The Rohingya: Mass murder under the gaze of a Nobel peace laureate

September 07, 2017

A Rohingya family flees across the Naf River into Bangladesh, carrying whatever possessions they could



[Note by Tom Gross]

This dispatch concerns the Rohingya Muslims of Burma (a country also known as Myanmar).

In many conflicts around the world today, Muslims are the aggressors – especially in several African countries where Christians are being targeted.

For instance, in Kenya yesterday, four people – including one man who had just gone out to cut wood – were beheaded by al-Shabab Islamist terrorists; nine other Kenyans have been beheaded over the summer.

Almost every day in Africa (as well as elsewhere in the world) there are suicide and other attacks by various Islamist groups. As I have pointed out before, even patients and staff at a leprosy hospital in Nigeria were targeted for death by an Islamist bomber.


But in Burma today it is undoubtedly the case that it is Muslims who are the victims, of Buddhist violence. I say “undoubtedly” because the BBC World Service this morning tried to cast doubt on what is happening, even using the phrase “fake news” in regard to reports of the massacres of Rohingya Muslims. (To those who have said that countries with Buddhist backgrounds don’t produce mass murderers, I would suggest they read about what happened in Cambodia under Pol Pot.)

There is in fact no evidence whatsoever that the 130,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled into Bangladesh since August 25th – walking for days, hiding in the jungle and crossing mountains and rivers, some arriving with bullet wounds – are lying.

(As I have pointed out on several occasions, it is the BBC itself that sometimes likes to spread inaccurate news – particularly when reporting Israel. When an internal BBC report -- the Balen report – reached the same conclusion about the BBC’s Israel coverage, the BBC then spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of British taxpayers’ money using legal measures to suppress the report.)


The BBC World Service this morning also used the term “terrorists” when referring to the “Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army” even though they have never engaged in bombing, and their attacks against the Burmese military have been few and far between – certainly nothing compared to what the BBC refers to as the “resistance” movement of Hamas, which has overwhelmingly targeted civilians.

As for the BBC’s domestic flagship “Today” program, this morning instead of more thoroughly covering the plight of the Rohingya, it again devoted considerable time to the question of “Israel and Palestine” (discussing the 1993 Oslo agreement) even though very little is happening in regard to the “peace process” at present – and certainty not compared to what is happening in Burma, Yemen and elsewhere.

The Rohingya who have fled in recent days follow the 87,000 Rohingya who were driven out of Burma last October – out of a total population of 1.1 million Rohingya. Another 400,000 Rohingya are thought to be currently trapped and hiding in the jungle and in the mountains, and to be running out of food. The Burmese government has blocked all UN and international aid to Rohingya civilians in the country.


Much of the media coverage hasn’t focused on the massacres themselves, but on the complicity of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

She has not only defended the violence, but she has denied the very identity of the people being attacked, asking the U.S. ambassador not to use the term “Rohingya”.

There have been some good pieces on the situation in Burma, for example in Tuesday’s Financial Times. However, it was buried inside the paper and included no photos of victims to accompany it. (Contrast this with the many occasions that the Financial Times ran stories about the Palestinians, using the most graphic photos, often on page 1.)

There have been few if any demonstrations outside Burmese embassies in the West. There has been no flood of angry letters to newspapers, calling for a boycott of the Burmese people.

In this week’s Economist magazine, there is a story about the Rohingya massacre, but it is buried on page 41, and included no photos, and The Economist thinks it is appropriate to headline its article “Gory Days”.

As for the international edition of The New York Times on Tuesday (when other papers had reports on the situation in Burma), it didn’t cover Burma. But it did finally cover Congo that day (on its front page and on all of page 4) – not a story about the 5.6 million Congolese people who have been killed in the war there, but a very long story about gorillas, accompanied by four photos.

I attach three articles below.

-- Tom Gross


UPDATE, October 9, 2017

In the month since this dispatch was sent and posted, as tens of thousands more Rohingya fled, the media coverage by the BBC and others has improved, in the sense that they are highlighting this story, and doing so without parroting obvious lies by Burmese officials about the Rohingya burning their own homes.

I have spoken to senior BBC news producers who subscribe to this “Middle East dispatch” list and they have acknowledged that they had it wrong before and the story deserves more prominence.

And this morning, after a crowded refugee boat capsized last night with over 100 mainly women and children on board (the boats have to cross very dangerously in the dark to avoid being shot by Burmese forces), BBC World TV news initially only reported this 18 minutes into a 25 minute news, sport and weather bulletin, but later the BBC moved it up to their second international news story after I sent a senior executive there this dispatch again this morning.



Take away Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel peace prize. She no longer deserves it

Once she was an inspiration. Now, silent on the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, she is complicit in crimes against humanity

By George Monbiot
The Guardian
September 6, 2017

Few of us expect much from political leaders: to do otherwise is to invite despair. But to Aung San Suu Kyi we entrusted our hopes. To mention her name was to invoke patience and resilience in the face of suffering, courage and determination in the unyielding struggle for freedom. She was an inspiration to us all.

Friends of mine devoted their working lives to the campaign for her release from the many years of detention imposed by the military dictatorship of Myanmar, and for the restoration of democracy. We celebrated when she was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1991; when she was finally released from house arrest in 2010; and when she won the general election in 2015.

None of this is forgotten. Nor are the many cruelties she suffered, including isolation, physical attacks and the junta’s curtailment of her family life. But it is hard to think of any recent political leader by whom such high hopes have been so cruelly betrayed.

By any standards, the treatment of the Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, is repugnant. By the standards Aung San Suu Kyi came to symbolise, it is grotesque. They have been described by the UN as “the world’s most persecuted minority”, a status that has not changed since she took office.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide describes five acts, any one of which, when “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, amounts to genocide. With the obvious and often explicit purpose of destroying this group, four of them have been practised more or less continuously by Myanmar’s armed forces since Aung San Suu Kyi became de facto political leader.

I recognise that the armed forces retain great power in Myanmar, and that Aung San Suu Kyi does not exercise effective control over them. I recognise that the scope of her actions is limited. But, as well as a number of practical and legal measures that she could use directly to restrain these atrocities, she possesses one power in abundance: the power to speak out. Rather than deploying it, her response amounts to a mixture of silence, the denial of well-documented evidence, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid.

I doubt she has read the UN human rights report on the treatment of the Rohingyas, released in February. The crimes it revealed were horrific.

It documents the mass rape of women and girls, some of whom died as a result of the sexual injuries they suffered. It shows how children and adults had their throats slit in front of their families.

It reports the summary executions of teachers, elders and community leaders; helicopter gunships randomly spraying villages with gunfire; people shut in their homes and burnt alive; a woman in labour beaten by soldiers, her baby stamped to death as it was born.

It details the deliberate destruction of crops and the burning of villages to drive entire populations out of their homes; people trying to flee gunned down in their boats.

And this is just one report. Amnesty International published a similar dossier last year. There is a mountain of evidence suggesting that these actions are an attempt to eliminate this ethnic group from Myanmar.

Hard as it is to imagine, this campaign of terror has escalated in recent days. Refugees arriving in Bangladesh report widespread massacres. Malnutrition ravages the Rohingya, afflicting 80,000 children.

In response Aung San Suu Kyi has blamed these atrocities, in a chillingly remote interview, on insurgents, and expressed astonishment that anyone would wish to fight the army when the government has done so much for them. Perhaps this astonishment comes easily to someone who has never visited northern Rakhine state, where most of this is happening.

It is true that some Rohingya people have taken up arms, and that the latest massacres were triggered by the killing of 12 members of the security forces last month, attributed to a group that calls itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. But the military response has been to attack entire populations, regardless of any possible involvement in the insurgency, and to spread such terror that 120,000 people have been forced to flee in the past fortnight.

In her Nobel lecture, Aung San Suu Kyi remarked: “Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages.” The rage of those Rohingya people who have taken up arms has been used as an excuse to accelerate an existing programme of ethnic cleansing.

She has not only denied the atrocities, attempting to shield the armed forces from criticism; she has also denied the very identity of the people being attacked, asking the US ambassador not to use the term Rohingya. This is in line with the government’s policy of disavowing their existence as an ethnic group, and classifying them – though they have lived in Myanmar for centuries – as interlopers. She has upheld the 1982 Citizenship Law, which denies these people their rights.

When a Rohingya woman provided detailed allegations about her gang rape and associated injuries by Myanmar soldiers, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office posted a banner on its Facebook page reading “Fake Rape”. Given her reputation for micromanagement, it seems unlikely that such action would have been taken without her approval.

Not only has she snubbed and obstructed UN officials who have sought to investigate the treatment of the Rohingya, but her government has prevented aid agencies from distributing food, water and medicines to people displaced or isolated by the violence. Her office has accused aid workers of helping “terrorists”, putting them at risk of attack, further impeding their attempts to help people who face starvation.

So far Aung San Suu Kyi has been insulated by the apologetics of those who refuse to believe she could so radically abandon the principles to which she once appealed. A list of excuses is proffered: that she didn’t want to jeopardise her prospects of election; that she doesn’t want to offer the armed forces a pretext to tighten their grip on power; that she has to keep China happy.

None of them stand up. As a great democracy campaigner once remarked: “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it.” Who was this person? Aung San Suu Kyi. But now, whether out of prejudice or out of fear, she denies to others the freedoms she rightly claimed for herself. Her regime excludes – and in some cases seeks to silence – the very activists who helped to ensure her own rights were recognised.

This week, to my own astonishment, I found myself signing a petition for the revocation of her Nobel peace prize. I believe the Nobel committee should retain responsibility for the prizes it awards, and withdraw them if its laureates later violate the principles for which they were recognised. There are two cases in which this appears to be appropriate. One is Barack Obama, who, bafflingly, was given the prize before he was tested in office. His programme of drone strikes, which slaughtered large numbers of civilians, should disqualify him from this honour. The other is Aung San Suu Kyi.



Myanmar army ‘beheading children and burning people alive’ according to eyewitnesses
By Fiona MacGregor, Yangon
Daily Telegraph (London)
September 2, 2017

Fears of mass atrocities against Rohingya civilians in Myanmar were growing after eyewitness accounts emerged of children being beheaded and people burned alive.

The reports followed a week of violence and “inflammatory” government statements that led the UK’s ambassador to the UN to urge Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of Myanmar’s government, to “set the right tone”.

The Nobel peace laureate has faced international condemnation for failing to address ongoing rights abuses of the Muslim minority and for online statements by her “information committee” that have been accused of inflaming public sentiment against the wider Rohingya population and aid workers in the country.

“Aung San Suu Kyi hits a new low with this potentially deadly inflammatory propaganda. Leadership failure,” Phelim Kine, a deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.

The government of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has condemned the international community and foreign media for focusing on the plight of the Rohingya while ignoring the impact of the violence on ethnic-Rakhine Buddhist and other non-Muslims in the state.

Northern Rakhine state erupted into fresh violence on August 25 when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) – since declared a terrorist organisation by the government - launched deadly attacks on 30 security posts.

The attacks came just hours after a commission appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi and led by Kofi Annan delivered its recommendations on how to end long-running ethno-religious tensions in Rakhine. The assaults by Arsa were widely condemned by the UK and the international community.

On Friday Bangkok-based rights group Fortify Rights published harrowing eye-witness accounts from Rohingya who escaped the village of Chut Pyin in Rathedaung township.

They claimed around 200 Rohingya men, women and children had been killed by Myanmar’s security forces and local ethnic-Rakhine villagers.

Soldiers reportedly arrested a large group of Rohingya men, marched them into a nearby bamboo hut, and set it on fire, burning them to death, the group said.

“My brother was killed - [Myanmar Army soldiers] burned him with the group,” Fortify Rights quoted 41-year-old Abdul Rahman of Chut Pyin as saying.

“We found [my other family members] in the fields. They had marks on their bodies from bullets and some had cuts. My two nephews, their heads were off. One was six years old and the other was nine years old. My sister-in-law was shot with a gun.”

On Friday the Myanmar military reported that some 400 people - around 370 Rohingya insurgents, 13 security forces, two government officials and 14 civilians had died in the violence since August 25.

The military and government have previously said security forces find it difficult to distinguish between insurgents and civilians. On August 30, a request by British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, prompted the 15-member UN security council to discuss the situation during a closed-doors meeting.

Mr Rycroft said the members had condemned the violence and called on all parties, including Ms Suu Kyi, to de-escalate the situation in Rakhine.

“We look to her to set the right tone and to find the compromises and the de-escalation necessary in order to resolve the conflict for the good of all the people in Burma,” Mr Rycroft said.

A spokesman for the government could not be reached yesterday, but previously told The Telegraph that the information committee represented the views of the entire government – not just those of Ms Suu Kyi.

He also said that the government was aware of the need to protect “innocent Muslims” while tackling Arsa.

Mark Farmaner, director of London based NGO Burma Campaign UK, welcomed the security council discussion but called on the British Government to go further in its objections to the current situation in Rakhine.

“Supporting Aung San Suu Kyi and reforms in Myanmar doesn’t mean the British government has to stand by and do nothing as hundreds of Rohingya are slaughtered by the military,” he said.



A crime against humanity
The brutal, bloody, and ultimately pointless mistreatment of a Muslim minority shames Aung San Suu Kyi
The Guardian (Editorial)
September 4, 2017

The Rohingya are a Muslim people living in the north-west of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, which borders mainly Muslim Bangladesh. In Myanmar they are seen as Muslims, and in Bangladesh as foreigners. Neither country claims or even wants them. Neither will allow them citizenship, though these families have lived in Burma for centuries at least. Now the military in Myanmar will not even tolerate their existence, and in recent weeks the almost genocidal pressure on their villages has greatly increased, sending tens of thousands trying to flee across a guarded border into an uncertain future. The army appears to be trying to starve out the population from areas where the armed resistance is most active, sending an unprecedented flood of refugees across the border. It has blocked UN agencies from delivering food, water or medicine to the affected areas, leaving an estimated 250,000 people without regular access to food.

There is very little for the refugees if they do get out alive. The Bangladeshi authorities are extremely reluctant to recognise that they are fleeing from persecution, even if local people have responded with great generosity.

For years Myanmar government forces have descended on villages to slaughter or drive out their inhabitants. Amnesty International has accused the regime of crimes against humanity. One of Myanmar’s most influential Buddhist preachers, Ashin Wirathu, preaches compassion towards mosquitoes but death for Muslims. Although he has served time in prison for earlier sermons, he is now more popular than ever, and widely believed to have the support of the army, which ruled the country openly for years and is still a powerful force behind the scenes.

The persecution has, predictably, led to an armed resistance, which, just as predictably, has provoked greater repression and cruelty. The Buddha had something to say about such chains of violence and revenge but it appears that the Myanmar’s Buddhists would rather use chains as weapons, the way Hells Angels did, than be freed from them. This story would be tragic and an outrage to the conscience of the world if it ended there. But there is every chance it will not. There is no repression savage enough to empty the whole of Rakhine state of its inhabitants and finally crush the resistance. Neither can the armed resistance movement hope for any final victory. But it can hope to enlarge the scope of the conflict, and present it as a religious one in which Muslims are being persecuted for their faith. That is at least half true, but it is a destructive as well as a powerful narrative. It adds Myanmar to the long list of countries where Islam appears to be the religion of the persecuted and the outcast, and to frame the justification for their own violent and intolerant revenge. There are already insurgencies of that sort – all of them building on existing ethnic divides and antagonisms – in many parts of south-east Asia, from Thailand to the Philippines.

There is a horrible irony in the involvement here of Aung San Suu Kyi, who appeared to be bringing to Myanmar the message of universal human rights – which would transcend or at least set limits to the brutalities of the old world. The Nobel prize winner, who appeared for decades as the epitome of principled and unflinching defence of human rights, now appears as the unfeeling figurehead of a vicious regime.


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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.