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The US amidst Rohingya crisis in Myanmar

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The US amidst Rohingya crisis in Myanmar

Even limited sanctions on Myanmar would have a major effect since that would signal that the US is placing humanitarianism on agenda, says Ranu Joardar

In 2016, the world witnessed massive exodus of Syrians, and in 2017, Rohingyas are fleeing to escape rape and death from the hands of their own country’s military and Buddhist chauvinists. Soon, in response to this, world political leaders and stalwarts joined the chorus of outrage at Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. While all are busy criticising the Nobel laureate and erstwhile champion of the oppressed for refusing to condemn the army and its actions, the US seems have hit the bull’s eye.

The Rohingya community has been facing persecution since the 1970s. When the junta Government finally accepted Suu Kyi’s NLD party’s victory in 2015 polls, a ray of hope to see the end of decade-long persecution shone in the eyes of the Rohingya people. Everyone hailed her heroic resistance to the junta Government for democracy and the cause of humanity.

Yet even now Suu Kyi refuses to call the country’s main Muslim community by its name. She has diligently refuses to condemn atrocities by the military. And when after 10 weeks of the ruthless crackdown by the Myanmar’s army that drove more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims from their homes, the country’s de facto leader finally visited the scene to tell people not to “quarrel”.

While the world opted to walk in a singular fashion of condemning and snatching away honorary degrees from Suu Kyi, the US, however, has stopped short of calling the atrocities a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, and instead called for imposing sanctions on Myanmar (as under the Myanmar Constitution, the military and not the civilian Government holds three key ministries — defence, border, and home affairs).

According to many, the US not calling the atrocities on Rohingyas a textbook example of ethnic cleansing or such similar synonymous words is highly inappropriate. But US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says, “What’s most important to us is the world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in that area. We really hold the military leadership accountable for what’s happening with the Rakhine area.”

Ahead of Tillerson’s visit to Myanmar, Washington announced that it will end military aid to some Myanmar units involved in the forced displacement of the Rohingya minority. A few weeks ago, US Senator Edward John Markey called on the administration to put Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the Myanmar military, on the SDN list — the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List — which blocks assets of the person in question and curtails their travel. “Putting Gen Min on the SDN list,” Markey said, “would send a clear signal to those responsible for these atrocities that they cannot act with impunity.”

During the one-day trip, Tillerson said the US is deeply concerned by “credible reports” of atrocities committed by Myanmar’s security forces and called for an independent investigation into a humanitarian crisis in which hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh. Speaking at a joint news conference with Suu Kyi in Myanmar’s Capital, he said the US would consider individual sanctions against people found responsible for the violence, but he would not advise “broad-based economic sanctions” against the entire country.

Recently, the US State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said the United States will not permit units and officers involved in operations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State to receive or participate in any US assistance programmes. The United States has even rescinded invitations for senior Burmese security forces to attend US-sponsored events and urged Myanmar to grant the international observers and media unrestricted access to the sites of alleged abuses. The State Department has also halted its consideration of travel waivers for senior Myanmar military leaders and is now considering targeting economic measures against individuals, along with targeted sanctions, like freezing assets of senior Burmese military officials and suspending all business with the military and its affiliates. “We are assessing authorities under the JADE Act to consider economic options available to target individuals associated with atrocities,” Nauert said, referring to the 2008 Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act.

According to many experts, the recent visit by Suu Kyi (though a hoax) with one of Myanmar’s wealthiest businessmen was in response to the proposed sanctions and travel restrictions on Myanmar military officers accused of orchestrating atrocities that human rights groups say amount to crimes against humanity.

In a recent chat with this writer, Rafiq Dossani, Director, RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy, said that targeting

sanctions, even if in a limited way, would have a major effect since it would signal that the

US is placing humanitarianism on the agenda and that more sanctions will follow.

Recently during the APEC summit, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used a face-to-face meeting with Suu Kyi to lay out some of the evidence he has seen on the state-led violence that has shaken her country and set off a huge refugee crisis. However, this meeting was like earlier discussions where reports on atrocities in Rakhine were displayed before Suu Kyi. Here, she admitted Myanmar had a history of oppression, which need to be dealt with. She also expressed a strong will to engage with Bangladesh to allow for the return of refugees to Myanmar and to rebuild based on a plan laid out by former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

Soon after this, Bob Rae, Canada’s special envoy for the Rohingya crisis, said: “But for us the key question is: It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. And that, I think, is where we’re going to have to continue to push hard to make sure that there’s implementation of basic steps that need to happen.”

While the Rohingyas wait in desperation for some action and not mere words against the Myanmar’s military from our esteemed political leaders and the UN, right now all eyes are on the results of the Tillerson visit.




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