Burma is Burning

By BARRISTER AMJAD MALIK — In 10 days over 400 deaths and 2600 properties burnt with over 50,000 refugees fleeing Rohingya to Bangladesh truly depict the horrific picture coming from Myanmar. Muslim states including Turkey and Pakistan are raising concerns over these escalations in Burma on public demand. Social media is shouting out loud on continuous silence of the UN’s Security Council. Refugees accusing the Myanmar security forces and Buddhist mobs of burning their villages needs a probe by the UN on such allegations.

Rakhine is the district which is the epic centre of recent events where majority of the Rohingya Muslims live in overall a minority in Myanmar -Burma. In the past there has been violent news especially on social media of the extreme level of allegations of persecution of Rohingya Muslims however so far independent probe by UN has not been carried out. UN reporters though confirm truth in such mass violations of the human rights charter. Burma is not allowing free access to information due to embargo on media and international agencies.

News relate that recent violence accelerated when post 25 august 2017 ARSA started attacking local installations and or law enforcement check posts. Arcan Rohingyan Salvation Army is akin to an extreme violent group. Myanmar security forces did not discriminate in young and old and children in operation against them post such activities. Security forces are demanding cooperation from Rohingyas against such groups. We have seen such violent heavy handedness in similar operations in Sri Lanka, Indian occupied Kashmir and tribal belt lately.

Nobel winners condemned Myanmar’s violence in an open letter in late December 2016 and drew the attention of international community towards the ongoing breaches of human rights. The letter which is still relevant reads as following;

“OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL AND MEMBER COUNTRIES OF THE COUNCIL TO END THE HUMAN CRISIS OF ROHINGYAS IN MYANMAR

Dear President and Members of the Security Council,
As you are aware, a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity is unfolding in Myanmar.
Over the past two months, a military offensive by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State has led to the killing of hundreds of Rohingya people. Over 30,000 people have been displaced. Houses have been burned, women raped, many civilians arbitrarily arrested, and children killed. Crucially, access for humanitarian aid organisations has been almost completely denied, creating an appalling humanitarian crisis in an area already extremely poor. Thousands have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, only to be sent back. Some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide. It has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies – Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo.
The head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the Bangladesh side of the border, John McKissick, has accused Myanmar’s government of ethnic cleansing. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee has condemned the restricted access to Rakhine State as “unacceptable.”
The Rohingyas are among the world’s most persecuted minorities, who for decades have been subjected to a campaign of marginalisation and dehumanisation. In 1982, their rights to citizenship were removed, and they were rendered stateless, despite living in the country for generations. They have endured severe restrictions on movement, marriage, education and religious freedom. Yet despite the claims by government and military, and many in society, that they are in fact illegal Bengali immigrants who have crossed the border, Bangladesh does not recognise them either.
Their plight intensified dramatically in 2012 when two severe outbreaks of violence resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands and a new apartheid between Rohingya Muslims and their Rakhine Buddhist neighbours. Since then they have existed in ever more dire conditions.
This latest crisis was sparked by an attack on Myanmar border police posts on 9 October, in which nine Myanmar police officers were killed. The truth about who carried out the attack, how and why, is yet to be established, but the Myanmar military accuse a group of Rohingyas. Even if that is true, the military’s response has been grossly disproportionate. It would be one thing to round up suspects, interrogate them and put them on trial. It is quite another to unleash helicopter gunships on thousands of ordinary civilians and to rape women and throw babies into a fire.
According to one Rohingya interviewed by Amnesty International, “they shot at people who were fleeing. They surrounded the village and started going from house to house. They were verbally abusing the people. They were threatening to rape the women.”
Another witness described how her two sons were arbitrarily arrested: “It was early in the morning, the military surrounded our house, while some came in and forced me and my children to go outside. They tied my two sons up. They tied their hands behind their backs, and they were beaten badly. The military kicked them in the chest. I saw it myself. I was crying so loudly. When I cried, they [the military] pointed a gun at me. My children were begging the military not to hit them. They were beaten for around 30 minutes before being taken away”. She has not seen them since.
Despite repeated appeals to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi 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 the primary responsibility to lead, and lead with courage, humanity and compassion.
We urge the United Nations to do everything possible to encourage the Government of Myanmar to lift all restrictions on humanitarian aid, so that people receive emergency assistance. Access for journalists and human rights monitors should also be permitted, and an independent, international inquiry to establish the truth about the current situation should be established.
Furthermore, we urge the members of UN Security Council to put this crisis on Security Council’s agenda as a matter of urgency, and to call upon the Secretary-General to visit Myanmar in the coming weeks as a priority. If the current Secretary-General is able to do so, we would urge him to go; if not, we encourage the new Secretary-General to make it one of his first tasks after he takes office in January.
It is time for the international community as a whole to speak out much more strongly. After Rwanda, world leaders said “never again”. If we fail to take action, people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets, and we may end up being the passive observers of crimes against humanity which will lead us once again to wring our hands belatedly and say “never again” all over again.Sincerely, Professor Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Laureate”

Several high profile leaders signed that letter to UN Security Council . They were, José Ramos-Horta 1996 Nobel Peace Laureate, Máiread Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate Betty Williams, 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 1984 Nobel Peace Laureate, Oscar Arias, 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate, Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate, Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, Malala Yousafzai, 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate, Sir Richard J. Roberts, 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Emma Bonino, Former Italian Foreign minister, Arianna Huffington Founder and Editor, The Huffington Post, Sir Richard Branson Business Leader and Philanthropist, Paul Polman, Business Leader, Mo Ibrahim Entrepreneur and Philanthropist, Richard Curtis SDG Advocate, Film Director,Alaa Murabit SDG Advocate, Voice of Libyan Women, Jochen Zeitz, Business Leader and Philanthropist, Kerry Kennedy Human Rights Activist, Romano Prodi Former Italian Prime Minister. The letter is detailed enough, still relevant and awaits meaningful action from international community.

Since October 2016, situation has not improved, rather deteriorated further post August 2017 violence spree. The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar has criticised the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to protect the Rohingya Muslim minority. Yanghee Lee said the situation in Rakhine was “really grave” and it was time for Ms Suu Kyi to “step in”.Her comments came as the number of Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh is rising according to UN estimates. That is more than the exodus after the October 2016 violence in Rakhine. Both outpourings were sparked by attacks by Rohingya militants on police posts which triggered a crackdown by the Burmese military. The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim ethnic minority who have faced persecution in Myanmar. Many of those who have fled describe troops and Rakhine Buddhist mobs burning their villages and attacking civilians. Satellite images show many fires across northern parts of the state, and Human Rights Watch has released an image which it says shows that more than 700 homes were razed in one Rohingya village. The military says it is fighting a campaign against Rohingya militants who are attacking civilians.
Her sentiments were echoed by Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai, who said she was waiting to hear from Ms Suu Kyi – who has not commented on the crisis since it erupted. “The world is waiting and Rohingya Muslims are waiting,” Ms Yousafzai said.

Vivian Tan, a spokeswomen for UN refugee body UNHCR, who is on the Bangladesh border, said people arriving at refugee camps were “in very bad shape”. “They say they have not eaten for days, not since they fled their homes. They’ve been surviving on either groundwater or rainwater. They’ve been walking for days, they’re physically exhausted, they’re probably traumatised. “We’re seeing a lot of women and very young children, some newborn, and these babies have been exposed to the elements for days so they’re very very weak and they need medical attention.”The numbers are really alarming and they are growing,” she said. The Maldives says it is severing all economic ties with Myanmar until it stops violating the Rohingyas’ human rights, while Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it was “deeply concerned over reports of growing number of deaths and forced displacement of Rohingya Muslims”. A protest was also reported in a district in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The Human Rights activists are demanding fair probe in allegations of persecution of Rohingyas in Rakhine and are asking UN to aide and assist those refugees who are fleeing persecution. The situation is alarming and United Nation Security Council must act quickly before it’s too late, and act fast, they must.

Barrister Amjad Malik is Chairman of the Association of Pakistani Lawyers (United Kingdom) and life member of SCBA (Pakistan) & young Human Rights Lawyer 2000 by Liberty, Justice and Law Society.

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