Dancing with the demon of destruction

September 19, 2017




















Arakan is burning. The Burmese rulers appear to be on the brink of achieving their much-
longed-for a “final solution” of the Rohingya question. A reign of terror has been let loose in
northern Arakan. Rohingyas are being shot, butchered, disembowelled, torched and drowned.
Women are being raped and gang-raped, and children are being mutilated often in front of their
helpless parents and siblings. To stave off foul smell from the rotting corpses, they are either
being charred or dumped in shallow mass graves, often dug under duress by the ones who are
to meet the same fate. Village after village are being torched, resulting in “midnight in summer
noon.” In short, genocide of unimaginable barbarity is in progress against the Rohingyas. 

Those who managed to flee had harrowing tales to share. A mother who was away from home
when attackers came later found her baby daughter cut into halves; a paralysed elderly woman
unable to run was torched to death; people trying to flee atrocity were indiscriminately fired upon
from helicopter gunships. Many survivors suffer from the heart-wrenching burden of not being
able to provide the last rites to their loved ones, not even sheets to cover the bodies; a fleeing
mother has to live with the agonising memory of watching vultures zeroing in on the mutilated
body of her dead son whom she was unable to bury.

Their flight was no less distressing. Most walked for days on difficult terrains through hills,
jungles and knee-deep water, often drenched in monsoon rain, constantly in fear of being
attacked by the military or their cohorts, and by armed goons who pounced on them for
whatever meagre valuables they were carrying. Many narrated that their fellow travellers'

journey was harshly cut short as they could no longer endure hunger and hardship, some falling
victim to snakebites. Losing family members as they ran in different directions during the
mayhem and at night-time treks in deep jungles was also reported.

When they were about to cross the border with Bangladesh and were beginning to feel relieved,
they were faced with the stark reality of denial of entry. Left with no option, they had to pick up
both energy and hope to undertake the next part of the trip, not to mention through more
perilous and vulnerable routes. Others capable of dispensing fair sums of money secured the
services of fixers, thriving on facilitating border crossing. The story of exploitation of the
escaping people by unscrupulous locals has been aptly covered by this daily in several reports.
For instance, a fleeing family was paid only Tk 8,000 (less than USD 100) in exchange for ten
cows that they managed to bring with them.

This is the gruesome reality of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas escaping the genocide
being committed by the Burmese authorities. The world is witnessing the Arakan version of
Rwanda and Srebrenica massacres. Commentators, campaigners, politicians, Nobel laureates,
faith leaders and general masses in many parts of the world have been stunned by the stance
taken by the unofficial head of the Burmese government, Aung San Suu Kyi, the icon of liberty
and freedom. Strong criticism and caricatures of the fallen idol have flooded the social and print
media. Some view it as her inability to stop the genocide crafted and executed by the Burmese
military against her wishes; the less charitable ones accuse her of being an active accomplice.
As Mark Farmaner of Burma Campaign UK, in his incisive piece published on HuffPost on
September 13, 2017, reminded us that while Suu Kyi continues to receive the flak for failing to
live up to her image, it is the military that completes the unfinished agenda of ridding Arakan of
Rohingyas. Quite cogently, he puts forward the case that the powerful states, including those
who present themselves as champions of human rights and rule of law and style themselves as
moral guardians of countries like Bangladesh, are pampering and promoting the head of the
Burmese army, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Included among are the US, Germany, Italy,
Austria, the European Union, Japan and India.

Hlaing is reputed for his hard-line stand in dealing with Kachin, Shan and Rohingya
communities. The General “is guilty of ethnic cleansing, he is under investigation for war crimes
and crimes against humanity and he is the biggest obstacle to democratic reform,” effectively
running a parallel government in the country.

The Obama administration lifted most of the US sanctions targeting the country's military in
October 2016; the British government continues to provide training to the army; Germany and
Austria accorded “red carpet treatment” to the General when he visited those countries; Italy
hosted him last year; and the EU “even had him address their prestigious annual meeting of
military heads of EU countries.” The Prime Ministers of Japan and India were perhaps honoured
to grant him audience. The latter provides the Burmese army a range of military hardware from
artillery guns and rocket launchers to war gaming software. Quite understandably, the Israel and
Burma relationship is premised on transferring knowledge of Israeli oppression and
dispossession of the Palestinians. As Israeli rights activist Ofer Neiman observes, “Weapons
used against the Palestinians are being sold as ; to some of the worst regimes on
the planet,” including Burma.


This policy of placating the Burmese military commander in his vicious genocidal campaign
against Rohingyas and crimes against humanity harks back to the policy of appeasement of the
western alliance on Nazi Germany. The above reality explains the palpable reticence of western
liberal states in holding the Burmese generals accountable for genocide and crimes against
humanity. Their duplicity becomes brazen when they leave no stone unturned to prosecute the
likes of Robert Mugabe and Omar Al Bashir for similar charges.

Thus, it is not only the Burmese generals who are to be made accountable for genocide of the
Rohingyas and crimes against humanity perpetrated against other nationalities in Burma, their
liberal external patrons also have a case to answer. After all, it is the latter's relentless pursuit of
resources, strategic and commercial interests, including that of arms trade, bereft of human
rights considerations, that has shored up this brutal regime. With impunity it unleashed the
demon of destruction in this 21st-century Burma. Sadly, the much-celebrated corpus of human
rights declarations, covenants and conventions lies in tatters as do the books of nursery rhymes
of Rohingya children in burnt-out villages of Arakan.


(c) 2017 The Daily Star,

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