Despite China’s denials, its treatment of the Uyghurs should be called what it is: cultural genocide



Uyghurs in Australia are pressing Canberra to take a firmer stance with China on its treatment of the Muslim minority. Thus far, Australia’s response has been relatively muted.
Tracey Nearmy/AAP

James Leibold, La Trobe University

As China grows more powerful and influential, our New Superpower series looks at what this means for the world – how China maintains its power, how it wields its power and how its power might be threatened. Read the rest of the series here.


In China’s far western region of Xinjiang, Chinese Communist Party officials are persecuting one of the worst human rights abuses of our time, what I labelled an act of cultural genocide in last week’s ABC Four Corners report.

Pressure is mounting on the Australian government to go beyond statements of concern and challenge China over its treatment of the Uyghur minority, particularly those Australian citizens and permanent residents being held in the vast network of “re-education camps” in Xinjiang.

Two Australian Uyghur men are meeting federal politicians in Canberra today to push for the government’s assistance in helping family members trapped in China.

Australia was one of 22 countries to sign a recent letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing concern about the “arbitrary detention” of Uyghurs, but otherwise, its response has been muted.

In recent days, the Chinese government has defended its actions with a dubious propaganda report claiming that Uyghurs were historically forced to become Muslims and have been an integral part of China for thousands of years.

China repeatedly makes false and anachronistic claims like this about the ancient unity of the “Chinese people,” which includes ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs. Its aim is to project modern notions of sovereignty, nationhood and fixed borders back through history.

In reality, the 11 million or so Uyghurs are an indigenous Turkic-speaking people who have inhabited what they call “East Turkestan” for over a millennium. Along with the Tibetans, the Uyghurs have born the brunt of China’s settler colonial project, which seeks to assert its control over remote regions that are closer to Moscow and Tehran than Beijing.

Since March 2017, the Chinese government has interned over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in massive, prison-like camps (including possibly 17 Australian residents), where they are subjected to coercive ideological remoulding.

Detainees are forced to denounce their religion, forbidden to speak their language, and taught how to adopt the norms of China’s Han ethnic majority, while praising President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party for salvation.

In their own words, party officials are “washing brains” and “cleansing hearts” in order to “cure” those bewitched by extremist thoughts. In Xinjiang today, non-Han thoughts and behaviour are pathologised as deviant and thus in need of urgent transformation.

What is genocide?

A litany of words and phrases have been used to describe this process. The Chinese government calls the camps free “vocational education and training centres” where Uyghurs willingly learn Chinese language and employment skills in order to assist with their “rehabilitation and reintegration”.

Scholars, journalists and rights defenders have spoken about cultural and religious “persecution” in Xinjiang, arguing the party-state’s policies amount to mass ethnic cleansing, cultural re-engineering, forced assimilation, brainwashing, or even ethnocide.

In August 2018, Gay McDougall, the vice chair of UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, referred to Xinjiang as a “no-rights zone”.

Yet, I believe the scale, sophistication and intent of China’s policies in Xinjiang merits a stronger description.




Read more:
The world has a hard time trusting China. But does it really care?


The term genocide was coined by lawyer Rafael Lemkin in 1944 in reaction to Nazi Germany’s coordinated strategy to annihilate the Jews, gypsies and other non-Aryan peoples. Four years later, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, with Australia one of the first counties to ratify it. The People’s Republic of China ratified it in 1983.

The convention defines genocide as

acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group

It also obligates signatories to punish those who engage in genocidal acts through a “competent” domestic or international penal tribunal.

Whether genocide includes only physical acts or can extend to attacks on cultural heritage has elicited intense debate, but for Lemkin, the term includes

drastic methods aimed at the rapid and complete disappearance of the culture, moral and religious life of a group of human beings.

Genocide also requires specific intent. In the words of political scientists Kenneth J. Campbell, genocide is a

premeditated, calculated, systematic, malicious crime authorised by the state’s political leaders.

This is exactly what Communist Party officials did when they authorised and then legalised the mass internment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in “concentrated transformation-through-education centres,” ripping more than 10% of the population away from their communities so they could be deliberately re-programmed.

Various methods for erasing culture

Yet, facts arguably matter more than words when it comes to China’s policies in Xinjiang.

We now have ample evidence (including internal party documents) of the deliberate efforts to destroy Uyghur culture and identity. Everyday actions like avoiding pork, speaking Uyghur, wearing a headscarf or praying quietly are now labelled “manifestations of religious extremism,” or what party officials call “malignant tumors” requiring urgent excising in a radical form of cultural surgery.

In the city of Kashgar, for example, a party document highlights the need to sever the lineages, roots and cultural connections of Uyghurs in order to eliminate the fountainhead of potential extremism.

German researcher Adrian Zenz has uncovered evidence of the party’s efforts to separate Uyghur children from their parents in state institutions, where they can be assimilated and indoctrinated by officials. In these institutions, cultural, religious, and linguistic knowledge is intentionally ruptured.




Read more:
Explainer: who are the Uyghurs and why is the Chinese government detaining them?


In some parts of Xinjiang, mosques and shrines are being bulldozed, while others are transformed into empty sites guarded by facial recognition cameras and imams on the party payroll.

In the name of strengthening “bilingual education”, Chinese is now the language of instruction across Xinjiang, from preschool to university. The use of Uyghur language, script, signs and pictures prohibited. Speaking Uyghur is now considered unpatriotic and can get one sent off for re-education.

Perhaps most disturbing, inter-ethnic marriages are being actively promoted to slowly breed out Uyghurness, with cash and other material inducements offered to Han men who take a Uyghur bride.

One can find numerous videos and messages promoting Han-Uyghur inter-marriage on Chinese social media, asserting Xinjiang is now safe and home to many beautiful and eligible Uyghur women who would appreciate a doting Han husband.

Finally, the Chinese government has intensified its family planning regime in Xinjiang to slow the growth of the Uyghur population and eliminate what party officials call “low quality births”.

Beginning in 2017, the region adopted a uniform two children policy that nullified preferential rules allowing rural Uyghur women to have additional births. In the past, Uyghur women were given 3,000 RMB (roughtly A$620) to forgo a third birth and agree to some sort of “long-term contraceptive measure.”

The Communist Party’s calculated war on Uyghur identity is quite literally tearing families and communities apart, while the rich tradition of diversity and tolerance in China is left in tatters.

The resilient nature of culture and memory means that attempts at genocide, thankfully, are rarely successful. Yet the pain they inflict is real.The Conversation

James Leibold, Associate Professor of Politics and Asian Studies, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Explainer: why the UN has found Myanmar’s military committed genocide against the Rohingya



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Medicins san Frontieres estimates that so far, over 13,000 Rohingya Muslims have died in the conflict.
Shutterstock

Anthony Ware, Deakin University

The UN Human Rights Council released a new report last Monday, which calls last year’s violence against the Rohingya “genocide”.

Released almost exactly a year after the start of devastating violence that drove 671,500 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh within a matter of months, the report found conclusive evidence that Myanmar’s armed forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Using the strongest language to date, the report calls for the Myanmar commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, and five generals to be prosecuted.

What was the UN investigating?

The UN Human Rights Council formed a Rohingya investigating commission in March 2017, five months before the start of the violence that led to the mass flight of Rohingya refugees. The initial reason for the commission was a five-month military “area clearance operations” in Rohingya communities from October 2016 to February 2017, which resulted in widespread allegations of human rights abuses and war crimes.

The commission was set up to investigate alleged human rights violations by military, “with a view to ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.” The August 2017 violence occurred after the commission had already begun, but obviously gave it more to investigate.

The “area clearance operations” were triggered by attacks against security forces on October 9, 2016, by a new militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). What really spurred the military into action was that the same day as the attacks, the organisation uploaded a series of 11 videos calling for international funding and fighters to join their jihad to liberate northern Rakhine State for the Rohingya – links were quickly found between the leader and the Taliban.

Apparently fearing a situation similar to the ISIS-linked Marawi crisis in the Philippines, the Myanmar army launched massive operations. But this military action failed to root out ARSA, and they responded with a second, much larger attack on August 25, 2017.

The Myanmar government quickly labelled the coordinated attacks by ARSA on over 30 security posts on a single night as “terrorism”. In response, the military quickly launched even more brutal counter-terrorist operations.

Obviously, any government must respond to violence perpetrated against its security forces. But the UN commission has been investigating alleged human rights abuses by the Myanmar army against the Rohingya people as a whole, as they tried to contain the armed threat.

What is the state of the Rohingya crisis?

The onset of brutal military action in their communities led to mass panic by Rohingya communities. Over half the Rohingya in Myanmar were so terrified they abandoned everything and fled to Bangladesh. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) quickly estimated that at least 6,700 Rohingya died in the military violence in the first month alone. Total Rohingya deaths were perhaps over 13,000 people.

By March 2018, the UNHCR counted 671,500 Rohingya who had fled Myanmar since August 25, 2017. Counting those who had fled earlier violence, the UNHCR was looking after 836,210 Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh.

Given some remain outside the camps, the Bangladeshi authorities claim 1,092,136 Rohingya refugees are now sheltering in their country. Only about 500,000-600,000 Rohingya Muslims now remain in Myanmar, and their situation is very vulnerable.

With allegations of Rohingya links to terrorism, some elements are trying to isolate these Rohingya villages and drive them out. On the other hand, there are many others locals rebuilding relations with local Rohingya.

What did the report find?

The Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released this week found conclusive evidence that the army and security forces had indeed engaged in mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya, with “genocidal intent”. It therefore recommended that the UN Security Council should refer the Myanmar commander-in-chief and five generals to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, or an ad hoc international criminal tribunal. The report also suggested that ARSA might be guilty of war crimes too, and should be held to account.

The report said that Nobel Peace Prize-laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her government “contributed” to the atrocities through “acts and omissions”. This is a serious critique, and the international community must continue to demand she and her government change policy direction on the Rohingya.

The report authors strongly criticised Suu Kyi in particular, for not using her moral or political authority to stem the hate speech or apparently attempt to limit the military response. However, the passive role described in this report does not leave her open to international prosecution.

How can the crisis be brought to an end?

With serious mass atrocity crimes now documented, it is now urgent that the power of the army be reined in. The Myanmar army must be brought under civilian, parliamentary oversight, and the key perpetrators be at very least removed from position. The military have clearly demonstrated that they need formal oversight, and that their current senior leadership are unfit for command.

Myanmar has long demonstrated its ability to be belligerent to the international community, and that it is prepared to isolate itself in the face of international criticism. If this occurs now, 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and up to 600,000 Rohingya in Myanmar remain in peril.

The perpetrators of mass crimes must be removed. But we must be careful that dogged pursuit of individuals for prosecution does not so undermine any hope of cooperation by the military and government, and thus further jeopardise the future and wellbeing of the Rohingya themselves.




Read more:
‘They shot my two daughters in front of me’: Rohingya tell heartbreaking stories of loss and forced migration


The repatriation of Rohingya to Myanmar is urgent, before all chance of them returning to their own land is removed. But repatriation plans to date don’t sufficiently guarantee their security and human rights guarantees. The international community needs to push for this, and engage more strongly than ever with the Myanmar authorities in achieving this outcome.

Likewise, the international community must commit resources now to ensure the security and future of the 600,000 or so Rohingya remaining in Myanmar. Much work must be done on strengthening social cohesion, and facilitating the sort of social change that would prepare the local population for accepting all the refugees back too. Now is not the time for broad sanctions and isolation, but engagement for the sake of the Rohingya.The Conversation

Anthony Ware, Senior Lecturer in International & Community Development, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Living through the horrors of genocide: humanitarian workers in Rwanda



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The genocide memorial in Kigali. Humanitarian workers in Rwanda had to deal daily with the horrors of war.
Trocaire/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Marc Le Pape, École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and Jean-Hervé Bradol, Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (FMSH) – USPC

They are on the frontlines of any major conflict or disaster – but how much is known about the daily experiences of humanitarian workers in these extreme situations? In their new book, Génocide et crimes de masse. L’expérience rwandaise de MSF (“Humanitarian Aid, Genocide and Mass Killings: Médecins sans frontières, the Rwandan experience, 1982-97”), Marc Le Pape and Jean-Hervé Bradol set out to answer some of these questions. The book is also informed by Bradol’s experience of working for Médecins Sans Frontières in Rwanda during the genocide. Here, they discuss their findings.


You investigated humanitarian operations in the Great Lakes region between 1990 and 1997. This was a period of extreme violence against Rwandophone populations. You specifically looked at the records of Doctors Without Borders in Paris. What did you hope to learn?

Marc Le Pape: The actual day-to-day work of humanitarian teams in situations of extreme violence is generally little known and understood. That’s why our investigations focussed on messages from the field, while most studies are far more concerned about getting the macro-political or macro-humanitarian picture. Taking a “micro” perspective meant we could observe the long-term evolution of operations: how, and with whom, did teams need to negotiate to launch and maintain operations?

So we looked at how these teams got information and communicated with political and military authorities, various local authorities, UN agencies in the Great Lakes region, local and international NGOs, religious leaders and people at emergency sites, in medical facilities and camps.

We also looked at the relationship between the field of operations, national capitals and the various Doctors Without Borders head offices. We tracked field accounts transmitted up the chain of command, how the organisation’s head offices reacted to the stories of violence, intimidation and prohibitions, and the way these were then framed and talked about publicly.

For example we examined all the documents, from internal alerts to public statements, demonstrating the gradual realisation of humanitarian workers in Rwanda in 1994 that they were witnessing the systematic, organised extermination of the Tutsi people.

Did humanitarian workers witness extreme violence?

Jean‑Hervé Bradol: It’s shocking to see, from 1994 onwards, the extent to which humanitarian workers became regular eyewitnesses to violence, murder and large-scale massacres. It is generally rare for humanitarian workers to witness these kinds of events. They typically work at a distance from mass killing sites and the perpetrators remain largely anonymous. This was not the case in Rwanda.

The situation in April 1994 was extreme and basically unprecedented, at least for Doctors Without Borders. Humanitarian workers where present when the decision was made as to who would die and who would be spared. Some Rwandan staff members were among the victims. Others were complicit, or even participated in these crimes.

Can you give a few examples of the violent situations Doctors Without Borders workers witnessed and what kind of lessons were learned – or not?

Jean‑Hervé Bradol: In April 1994 I was working in Kigali. In the first few days following the assassination of former president Juvénal Habyarimana, we braced ourselves for a massive eruption of violence. We thought there would be reprisals against the Tutsi, but never imagined that the order would be to “kill them all”.

Our team quickly realised that, at least in Kigali, the extermination of the Tutsi did not arise from chaos; instead, it was organised. Others also rapidly grasped the situation, in particular the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation. It was awful. We knew the army was providing arms to the militia groups manning the road blocks. This made it extremely dangerous to evacuate wounded Tutsi adults to the Red Cross hospital: when they were caught, they were executed.

Later, Doctors Without Borders workers also witnessed first-hand the horror of the prisons in Rwanda. Between September 1994 and May 1995, they worked in Gitarama, where 3,000 prisoners were incarcerated in a complex built for 400 detainees. Some 800 prisoners died during this period. These people were arrested based solely on hearsay. We were their doctors, so we could not escape the realities of the new regime’s policy and the crimes committed by the former rebels.

Among other shocking crimes committed by the new authorities was the Kibeho massacre in April 1995. The new Rwandan (formerly rebel) army killed several thousand people in an internally displaced persons refugee camp in front of a Doctors Without Borders medical team. People convinced themselves that one mass crime, the Tutsi genocide, could hide other mass crimes committed by the new government.

As a sociologist, did you learn things that you had not realised were important to aid NGOs?

Marc Le Pape: I learnt the extraordinary importance of counting populations: the numbers of people in camps and on the run, of victims and of people being treated.

Conducting frequent counts is of course crucial for humanitarian organisations, especially when they need to know how many supplies to bring to the field. In the case of emergency NGOs, counts are also politically important to back up first-hand accounts, ensure that the murders they have witnessed are documented, and oppose competing statements that claim to be based on figures.


The ConversationThis interview is published as part of the work of the “Violence and exiting violence” platform (Foundation Maison des sciences de l’homme), of which The Conversation France is a partner. It was translated from the French by Alice Heathwood for Fast for Word.

Marc Le Pape, sociologue (Institut des mondes africains), École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and Jean-Hervé Bradol, Médecin, Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (FMSH) – USPC

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ratko Mladic, the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’, to spend life in prison for genocide and war crimes


Melanie O’Brien, The University of Queensland

The former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, Ratko Mladić, has been found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and sentenced to life in prison.

Mladić was convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia of crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. The tribunal declared that the crimes he committed were “among the most heinous known to humankind”.

Trials of former high-ranking war criminals are often peppered with drama, and this week’s verdict announcement was no exception. Disruption of trials is a way for previously powerful people – usually men – to reclaim some of their lost power.

Halfway through the verdict summary announcement, Mladić requested a break. After a lengthy break, the court was informed that Mladić had high blood pressure, but on medical advice, deemed it appropriate to continue. At this point, Mladić refused to sit and began shouting at the judges: “this is a lie” and “shame on you”.

He was thrown out of court, and watched the rest of the proceedings from another room. This unfortunately meant that victims were unable to see his reaction to the long-awaited verdict and sentencing.

Long road to justice

First indicted by the Tribunal in 1995, Mladić stayed in military resorts, protected even though a fugitive. He later went into hiding until his arrest in Serbia in 2011. Mladić’s trial began in 2012, concluded in 2016, with the verdict delivered on November 22.

Mladić, who came to be known as the “Butcher of Bosnia”, rose through the ranks to become the commander of the Bosnian Serb army in 1992, participating in atrocities committed under Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević’s regime. Milošević was also tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, but died before he could be convicted.


Read more: Bosnia’s 25-year struggle with transitional justice


Mladić played a leadership role in these atrocities, commanding the army as it committed crimes across the regime. He has been convicted of “Joint Criminal Enterprise” – the international equivalent of conspiracy – alongside other leaders such as Milošević and Bosnian Serb politician Radovan Karadžić. The tribunal found that Mladić was instrumental in the crimes and they would not have taken place without his involvement.

The atrocities included the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted for 44 months from 1992-95. Some 10,000 people died during the siege, including many children. Some of Mladić’s other crimes were committed at internment camps such as Omarska and Foča, where thousands were tortured and raped. He has also been held responsible for the kidnapping of UN peacekeepers in order to leverage NATO to stop air strikes.

Convicting the high-ranking Mladić is symbolic and momentous, as he was the commander of the soldiers who carried out these actions.

Perhaps most significant is the conviction for genocide over mass killings at Srebrenica in July 1995. Some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed and buried in mass graves. Identification of remains is ongoing, with thousands of bones and personal belongings still being analysed in hope of a match for families that continue to seek the whereabouts of loved ones. Identification is hampered by the fact that two months after the killings, bodies were moved to alternative mass grave locations.

A welcome day for survivors

The many survivors have waited a long time justice, both for themselves and for their lost loved ones. Some victims travelled to The Hague to hear the verdict first hand.

It is particularly poignant, given that some of the war criminals convicted by the tribunal have already served their sentences and returned to Serbia and Bosnia, now living in communities with their victims. A life sentence for Mladić is a source of satisfaction to the victims; a minimum justice for their suffering and loss.

Legal consequences of this ruling are also substantial. Proving genocide in court is challenging for prosecutors, with the requirement of a “special intent” to eliminate part or whole of a specific population. Convictions for genocide are rare; only a handful of convicted perpetrators at the ICTY were found guilty of genocide, including Karadžić and Radislav Krstić, a deputy commander in the Bosnian Serb army.

The confirmation that the Srebrenica massacre was indeed a genocide is important, because many Bosnian Serbs continue to deny the fact. Victims hope the ruling will contribute to a broader acknowledgement, which in turn could help the reconciliation process.

Yet others have little hope that the ruling will change things. Srebrenica’s Serb mayor Mladen Grujičić still denies the genocide, and many Serbian nationalists still laud Mladić and his fellow war criminals as heroes.

Mladić was found not guilty of one count of genocide, in reference to a broader spate of killings throughout Bosnia. This is in keeping with previous decisions, where Srebrenica has been deemed genocide, but the overall objective of the leadership for the whole of the Yugoslav territory has not.


Read more: Ratko Mladić’s conviction and why the evidence of mass graves still matters


This verdict is the final judgement to be delivered by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, slated to close at the end of this year. Since it was established in 1993, the tribunal has indicted 161 individuals and convicted 84 perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Some 4,650 witnesses have appeared, more than 1,000 of whom testified about the Srebrenica genocide. There are only seven proceedings remaining, with the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals finalising cases. The tribunal has undoubtedly contributed to justice and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia.

However, success has not been absolute, with criticism that sentences have been too short. There is also inevitable post-atrocity denial of crimes committed by perpetrators and their communities, with continued rejection by Serbian communities and politicians of the validity and decisions of the Tribunal.

These 84 convictions are clearly only a small proportion of the thousands of perpetrators. With the wind-up of the tribunal, remaining perpetrators will continue to be tried at local war crimes courts in Bosnia.

Throughout Europe, 14 countries have housed convicted tribunal war criminals in their prisons. Mladić will serve his sentence in a country yet to be determined.

The ConversationWhile it may not bring their loved ones back, survivors can have some comfort in knowing the man who ordered and oversaw the atrocities will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Melanie O’Brien, Research fellow, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Religion is not the only reason Rohingyas are being forced out of Myanmar



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Minorities in Myanmar, including the Rohingya, are resilient in the face of persecution.
Giuseppe Forino, Author provided

Giuseppe Forino, University of Newcastle; Jason von Meding, University of Newcastle, and Thomas Johnson, University of Newcastle

Recent weeks have seen an escalation of violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine, the poorest state of Myanmar. A tide of displaced people are seeking refuge from atrocities – they are fleeing both on foot and by boat to Bangladesh. It is the latest surge of displaced people, and is exacerbated by the recent activity of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Religious and ethnic differences have been widely considered the leading cause of the persecution. But it is becoming increasingly hard to believe that there are not other factors at play. Especially given that Myanmar is home to 135 official recognised ethnic groups (the Rohingya were removed from this list in 1982).

In analysing the recent violence, much of the western media has focused on the role of the military and the figure of the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her status as a Nobel Peace prize laureate has been widely questioned since the latest evidence of atrocities emerged.

She continues to avoid condemning the systematic violence against the Rohingya. At least the media gaze has finally shifted somewhat towards their plight.

But there remain issues that are not being explored. It is also critical to look beyond religious and ethnic differences towards other root causes of persecution, vulnerability and displacement.

We must consider vested political and economic interests as contributing factors to forced displacement in Myanmar, not just of the Rohingya people but of other minorities such as the Kachin, the Shan, the Karen, the Chin, and the Mon.

Major ethnic groups in Myanmar.
Al Jazeera

Land grabbing

Land grabbing and confiscation in Myanmar is widespread. It is not a new phenomenon.

Since the 1990s, military juntas have been taking away the land of smallholders across the country, without any compensation and regardless of ethnicity or religious status.

Land has often been acquired for “development” projects, including military base expansions, natural resource exploitation and extraction, large agriculture projects, infrastructure and tourism. For example, in Kachin state the military confiscated more than 500 acres of villagers’ land to support extensive gold mining.

Development has forcibly displaced thousands of people – both internally and across borders with Bangladesh, India, and Thailand – or compelled them to set out by sea to Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia.

In 2011, Myanmar instituted economic and political reforms that led it to be dubbed “Asia’s final frontier” as it opened up to foreign investment. Shortly afterwards, in 2012, violent attacks escalated against the Rohingya in Rakhine state and, to a lesser extent, against the Muslim Karen. Meanwhile, the government of Myanmar established several laws relating to the management and distribution of farmland.

These moves were severely criticised for reinforcing the ability of large corporations to profit from land grabs. For instance, agribusiness multinationals such as POSCO Daewoo have eagerly entered the market, contracted by the government.

A regional prize

Myanmar is positioned between countries that have long eyed its resources, such as China and India. Since the 1990s, Chinese companies have exploited timber, rivers and minerals in Shan State in the North.

This led to violent armed conflicts between the military regime and armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and its ethnic allies in eastern Kachin State and northern Shan State.

In Rakhine State, Chinese and Indian interests are part of broader China-India relations. These interests revolve principally around the construction of infrastructure and pipelines in the region. Such projects claim to guarantee employment, transit fees and oil and gas revenues for the whole of Myanmar.

Among numerous development projects, a transnational pipeline built by China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) connecting Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, to Kunming, China, began operations in September 2013. The wider efforts to take Myanmar oil and gas from the Shwe gas field to Guangzhou, China, are well documented.

Pipeline from the Shwe gas field to China.
The Shwe Gas Movement

A parallel pipeline is also expected to send Middle East oil from the Kyaukphyu port to China. However, the neutral Advisory Commission on Rakhine State has urged the Myanmar government to carry out a comprehensive impact assessment.

In fact, the Commission recognises that pipelines put local communities at risk. There is significant local tension related to land seizures, insufficient compensation for damages, environmental degradation, and an influx of foreign workers rather than increased local employment opportunities.

Meanwhile, the Sittwe deep-sea port was financed and constructed by India as part of the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project. The aim is to connect the northeast Mizoram state in India with the Bay of Bengal.

Coastal areas of Rakhine State are clearly of strategic importance to both India and China. The government of Myanmar therefore has vested interests in clearing land to prepare for further development and to boost its already rapid economic growth.

All of this takes place within the wider context of geopolitical maneuvering. The role of Bangladesh in fuelling ethnic tensions is also hotly contested. In such power struggles, the human cost is terribly high.

Compounding the vulnerability of minorities

In Myanmar, the groups that fall victim to land grabbing have often started in an extremely vulnerable state and are left even worse off. The treatment of the Rohingya in Rakhine State is the highest profile example of broader expulsion that is inflicted on minorities.

When a group is marginalised and oppressed it is difficult to reduce their vulnerability and protect their rights, including their property. In the case of the Rohingya, their ability to protect their homes was decimated through the revocation of their Burmese citizenship.

Rohingya settlement near Sittwe.
Thomas Johnson

Since the late 1970s around a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar to escape persecution. Tragically, they are often marginalised in their host countries.

With no country willing to take responsibility for them, they are either forced or encouraged to continuously cross borders. The techniques used to encourage this movement have trapped the Rohingya in a vulnerable state.

The tragedy of the Rohingya is part of a bigger picture which sees the oppression and displacement of minorities across Myanmar and into neighbouring countries.

The ConversationThe relevance and complexity of religious and ethnic issues in Myanmar are undeniable. But we cannot ignore the political and economic context and the root causes of displacement that often go undetected.

Giuseppe Forino, PhD Candidate in Disaster Management, University of Newcastle; Jason von Meding, Senior Lecturer in Disaster Risk Reduction, University of Newcastle, and Thomas Johnson, PhD Candidate in Disaster Vulnerability, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

World must act to end the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar



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Rohingya refugees carry their child as they walk through water after crossing the Naf River border by boat to Teknaf, Bangladesh.
Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Chris Wilson

A new phase of massive violent ethnic cleansing is under way in Rakhine State in western Myanmar. An estimated 160,000 men, women and children of the Muslim Rohingya community have crossed into Bangladesh, fleeing indiscriminate attacks by the armed forces.

The military crackdown was in response to a co-ordinated assault against police posts by a Rohingya militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The militants killed 12 security personnel. In the armed forces’ “clearance operations” that followed, 400 people have died so far.

This is the latest wave of violence involving the local Buddhist Rakhine ethnic community and the Rohingya since 2012. Around 1,000 have died over this period, amid reports of mass rape and the deliberate razing of villages by the military.

About 250,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh in the past five years. Others have embarked on an often deadly journey to find asylum, while many more remain in squalid detention camps within Myanmar, to which aid workers or outside observers are regularly denied access. Satellite images suggest that over 100km of land has been burned in the recent attacks.

A boat carrying Rohingya refugees leaves Myanmar on the Naf River while thousands of others wait their turn in Maungdaw, Myanmar.
Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Survivors have recounted numerous atrocities such as beheadings and the slaughter of children. These are often acts of intimidation intended to ensure communities do not return. It seems likely that another round of violent, intentional and perhaps permanent expulsion has occurred.

History of the conflict

The causes of the turmoil are as complex as they are old. Rakhine State is the poorest region in Myanmar. Both the Muslim Rohingya and the indigenous Buddhist Rakhine community have suffered longstanding injustices at the hands of the military regime and each other.

Many Rakhine believe they lost large tracts of traditional land when the British encouraged Bengali labourers to move into Burma after assuming control in 1824. Large-scale violence between the two communities has occurred several times since the second world war.

Many Rakhine died when the Rohingya fought for Muslim-majority parts of northern Rakhine State to be integrated into East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Subsequent military campaigns drove many Rohingya into Bangladesh: 250,000 in 1978 and a further 250,000 in 1991 and 1992, although many were forcibly repatriated to Rakhine.

Many Rakhine now seemingly support the expulsion of the group from the state, with some participating in recent military-led attacks. The ARSA attacks have dramatically worsened the already perilous position of the 1 million Rohingya left in Rakhine.

The broader political context

Also driving the contemporary violence are two broader phenomena. The first is political liberalisation since 2005; the second is a national discourse that denies the Rohingya rights as citizens of Myanmar.

A 1982 citizenship law stripped the Rohingya of the status of one of Myanmar’s “national races”, deeming them to have entered the country after 1823. This means they have no citizenship, voting rights or the right to travel. Any property they own remains vulnerable to expropriation.

Now that a partial democracy has come to Myanmar, both national and Rakhine-based political parties (such as the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party) deride the Rohingya as “Bengalis”, “interlopers” and the perpetrators of brutal crimes. This is a way of radicalising and thereby capturing the Buddhist vote.

The historical record suggests that these claims of the Rohingyas’ recent arrival in Myanmar are questionable. Many are descended from Bengali labourers who arrived after 1823, but this means they have resided in the state for almost two centuries.

And many Rohingya also lived in Rakhine before 1823. In 1799, Francis Buchanan, a visiting representative of the East India Trading Company, reported meeting “Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan (Rakhine), and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan”. Many Muslims were living in Rakhine under the Kingdom of Mrauk-U between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Has the hatred become genocide?

Buddhist nationalists, in particular the Ma Ba Tha (Patriotic Association of Myanmar) led by the monk Ashin Wirathu, are promulgating much of the hatred of the Rohingya. Despite Muslims constituting only 4% of Myanmar’s population, he and other nationalists have portrayed the Rohingya as a potentially devastating cultural and physical threat to Buddhists in Myanmar.

Wirathu’s extremism has brought him a large following and, with it, political influence. He successfully pushed a series of “race and religion” laws through parliament, including a population control bill he described as necessary to “stop the Bengalis”.

Boys stand among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya in western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Myanmar.
Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

Many observers now say that recent events in Rakhine constitute genocide. The bar to this most heinous of crimes is set very high, reserved for events intended to eliminate a group in whole or in part.

The difficulty of proving intent has left many large-scale killings uncategorised as genocide. But it seems increasingly apparent that the military’s campaign against the Rohingya meets this restrictive criterion. The repeated mass violence, the execution of civilians, destruction of villages, and atrocities designed to engender terror and effect permanent exodus, combined with the government’s ongoing denial of citizenship and other rights, all point to an intention to eliminate the Rohingya as a distinct group within Myanmar.

Using a phrase commonly used in genocides around the world, the Myanmar army chief said recently that the Bengali problem was a longstanding one which has become an unfinished job.

How can and should the international community intervene?

It is difficult to see how these waves of killings and forced expulsions will cease without international involvement. While her supporters will say she can do little in the face of ongoing military power, government leader Aung San Suu Kyi has chosen to inflame rather than calm the situation. Her office has referred publicly to “Bengali terrorists”, claimed aid agencies are assisting Rohingya militants, stated Muslims are burning their own houses, and denied any wrongdoing by the military.

Regional and international states should intensify their pressure on the Myanmar government and the military to halt the violence and protect all civilians, whether citizens or not. ASEAN states in particular should pressure Myanmar to bring the crisis to an end.

Once this has been achieved, several measures might help reduce the frequency and intensity of the violence. The first and most important step is to grant the Rohingya naturalised citizenship and the rights that go with it. The group would then continue to live in the state, be allowed to vote and hold politicians to account.

To deflect the concerns of Rakhine, the Rohingya will need to rescind their claim to indigenous status and their ties to a traditional homeland in Rakhine. The implementation of certain electoral mechanisms – such as requirements for parties to win a portion of the votes from each community and for pairs of running mates to include a member from each group – will also slowly depoliticise ethnicity in the state.

The provision of aid, which must be rapid and substantial, must be carefully balanced so as not to cause further anger. It should be delivered to both displaced and non-displaced communities from both Rakhine and Rohingya.

The ConversationNone of these measures will be easy. All will face substantial resistance. But the alternative is ongoing mass killing and displacement, and further radicalisation.

Chris Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.