The Australian defence department plans to spend almost $400,000 on English lessons, event attendances and training courses for members of the Myanmar military in 2017-18, documents released under freedom of information laws show.
Myanmar’s armed forces, also known as the Tatmadaw, has faced international condemnation and accusations of ethnic cleansing in recent months for perpetrating a fresh wave of attacks against the country’s minority Rohingya population. About 688,000 Rohingya refugees have fled over the border to Bangladesh since August 2017. Yanghee Lee, a UN human rights investigator, has said the situation bears “the hallmarks of a genocide”.
In 2017-18 the defence department will spend $398,000 (a $126,000 increase on last year’s spending) on English lessons and on funding Myanmar’s participation in the Pirap Jabiru multilateral military exercises in the region that Australia cohosts with Thailand.
Australian allies including the US, UK, Canada, France and the EU have cut ties with Myanmar’s military over the violence. The US and Canada have imposed targeted sanctions against Myanmar military leaders. In recent months the Myanmar military has also courted controversy through purchases of fighter jets from Russia and ballistic missiles from North Korea.
A briefing note produced by the defence department says: “Defence has a modest program of engagement with Myanmar in non-combat areas, with a focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, peacekeeping training and English language training. This engagement is designed to expose the Tatmadaw to the ways of a modern, professional defence force and highlight the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law.”
THE PEACE process took a step forward on February 13, a date rich with symbolism because it marked the 103rd anniversary of the birth of independence hero, architect of the Panglong Agreement and “father” of the Tatmadaw, Bogyoke Aung San.
The auspicious date was chosen for a ceremony in Nay Pyi Taw at which the New Mon State Party and the Lahu Democratic Union became the first ethnic armed groups to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement under the National League for Democracy government.
The signing of the NCA by eight groups in October 2015 was hailed as major achievement of the peace process re-ignited in 2011 by the Union Solidarity and Development Party government of President U Thein Sein.
In her address at the February 13 ceremony, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – Aung San’s daughter – reiterated her appreciation “on behalf of the country and the people” to the USDP government and Thein Sein for initiating the NCA.
Aung San Suu Kyi said the efforts of the previous government had enabled the NLD government to launch political dialogues as part of the peace process, resulting in agreement on 37 principles at the second 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference, which was held in Nay Pyi Taw in May 2017.
The principles will be included in a future agreement to end decades of civil conflict and create a federal democratic union.
The state counsellor emphasised that the NCA was only a starting point.
“The NCA is not the end of the peace process. The NCA is the beginning of the peace process,” she said.
“The beginning of political dialogues, the beginning of reduction of armed conflicts; it is the beginning of the political process that will result from the resolution of political problems through negotiations, discussions and the joint search for solutions.”
Aung San Suu Kyi said years of conflict since independence had resulted in Myanmar lagging behind in development and becoming one of the world’s least-developed countries.
There was no time to waste in the pursuit of lasting peace, she said.
“I wish to remind all of you not to waste this opportunity. Do not be timid to take a step forward. What we have to fear is the fear that lingers in our minds,” she said.
Sworn in on Feb. 1 as President Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback sees his job as taking the most important topic in the world and making it come to life.
Brownback has been on the job for just a month, but he is trying to make his mark by calling out violations of religious freedom when and where he sees them.
Brownback spoke to VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren on Feb. 27 for the program “Plugged In With Greta Van Susteren.”
Van Susteren: Ambassador, nice to see you, sir.
Brownback: Good to see you, Greta. It’s been a long time.
Van Susteren: It has. Welcome back to Washington.
Brownback: Thank you, thank you. I’m glad to be in this position. I’m not sure I’m glad to be back, because, I love The (Great) Plains. But, glad to be here.
Van Susteren: All right, so tell me, what is this job?
Brownback: It’s about religious freedom and it’s a about taking what I think is the most important topic in the world and activating it and making it come to life for people. Too many people live in a repressive religious regime where they can’t practice their faith the way they want to. We believe as Americans that this is a God-given right and you’re entitled to it wherever you are in the world and we’re activating that.
Van Susteren: So what do you do? How do you go about doing that?
Brownback: You know, it’s, it’s, kind of, there’s granular and there’s global. Really. Granular, we just got a guy out of prison that was a Vietnamese pastor. It’s global in that we’re pushing countries to open up their policies for religious freedom. And it’s kind of soup to nuts between that. But that’s really what the office does on as daily basis, those two things.
This week marks six months since the Myanmar military resumed its ruthless crackdown against the country’s Rohingya people. Many women and girls fleeing brutal state sponsored persecution have reported horrific accounts of rape, sexual assault, torture and murder at the hands of government forces.
When state institutions orchestrate such human rights violations and allow perpetrators to act with impunity, the international community must unite in taking a strong stand to hold those responsible to account.
Violent oppression of Myanmar’s various ethnic groups has been happening for decades but targeted assaults against the Rohingya community have spiralled since August last year. when Myanmar’s authorities launched what they euphemistically describe as ‘clearance operations’.
Over 680,000 Rohingyas have entered neighbouring Bangladesh, a country ill-equipped to deal with the mounting crisis. Although conditions in the refugee camps are dire given the vast and rapid influx of people, it is estimated that around 200 a day are still making the dangerous border crossing to escape continuing state hostilities.
Evidence is mounting to back allegations that Myanmar’s autonomous military, known as the Tamadaw, is engaging in the systematic use of sexual violence as part of a coordinated campaign of ethnic cleansing.
A UN investigation conducted amongst refugees in Bangladesh found that 52% of women reported being raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence. The majority were gang-raped, and most identified military officers or police officers as the perpetrators.
In a refugee centre, one survivor told Human Rights Watch in October:
“I was held down by six men and raped by five of them. First, they [shot and] killed my brother … then they threw me to the side and one man tore my lungi [sarong], grabbed me by the mouth and held me still. He stuck a knife into my side and kept it there while the men were raping me. That was how they kept me in place….1 was trying to move and [the wound] was bleeding more. They were threatening to shoot me.”
Another story came from a 17-year-old, identified simply as N, who told the Associated Press that she was at home with her family when ten soldiers burst in. Half of the men held her pleading family back while the rest took turns raping her. Forced to watch, her parents were beaten if they screamed.
Alittle girl dressed in pink, maybe three years old, is smiling through a rip in a tarpaulin. She is leaning against the bamboo pole holding up her home. Below her is a 15-foot drop, straight down to a dried-up riverbed.
The steep valleys across the huge Rohingya refugee camps are a growing concern as Bangladesh’s monsoon season approaches. Last summer, when hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled across the border from Myanmar in the face of an alleged genocide, the Bangladesh government allocated state-owned land for their camps.
The land was Bangladesh’s reserve forest: beautiful, dense, lush woodland that stretched for miles across the south of the country.
Within a few months, the forest was stripped away completely, leaving just compacted silt that collapses to dust at a touch. Bangladesh’s monsoon season will soon begin, with weeks of rain. Cyclones can hit the country anytime between March and July.
“I am very worried about the monsoon,” says Mohammed Rofik, 27. “It was hard enough in Myanmar, where we had good houses. Those houses would get destroyed by the storms. Here, we have houses made of plastic and bamboo.”
The speed of the Rohingya movement across the border last August took aid agencies by surprise. As a result, thousands of homes were built out of nothing more than tarpaulin and bamboo. “Lives will be lost,” says one aid worker. “The houses at the top of the hills are at risk of landslides, the ones at the bottom could flood.”
One assessment, carried out by Dhaka University and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN refugee agency, suggests that up to one-third of the settlement area could be flooded, with more than 85,000 refugees losing their shelters. Another 23,000 refugees living on steep slopes could be at risk of landslides.
The Rohingya Genocide is as confusing as it is complex. There is a fog that obscures what is happening on the ground in historical perspective because just so much is happening in real time.
The Myanmar state, both the civil government and the Tatmadaw, have actively taken advantage of this confusion to accomplish two things, and, as I speak here in Berlin in the Jewish Museum, I point out that the Nazis fought both a war on the Jews AND used the war on the Jews to fight a war on German liberalism.As with the Holocaust, the Myanmar state is fighting a war against the Rohingya, on the one hand, but also a war on emerging Myanmar liberalism, on the other.What is happening right now is about the Rohingya, but not only about the Rohingya. The state and the army have very adeptly blinded the Bamar population and many of the ethnic minorities to the eradication of liberalism within the country with the willing support of ASSK and her NLD party.
There are many other scholars here better versed in genocide studies than I, what I intend to talk about instead is how successive states in Myanmar have actively used scholars and history both in the past and today to obscure the truth and support state programmes that have worked against the Rohingya.
I. A Buddhist AND a Muslim Past Buddhicised
In the fifteenth century, the Kingdoms of Ava and Pegu tried to establish cultural hegemony over the Indo-Aryan kingdom of Rakhine, importing kings and queens, courtiers, Buddhist monks, and Burmese-speaking settlers. The Rakhine ruler who ousted these foreign invaders, established a religiously hybrid court, a sultanate, but in addition to permitting Buddhist immigration and European migrants from abroad, also raided Bengal and brought to Rakhine thousands of Bengali Muslim every year. Many of these were planted in the Kaladan River areas close to the concentrations of Muslims in Rakhine today where they grew rice and still grow rice until the recent crisis.
We do not find a lot of pre-18th century tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim populations.The physical geography and climate favored approaches to living and ruling, interacting, and community building, social mentalities that were flexible and inclusive, that favored the emergence of ethnically and religiously diverse communities. But this diversity was soon obscured by an Invasion from the Irrawaddy Valley.
Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen visited the no man’s land around 10:25am on Tuesday
The Nobel laureates visiting the no man’s land between Myanmar’s Tambru and Bangladesh’s Konapara border areas have asked the refugees not to hesitate to call themselves Rohingya.
Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen visited the no man’s land around 10:25am on Tuesday.
Around 700,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh since August 2017, fleeing the Myanmar military’s oppression termed as “ethnic cleansing” by the UN.
During their visit, the laureates spoke to the Rohingyas living in the area.
“Don’t hesitate to call yourselves Rohingya. You are the Rohingya people,” the duo reiterated to the people who are living in the no man’s land in constant uncertainty.
The two women also asked the 6,500 the refugees living in no man’s land not to lose hope.
Karman and Maguire also spoke to around 12 Rohingya women, who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
Three female Nobel Peace laureates began a weeklong trip to Bangladesh on Saturday to meet Rohingya Muslim women who were tortured and raped by soldiers in Myanmar before fleeing the country.
During their visit, Iran’s Shirin Ebadi, Yemen’s Tawakkol Karman and Northern Ireland’s Mairead Maguire will assess the violence against the Rohingya women and the refugees’ overall situation, according to the Nobel Women’s Initiative, a platform of six female peace laureates established in 2006.
About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled army-led violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar since late August and are living in Bangladeshi refugee camps. Myanmar’s security forces have been accused of atrocities against the Rohingya, including killing, rape and arson. The United Nations and the United States have described the army crackdown as “ethnic cleansing.”
Sunday is the six-month anniversary of the start of the refugee crisis, Asia’s worst since the Vietnam War.
In an email to The Associated Press on Saturday, Karman said that she and her colleagues were standing “in solidarity with displaced Rohingya women and calling for Rohingya women’s voices to be heard.”
She said Rohingya women are twice victimized — for being Rohingya and for being women — and “are affected by the ethnic cleansing and are also subject to high levels of sexual and gender-based violence.”
“Rohingya women’s unique needs are largely unmet in refugee camps in Bangladesh,” she said. “Less than 20 percent of displaced Rohingya women who have survived sexual violence have access to post-rape care.”
When reality goes off the chart of what is thinkable, fiction is no match. That Oxford University’s most iconic living graduate Aung San Suu Kyi may find herself at the International Criminal Court for her “complicity of silence in crimes against humanity” and even a genocide will go down in history as one such extraordinary tale. Yet as the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee made unequivocally clear in her 6-minute interview with UK’s Channel 4 News on 14 February: this is no hyperbole.
In the eyes of many conscientious people, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former icon of freedom, human rights and democracy has lost her hard-earned moral authority and the image as the “Queen of Democracy” for her role in what UN officially calls “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” of nearly 700,000 Rohingyas of Myanmar in the last 6 months.
The finger pointing at the Oxford-educated Burmese politician comes not from her old nemesis, that is, the Burmese generals, who had routinely vilified her in their state-controlled media for several decades during her 15-years of house arrest. Quite the opposite: former admirers and supporters such as Desmond Tutu, the Irish singer Bono who composed “Walk On,” a song dedicated to Suu Kyi; Sir Geoffrey Nice, former Prosecutor in the case against Slobodan Milosevic, who shared the televised Rule of Law Roundtable at LSE with her when she first returned to Britain in 2012; Head of the Human Rights Council Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, from the Republic of Korea, who, like many Asian women, considered the Burmese “a role model” – all have turned against her, bitterly disappointed at Suu Kyi’s “callous dismissal” of credible allegations as the UN Human Rights Chief put it, of mass atrocities under her watch.
In an alarming parallel, both Suu Kyi and Oxford University show a similar indifference to concerns regarding the persecution of the Rohingya – a prolonged history.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government routinely issues blanket denials in response to any credible findings about its mass graves of Rohingyas executed in cold-blood; systematic and pervasive use of rape against Rohingya women and girls; or destruction of over 340 Rohingya villages in an area covering 100 kilometres.
Suu Kyi has shown a similar indifference to these concerns. In her internal memo to the UN Secretary General Antonia Gunterres, Pramila Patten, UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, reportedly wrote that the “meeting with the state counsellor was a cordial courtesy call of approximately 45 minutes that was, unfortunately, not substantive in nature.” Suu Kyi expressed the “belief” that those (688,000 Rohingyas) who fled did so due to an affiliation with terrorist groups, and did so to evade law enforcement,” according to the Guardian (12 Feb 2017).
British lawmakers have called on UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson to back a campaign to refer Myanmar’s military leaders to the International Criminal Court.
Over 100 parliamentarians have signed a letter urging the government to back a UN Security Council referral of the head of the Myanmar army General Min Aung Hlaing for crimes committed against the Rohingya people.
Since the Myanmar military began their offensive in August 2017, more than 680,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, according to a report by the United Nations.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused the military of carrying out an ethnic cleansing of the area. According to charity Médecins Sans Frontières, 7,000 Rohingya were killed in one month, 730 of whom were children.
The UK has given £59 million (Dh302m) in aid since the violence broke out, while British Prime Minister Theresa May has been one of the most vocal global leaders in condemning the Myanmar authorities for their role in the crisis.
For his part, Mr Johnson visited Myanmar and the ravaged Rakhine state earlier this month to press the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on allowing Rohingya refugees to safely return to their homes.