Democracy and killings in Burma: Gold rush overrides human rights
Posted Oct 31, 2012

Democracy and killings in Burma: Gold rush overrides human rights

by Ramzy Baroud


The widespread killings of Rohingya Muslims in Burma — or Myanmar — have received only passing and dispassionate coverage in most media. What they actually warrant is widespread outrage and decisive efforts to bring further human rights abuses to an immediate halt.

“Burmese helicopter set fire to three boats carrying nearly 50 Muslim Rohingyas fleeing sectarian violence in western Burma in an attack that is believed to have killed everyone on board,” reported Radio Free Europe on July 12.

Why would anyone take such fatal risks? Refugees are attempting to escape imminent death, torture or arrest at the hands of the Ethnic Buddhist Rakhine majority, which has the full support of the Burmese government.

The relatively little media interest in Burma’s “ethnic clashes” is by no means an indication of the significance of the story. The recent flaring of violence followed the raping and killing of a Rhakine woman on May 28, allegedly by three Rohingya men. The incident ushered a rare movement of unity between many sectors of Burmese society, including the government, security forces and so-called pro-democracy activists and groups. The first order of business was the beating to death of ten innocent Muslims. The victims, who were dragged out of a bus and attacked by a mob of 300 strong Buddhist Rhakine, were not even Rohingyas, according to the Bangkok Post (June 22). Not all Muslims in Burma are from the Rohingya ethnic group. Some are descendants of Indian immigrants, some have Chinese ancestry, and some even have early Arab and Persian origins. Burma is a country with a population of an estimated 60 million, only 4 percent of whom are Muslim.

Regardless of numbers, the abuses are widespread and rioters are facing little or no repercussions for their actions. “The Rohingyas…face some of the worst discrimination in the world,” reported Reuters on July 4, citing rights groups. UK-based Equal Rights Trust indicated that the recent violence is not merely due to ethnic clashes, but actually involves active government participation. “From June 16 onward, the military became more actively involved in committing acts of violence and other human rights abuses against the Rohingya including killings and mass-scale arrests of Rohingya men and boys in North Rakhine State.”

The ‘pro-democracy’ Burmese groups and individuals celebrated by Western governments for objecting to the country’s military junta are also taking part in the war against minorities.

Politically, Burma has a poor reputation. A protracted civil war has ravaged the country shortly after its independence from Britain in 1948. The colonial era was exceptionally destructive as the country was used as a battleground for great powers. Many Burmese were slaughtered in a situation that was not of their making. As foreign powers divided the country according to their own purposes, an ensuing civil war was almost predictable. It supposedly ended when a military junta took over from 1962 to 2011, but many of the underlying problems remained unresolved.

Since an election last year brought a civilian government to power, we have been led to believe that a happy ending is now in the making. “Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi made her historic parliamentary debut on Monday (July 9), marking a new phase in her near quarter century struggle to bring democracy to her army-dominated homeland,” reported the British Telegraph.

But aside from mere ‘concerns’ over the ethnic violence, Aung San Suu Kyi is staying on the fence — as if the slaughter of the country’s ‘dark-skinned Indians’ is not as urgent as having a parliamentary representation for her party, the National League for Democracy in Burma. Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu called on “The Lady” to do something, anything. “As a Nobel Peace Laureate, we are confident that the first step of your journey toward ensuring peace in the world would start from your own doorstep and that you would play a positive role in bringing an end to the violence that has afflicted Arakan State,” he wrote. However, “Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy continues to carefully sidestep the hot-button issue,” according to Foreign Policy.

The violent targeting of Burmese minorities came at an interesting time for the US and Britain. Their pro-democracy campaign was largely called off when the junta agreed to provide semi-democratic reforms. Eager to offset the near exclusive Chinese influence over the Burmese economy, Western companies jumped into Burma as if one of the most oppressive regimes in the world was suddenly resurrected into an oasis for democracy.

“The gold rush for Burma has begun,” wrote Alex Spillius in The Telegraph. It was ushered in by US President Barak Obama’s recent lifting of the ban on American investment in the country. Britain immediately followed suit, as a UK trade office was hurriedly opened in Rangoon on July 11. “Its aim is to forge links with one of the last unexploited markets in Asia, a country blessed by ample resources of hydro-carbons, minerals, gems and timber, not to mention a cheap labor force, which thanks to years of isolation and sanctions is near virgin territory for foreign investors.” Since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her “historic” visit to Burma in December 2011, a recurring media theme has been ‘Burma riches’ and the ‘race for Burma’. Little else is being discussed, and certainly not minority rights.
Recently, Clinton held a meeting with Burma’s President Thein Sein, who is now being branded as another success story for US diplomacy. On the agenda are US concerns regarding the “lack of transparency in Burma’s investment environment and the military’s role in the economy” (CNN, July 12). Thein Sein, however, is guilty of much greater sins, for he is providing a dangerous political discourse that could possibly lead to more killings, or even genocide. The ‘reformist’ president told the UN that “refugee camps or deportation is the solution for nearly a million Rohingya Muslims,” according to ABC Australia. He offered to send the Rohingyas away “if any third country would accept them.”

The Rohingyas are currently undergoing one of the most violent episodes of their history, and their suffering is one of the most pressing issues anywhere in the world. Yet their plight is suspiciously absent from regional and international priorities, or is undercut by giddiness over the country’s “ample resources of hydro-carbons, minerals, gems and timber.”

Meanwhile, the stateless and defenseless Rohingyas continue to suffer and die. Those lucky to make it to Bangladesh are being turned back. Aside from few courageous journalists — indifferent to the country’s promise for ‘democracy’ and other fables — most are simply looking the other way. This tragic attitude must immediately change if human rights matter in the least.

— Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com


SEE ALSO:

A life of fear with no refuge: the Rohingya’s struggle for survival and dignity http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/fromthefield/MSFIntl/123555724325.htm
A Long History of Injustice Ignored:  Rohingya/Burma/Myanmar, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a-long-history-of-injustice-ignored-rohingya
A Long History of Injustice Ignored: The Muslims of Myanmar (Burma), Harun Yahya http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_long_history_of_injustice_ignored_the_muslims_of_myanmar_burma/
A Long History of Injustice Ignored:  Rohingya: The Forgotten People of Our Time, Dr. Habib Siddiqui http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/a_long_history_of_injustice_ignored_rohningya_the_forgotten_people_of_our_t/
ANC Policy Statement on the Peoples of Arakan shows lack of Foresightedness , Dr. Habib Siddiqui http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/anc_policy_statement_on_the_peoples_of_arakan_shows_lack_of_foresightedness/
Burma Is Not Iraq, Ramzy Baroud http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/burma_is_not_iraq/
Burma’s forgotten Rohingya, Mike Thompson http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4793924.stm
Burma’s Monks: Ethics is not confined to Books and Temples, Farish A Noor http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/burmas_monks_ethics_is_not_confined_to_books_and_temples/
Burma’s Muslim Rohingyas - The New Boat People, Marwaan Macan-Markar http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=45850
Burma’s struggle for democracy - What needs to be done?, Dr. Habib Siddiqui http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/burmas_struggle_for_democracy_what_needs_to_be_done
Daw Suu Kyi and movement for democracy, freedom and human rights in Burma, Dr. Habib Siddiqui http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/daw_suu_kyi_and_movement_for_democracy_freedom_and_human_rights_in_burma/
Get Chevron Oil Out of Burma, Rabbi Arthur Waskow http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/get_chevron_oil_out_of_burma/
Internet Unshackled, Burmese Aim Venom at Ethnic Minority, Thomas Fuller http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/16/world/asia/new-freedom-in-myanmar-lets-burmese-air-venom-toward-rohingya-muslim-group.html?pagewanted=all
ISNA Calls for Human Rights for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar http://straightrecord.org/2012/07/isna-calls-for-human-rights-for-rohingya-muslims-in-myanmar/
Just Imagine This—You Are a Rohingya!, Habib Siddiqui http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/just_imagine_this_you_are_a_rohingya/
“The Killing Fields” and the Rohingya of Burma, Muhamed Sacirbey http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_killing_fields_and_the_rohingya_of_burma
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Rohingya of Burma and the challenge of faith, Akbar Ahmed and Harrison Akins http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/aung-san-suu-kyi-the-rohingya-of-burma-and-the-challenge-of-faith
Suu Kyi faces balancing act over Myanmar unrest http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/more.php?news_id=133202&date=2012-06-16
Little help for the persecuted Rohingya of Burma, Akbar Ahmed and Harrison Akins http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/little-help-for-the-persecuted-rohingya-of-burma
Rohingya are Muslim outcasts, not welcome anywhere http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gPW6vtdfI0ip4z9X2iqfVibBao8gD96BFKV81
Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the Recent Riots, Asghar Ali Engineer http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/rohingya-muslims-in-myanmar-and-the-recent-riots 
The Rohingya question, Ashfaqur Rahman http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=238435
Statement of the Arakan-Burma Research Institute, Dr. Habib Siddiqui http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/statement_of_the
Thailand to Crack Down on Trafficking of Rohingyas http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601080&sid=auljtaVqW914&refer=asia
UN: Food Shortages, Poverty Forcing Rohingya to Flee Burma, Ron Corben http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-02-20-voa18.cfm
U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report: Burma, Habib Siddiqui http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/us_state_department_international_religious_freedom_report_burma/
What to Do With the War Criminals of the Myanmar’s SPDC Regime, Habib Siddiqui http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/what_to_do_with_the_war_criminals_of_the_myanmars_spdc_regime