INTERVIEW - ‘Committed int’l leadership needed for Rohingya issue’

Famous Burmese dissident Dr. Maung Zarni speaks to Anadolu Agency on heartrending plight of Rohingya Muslims and what can be done to resolve it.

Famous Burmese dissident Dr. Maung Zarni speaks to Anadolu Agency on heartrending plight of Rohingya Muslims and what can be done to resolve it, in Istanbul, Turkey on April 24, 2018. ( Selin Çalık Muhasiloviç - Anadolu Agency )


In a rare exclusive interview, Myanmarese scholar and democracy advocate Dr. Maung Zarni spoke to Anadolu Agency on the ongoing humanitarian crisis involving Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence and persecution in the Rakhine state and Turkey’s important role specifically to help them return to the ‘Protected Homeland’.

- ‘The Rohingya are misframed as a proxy for terrorists’ You are a Buddhist academic but you support the Rohingya Muslims. How did the genocide take place? Why do you oppose the genocide as a Buddhist?

Well, I am not supporting Rohingya Muslims because they are Muslims.

I am supporting that they are fellow humans from my country and they are oppressed not because they take up arms, not because they are trying to gain independence or separate from Burma, but because they are Rohingya and they are misframed as a threat to national security.

As you know, they are misframed as a proxy for the terrorists in the Middle East. They are also seen and misperceived basically as local proxies for Bangladesh, if Bangladesh were ever to decide to take the Rohingya region.

So, essentially the Rohingya are innocent and they have a small number of radical or young angry Rohingya who want to fight back because they do not have any option because they have lost everything.

But, that does not justify what the Burmese military has been doing, which is essentially “genocide”.

If I do not speak out and oppose, I would be less than a human being, because this kind of genocide can destroy our community and poses a threat to the territorial integrity of Burma.

In the case of the Rohingya, we have been engaged in different ways of killings since 1978 when the Burmese military decided that this community must not be allowed to exist as Rohingya or their numbers must be reduced by terrorizing them so that they would run away to Bangladesh or other places.

So, on the religious or philosophical ground, the killings must not be condoned, especially given that I know that the Burmese military destroys their livelihood, food systems, and restrict their access to farms where they can raise or harvest food crops like rice.

If I do not speak out, then it is my responsibility, then I am complicit.

In this kind of situation when you keep your mouth shut, you know that a large number of human beings are being slaughtered; then I am complicit.

Similar to the situation in the Nazi Germany, when some decent and good Germans kept their mouth shut as they were afraid for their lives.

But, there were also a very small number of Germans who said Nazism was bad for everybody, including the Germans.

So, they opposed when a lot of people were executed by the SS, or the Hitler regime. In my case, I have been declared the top enemy of the state and a national threat.

But, if you do not want your children to be raped and killed, you should not want any other people’s families to be hurt either.

The Rohingya are not small in number. We are talking about 800.000 Rohingya who have run away from their lands.

They are someone else’s wife, husband, brother, teacher... They are human beings like us. I personally know some of the people that rewrote the citizenship law against the Rohingya in 1982.

I also know the top leader of the military that organized the genocide. As a researcher, I know. So, on these grounds, I have no choice but to oppose these inhumane acts.

That’s why I am the first Buddhist who publicly says this is wrong. I named these acts as crimes as early as 2013 when everybody basically ridiculed me, saying that I was exaggerating because they did not see the large numbers of people being killed. The government has often restricted access to the northern Rakhine State for journalists and aid workers. What kind of restrictions have you experienced as an academic and activist? What kind of price have you paid? Has this price been worth paying?

Firstly, let me tell you that I have been active for 30 years in different campaigns or movements to try to stop the military government in Burma and to introduce the principles of human rights, women’s rights, environmental protection etc.

Rohingya is the latest issue that I want to do something about, to end the genocide. In the last 30 years, I haven’t suffered in the form of imprisonment, torture, or restrictions as I come from a privileged, urban, and educated family.

But I do get some “treats” from time to time. When I was living in Brunei and teaching there, the Burmese Embassy tried to have me fired from the Brunei University because the Brunei government wanted to do business with the Burmese government.

Brunei is a Muslim country but they are more interested in making money with the Buddhist government. So, unfortunately I resigned from my position under pressure because I had written a number of articles in support of the Rohingya Muslims. - ‘Kofi Annan Commission is a failure’

In September 2016, an advisory commission headed by Kofi Annan was established to sustain the peace and stop the massacre of the Rohingya Muslims. Do you think that this commission has been successful in its efforts?

The Kofi Annan Commission is a huge international shield to protect the Burmese government because Kofi Annan is seen as a credible individual.

I have never held Kofi Annan in any high regard particularly because Kofi Annan was the man on whose watch two genocides took place.

The first genocide was that of the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, who were slaughtered in 1995 when Kofi Annan was the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in New York.

The second one was Rwanda. 800.000 people were slaughtered and Kofi Annan concealed the telegram that had come from the head of the peacekeeping mission in Rwanda to his office in New York.

Additionally, Kofi Annan did nothing in South Sudan when the South Sudanese were being killed by the regime. Nonetheless, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the UN.

His commission had two other foreign members; the former Dutch ambassador and the former Lebanese minister of culture.

On this issue, their mandate was not to document the human rights abuses or decide whether a genocide is being committed in Burma. Their mandate was to look at the situation from our conflict-mediation perspective.

His commission’s framework is fundamentally flawed because the nature of the Rohingya persecution is not a conflict; it is a genocide. Genocides are not conflicts.

Genocide is essentially the destruction of an ethnic or religious or racial group of people by the political state that is controlled by the majority ethnic or religious group.

In our case, the Buddhist majority that controls the arm forces and the Rakhine state wanted to get rid of all the Rohingya or a large number of Rohingya who happen to be Muslims from their own homeland.