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World turns blind eye to ‘world’s worst humanitarian’ crisis in China-backed Burma

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — A “climate of fear and persecution” face Burma’s minority Rohingya population as a year of unrelenting human rights abuses and forced expulsions continue by the country’s Beijing-backed military rulers.

As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told a stunned Security Council meeting, “The massive refugee emergency that began one year ago in Rakhine state, Myanmar, has become one of the world’s worst humanitarian and human rights crises.”

Much of the world is still not watching. Perhaps it’s crisis overload, perhaps it’s resignation.

Rohingya refugees, at Kutupalong Refugee Camp, in Bangladesh. / Andrew McConnell / UNHCR

Rohingya refugees, at Kutupalong Refugee Camp, in Bangladesh. / Andrew McConnell / UNHCR

In an impassioned address to delegates, Guterres, himself a former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warned, “Last month, I visited Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh and heard stories of horrendous persecution and suffering.”

The special meeting came just a day after the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva issued a withering report on Myanmar’s AKA Burma’s ruthless campaign against the Rohingya minority which highlighted “patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses” committed by the security forces, which “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.”

The UN report says that six senior military officials in Burma should be investigated for genocide against the Rohingya Moslem minority. The document equally faults Burma’s de factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize laureate, for failing to stop the attacks.

Burma’s Buddhist majority military regime denies formal citizenship rights to the Rohingya.

In the past year over 700,000 Rohingya have been forcibly displaced from their homes in Burma and into neighboring Bangladesh.

Mass killings and burning of villages triggered what U.S./UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called, “ethnic cleansing.”

In a memorable and compelling address, actress Cate Blanchett a UN Goodwill Ambassador who recently visited the the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh stated, “I am not here as an expert. I stand before you today only as a witness. As someone who has seen and cannot look away.”

She recounted, “Nothing could have prepared me for the extent and depth of the suffering I saw.”

“The many refugees that I spoke with consider Myanmar their home but they have real, deep fears about returning there…Refugees move back home when it is safe and secure to do so,” added Blanchett.

Indeed as the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs Lord Ahmad intoned, “But the solution to this crisis, let us be clear, lies in Burma. The Rohingya deserve justice.” He added, “the Rohingya must be able to return home to Rakhine safely, voluntarily and importantly, with dignity. That means more than returning to IDP camps on the Burmese side of the border, but real progress towards a more just long-term solution and state of affairs in Rakhine.”

The Burmese military has suggested that Rohingya are free to return under specific conditions.

Presently there are over 700,000 Rohingya refugees, who join an additional 300,000 displaced persons from previous rounds of fighting. Burma, a country of 55 million people has long battled various minority groups including the Christian Shan and Karen people and more recently the Muslim Rohingya.

Current UN humanitarian and reconstruction plans are woefully underfunded.

Secretary General Guterres warned, “It is clear that conditions are not yet met for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingya refugees to their places of origin or choice.”

Since seizing power in 1962, the Myanmar military has been supported by China allowing for a climate of human right abuses, economic corruption and a dutiful deference to People’s China. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Laureate and once the “goddess of democracy” who won reasonably fair elections in 2015, remains the country’s de facto leader, though true power rests with the Generals who have placed the once revered politician into political checkmate.

China calls the shots in this resource rich Southeast Asian state.

Back in 2007, both China and Russia used a rare double veto to torpedo a human rights draft resolution on Burma. Moreover getting a serious human rights resolution through the Security Council is near impossible given Beijing’s diplomatic cover fire for Burma’s rulers.

Myanmar’s delegate blamed the current tragedy on domestic terrorists; “These events were well planned and executed with the support of foreign terrorist organizations.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley stated forcefully, “We are now all armed with the devastating eyewitness accounts of the Rohingya…the attacks were planned, premeditated and coordinated. The perpetrator was the Burmese military and security forces.”

Amb. Haley added, “The whole world is watching what we will do next, and if we will act.”
Washington must keep the pressure on Burma’s Generals.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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