1. Suu Kyi’s Silence on Rohingya Draws Rare Criticism

    Comment

    By Jocelyn Gecker
    BANGKOK August 16, 2012 (AP)

     

    She is known as the voice of Myanmar’s downtrodden but there is one oppressed group that Aung San Suu Kyi does not want to discuss.

    For weeks, Suu Kyi has dodged questions on the plight of a Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, prompting rare criticism of the woman whose struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar have earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, and adoration worldwide.

    Human rights groups have expressed disappointment, noting that the United Nations has referred to the Rohingya — widely reviled by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar — as among the most persecuted people on Earth. They say Suu Kyi could play a crucial role in easing the hatred in Myanmar and in making the world pay more attention to the Rohingya.

    Analysts and activists say that Suu Kyi’s stance marks a new phase in her career: The former political prisoner is now a more calculating politician who is choosing her causes carefully.

    “Politically, Aung San Suu Kyi has absolutely nothing to gain from opening her mouth on this,” said Maung Zarni, a Myanmar expert and visiting fellow at the London School of Economics. “She is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She’s a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote.”

    FILE – In this June 13, 2012 file photo, a Rohingya Muslim man who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, cries as he pleads from a boat after he and others were intercepted by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh. She is known as the voice of Myanmar’s downtrodden but there is one oppressed group that Aung San Suu Kyi does not want to discuss. For weeks, Suu Kyi has dodged questions on the plight of a Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, prompting rare criticism of the woman whose struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar have earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, and adoration worldwide. (AP Photo/Anurup Titu, File)

     

    The Rohingya have been denied citizenship even though many of their families have lived in Myanmar for generations. The U.N. estimates that 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar where they face heavy-handed restrictions: They need permission to marry, have more than two children and travel outside of their villages.

    Myanmar considers the Rohingya to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh but Bangladesh also rejects them, rendering them stateless.

    Long-standing resentment between the Muslim Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists erupted in bloody fury in western Rakhine state in June. They attacked each other with spears and machetes and went on rampages burning homes and razing entire villages. Human Rights Watch estimates that 100,000 people were displaced by the fighting and says the government’s tally of 78 dead is “undoubtedly conservative.”

    Rights groups claim the government did little to stop the violence initially and then turned its security forces on the Rohingya with targeted killings, rapes, mass arrests and torture.

    Most of the world’s outrage has come from the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia has accused Myanmar of launching an “ethnic cleansing campaign” and King Abdullah announced Saturday he would donate $50 million in aid to the Rohingya in Myanmar. Islamic hard-liners in Indonesia and Pakistan have threatened attacks against the Myanmar government.

    The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the violence at a summit this week and said it will present its concerns to the upcoming U.N. General Assembly.

    But the outrage stops at Myanmar’s borders. A tide of nationalist sentiment against the Rohingya has put Suu Kyi in a no-win situation.

    Speaking up for the Rohingya would risk alienating Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and angering the government at a time when Suu Kyi and her opposition party are trying to consolidate political gains attained after they entered Parliament for the first time in April.
    By not speaking up, she has offended some of her staunchest supporters in the international community — the very groups who lobbied tirelessly for her freedom during 15 years of house arrest. Though, many are cautious about directly criticizing Suu Kyi, who is hailed as a human rights superhero and often called the Gandhi of this generation.

    Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch called it “unfortunate” that Suu Kyi did not confront the issue during her triumphant tour of Europe in June, shortly after the violence occurred.

    At news conferences in Geneva, Dublin and Paris, Suu Kyi dodged journalists’ questions about the Rohingya by giving vague, scripted answers about a need for “rule of law” in Myanmar.

    “The root of the problem is lack of rule of law,” Suu Kyi said in Dublin, seated beside the rock star Bono at a news conference.

    Asked if the Rohingya should be granted Myanmar citizenship, the Oxford-educated Suu Kyi replied: “I don’t know.”

    Canadian-based academic Abid Bahar, a Bangladesh-born expert on Myanmar’s ethnic groups, said he was “shocked” by Suu Kyi’s failure to take a more principled stand.

     

    FILE – In this June 20, 2012 file, a Rohingya Muslim girl sits at an unauthorized camp that houses Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled Myanmar during an ethnic strife in 1992 in Kutupalong, Bangladesh. She is known as the voice of Myanmar’s downtrodden but there is one oppressed group that Aung San Suu Kyi does not want to discuss. For weeks, Suu Kyi has dodged questions on the plight of a Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, prompting rare criticism of the woman whose struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar have earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, and adoration worldwide. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das, File)

    “As a Nobel Peace Prize winner she has a big role to play, to work as a conscience for humanity, which she has ignored,” Bahar said. “I thought she was the only person the Rohingya could depend on.”

    President Thein Sein’s popularity at home has surged since the June crackdown, analysts say. Many in Myanmar rallied behind his proposal in July to send all of Myanmar’s Rohingya to any country “willing to take them,” a suggestion quickly shot down by the U.N. refugee agency.

    “This is an unexpected difficulty that we have faced in our march to democracy,” Thein Sein said in an interview with Voice of America broadcast this week. He denied accusations of genocide from Muslim countries, saying that images posted online showing piles of bodies were “fabrications” and from “incidents that happened in other countries, not here.”

    Thein Sein has won widespread praise for introducing a wave of reforms since taking office last year, following decades of repressive rule. But the United Nations and others say the violence in Rakhine state shows Myanmar still has a long way to go, and needs to place human rights at the top of its reforms.

    “The situation in (Rakhine) state is giving the so-called new Burma a black eye — in the eyes of the international community,” said Robertson of Human Rights Watch.

    “As a political leader with moral authority, Suu Kyi should take this on,” he said. “No one is saying she can dictate policy to the government, but if she speaks out everyone will pay attention.”

     

    Associated Press writer Xinyan Yu contributed to this report.

  2. Human Rights Group Cites ‘Atrocities’ in Myanmar

    Comment

    SITTWE, Myanmar August 1, 2012 (AP)

     

     

    A human rights group said Myanmar government forces opened fire on crowds of ethnic Rohingya in a targeted campaign of violence during recent sectarian strife, as a U.N. envoy visited the area Wednesday to investigate the unrest.

    New York-based Human Rights Watch called for a strong international response to “atrocities” committed during fighting in June between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. The violence in western Myanmar that left at least 78 people dead has subsided but many tens of thousands remain homeless — mostly Rohingya in need of food, shelter and medical care.

    The official spokesman for Rakhine state rejected the group’s criticism of the government’s response to the violence. Win Myaing told The Associated Press that allegations that government forces stood and watched as violence wracked the area were “absolutely untrue.”

    “Security conditions obviously improved day by day when government forces were deployed to control the situation,” Win Myaing said.

    On Monday, Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told reporters that the government “strongly rejects the accusations by some quarters that abuses and excessive use of force were made by the authorities in dealing with the situation.”

    The release of the Human Rights Watch report coincided with a visit by U.N. human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana to Rakhine state. His evaluation of the conflict is likely to be regarded as a yardstick for measuring the reforms undertaken by elected President Thein Sein after Myanmar ended decades of repressive military rule.

    Much remains unknown about what transpired in Rakhine state during nearly two weeks of sectarian fighting, rioting and arson attacks because the area was virtually sealed off to the outside world. Quintana has made clear that investigating the conflict is a priority of his weeklong visit to Myanmar. He toured key sites of the June violence on Tuesday and Wednesday, declining to answer journalists’ questions about his findings.

    Tensions between the Rakhine and the Rohingya are longstanding, in part because many in Myanmar consider the Rohingya to be illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh.

    “The government claims it is committed to ending ethnic strife and abuse, but recent events in (Rakhine) state demonstrate that state-sponsored persecution and discrimination persist,” Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, said in a statement. He urged the international community not to be “blinded by a romantic narrative of sweeping change” in the country.

    The violence was triggered by reports that a Rakhine Buddhist woman was raped and killed in late May by three Muslim men.

    In retaliation, an angry mob of Rakhine villagers attacked a bus on June 3 and killed 10 Muslims, leading to waves of rioting and arson attacks by both groups against the other.

    Human Rights Watch said government security forces were slow to stop the fighting and colluded with the Buddhist community as they “unleashed a campaign of violence and mass roundups against the Rohingya.”

    It said police and paramilitary forces fired live ammunition at Rohingya on June 12 as they tried to stop Rakhine mobs from burning their homes in the state capital, Sittwe.

    “When people tried to put out the fires, the paramilitary shot at us. And the group beat people with big sticks,” the report quoted a Rohingya man in Sittwe as saying. The report was based on 57 interviews with Rakhine, Rohingya and others in both Myanmar and Bangladesh, where Rohingya sought refuge.

    State spokesman Win Myaing said the situation in Sittwe was initially very bad because police were badly outnumbered by rioters and could not immediately get to the areas where fighting had broken out.

    Human Rights Watch called for the release of hundreds of Rohingya men and boys who were detained in June. It cited a history of torture and mistreatment of Rohingya detainees.

    It also urged opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to do more to protect Rohingya and seek amendment of a 1982 law that limits their rights.

    Other human rights groups and some Islamic nations have also called for an outside investigation and protection of Rohingya, saying they continue to face abuses.


Live & Die for Buddhism

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