Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Human Rights Campaigner Who Disappointed

"It's scandalous that these internment camps still exist five years on ... The reality is that there's a lot she [Suu Kyi] could be doing, but isn't."
"The Rohingya are no closer now to getting their rights ... and in some respects the situation is much worse."
"[Over the past year] there's been mass killing, mass rape, widespread forced labour and other violations, all committed with complete impunity."
Matthew Smith, Fortify Rights advocacy group
Aung San Suu Kyi with military officials at the swearing-in of President Htin Kyaw, 30 March 2016
Aung San Suu Kyi with military officials at the swearing-in of President Htin Kyaw, 30 March 2016
When Myanmar (Burma) was controlled by its military it represented a bastion of human rights abuses in living colour. Its senior generals ran the country mercilessly and under their rule it was a closed society, a hermit nation. Famously Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese human rights activist, hugely critical of the generals and a declared champion of the underdog, brought world attention to her courage in confronting them and paying the consequences first through years of house arrest.

Her unrelenting criticism of the human rights abuses bruising the nation brought her global acclaim and huge admiration. The Nobel Price Committee decided to hail her as their Peace Prize laureate as the doughty daughter of Burma's liberation movement leader, who became a freedom fighter in her own right. She was awarded the prize in 1991. When eventually the generals agreed to a transition to a democratic order under an elected government, Aung San Suu Kyi took their place leading her country.
Inside Aung Mingalar, a Rohingya quarter of Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar's Rakhine State. The area, the scene of sectarian riots in June 2012, is now surrounded by checkpoints. Credit: Adryel Talamantes

The most blatant human rights abuses taking place in Myanmar today represents the persecution, the dispossession, killing and rape of the country's Rohingya population, a minority Muslim group originally from Bangladesh, fleeing poverty. Burmese resented the presence of the Rohingya, claiming them to be taking land and wealth that belonged to Buddhists. In time the areas in Myanmar where the Rohingya settled accepted their presence with Buddhists and Muslims living together.

Anti-Muslim violence subsided, and then it once again rose, forcing 120,000 Rohingya into refugee camps in western Myanmar, while the government supported an official policy of persecution, segregation and utter neglect. That would all change, was the expectation, when Suu Kyi joined the government. But nothing has changed since her National League for Democracy came to power and she became the de facto head of government, albeit not by title. But there was no response from her to the plight of the Rohingya.

They have been denied citizenship, denied freedom of movement, denied basic rights, viewed as foreigners, regardless of the fact that they have been in Burma long enough that most now living there have been born there. Rakhine state has been wracked with violence since 2012. Buddhist mobs attacked Muslims, who were rousted from the homes, some of which were set afire. The places where Muslims once lived are now occupied by Buddhists who have taken possession of their homes.

The Rohingya are now forbidden from returning to the areas where once they owned homes. In October in northern Rakhine state, a Rohingya insurgency group attacked and killed nine Buddhist military officers, leading security forces to respond, burning entire villages, raping women and going on a killing rampage sending 75,000 Rohingya crossing the border in dire fear for their lives, back into Bangladesh.

Though under pressure by the outside world looking into Burma with unfulfilled expectations -- the government has stated it intended to deal with the problem with plans to implement the recommendations of a commission headed by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan expecting the government to close the displaced camps, allowing their inhabitants to return to their homes -- noting has happened to ameliorate the situation.

The camps remain in place, the administration disallows access to the region, journalist are blocked from access to the north. An abbot at the Seik Ke Daw Min monastery at Sittwe insisted that the harsh policies in effect were meant to protect Buddhists from the population explosion of Muslims attempting to "swallow the whole region. They can't be trusted. No Muslim can be trusted. They're all scary", states Buddhist abbot Vanna Sara.

Of the children forced to live in the displaced persons camps, 30 percent are hugely malnourished. In May, a report issued by UNICEF stated that 150 children under age five die daily in Myanmar.

According to the UN, 74,000 people have fled the conflict zone since October [Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

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