Japan: Rohingya activist calls U.S. ban on Myanmar generals a first step

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE JAPAN TIMES)

 

ASIA PACIFIC / CRIME & LEGAL

Rohingya activist calls U.S. ban on Myanmar generals a first step

AFP-JIJI

A formerly imprisoned Rohingya activist said Wednesday that a U.S. ban on Myanmar’s top generals was a welcome first step but urged more action to support the long-targeted minority.

The State Department on Tuesday said that army chief Min Aung Hlaing, three other top officers and their families would not be allowed to visit the United States due to their roles in “ethnic cleansing” of the mostly Muslim Rohingya.

Participating in a high-level State Department meeting on religious freedom, peace activist Wai Wai Nu said it was critical to address the “decades-old impunity” enjoyed by the military in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

“Many of us in Burma welcome this decision of the State Department. However, we think this is a first step and we are hoping to see more concrete and efficient steps in the future,” she told reporters.

This, she said, should include an end to impunity in the country.

“The only way to move forward, I believe, is holding the perpetrators accountable and abolishing institutionalized religious and ethnic discrimination against ethnic minorities,” she added.

Wai Wai Nu founded two groups promoting inter-ethnic harmony and women’s rights. Along with other survivors and witnesses to abuses who are taking part in the ministerial, she met Wednesday at the White House with President Donald Trump.

Wai Wai Nu, whose father was also an activist, was arrested with her family in 2005 when she was a law student.

The family was freed in 2012 amid a political opening in Myanmar as the military junta reconciled with the West and eventually allowed civilian, elected leaders.

In 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a campaign against the Rohingya that led about 740,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh amid accounts of brutal attacks on whole villages.

The army denies wrongdoing and says it was responding to militant attacks.

The Rohingya are widely despised in the country and do not enjoy citizenship, with the government calling them “Bengalis,” suggesting they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

3 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Myanmar

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

More from

3 Things You Must Know Before Visiting Myanmar

Myanmar is a beautiful country with a rich history that you could spend years exploring. Many of its people belong to the Buddhist religion, and almost every aspect of their culture reflects this. While most people from Myanmar are warm and welcoming to travelers, there are certain things that tourists should and shouldn’t do if they don’t want to seem disrespectful. Here are three things you must know before visiting Myanmar so that you and everyone else will have a calm, enjoyable time.

The Fork Is Not Your Friend

Credit: Milkovasa/Shutterstock

In America, we eat pretty much everything but soup with a fork. In Myanmar, though, forks are not usedfor the bulk of the eating. They are used, but not in a way that is familiar to us. Forks are held in the left hand and used to push food onto a spoon held in the right, which you then eat with. Knives are also largely absent in Myanmar, but this is a bit easier to get used to. Luckily, eating with a fork isn’t as serious as some other faux pas you could make, but it is always best to appear polite and observe the local customs whenever possible.

Money Exchange Can Be Complicated

Credit: Kyaw Zin Soe/Shutterstock

Myanmar has a closed money economy, meaning that the Kyat, its official currency, can’t be bought outside of the country. This means that you have to exchange your U.S. dollars inside Myanmar itself, but there are a few catches. The first is that the higher the value on your bill ($20, $50, $100, etc.), the more favorable your exchange rate will be, so the best course of action is to exchange high-value cash if you can. Also, your cash must be pristine. According to the Myanmar government, any marks, stains, or rips on your bills make them useless and worth nothing, so they will not accept them in an exchange.  To make things even more complicated, the U.S. dollars you are exchanging must also have been printed after 2003, and can’t feature serial numbers with CB, BC, or AB because of a counterfeiting scheme carried out by North Korea several years ago. The one good thing, though, is that most trains, boats, planes, etc. accept the U.S. dollar as currency, so you don’t have to exchange everything.

Watch Your Feet

Credit: Thiti Wongluang/Shutterstock

In America, we don’t tend to think much about where we point our feet. We just walk or stand and that’s about it. In Myanmar, though, it is considered to be extremely rude to point your feet at a person, a statue, or other object, because feet are considered to be “the most disrespectful part of the body.” Be mindful to point your feet in a neutral direction when you are talking to a person (especially a local), so as not to offend anyone. On this same topic, it is also important to remove both your shoes and your socks before entering one of Myanmar’s many breathtaking temples or pagodas. The Myanmarese fought very hard for their right to worship their religion in the way they feel is best and most respectful, so it is only right to follow their rules.

India among world leaders expected to push for China-backed trade deal excluding US

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE INDIA NEWS PAPER THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

 

India among world leaders expected to push for China-backed trade deal excluding US

World leaders, including China, Japan, India and other Asia-Pacific countries, will push for the rapid completion of a massive, China-backed trade deal that excludes the US at a summit this week, in a rebuke to rising protectionism and Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda.

WORLD Updated: Nov 11, 2018 11:22 IST

India,China,trade deal
Not only is the US absent from the deal, but Donald Trump is skipping the summit in Singapore.(NYT)

World leaders will push for the rapid completion of a massive, China-backed trade deal that excludes the US at a summit this week, in a rebuke to rising protectionism and Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda.

China, Japan, India and other Asia-Pacific countries could announce a broad agreement on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which covers half the world’s population, on the sidelines of the annual gathering.

Not only is the US absent from the deal, but Trump is skipping the summit in Singapore, highlighting how far he has pulled back from efforts to shape global trade rules and raising further questions about Washington’s commitment to Asia.

Trump launched his unilateralist trade policy with a bang shortly after coming to office by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal spearheaded by predecessor Barack Obama that aimed to bind fast-growing Asian powers into an American-backed order to counter China.

His approach has left the floor open for Beijing to promote a rival pact it favours, the 16-member RCEP, a free trade deal which also aims to cut tariffs and integrate markets, but gives weaker protection in areas including employment and the environment.

The pact championed by Obama has been kept alive even without the US, and is due to go into force this year, but the Beijing-backed pact has now overtaken it as the world’s biggest.

Announcing in Singapore that talks for the deal — which formally began in 2012 — are mostly concluded would be “important as a symbol of Asia’s commitment to trade at a time of rising global tensions”, Deborah Elms, executive director of the Asian Trade Centre, told AFP.

US commitment questioned

She said negotiations in some areas were likely to continue into next year, however, while a diplomat attending the summit, speaking anonymously, said “substantial progress” had been made but there were still sticking points.

The gathering of 20 world leaders comes against a backdrop of a months-long trade dispute between China and the United States after Trump imposed tariffs on most Chinese imports this summer, and Beijing retaliated with its own levies.

The standoff is having an impact far beyond the US and China, and leaders at the four days of meetings that begin Monday will be keen to voice their grievances to Vice President Mike Pence, attending in Trump’s place, and Premier Li Keqiang.

Trump’s absence from the Singapore gathering and a subsequent meeting of world leaders in Papua New Guinea is even more notable given Obama, who launched a so-called “pivot to Asia” to direct more US economic and military resources to the region, was a regular participant.

Washington, however, argues that it remains committed to Asia, pointing to regular visits by top officials.

“We are fully engaged,” insisted Patrick Murphy, one of the State Department’s most senior Asia diplomats. “That is very sustained and has been enhanced under the current administration.”

Nukes, sea tension

Myanmar’s embattled leader Aung San Suu Kyi is attending the meetings, and will deliver a keynote address at a business forum Monday.

She may face criticism over a military crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya that saw hundreds of thousands flee to Bangladesh last year, and has sparked rare criticism of Myanmar from within regional bloc the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Also on the agenda will be North Korea’s nuclear programme. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a vaguely worded agreement on denuclearisation at a historic summit in June, but progress has been slow since.

Pence will also keep on pressure on Beijing over its growing aggression in the South China Sea. China claims almost all the strategically vital waters, a source of friction with Southeast Asian states that have overlapping claims as well as the US, the traditionally dominant military power in the region.

Other leaders attending include Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But much of the focus will be on the RCEP as leaders seek to send a message in support of free trade. The deal groups the 10 ASEAN members plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

World leaders “should present a united front advancing trade liberalisation in (the Asia-Pacific) despite global headwinds to trade from the rising tide of global protectionism,” Rajiv Biswas, chief regional economist at IHS Markit, told AFP.

First Published: Nov 11, 2018 11:21 IST

Myanmar sentences Reuters journalists to 7 years in prison

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)

 

Myanmar sentences Reuters journalists to 7 years in prison

One of many online campaigns’ images demanding the release of wrongly accused journalists.

Two Myanmar reporters who were covering the killing of Rohingya in Rakhine state last year were sentenced to seven years prison on September 3 for violating the Official Secrets Act of 1923 after a nine-month-long trial.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were working for Reuters when they were arrested in December 2017 for possessing state documents regarding military operations in Rakhine state. In court proceedings earlier this year, police testified that they had handed the documents to the reporters without explanation, shortly before the arrest.

The two reporters were investigating the killings of 10 Rohingya villagers by the military in Inn Din village in the northwest of Rakhine on the aftermath of the clashes between the army and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in August 2017. The clashes were followed by the displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s government does not recognize Myanmar-born Rohingyas, most of whom are Muslim, as citizens or as an ethnic group living in Myanmar. The government designates ARSA as a terrorist organization.

In April 2018, police captain Moe Yan Naing testified in court that he and a colleague were ordered to entrap the reporters. He was sentenced to one year in prison after that testimony for violating the Police Disciplinary Act. He told reporters after the hearing that sentenced him: “Putting me in prison stops other police officers from saying the truth”.

Immediately after the court decision, Free of Expression Myanmar (FEM), a local civil society group, released its statement denouncing the state for its failure to protect journalists.

The conviction shows the lengths to which the Myanmar state is willing to go to hide its wrongdoing. In the past, the state has mostly bullied and jailed local journalists, but now it has picked on one of the most renowned media houses in the world.”

Local voices demand justice

The case has attracted outrage not only internationally, but inside Myanmar too.

Many people in the country, including civil society organization and activists, have been speaking out against the journalists’ arrest since last year.

Last month, A-than (Voice), a local civil society group working for the abolition of Myanmar’s online defamation law, launched a video campaign on social media featuring several activists from Myanmar calling for the release of the journalists. The statement message of the campaign posts read as:

Reuters Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested and detained when they were doing their investigative report on the killings in Inn Din village committed by Ta-ma-taw [Army]. Inn Din village killings were admitted by Ta-ma-taw and seven army officers have been convicted by war court already. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were acting ethically in order to get reliable information for people. Captain Moe Yan Naing has already testified that [the reporters] were set up by the police because of the news that they were covering.

A few days before the hearing on September 3, many marched in the city of Yangon, Myanmar’s economic capital, to demand journalists’ release.

For some, the case reinforces the growing disappointment with the government of the National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by noble peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Peace activist Moe Thway expressed his disappoint for Aung San Suu Kyi for not speaking out to protect the journalists.

The fact that Wa Lone (and Kyaw Soe Oo) were given unjust prison sentences is not because of the court alone.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her government are also responsible for approving their arrests and saying that they were guilty.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has clearly revealed her characteristic of a dictatorship.

In a statement [pdf] condemning the verdict, organized by A-than and signed by 63 local NGOs, supporters wrote:

We believe that the decision by the court is irrational and the case was brought against the two journalists….to justify [their] arrest and imprisonment…We take this as a crackdown on the right of access to information and media freedom, and an oppressive gesture [against] all concerned people of Myanmar who are aspiring [to]….a society characterized by rule of law, accountability, freedom and justice.

The court decision was also condemned by the international community, including statements released immediately by US Embassy in Myanmar and EU Union in Myanmar.

Some Of China’s Neighbors Are Saying No Thanks To China’s Money

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘QUARTZ’ AND THE WEBSITE OF ANDY TAI)

((oped) TO SAY YES TO CHINA’S MONEY IS TO GIVE AWAY YOUR COUNTRY’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE FREEDOM OF ALL OF YOUR PEOPLE!)(trs)

DAMMED IF YOU DO

More neighbors are saying “no thanks” to Chinese money—for now

December 04, 2017

There’s a learning curve to becoming a superpower, as China, having recently suffered setbacks with two of its neighbors, is learning.

Pakistan and Nepal, each involved in China’s Belt and Road initiative, a massive infrastructure push, announced last month they would no longer seek Chinese funding for two large-scale developments. In mid-November, Pakistan said that China’s conditions for financing the long-delayed $14 billion Diamer-Basha dam on the Indus River—part of the roughly $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor—”were not doable and against our interest,” including as it did China taking ownership of the entire project. Pakistan decided to go ahead with the dam, but to build it by itself.

Around the same time, Nepal decided to stop the $2.5 billion Budhi Gandaki hydropower plant from going forward in the hands of China Gezhouba Group, citing irregularities and the lack of a competitive bidding process. Last week, Nepal said that it would go ahead and build the dam itself, handing the 1,200-megawatt project over to the state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority.

“Very early on the countries along the Belt and Road initiative were at first very excited and happy about Chinese investment,” said Christopher Balding, professor of economics at Peking University HSBC Business School. “But there have been significant changes: Countries now look at how China has behaved with Sri Lanka or with Mexico.”

China, with about 60 other nations, pursue ambitious plans to connect three continents with infrastructure investments.
An ambitious Belt and Road initiative. (Source: The Economist)

In Sri Lanka, the Hambantota port is now on a 99-year lease to China Merchants Port Holdings, which has a 70% stake in the venture. In 2015, Sri Lanka sought a review of how construction of the port had been awarded and halted its development. But in the face of economic and financing difficulties, it backtracked. With some $8 billion owed to China, thanks to loans taken to rebuild after its civil war, Colombo agreed to convert some of this debt into equity in projects.

Further afield, China has asked Mexico for a $600 million refund (link in Spanish) for the scrapping of a railway project.

While most countries along the Belt and Road initiative welcome foreign investment and assistance in building modern infrastructure, the pressure being exercised by Beijing doesn’t always go down well. Countries on the receiving end of Chinese cash are starting to realize that when all is done and dusted, the infrastructure that is built is likely to end up controlled by China.

A common pattern has been for China to sign controversial projects when a pro-China government is in place—as was the case with Sri Lanka’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Hambantota port deal—only to see them revisited once less receptive administrations are in power. In Nepal, outgoing prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), signed a preliminary agreement for the dam in June, just days before he relinquished his post to the rival Nepali Congress as part of a pre-existing power-sharing agreement. Current deputy prime minister Kamal Thapa criticized and scrapped the project for not having gone through open bidding as required by law.

That said, China’s rise in Asia and the world is beyond dispute—and its might is likely to grow as it proceeds firmly with its Belt and Road initiative. And in several countries in Asia and elsewhere, particularly those facing global criticism on human rights or other issues, China’s infrastructure spending plans and hands-off stance on such touchy topics are likely to overcome any reservations toward the country.

Take the example of nearby Myanmar, which in 2011 saw the cancellation (paywall) of a major Chinese hydroelectric project in the face of environmental concerns. In the years since then, Myanmar has been on the receiving end of increasing international criticism due to its purges of the Muslim Rohingya minority. Criticism deepened this year after a particularly harsh pogrom in August saw more than half a million flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

In the same month that the nonprofit Fortify Rights and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum released a major report documenting killings and rape of Rohingya, and the US made the determination that the Myanmar military is carrying out “ethnic cleansing,” China proposed a Pakistan-like economic corridor crossing the country. China is already helping to build a $7 billion port in Rakhine, the western Myanmar state that has seen the worst of the violence. Last week, as Myanmar continued to face criticism over what many see as a flawed agreement with Bangladesh to accept the return of the Rohingya—one that China may have played a role in brokering—Aung San Suu Kyi was in Beijing for a conference of international political parties, and for more discussion on investment.

China can also take heart that the vagaries of electoral fortune in democracies can sometimes revive projects China wants to back. The fate of the Nepali dam, for example, could change yet again as the country holds parliamentary polls for the first time since the end of its civil war just over a decade ago. The final stage of voting will take place Dec. 7. The two main blocks contesting the elections represent a conflicting set of alliances, with one of them saying that it will, should it win, hand the project back to China.

Army supporters, Buddhist nationalists march in Myanmar city

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTANI NEWS AGENCY ‘DAWN’)

 

Participants holding national and military flags attend a marching ceremony supporting the country's military and government servants on Sunday in Yangon, Myanmar.— AP
Participants holding national and military flags attend a marching ceremony supporting the country’s military and government servants on Sunday in Yangon, Myanmar.— AP

People marched in Myanmar’s largest city on Sunday to support the military, which has come under heavy criticism over violence that has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

More than 2,000 army supporters, including Buddhist nationalists and monks, took part in the march.

“I want to urge you to support the military. Only if the military is strengthened will our sovereignty will be secured,” a senior Buddhist nationalist monk, Zagara, told the crowd.

More than 600,000 Rohingya from northern Rakhine state have fled to Bangladesh since August 25, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages. Myanmar’s government has said it was responding to attacks on police outposts by insurgents, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate.

The exodus of the Rohingya has become a major humanitarian crisis and sparked international condemnation of Myanmar.

Nyunt Yi, a 70-year-old retired military soldier who served in the army for more than 40 years, said Sunday that “only the army can protect the national security and stop the illegal intruders”. referring to the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya are a separate ethnic group and regards them as having migrated illegally from Bangladesh, although they have lived in Myanmar for generations.

Aung San Suu Kyi is to be stripped of the Freedom of Oxford Metal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Aung San Suu Kyi is to be stripped of the Freedom of Oxford by the city’s council for her response to the Rohingya crisis.

Myanmar’s de facto leader was bestowed with the honorary title in 1997 in recognition of her long struggle for democracy and her ties to Oxford where she studied.
City councilors considered a cross-party motion to withdraw the honor on Monday night and concluded that it was “no longer appropriate” for her to hold it.
The council said that it had written to Suu Kyi and asked her to “do whatever she can to stop the ethnic cleansing in her country” but had not received a response.
Over the years, Suu Kyi has often spoken of the warmth and kindness she received during her time in Britain.
It was while studying at Oxford University between 1964 and 1967 that she met her late husband, Michael Aris, before starting a family there.
“The most important thing for me about Oxford was not what I learnt there in terms of set text and set books we had to read, but in terms of a respect for the best in human civilization,” she reportedly said after receiving an honorary doctorate in civil law from her alma mater in 2012.
In recent weeks, Suu Kyi has come under fire for her response to the plight facing the Rohingya Muslim minority. Almost half a million people have fled violence in Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh since August 25.
Labour Party Councilor Mary Clarkson, who put forward the motion, told the council that Suu Kyi’s lack of response and dismissal of numerous claims of sexual violence against Rohingya women as “fake rape” were among the reasons why the honor should be revoked.
According to a statement seen by CNN, Clarkson said: “In taking action, we do so for several reasons: firstly to add our small voices to others calling for human rights and justice for the Rohingya people; secondly, to respect the long traditions of Oxford, as a diverse and humane city whose reputation is tarnished by honouring those who turn a blind eye to violence.
“Thirdly, we should bear in mind that public awards can sometimes make their recipients seem untouchable and above scrutiny when their current actions betray their previous good work.”
The recommendation to withdraw the city honor will be finalized at the council’s next meeting in November.

More than 60 Rohingya Feared Drowned in Boat Capsize

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

More than 60 Rohingya Feared Drowned in Boat Capsize

More than 60 people are believed dead after a boat carrying Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar capsized, the UN migration agency has said.

The refugees drowned in heavy seas off Bangladesh late on Thursday, part of a new surge of people fleeing a Myanmar army campaign and communal violence that the UN describes as “ethnic cleansing”.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called on countries to ban providing weapons to Myanmar over the violence, Reuters reported.

23 human bodies have been retrieved from the water so far, but the death toll is expected to exceed 60.

“Forty are missing and presumed drowned,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters in Geneva.

Shona Miah, 32, told AFP; “My wife and two boys survived, but I lost my three daughters.”

A dire shortage of clean water, toilets and sanitation is spreading disease and pushing the camps to the precipice of a health disaster, the Red Cross warned.

“Our mobile clinics are treating more people, especially children, who are very sick from diarrhoeal diseases which are a direct result of the terrible sanitation conditions,” said Mozharul Huq, Secretary-General of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.

In some of the camps hundreds of refugees are sharing a single toilet, said Martin Faller, of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“The conditions for an outbreak of disease are all present – we have to act now and we have to act at scale,” he added.

The World Health Organization has said one of the diseases it is particularly worried about is cholera.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

More Posts – Twitter – Facebook – Google Plus – YouTube

Myanmar Government Vows to Address Refugee Crisis in Rakhine State

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Myanmar Government Vows to Address Refugee Crisis in Rakhine State, but Avoids Saying ‘Rohingya’

A Rohingya camp for internally displaced persons in Rakhine State. Photo by Mathias Eick. Source: Flickr page of EU/ECHO (CC BY-ND 2.0)

On September 19, 2017, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a widely anticipated speech in front of diplomats, United Nations officials, and members of the media to speak about what the government is doing to address the refugee crisis in Rakhine State.

Since August, about 400,000 Rohingyas have escaped to Bangladesh after the Myanmar government intensified its crackdown of insurgents belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which attacked several police and military outposts.

The crackdown involved clearing operations that displaced thousands of Rohingya families. Both the ARSA and government troops accused each other of committing widespread abuses such as looting and burning of houses, beating and killing of women and children, and instigating religious violence. The conflict has affected various ethnic groups in the Rakhine state.

The Rohingya people are an ethnic group in western Myanmar, but the government considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Most are Muslim, and living in a country with a Buddhist majority population, they suffer from discrimination. Many are deprived of basic social services.

In her speech, Suu Kyi assured Myanmar’s ethnic groups that the government is thinking about their welfare. Unfortunately, she failed to mention the Rohingya, a move in line with the government’s refusal to recognize the Rohingya as an official ethnic group. In fact, her whole speech avoided reference to “Rohingya” and instead she referred to them simply as Muslims:

We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people who have been caught up in the conflict. Those who have had to flee their homes are many – not just Muslims and Rakhines, but also small minority groups, such as the Daing-net, Mro, Thet, Mramagyi and Hindus of whose presence most of the world is totally unaware.

She also said refugees who fled to Bangladesh can return to Myanmar — but only after undergoing a verification process:

Those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problems and with full assurance of their security and their access to humanitarian aid.

With regard to the recent spate of attacks in Rakhine, she spoke about punishing groups responsible for spreading violence:

Action will be taken against all peoples, regardless of their religion, race, or political position who go against the laws of the land and who violate human rights as accepted by our international community. We have never been soft on human rights in this country.

Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her promotion of democracy, has been criticized for her silence regarding the issue and her alleged inaction to prevent the persecution of Rohingya. Her September 19 speech was regarded as a crucial moment for her to clarify once and for all the government’s position on the matter, in particular the forced exodus of thousands of Rohingya to nearby Bangladesh. Suu Kyi is not the head of government but she is the leader of the ruling party.

In her speech, Suu Kyi emphasized that Myanmar has a fragile democracy that is undergoing transition after five decades of experiencing direct military rule. She added that the new government has been in power for only 18 months and it has been struggling very hard to enforce reforms while keeping peace and restoring democratic processes.

‘The harshest international critics of the government will be far from satisfied’

Meanwhile, Vice President U Henry Van Thio addressed the United Nations General Assembly on September 20 and echoed Suu Kyi’s point that the majority of Muslims in Rakhine have decided to remain in the country:

We would need to find out the reason for this exodus. What is little known is that the great majority of the Muslim population decided to remain in their villages. We share the need to ensure that vital humanitarian assistance is provided to all those in need.

Suu Kyi’s speech was beamed live across Myanmar and groups of people even watched it in the capital while holding placards with the words, “We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Historian Thant Myint-U thinks the speech will resonate with the domestic population, but international critics will not be satisfied:

My guess is that the harshest international critics of the government will be far from satisfied; but that the vast majority of Burmese people and at least some foreign governments will feel she’s steering the only realistic course she can under very complex circumstances.

Indeed, local media highlighted how global news reports about the refugee crisis focused on the Rohingya but neglected the situation of other ethnic groups. Some even complained that rich countries are unduly interfering in Myanmar’s domestic affairs.

‘Little more than a mix of untruths and victim blaming’

Netherlands Ambassador to Myanmar Wouter Jurgens tweeted his disappointment with Suu Kyi’s speech (ASSK stands for Aung San Suu Kyi):

ASSK’s speech on Rakhine: we feared denial and hoped for a message of compassion and justice: neither has come true.  @DutchMFA

James Gomez of Amnesty International wondered about Suu Kyi’s “silence about the role of the security forces” in the attacks against the Rohingya:

Aung San Suu Kyi today demonstrated that she and her government are still burying their heads in the sand over the horrors unfolding in Rakhine State. At times, her speech amounted to little more than a mix of untruths and victim blaming.

Writing for news website Coconuts Yangon, Jacob Goldberg witnessed how an enthusiastic crowd welcomed the speech of Suu Kyi.

Generalizing a problem in order to ignore a specific emergency works like a charm for people in power when their followers are on board.

Watching the crowd outside City Hall throw a mini-rave before and after they heard Aung San Suu Kyi trivialize the pain of the world’s most persecuted people made it clearer than ever that the struggle for real justice inside Myanmar will be long and torturous. But it will only begin once at least one person in the crowd suggests that death and displacement are no occasion for a dance party.

After weeks of being quiet about the issue, Suu Kyi broke her silence but failed to appease everyone, especially human rights groups. Worse, by avoiding to mention the Rohingya, Suu Kyi’s speech could in fact reinforce negative views about the ethnic group. Meanwhile, as Myanmar rebuilds the shattered villages in Rakhine, the situation of Rohingya refugees staying in makeshift camps in both Bangladesh and Myanmar continues to deteriorate.

Muslims in the Former Soviet Union Rally Behind Myanmar’s Besieged Rohingya

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)

 

Muslims in the Former Soviet Union Rally Behind Myanmar’s Besieged Rohingya

‘Rohingya’. Creative commons image by Flickr user Rockefeller.

Over the past few weeks, Russia’s North Caucasus republics and the ex-Soviet states of Central Asia have seen an explosion of interest in the plight of Myanmar’s besieged Rohingya minority, who share the Islamic faith dominant across the region.

According to the United Nations over 270,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state for Bangladesh amid a campaign of government-backed violence sparked in part by a standoff with militants during the last two weeks. Al Jazeera and aid agencies estimate almost a million members of the stateless minority have fled Myanmar since the late 1970s.

Several large, seemingly Whatsapp-fuelled rallies against the violence have already taken place in Moscow and Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. The rallies went ahead in spite of Russia’s seeming official position on Myanmar, that saw it block a UN Security Council resolution regarding state-sponsored violence against the Rohingya earlier this year. In ex-Soviet Central Asia, while no-one took to the streets, a football match featuring Myanmar’s international team was cancelled over security fears and Facebook posts, petitions and even poetry in support of the Rohingya flooded timelines.

A strongman takes a stand

The Moscow rallies that took place on September 3 and 4 were unsanctioned in a country where the right to protest is strictly controlled. The first Moscow rally didn’t result in any arrests, despite heavy police presence, but 17 people were briefly detained on Monday at a follow-up rally. According to reports in the Russian media, WhatsApp groups served as a the main hub for organizing the protests.

Chechnya’s controversial leader Ramzan Kadyrov has played a leading role in organising the response to a sudden surge of violence and state-driven persecution in the Southeast Asian country. Kadyrov, famed for gay-bashing and fiery tirades in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has used social media to strike out against world leaders for their inaction. On September 4 he staged a rally attended by tens of thousands — the official claim was a million people, or almost 80 percent of the republic’s total population — in the Chechen capital Grozny. On Thursday, three days after the Grozny rally, Kadyrov made another statement on Instagram, saying that no further protests will be necessary as enough awareness had been raised.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year. Russian government photo. Creative commons.

By that point Kadyrov had already hinted that Moscow should step up pressure on Myanmar, while claiming he would launch a nuclear strike against the Rohingya’s oppressors if he was able to.

He later said the comments — which analysts called alarming for his superiors in the Kremlin — had been taken out of context by his enemies. Russia’s foreign ministry warned against putting pressure on Myanmar on June 8.

Given Kadyrov’s uncompromising stance on Myanmar, it is no surprise that social media users from Chechnya have been among the loudest voices backing the Rohingya on Russian social media. Users from neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia have also been vocal even as citizens in Russia’s other majority Muslim federal republics, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, largely ignored the issue.

This North Caucasus bias was reflected in Yandex, Russia’s largest national search engine, reporting a sharp increase in searches about Myanmar (Мьянма in Cyrillic) coming from the region.

Support for the Rohingya cause across the region has a pop-up feel. Many long-standing Islamic-themed Vkontakte pages have transformed themselves into 24/7 pro-Rohingya advocacy channels overnight. Most are explicitly run by and aimed at residents of Chechnya.

Pro-Rohingya meme widely shared on Russian social media

One such online community, [V]Chechnye ([In]Chechnya), has posted at least 43 messages relating to the Rohingya crisis since September 1. Messages include video appeals informing Muslims of the atrocities against the Rohingya, calls to sign a Change.org petition, and allegations that anti-Muslim violence in traditionally Buddhist regions of Russia such as Kalmykia goes unpunished (incidents reported in the Russian media, such as a prayer room in Elista, Kalmykia’s capital, being torched by unidentified assailants, and a pig’s head thrown into a village mosque, were mentioned).

Some have gone as far as recruiting volunteers online to join a “holy jihad” to save their brethren in Myanmar.

One page, Overheard in Chechnyapublished a post bringing attention to the September 4 rally, adding bullet-pointed instructions on how to keep the online campaign alive.

They are experiencing what we cannot even imagine!
#Rohingyawearewithyou
ALLAHU AKBAR
Tomorrow (04.09), a rally near Grozny’s central mosque!!
Don’t be indifferent!!!!
Max repost!!

Let’s all hold a rally on social media!!! All! All of you! Everyone who opposes the genocide in Myanmar!!! Your faith, denomination or nationality don’t matter!!!
Replace your Instagram, What’s App [sic], Vkontakte etc profile picture with the following image (share both the text and the image)
DON’T LIKE IMAGES AND VIDEOS NOT RELATED TO THE CAMPAIGN! So that the genocide stays on top of most discussed posts!!! So that everyone knows!!!
DISSEMINATE INFORMATION ABOUT THE RALLY AMONG EVERYONE YOU KNOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA! Let the whole world know that we won’t just let the story go!!! We are prepared to go any length to save innocent people!!!
USE THE HASHTAG #ROHINGYAWEAREWITHYOU

Even My Private Aul, an anonymous online community for gay persons from Northern Caucasus — arguably one of the most marginalized and persecuted groups in Russia — posted an appeal to sign a petition addressed to Russia’s UN envoy.

The petition, which at the time of writing has over 160 thousand signatures, urges the the Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzya to support a UN Security Council resolution on violence in Myanmar, rather than vetoing it with China, as happened earlier this year.

Political football and poems of woe

Over on the other side of the Caspian Sea in the Central Asian states once part of the Soviet Union there has also been a strong reaction to violence in Myanmar. This was most apparent in Kyrgyzstan, where the government cancelled a scheduled Asia Cup football qualifying fixture with Myanmar, amid concerns over a potential terror threat and fan clashes with Burmese players.

Many Kyrgyz social media users thought this was an overreaction. But officials were clearly nervous in the build-up to the game, as social media users called variously for a boycott of the match, a peaceful protest outside the stadium and a minute’s silence in respect of the Rohingya victims prior to kick off.

The football federation, whose Facebook page was overwhelmed by criticisms of Myanmar and support for the Rohingya, posted a plea for order before the country’s Prime Minister eventually moved to cancel the game:

We position ourselves as a friendly and hospitable nation!!! Like all we condemn and mourn what is happening to Muslims in Myanmar! Nevertheless…let’s show on September 5 that we don’t give in to provocations. Let’s support our guys in a friendly fashion!

Not all Kyrgyz have been impressed by online pro-Rohingya messaging. One post in the group We are for a Democratic and Secular Kyrgyzstan (In Russian Мы за СВЕТСКИЙ, ДЕМОКРАТИЧЕСКИЙ КЫРГЫЗСТАН!) hinted at frustrations over pan-Islamic sympathies and posts written “stupidly for likes and comments”.

In this post a Facebook user criticizes another user for writing posts “stupidly for likes and comments”. The original post calls on Muslims to pray for the Rohingya and for God to punish their persecutors “in the harshest possible way.”

The violence in Myanmar also inspired a number of lyrical tributes. Here citizens of Tajikistan came into their own. One website focused on the country counted at least five Tajik poems on social media, themed on the unfolding tragedy in Myanmar.

A woman poet Shoira Rahimjon wrote:

I’ll go to Myanmar!
To tell Burma not to take hopes from
My poor pregnant sister,
Not to burn my nation,
Not to take my soul,

I’ll go right now!
To take Burma to the house of justice,
And to the home of forgiveness

Although the Grozny and Moscow protests may have played a role in drawing Central Asians towards the Rohingya cause, it is worth considering that the opportunity for solidarity presented to them by the conflict in Myanmar is also an opportunity for self defence.

While all five countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) have majority-Muslim populations, they also share aggressively secular authoritarian governments, who fear growing religious adherence is undermining their authority.

Tajik migrants gather on a Moscow street for Eid al-Fitr prayers. Praying on the street is banned in Tajikistan. Photo by David Trilling for Eurasianet.org. Used with permission.

Last week Tajikistan moved to ban the Islamic hijab covering from schools completely while mobile service providers mobbed citizens with SMS messages stressing the need to wear non-religious “national” clothes. Neighbours Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are routinely recognised by the US state department as “countries of particular concern” in regards to religious freedom. Kazakhstan is seemingly movingin a similar direction.

For citizens in these countries then, the plight of a geographically distant community whose religion they share has offered a chance to amplify concerns about injustices committed against Muslims the world over, without too much fear at the consequences of speaking out.

For Ramzan Kadyrov over in Chechnya, the Rohingya tragedy perhaps represents something even greater: a bid for power and influence across the Muslim world.