Hannah Beech writes: Whenever I met with Ko Ni, whether seated in his office, with its flickering electricity and precarious piles of law books, or sipping tea in the moldering headquarters of Myanmar’s then-opposition political party, the image that came to mind was that of Atticus Finch — though an Atticus wearing a Burmese sarong. With his salt-and-pepper hair and upright bearing, Ko Ni was the consummate honorable lawyer. He persevered for decades as one of Myanmar’s top constitutional experts despite living under the rule of a military junta with little respect for judicial process. Every day, he woke up and prepared to throw himself, pro bono, into hopeless cases. One day in his office, I saw a stack of papers at the foot of his desk. On top was a copy of the Bulgarian Constitution. You never know, he said, when knowledge of such a document might prove useful.
On January 29th, Ko Ni, sixty-three years old, was assassinated at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. He had just returned from a democracy conference in Indonesia and was waiting for a taxi curbside, while holding his young grandson, when a gunman in sandals sauntered up and pumped a bullet into Ko Ni’s head at close range. Nay Win, a taxi driver who tried to chase down the assassin, was also shot to death. (Ko Ni’s grandson, who had come with relatives to greet his grandfather, tumbled out of the lawyer’s arms but was unhurt.)
As a senior legal adviser to the National League for Democracy, or N.L.D., which is the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize laureate and advocate for democracy, Ko Ni certainly had enemies. He had called for amending, or even rewriting, Myanmar’s Constitution, to reduce the power of the military that had drafted it in the first place. He was also a Muslim, a faith that makes up less than five per cent of the population in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation. Being a Muslim in Myanmar has proved perilous in recent years, particularly in the country’s far western Rakhine state, where hundreds of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnicity largely stripped of citizenship, have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more displaced. A February report by the United Nations accused Burmese security forces of having unleashed a campaign of mass murder, torture, and rape late last year. On March 2nd, Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights, reiterated that pogroms against the Rohingya “may amount to crimes against humanity.” Anti-Muslim violence has also flared outside of Rakhine, in places where Burmese of various faiths had long lived in harmony. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Pope Francis on Wednesday issued a fresh rebuke against Myanmar over its repression of the Rohingya minority group, just days after a United Nations report concluded that security forces had slaughtered and raped hundreds of men, women and children in a “campaign of terror.”
“They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith,” Francis said of the Rohingya in his weekly audience at the Vatican.
He asked those present to pray with him “for our Rohingya brothers and sisters who are being chased from Myanmar and are fleeing from one place to another because no one wants them.”
The pope urged Christians “to not raise walls but bridges, to not respond to evil with evil, to overcome evil with good,” and added: “A Christian can never say, ‘I’ll make you pay for that.’ Never! That is not a Christian gesture.”
The remarks were widely seen as a reference to President Trump’s vow to make Mexico pay for a wall along its border with the United States, though the pope did not mention Mr. Trump by name.
The Economist reports: Syed, a 33-year-old Muslim religious teacher, feared the worst. On October 9th Rohingya militants attacked border posts near Maungdaw, a township in the north of Rakhine state in western Myanmar, killing nine Burmese border guards. Syed, himself a Rohingya from Rakhine, was sure that a vicious crackdown by Myanmar’s army would follow. So he put on non-religious clothes and shaved his beard. Along with 16 others he left his home village. For days the group hid in a forest. Eventually they crossed the Naf River, which separates Myanmar from Bangladesh, and found their way to the sprawling, ramshackle Kutupalong camp near the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar.
Syed’s fears were justified. Myanmar’s army has blocked access to much of Maungdaw, keeping away journalists, aid workers and international monitors (troops claim to be searching for stolen guns and ammunition). But reports have emerged of mass arrests, torture, the burning of villages, killings of civilians and the systematic rape of Rohingya women by Burmese soldiers. At least 86 people have been killed. Satellite imagery analysed by Human Rights Watch suggests that soldiers have burned at least 1,500 buildings — including homes, food shops, markets and mosques (one devastated area is pictured). The organisation says this could be a conservative estimate; it includes only buildings not obscured by trees. Amnesty International says the army’s “callous and systematic campaign of violence” may be a crime against humanity. Myanmar’s government denies all such allegations, dismissing many of them as fabrications.
Around 27,000 Rohingyas — members of a Muslim ethnic group native to Rakhine — have recently, like Syed, fled to Bangladesh. But about 1m of them remain. Before the recent turmoil, tens of thousands of Rohingyas in northern Rakhine relied on aid for food, water and health care. The blockade has severed that lifeline.
Such brutality does not reflect well on Aung San Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel peace prize who has led Myanmar since her party’s resounding electoral victory in 2015. Neither does ethnic conflict, which has been intensifying on the other side of the country, speak well of her skills as a peacemaker. She entered office saying her priority was to resolve Myanmar’s decades-long civil wars. [Continue reading…]
Ohio State attacker complained bitterly in Facebook post of treatment of Muslims ‘everywhere,’ reports say
The Washington Post reports: Just minutes before an 18-year-old Somali college student used a car and butcher knife to attack people on the Ohio State University campus Monday morning, he said in a Facebook post that he’d reached a “boiling point” and was “sick and tired” of seeing Muslims around the globe “killed and tortured,” law enforcement officials told CNN and NBC.
The post said the U.S. should stop “interfering” in the Muslim world and referenced “lone wolf” attacks.
The post appeared to be on the Facebook page of the alleged attacker, Ohio State student Abdul Razak Ali Artan, and has since been disabled, reported ABC News. The Post could not independently confirm the story.
On Twitter, CNN’s Jake Tapper shared the full text of the post, which he said law enforcement officials confirmed was connected to Artan.
It began with a general denunciation of violence against Muslims “everywhere,” then referenced specifically the Rohingya Muslim community in Burma, who have been long-persecuted and are denied citizenship and basic rights. While the struggles of the Rohingya Muslims receive little publicity in the U.S., their situation has attracted more attention in recent weeks, as the Post’s Annie Gowen reported. Thousands of them have been fleeing into the forests and neighboring Bangladesh on the heels of a brutal military crackdown that followed a terrorist attack on police posts Oct. 9, allegedly carried out by Rohingya militants.
This week, a United Nations refugee agency official told the BBC that Burmese troops were “killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river” into Bangladesh.
The official claimed the government’s goal was “ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority.” [Continue reading…]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar that has been systematically denied the most elemental rights: citizenship, freedom of worship, education, marriage and travel. Tens of thousands of the Rohingya were driven from their homes by violence in 2012; last year many tried to flee persecution and deprivation in desperate sea voyages.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi — Myanmar’s leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate — does not want to call them Rohingya, the name they use, because nationalist Buddhists want to perpetuate the myth that they are “Bengalis” who don’t belong in Myanmar. She has also asked the United States ambassador not to use the term. Her advice is wrong and deeply disappointing. The Rohingya are every bit as Burmese as she is.
There are many possible reasons Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi — whose 15 years under house arrest made her one of the world’s best known and most respected political prisoners — might be reluctant to publicly embrace the Rohingya cause. It has been barely a month since she became leader of Myanmar’s first democratically elected government since 1962, with the title of state counselor, and she no doubt fears antagonizing the Buddhist nationalists who angrily demonstrated outside the United States Embassy in late April after the embassy referred to the “Rohingya community” in a letter of condolence for Rohingya victims of a boat sinking.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi may fear that publicly calling these people by their name would upset the national reconciliation process, as a Foreign Ministry official said, or worse: that it would rekindle the terrible violence that erupted in 2012 between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine State.
There is no question that Rakhine State, one of the poorest in Myanmar, is a complex tinderbox of sectarian resentments that requires the most cautious of political approaches. But these simply cannot be based on a perpetuation of the systematic persecution and marginalization of the Rohingya in Myanmar’s social and political life. They certainly cannot be based on denying the Rohingya even their name. [Continue reading…]
Maung Zarni writes: Though in exile 6,000 miles away from Myanmar, I can almost taste the euphoria of my fellow dissidents. Aung San Suu Kyi’s wildly popular opposition – the National League for Democracy – has won a landslide in the multiparty elections, and 31 million voters, most apparently backing the NLD, are savouring a long-awaited moment of jubilation. The NLD leader, whom they call Amay or mother, appeared on TV, her eyes shining with tears of joy.
Even foreign journalists covering the country in the 25 years since Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest have scarcely been able to conceal their excitement at the prospect of a new era of freedom and democracy, ushered in through her non-violent, pragmatic leadership.
Myanmar’s Mandela moment has arrived. Or has it?
A sober analysis may be in order. Aside from the fact that Myanmar’s military leaders have, constitutionally, blocked any possibility of “the Woman” with her two “impure-blooded sons” and “foreign privileges” assuming the presidency, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party faces huge barriers to turn a resounding electoral mandate into a real step towards a genuinely representative government.
And this is not the first time the public has felt euphoric about the power of its votes. In May 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi and her then fledgling opposition party won a decisive mandate taking 82% of the parliamentary seats and 62% of the total votes. That landslide came despite the fact that the generals placed her and her senior colleagues under house arrest on the eve of the elections, in effect barring them from the electoral process. So the opposition knows how it feels to fail to convert this mandate a quarter-century ago into a real political gain or put the country on the path of democracy. [Continue reading…]
Myanmar has taken a potentially momentous step away from dictatorship and towards democracy. More than 6,000 candidates from 91 political parties competed for the votes of 33m registered voters on November 8 in the country’s first credible elections since 1960.
The precise outcome won’t be known for days, but Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is claiming to have gained at least 70% of the votes cast. Senior figures in the ruling party are conceding defeat.
No one should underestimate the significance of power changing hands in Myanmar via the ballot box. However, this will only finally occur in March 2016, when the newly-elected MPs vote for a new president and a new government will be formed.
The New York Times reports: The young woman had been penned in a camp in the sweltering jungle of southern Thailand for two months when she was offered a deal.
She fled Myanmar this year hoping to reach safety in Malaysia, after anti-Muslim rioters burned her village. But her family could not afford the $1,260 the smugglers demanded to complete the journey.
A stranger was willing to pay for her freedom, the smugglers said, if she agreed to marry him.
“I was allowed to call my parents, and they said that if I was willing, it would be better for all the family,” said the woman, Shahidah Yunus, 22. “I understood what I must do.”
She joined the hundreds of young Rohingya women from Myanmar sold into marriage to Rohingya men already in Malaysia as the price of escaping violence and poverty in their homeland. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The government of Myanmar says it is determined to stop the departures of migrants fleeing religious persecution in places like this bitterly divided port city, but it will not budge in its refusal to address the conditions driving the exodus across the sea.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group, fled the country in recent months, setting off a regional crisis when boatloads of migrants were abandoned at sea or abused and held for ransom by traffickers.
But the government insists that most of the migrants do not belong in Myanmar, referring to them as Bengalis, and says it has no plans to alter policies that strip them of basic rights and confine more than 140,000 to a crowded, squalid government camp here.
“There is no change in the government’s policy toward the Bengalis,” U Zaw Htay, a deputy director general of the Myanmar president’s office, said in an interview this week.
Under international pressure, as crowded vessels baked and bobbed in the ocean for days with no country willing to take them in, regional leaders met in Bangkok last month, and the immediate crisis was relieved when the migrants were granted temporary refuge.
But any hope that Myanmar might have been persuaded to soften its position was quickly dispelled.
When a government delegation returned from the talks, the state news media hailed the officials as managing “to refute accusations that the boat people were from Myanmar.”
And those people, despite the reports of horror stories at sea, are no less desperate to leave. [Continue reading…]
Der Spiegel reports: Nuralam often sits awake for hours at night when a lukewarm wind blows through the hut, carrying with it the smell of the sea. He peers over at his sister lying next to him on the mat. He sees his brother at his feet and his mother, both of whom are sleeping. If he were to run to the sea as he once did and surrender himself to it facing in the direction of Malaysia, as he once did, then he would have to leave them all alone here, in a refugee camp in western Burma.
Of course they would miss him. But wouldn’t this provide his siblings with more room in the hut? And couldn’t Nuralam — a 23-year-old diminutive young man with a quiet voice and an ankle-length cloth wrapped around his waist — finally become a real person? “A person with work,” he says. “And with rights.”
As a member of the Rohingya Muslim religious minority, he is not recognized by his country as a citizen. In recent years, radical Buddhists have been agitating people against his religion. Even though he was born in Burma, the authorities refer to him as a “Bengal.”
What keeps a man like Nuralam in a country in which he is stateless and won’t even give him a passport? With a lack of anything better to do, it is a thought that has preoccupied Nuralam countless times in the camp.
During his walks, he has repeatedly seen naked children standing and playing in the sewage. So far this year, more than 25,000 Rohingya have fled in boats across the Gulf of Bengal. The images of their desperate odyssey off the coast of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been transmitted around the world. “I wanted to be one of them,” Nuralam says.
On the night of April 14, when everyone was asleep, Nuralam stood up on his mat. He walked quietly out the door and ran down to the beach. He had made an appointment with a smuggler who was waiting for him there. Nuralam didn’t know what odyssey he was about to embark on. He just wanted to put the insanity in Burma behind him for good. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: Anti-Muslim protestors supported by Buddhist monks gathered in Burma’s main city of Rangoon this week to denounce the United Nations for “bullying” their country into accepting desperate migrants who have been stranded at sea in abandoned boats.
People waving multi-colored Buddhist flags led a column of several hundred marchers as they chanted slogans against the Rohingya minority who, with their distinct language and darker skin, are considered outsiders and denied citizenship in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
It was the latest in a series of Buddhist hate rallies in the country, a phenomenon that has become common here but has yet to penetrate the psyches of many westerners who associate saffron-robed monks with peace and compassion.
“Yes, we have compassion for all people in our Buddhism, but we have to protect ourselves against our enemies,” said Thuta Nanda, a monk, as people gathered with placards and t-shirts bearing slogans urging the international community to “Stop blaming Myanmar” for the boat crisis.
“In Buddhism, we want to help others,” added protester Htet Htet Soe Oo, “but Muslims are different, their religion teaches that they should kill us.”
If any group of people could benefit from the compassion that many associate with the teachings of the Buddha, it is Burma’s Rohingya Muslims. The group of roughly one million is almost completely friendless, widely despised inside predominantly Buddhist Burma and unwanted by neighboring countries. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: The Dalai Lama has urged fellow Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do more to help Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority amid a worsening migration crisis.
“It’s very sad. In the Burmese (Myanmar) case I hope Aung San Suu Kyi, as a Nobel laureate, can do something,” he told The Australian newspaper in an interview published Thursday ahead of a visit to Australia next week.
Despite thousands of Rohingya fleeing on harrowing boat journeys to Southeast Asia to escape poverty and discriminatory treatment by the country’s Buddhist majority, opposition leader Suu Kyi, who is celebrated as a human rights and democracy champion, has not yet commented on their plight.
The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader said she must speak up, adding that he had already appealed to her to do more on their behalf twice, in person, since 2012, when deadly sectarian violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state saw violent attacks by Buddhist extremist groups against the Rohingya. [Continue reading…]
Tahmima Anam writes: In 1971 Ravi Shankar and George Harrison organised a concert in New York City’s Madison Square Gardens to fund relief efforts for war-torn Bangladesh. The album featured the image of a starving child on the cover, which became a symbol of an impoverished country emerging out of the rubble of war. Forty-four years later, another image is now associated with Bangladesh: that of the abandoned refugees who float on the Andaman Sea with no hope of rescue.
We’ve all seen the photographs of these refugees. We’ve seen them hanging their emaciated limbs off the sides of their boats. We’ve seen the scars on their backs,earned in fights over scarce food and water. We’ve read their harrowing stories of their being abandoned at sea, rejected by one government after another.
It is estimated that up to 8,000 refugees are marooned in the sea between Bangladesh and Malaysia. Most of them come from Rakhine state, in Burma, where as members of the Rohingya community they are denied the basic rights of citizenship. The rest are economic migrants from Bangladesh. [Continue reading…]
Jason Motlagh writes: In June 2012, mobs of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists tore through Rohingya Muslim neighbourhoods in the coastal town of Sittwe, attacking anyone in their path. Mohammad Idriss, a member of the persecuted minority, took refuge with relatives indoors. In a moment of panic, his younger brother made the mistake of jumping from a window, only to be caught and beaten to death with sticks and iron rods.
Idriss says that a neighbour dealt the first blow to the head. “All victims deserve justice, but I don’t think it will be possible even in a decade,” he says, reflecting on the massacre that night. “Our situation is hopeless.”
The killings were part of a gathering wave of sectarian violence that has spread to other parts of the country, amid accusations that security forces have turned a blind eye to bloodshed. Two years on, Idriss and most of the 140,000 Rohingya uprooted from their ancestral homes live in what have been likened to concentration camps, trapped between armed guards and the sea. Burma’s government insists it is for their own protection, but aid groups have been kicked out, and food and medical supplies are limited, resulting in a surge of deaths from treatable illnesses. [Continue reading…]
Time reports: During her long career as a teacher, Nafeesathiek Thahira Sahabdeen prided herself on treating children of all backgrounds the same. That didn’t help her on June 15, though, when a radical Buddhist mob ransacked her home in Dharga Town, a thriving trading hub in southwest Sri Lanka. The 68-year-old Muslim was left “penniless, homeless and heartbroken,” she says. “I thought I would die. I was so afraid.”
The anti-Muslim violence that ravaged Dharga Town, along with the nearby tourist enclave of Aluthgama, peppered with five-star resorts, has been attributed to a burgeoning Buddhist supremacy movement that has embarked on an organized campaign of religious hate.
Sahabdeen speaks to TIME in the ransacked living room of her gutted home. The ceiling fan lies in splinters, the sink ripped from the wall, a portrait of her long-deceased father torn in two. She was alone at prayer when around 200 young men “armed with knives, iron bars, chains” arrived at her home just after dusk. “I could hear them smashing, smashing, smashing,” she says, eyes welling up and fingers clasped together in supplication. “All around were flames.” [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: By the time the baby girl was brought to the makeshift pharmacy, her chest was heaving, her temperature soaring. The supply of oxygen that might have helped was now off limits, in a Doctors Without Borders clinic shut down by the government in February.
A hospital visit was out of the question; admission for Rohingya Muslims, a long-persecuted minority, always requires a lengthy approval process — time that the baby, named Parmin, did not have. In desperation, the pharmacy owner sent the family to the rarely staffed Dapaing clinic, the only government emergency health center for the tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims herded into displaced people’s camps. Although it was just 4 p.m., the doors were shuttered.
“We became like crazy people, running everywhere,” the child’s grandmother, Daw Mu Mu Lwin, said. With no good choices left, the family returned to the pharmacy, where Parmin died, untreated, three and a half hours later, cradled in her grandmother’s arms.
The baby’s death was part of a rapidly expanding death toll and humanitarian crisis among the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that Myanmar’s Buddhist-led government has increasingly deprived of the most basic liberties and aid even as it trumpets its latest democratic reforms. [Continue reading…]