Tuesday 20 November 2018

Acting in Time: Intervention and the Rohingya Crisis

Last week, The Ulu Club for Southern African Conflict Journalists, a project of the Professional Journalists' Association of South Africa (ProJourn) for which I do the administrative work, hosted in conjunction with the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre an event tackling how civil society and the international community could act in order to interdict an on-going genocide as is currently being inflicted on the Rohingya of Rakhine state in Myanmar.

We screened a harrowing Frontline documentary Myanmar's Killing Fields (online here; CONTENT WARNING: graphic imagery). The documentary is arguably one of the best on the Genocide in that it demonstrates painstaking work by Evan Williams and his team in verifying cellphone footage shot by survivors, who were then tracked to the refugee camps in southern Bangladesh - where I worked in April this year - and cross-checking their accounts with those of other refugees, semi-official lists of those murdered, with the reports of other human rights agencies, and cross-referenced to satellite imagery of the burning of Rohingya villages. 

The impressing of Rohingya into concentration camps from 2012, restrictions on their movements and rights to earn a living, the denial of citizenship, and the removal of all metal objects from their homes all strongly prove a concerted and escalating plan to physically eliminate these people. In operations by the Myanmarese infantry - spearhead of one of the largest standing armies in the world, supplied by red-fascist China - from 25 August 2017, acting on the thin pretext of a counter-insurgency campaign against a tiny 200-strong guerrilla force, some 100,000 are believed to have been slaughtered (including the mass rape-killing of women and the burning to death of children); Some 720,000 fled to Bangladesh where they now live in the world's largest refugee camps - under threat of deportation back to the genocidal Myanmar state.

Fascist-Buddhist extremism may seem an anomaly to South Africans whose interactions with Buddhism tend to be limited to that nice auntie who runs their yoga class, but working in the camps in Bangladesh was the second time in a year that I had worked in the aftermath of a Buddhist-initiated ethnic genocide, the other being in Sri Lanka in mid-2017. After the documentary, I recalled that in early 1942, at the time that the first real evidence of the Holocaust was becoming known to the Allies, Burman nationalist mobs were slaughtering Muslim Burmese in the wake of the Japanese fascist invasion of what was then known as Burma. Racist ultra-nationalist monks had been preaching hate since at least the late 1920s. So, with the UN finally (in March this year, confirmed in August) using the term genocide to describe what is going on - crucial as this means the Genocide Convention has to now be activated - how do we intervene and stop the slaughter, which is still on-going though at a lower intensity, according to the latest reports?

That was the thorny question that my panel of Judge Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor for the UN Tribunals on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Advocate Shabnam Mayet of Protect the Rohingya, and David P. Kramer formerly of the Free Burma Campaign were asked to tackle. Kramer dealt with the difficult problem of why Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's Mandela figure and the de facto head of state, has not only refused to attempt to stop the slaughter, but expelled the UN's human rights rapporteur, has not allowed investigators to probe the refugees' claims, has allowed journalists looking into the Genocide to be detained on spurious grounds, has claimed the burning of villages is an internal affair that only Burmese can understand, and has refused to even use the term Rohingya (the Burman genocidaires' argument is that the victim population are either not Myanmarese or even do not exist). 

Goldstone offered some hope, saying that a committee of senior UN jurists had offered opinion that for any UN Security Council member to veto an investigation into allegations of genocide would mean they themselves were in breach of the Genocide Convention. And Mayet urged civil society to get involved in the issue - and to publicise the killings as broadly as possible to pressure their governments into boycotting Myanmarese trade and tourism, blacklisting the generals and infantry officers responsible and freezing their assets abroad (as in Singapore), and forcing a UN intervention as occurred in Bosnia. There are no easy solutions, but thanks to all those who turned out for this crucial public event. There is at least one initiative what is being built as a result of the event and I will probably be involved in that - as well as planning to return to the region in 2019 to monitor the situation. I will update this blog as that initiative evolves. I will also soon publish a film of our discussion on my YouTube channel. In the interim, follow @ProtectRohingya on Twitter, and Protect the Rohingya on Facebook here.