migrants in this case, is being effectively addressed. This thus casts doubts as to whether the emphasis on prosecution can effectively eradicate human trafficking.

Conflict in Rakhine State and the roots of trafficking

The trafficking of the Rohingya is clearly driven by violent conflicts in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Without tackling this root cause, human trafficking networks may continue to operate in the shadows.

The United Nations (UN) describes the Rohingya population as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. As of 2014, there were estimated to be 1 to 1.5 million Rohingya Muslims and 2 million Rakhine Buddhists in Rakhine. The waves of communal violence since 2012 have resulted in numerous cases of injury and death, the destruction of property, and the displacement of 140,000 people. The escalation of conflict in October 2016 saw unidentified militants attack three local police posts, killing nine officers. This incident led the Myanmar military to initiate a four-month “clearance operation” to uproot the suspected Rohingya militants. The upsurge of violence led the UN to call for an investigation into allegations of abuses committed against Rohingya civilians. In the midst of the crackdown, hundreds tried to flee to Bangladesh, with many reportedly being gunned down, and those arriving by boat being pushed back by border guards or stranded at sea. At least an additional 92,000 people have been displaced.

These circumstances further exacerbate the risk that the Rohingya will be exploited by smugglers and traffickers during their journey. Addressing trafficking problems entails the prevention of conflict and reconciliation among various groups of people in the Rakhine State. The conflict cannot be perceived simply as an ethno-religious one, but local contexts such as years of armed conflict, deep-seated grievances of the locals, economic impoverishment, and authoritarian rule should be taken into account. While there is tremendous work to be done to protect the stateless Rohingya population, it should also be noted that one major concern among Rakhine people is that international attention has heavily focused on assisting the Rohingya to the detriment of the Rakhine people.

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Her apparent indifference could lead to a return of military dictatorship in Myanmar. 

Rakhine is one of the least developed states in Myanmar with the highest poverty rate of 78 percent and years of inter-communal violence deteriorating the socio-economic development. Moreover, the International Crisis Group indicates that the whole Rakhine community tends to be viewed as violent extremists and as such ignores the fact that the Rakhine themselves are “a long-oppressed minority.” There is also an insufficient attempt to understand the diversity of Rakhine community concerns. Similar to other ethnic minorities, the Rakhine grievances are caused by discriminatory practices, economic stagnation, a lack of political power, and constraints on language and cultural expression.

The conflict in the Rakhine state is complicated and has no easy solution. However, a more balanced conversation that acknowledges the grievances of different stakeholders could play a crucial role in creating a constructive dialogue that not only addresses peacebuilding, but also prevents the vulnerable and stateless Rohingya from falling into the hands of human traffickers.

About the Author

Ruji Auethavornpipat is a Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington and a PhD Candidate in the Department of International Relations of the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at Australia National University. He can be contacted at ruji.auethavornpipat@anu.edu.au.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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Trump’s Malaysia Swamp


September 7, 2017

Did Tillerson tell his boss he’s repeating an Obama mistake?

The Editorial Board

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Will Donald Trump be conned by Najib like how he sweet talked Barack Obama? The WSJ suggested that the U.S. could find a diplomatic excuse in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma or congressional battles to cancel the September 12 White House Meeting. Helping Mr. Najib at this critical moment is a mistake.

A visit to the White House is a diplomatic plum that world leaders covet. So why is President Trump bestowing this honor on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who jailed an opposition leader and is a suspect in a corruption scandal that spans the globe?

Mr. Najib will visit the White House next week for a presidential photo-op that could help him win the next general election and imperil Malaysia’s democracy. Yet it isn’t clear that Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are getting anything in return for associating with a leader their own Justice Department is investigating. This could set them up for a repeat of the way Mr. Najib humiliated Barack Obama.

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Mr. Najib oversaw the creation of 1MDB, a state-owned fund that was supposed to attract foreign investment. The U.S. Justice Department alleges that the Prime Minister and his associates looted the fund of $4.5 billion. The DOJ has filed civil lawsuits to freeze more than $1.6 billion of assets allegedly stolen from the fund. Five other nations are also investigating, and Singapore has convicted five financiers of money laundering and fraud. Mr. Najib hasn’t been charged and denies wrongdoing, and Malaysia’s Attorney-General cleared him.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Under Mr. Najib, Malaysian authorities also conducted a six-year prosecution against opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges of sodomy, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. That legal farce helped Mr. Najib’s party win a narrow victory in the 2013 election.

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The Art of the Deal or Gua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua

So how should the U.S. engage a troubled Malaysia? Mr. Obama cozied up to Mr. Najib and chose to ignore the prosecution of Mr. Anwar when he made the first visit by a U.S. President in 60 years to Kuala Lumpur in April 2014. Eight months later, he invited Mr. Najib for a showy round of golf in Hawaii.

But that precedent is not consistent with Mr. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics. Two months after that golf round Mr. Anwar was jailed again. And shortly after Mr. Obama made nice with Mr. Najib, Frank White Jr. , who served as co-chair of President Obama’s re-election committee before becoming a lobbyist for Malaysia, sold a stake in a 1MDB-linked solar technology firm back to the fund for $69 million.

The benefits of communing with Mr. Najib aren’t obvious. Perhaps Mr. Tillerson thinks Malaysia will help tighten the financial screws on North Korea, which has long used the country as a business hub. But Mr. Najib isn’t likely to stop his strategic drift toward China. Keeping 1MDB afloat will require cash infusions, and China, eager to help fellow authoritarians, can deploy its One Belt, One Road slush fund. Mr. Najib can then buy off the opposition and consolidate power.

If Malaysia slides into dictatorship, it will almost surely fall into Beijing’s orbit. The U.S. relationship depends on Malaysia remaining a viable democracy. That’s why helping Mr. Najib at this critical moment is a mistake.

Mr. Trump will be told that it’s too late to cancel the meeting, but the U.S. can find a diplomatic excuse in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma or congressional battles. Any embarrassment is better than giving a scandal-tainted leader a White House photo-op.

Appeared in the September 7, 2017, print edition.