27.11.2018 Author: Vladimir Terehov

“Human Rights Movement” Shifts for Focus to Rohingya Conflict yet Again


From time to time the world community is reminded about the existence of the nation called Myanmar (formerly Burma) only because the spotlight is shifted once again to highlight the Rohingya tragedy, reported on by NEO on more than one occasion.

The focus here is on a country in Southeast Asia, which is equal in size to France (with a somewhat lower population) and that possesses vast natural resource reserves of various types.

Myanmar could very well become yet another Asian Tiger. However, it remains one of the poorest nations in the world, torn apart by internal conflicts, exacerbated by various external problems.

Myanmar is home to more than 100 ethnic groups, with the Burmese one accounting for approimately70% of the population. Other prominent ethnicities (Shan, Kachin) demand (often by means of long-term military conflict) some form of autonomy from the central government from time to time. By autumn 2016, Myanmar was home to 1 million Rohingya, who constitute 1.5 % of the nation’s population.

The long-term conflict between the government and the Rohingya people is complex in nature, but one key issue at stake stems from religious differences, the Rohingya are mainly Muslim, while the majority of Myanmar’s populace is Buddhist.

At the end of August 2016, armed insurgents, belonging to one of the movements that demand independence for the Rohingya, attacked Myanmar’s border post from the neighboring nation of Bangladesh, causing escalation in the conflict. In response, police and military units destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages thus forcing approximately 700,000 Rohingya peoples to take refuge across the border (mainly in Bangladesh).

As for the “refugees” the Reuters agency wrote about an incident, on 18 November, involving the Myanmar police opening fire on two “smugglers” during their arrest in one of the temporary camps in Myanmar, housing the Rohingya who had lost their homes. Witnesses reported that the police actions prevented yet another smuggling operation by sea from taking place (supposedly headed to Malaysia), involving transportation of 106 people, including 20 children, in rickety boats.

It was also reported that the “smuggling business” had been prospering in Myanmar long before the tragic events of 2016. After all, Africa is not the only place where businessmen make money off people’s misfortune by luring them with promises of “beautiful” countries.

A key issue in this internal conflict is the long-term decisive role (de facto true even now) played by the army in ruling Myanmar. Such arrangements are, by and large, not exceptions to the rule.

The same is true, for example, of Pakistan. And it is doubtful that India, which has had to deal with the Pakistani army on more than one occasion, would rejoice at the prospect of complete disengagement of the military from state affairs. If this were to become reality, events could take an unfortunate turn and not only for New Delhi, with two alternative paths. The nation that possesses nuclear weapons could either completely collapse, or Islamic radicals could come to power and, in all likelihood, start a war “to free the region of Kashmir occupied by India”.

The internal problems plaguing Myanmar are exacerbated by the fact that the country is located in a region that is strategically important for all the key world players, such as China, India, the USA and Japan. Hence, the nation is pulled in opposite directions by external field forces.

The situation is quite typical for the vast majority of nations, “the UN member countries with equal inalienable rights”. But in the current political climate, these states can have different foreign policy strategies. Most unintelligent and counterproductive strategy is exhibited by Russia’s south-west neighbor, who tries to transform the public’s “distaste” towards Russia into a product to be traded on the global political market.

Its Southeast Asian counterparts are, on the other hand, far wiser. Myanmar, for instance, manages to balance (and not unsuccessfully) the competing interests of the key world players.

In the meantime, the global “human rights” movement draws attention to the (truly tragic) situation with the Rohingya people but not other numerous problems that Myanmar is facing currently. In December 2017, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, urged for the “main culprits”, who include a senior general in the Myanmar Army, Min Aung Hlaing, and the nation’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, responsible for the Rohingya tragedy to be brought to justice.

In August 2018, similar accusations were made by the Special Committee of the UN Commission on Human Rights, although it highlighted violations not only in the Rakhine State, but also in Shan and Kachin too.

It is worth noting that, not too long ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was one of the pillars of the global “human right movement”. Similar advocates appeared, for instance, in the Soviet Union during the period of perestroika. In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, while under house arrest. Other licensed human rights organizations also paid tribute to her, for example, Amnesty International recognized her achievements with their most prestigious prize, the Ambassador of Conscience award in 2009.

The reverent attitude of “human rights” advocates towards Aung San Suu Kyi began to gradually change for the worse after she became the de facto ruler of Myanmar in 2015. The military, in the meantime, stepped aside and continued to observe civilian chatterboxes with great attention.

Some believe that Aung San Suu Kyi is completely innocent of any wrong doing and can not effectively oppose the military. But from the author’s point of view, she has turned out to be a clever, politically responsible person, who clearly understands the difference between the roles of an opponent (with no official responsibilities) and a de facto leader of a complex nation, her own homeland.

Irrespectively, on November 14, Amnesty International announced that it was withdrawing the award from Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee, on the other hand, can not follow suit (due to its regulations).

At this point, the previously mentioned and other considerations compel the author to express his point of view about the global “human rights” movement. It does not so much play the role of a valuable guard dog, which warns us about impending danger with its barking, but instead that of a scavenger. And this “animal” has a well-developed sense of smell for all forms of political garbage, even if it is on the other side of the planet.

A special scent, emanating from the “human rights” advocate presence, permeates, for example, the case of “comfort women”, who NEO wrote about on more than one occasion. These advocates also made a significant contribution to the collapse of the USSR. The “human rights” movement appears to have played a decisive role in transforming real European values into their polar opposites.

Currently, one of the key areas that the attention of “human rights” advocates is focused on is the region of Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in China with its “one million Turkic Uyghur people imprisoned in concentration camps”. Without dwelling any further into this, it is still worth mentioning that, despite all the extremities, it is hard to ignore the success stories of the leap-frog transformation of Xinjiang (as well as Tibet and Inner Mongolia) from a semi-federal state into a region on route to becoming a modern community unit of a rapidly developing nation.

it is hard not to notice that the attack against China, because of the situation in Xinjiang, by “human rights” activists coincides with the heightened tensions in relations between Beijing and Washington (which has its own issues with the UN human rights branch). The Rohingya issue became a focal point yet again after Myanmar’s foreign policy course began shifting towards China.

We are yet to hear expressions of concern by “human rights” advocates about the death of millions of people in North Africa and the Middle East as a direct result of aggressive policies followed by nations who are home to this “human rights” movement. This is a clear demonstration of a selective approach when using “blatant facts”.

Even if we ignore the motives behind Donald Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the UN Commission on Human Rights, it is difficult not to applaud such actions. And it is still unclear what Russia is still doing in this global political sanctuary of duplicity or its European equivalent.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook