Myanmar Cardinal Bo Calls Human Rights Campaigners, Researchers and Scholars on Rohingyas “Extreme” and Joins Aung San Suu Kyi’s Genocide Denial


Maung Zarni – TRANSCEND Media Service

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo and Aung San Suu Kyi.
(Photo: Myanmar Church Review)

26 Jun 2017 – Response to Myanmar Cardinal Charles Maung Bo’s Statement of his public denial of Rohingya ethnic cleansing.

First, Bo’s statement – 26 June 2017

Dear Friends,

I am a pastor. I am not a professional in politics or international law. The terms and laws discussed by the international community are beyond my mandate. I am moved by human suffering. Moved by my faith vision of justice with compassion, I have been raising voice against all kinds of oppression in this country.

This nation has a great potential to provide a great future to her sons and daughters. But millions are now in poverty, millions in unsafe migration, forced into modern forms of slavery. Conflicts and displacements. I have never compromised on the rights of any people to their dignity. My faith has inspired me to raise my voice at a great personal risk. Even when many voices were muted, I have raised my voices against religious extremism, the plight of IDPs, treatment of minorities. I have opposed all the anti minority laws.

The sad and the pestering suffering of the people in Rakhine state has been one of my great concerns. This concern is shared by Pope Francis who has raised his voice on behalf of the Muslims known as ‘Rohingyas’ .

We continue to raise our voice on behalf of them. When as boat people they were perishing in the seas, I have pointed out the inhuman root causes of this tragedy. At the UN in March 2016 and again in the British Parliament in May 2016 I described the horrific persecution of ‘Rohingyas’ as : an appalling scar on the conscience of my country. Recently when the report of the UN on the treatment of ‘Rohingyas’ we have appealed to the government to ‘ Let the devastating report serve as a wake up call for all”

Again, it is for legal scholars, and human rights experts, to determine how to categories egregious human rights violations in Rakhine State, Kachin State and northern Shan State, and indeed throughout Myanmar. Even experts like Mr. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary general advised all groups to be careful in use of terms. Allegations of ‘ethnic cleansing’, war crimes and crimes against humanity should be fully and independently investigated. The warnings of potential genocide need to be heeded. Therefore, I called “on the government of Myanmar to work with the international community to investigate the crimes reported by the United Nations, in a truly independent way that results in justice and accountability.”

Myanmar as a nation faces many challenges. We are anxious that all parties pursue the path of peace. Democracy is not perfect but we are eager that extreme positions and words do not force a relapse into days when no one had any rights. Myanmar cannot live through another such spell.

The world is increasingly judging the government on how the IDPs and the minorities are treated in Rakhine. Myanmar government must move away from positions that are not conducive to peace and its good name in the international community. Those who support ‘Rohingyas’ are right in condemning all human rights violations but they too need to move forward maximizing peace based on justice at every opportunity. Intransigent positions and words may not further the cause of the victims for whom all of us continue to raise our voice. Continued pressure coupled with an openness to engage all parties is the way forward.

Myanmar is moving, not fast as the international community and human rights groups wish but changes are happening. Peace Conferences are held where all stakeholders sit for dialogue. Inter religious peace gatherings are gaining strength, sidelining the extremist elements. These steps are not perfect but encouraging signs. Let not words and categories stall the rebuilding process.

We need to bring all parties together in unity, not divide at this moment.

Let our actions and words help to strengthen the consensus building processes without sacrificing our commitment to the refugees, IDPs and persecuted people like known as ‘Rohingyas’.

Peace is possible – Peace is the only way //end Cardinal’s statement//



I am not speaking as an average Joe from Burma.

I have deep ties with the issue of Rohingyas in the last 50 years.

My late close relative was #2 military commander in charge of the predominantly Rohingya administration before the military radically shifted its policy towards Rohingyas, from one of acceptance to systematic persecution, with waves after waves of violence while imposing conditions that can only be understood or interpreted as community-destruction. He was also one of the commanders who supported Ne Win’s coup of 1962.

I gave up my academic career as my employer – the Sultanate of Brunei – pressured me, without success, into silence – as the 2012 waves of violence broke out. Ninety-percent reliant on natural gas for its income, the Sultanate was more keen on investing in Burma’s emerging gas and oil sector than protecting the persecuted fellow Muslims in Burma.

All the crucial officials and advisers who have been involved in the persecution and denial of persecution were either my very, very close friends, former teachers or military contacts – including the Vice President ex-LtGeneral Myint Swe who heads the Maung Daw Violence Inquiry Committee which found “no wrong doings” by the Burmese troops, the late Dr Myo Myint who headed President Thein Sein’s Rakhine Inquiry Commission, Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing who served as Thein Sein’s main adviser on Rohingyas and General Mya Tun Oo who is the main spokesperson for the military on the Rohingyas, to name a few.

Although it is not spelled out in the Genocide Convention sociologists of genocide and other mass atrocities consider DENIAL as a part of any genocidal process and practise – across the word.

The Cardinal has crossed the line.

​Here is my substantive response:​

This is a poorly written PUBLIC RELATIONS RESPONSE to his​ ​ un-thoughtful and un-justified DENIAL of an international crime committed by Myanmar.

And this does not explain or justify it. In fact, it makes it worse. I find it as an act of utter DISHONESTY and BACKPEDALING.

Coming from a moral and spiritual leader it is an outrageous statement. It is in my view the Cardinal’s politically motivated realignment with Aung San Suu Kyi’s position.

For the greater good of the majority, this issue must be approached from the perspective of “reconciliation” – when the NLD gov which is run by the ex-military – has stepped up its efforts to frame Rohingyas as hellbent on destabilizing the region and running military and terrorist training.

Here are concrete and substantial issues that need to be understood: :

1) if the pastor doesn’t feel qualified – as he admits – to comment on the legality of the persecution then he should NOT comment on it – except say he is deeply troubled by the great sufferings of Rohingyas.

2) he or whoever wrote that statement for him – frames – disingenuously – ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity as “extreme positions”. WRONG: it is NOT POSITIONS. It is an an informed, professional attempt to apply the existing international criminal law.

Those make that application of the international law – which governs, in theory at least, the conducts of all UN member states – and non-state actors – include Yale Law School, Queen Mary University Law School (top among UK’s law departments), Yugoslavia tribunal legal experts, University of Washington Law School – which published my very first full-length academic study on the Rohingya genocide, UN Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteurs with​ their own​ teams of legal scholars​ and practitioners whom they can access​, HRW, Amnesty International – virtually all credible UN and non-UN scholarly and research communities​ specialising in human rights law​.

It is because the weight of evidence is TOO GREAT NOT TO resort to international human rights law.

3) Kofi Annan commission clearly understood and said officially in the press conference in Rangoon releasing their interim report that the SCOPE of their work does NOT include human rights crimes. They met with the most crucial organizations in Geneva – involved in monitoring the situation in NRS – Red Cross, UNHCR, UN Human Rights Council, among others – and understood DIFFERENT and NECESSARY respective works by ​the latter.

​In her responses to various country representatives from EU, Australia, etc. ​SR Professor​ Yanghee Lee was VERY CLEAR in March that her mission and that of the Human R​ights​ Council are DIFFERENT from Annan Commission work.

Crimes committed against Rohingyas are not something that can be shoved under the rug of “communal reconciliation” for 2 reasons: first, it is on-going (by the mere fact that the genocidal character of the mistreatment of the Rohingyas which fils the legal bill of Article 6 of the Rome Stature 2.c (impose the conditions designed to destroy the community – not simply resort to direct killings its members) and second, the military-controlled State, the main perpetrator, is NOT showing any signs of seeking or facilitating reconciliation.

A bit like NLD gov – run by ex-military, with ​S​uu ​K​yi as figurehead – is talking peace and Panglong while the military in service is launching airstrikes and ground assaults on KIA and Northern Alliance save the UWSA.

Even in its most pragmatic approach the Cardinal’s Utilitarian logic – does not hold water.

4) why is the Cardinal qualifying the usage of ethnic identity “Rohingyas”? (As a matter of fact, only a few years ago, he called publicly Rohingyas “illegal Bengali).

5) no one would fault the Cardinal Charles Bo for NOT commenting on the nature of the perspective as it pertains to international law. For the world does not expect spiritual leaders to come up with any legal commentaries or comments on the deeds of the states and non-state actors or cite jurisprudence. ​

By the same token no one would expect these spiritual leaders to DENY or DISMISS the findings and assessments that are framed in legal discourses.

In my judgement – knowing the contextual background of the Cardinal rise in the Church’s hierarchy, who nominated him, who endorsed him (Aung San Suu Kyi who dismisses and denies UN human rights team’s finding – forget all of the rest of the studies on Rohingya persecution) – the Cardinal is playing politics here.

This damning backpedalling – damning to his own reputation and to the Rohingyas – isn’t simply about Rohingya-Rakhine reconciliation or the restoring of rights to us, the non-Rohingya majority. It is in fact a PAYBACK.

It is like the late US Supreme Court justice the late Antonia Scalia casting a vote in favour of George W. Bush (against Al Gore) in the case that involved recount (or stopping the recount) of the ballots in the swing state of Florida: Scalia was appointed by the George Bush, Senior, the father.

The Cardinal is engaged in no small part in the act of repayment (and in the advancement of the Church’s newly established diplomatic ties with Myanmar. which was accomplished with Suu Kyi’s second and most recent visit to the Vatican where she and the Pope sealed this establishment.

​There is this scheduled visit by the Pope to Bangladesh where he will certainly meet with the Bangladeshi cardinal​​, and most likely meet with or say something on the half-million most downtrodden Rohingya refugees.

​I met the Cardinal at the Human Rights Council in Geneva 2 years ago. Although I am Buddhist I called him Father, most genuinely and out of sincere respect for the fact that he was speaking on publicly on the Rohingyas’ plight. ​

But this politiking unworthy of a top spiritual leader troubles me, and reminds of how the Church behaved in the midst of the Holocaust.

Here is one of the best works – officially on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum site – on the role of the Catholic Church in the Third Reich. (Just browse the table of contents at the link to get a flavour of its deeds while the Holocaust got on the way.

Hitler’s Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism…/hitlers-priests-catholic-clergy-and…

For the Church with a dark history of collaboration with the Nazi Genocide this fiasco is consequential and most alarming.

There was a very famous Catholic priest in the Block 11, the Death Block, at Auschwitz I whose cell I paid a visit a few months ago, and closed my eyes and held a moment of silence in his memory. The German pastor volunteered to be executed in exchange for saving a fellow prisoner of Jewish background. He calmly bathed himself as inmates were required before they walked to the firing line against the wall about 30 yards away from the shower room, prayed and walked to his death where the SS-firing squad was waiting.

I don’t expect Cardinal Bo to replicate this extraordinarily courageous, spiritual and humane act. But I expected him to show greater moral strength than flipflopping on the persecuted minority.

There is more to Myanmar Cardinal’s response to the scathing critiques and Facebook comments than meets the eyes.

The Cardinal is not going to get out of this hole. As the English saying goes, “if you are in a hole don’t dig.” ​

The Cardinal Maung Bo is digging in the hole he created himself.

​Most sadly,


Charles Bo’s racist comment about Rohingya as “illegals” 

The Archbishop of Yangon explains that “Rohingya means the Rakhine population: they are defined the population of Rakhine State , however, there are no Rohingyas but only Bengali ” . “The point is that, long ago, a hundred years ago, they came to Myanmar. They – Msgr . Bo added – have the right to citizenship and the restrictions against them should be removed. At the same time , there is a large number who only recently moved to Rakhine State … a few years ago. Citizenship must be assessed case by case . Certainly it can not be generalised”.

Full article here:


Dr. Maung Zarni is a Burmese activist blogger, Associate Fellow at the University of Malaya, a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, founder and director of the Free Burma Coalition (1995-2004), a visiting fellow (2011-13) at the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, London School of Economics, and a nonresident scholar with the Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia. His forthcoming book on Burma will be published by Yale University Press. He was educated in the US where he lived and worked for 17 years.

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