News from Burma/Myanmar’s Rohingya Genocide


Maung Zarni – TRANSCEND Media Service

Travels and intense activist work, and observing INGOs, old and new, treating the on-going Rohingya genocide as if it were a business item among rivals, have drained me tremendously.

11 May 2018 – Grassroots organizers who travel a lot can tell you we see airports, train stations or bus stops, meeting halls, hotels or motels and then time to head to airports, airport parking lots after arrival.   I for one would stay up well-after working dinners at fancy or not so fancy hotels, walk around alone, play National Geographic urban landscape photographer, in beautiful old cities like Koln or Cologne.

Turkish-German Foundation named Hasene headquartered in Cologne organzied and held 2-day conference where about 500 human rights activists, scholars, and campaigners from Europe, USA, Australia and Asia gathered to bang our heads for a viable solution.

Such global civil society gatherings are most crucial, especially when we the politically and intellectually independent activists, answering to our conscience and the cries of Rohingya survivors for the need to get their own homes back, is crucial.

Our activism may be sufficient to make Rohingya homeland a reality.  But without our organic political activism at the human and communal levels, no state will lift a finger to end Myanmar genocide.

We are most certainly NOT beholden to moneyed interests, not dictated by any particular State, nor within the un-viable, failed policy frameworks emanating from world capitals where only corporate and national security interests matter, in the final analysis.

As such many of us don’t have a seat at the table where representatives of states, UN, EU and other global bodies sit around and issue empty statements, to the bitter disappointments of victims of genocides and wars.

Enter Syria or Aracan or Rakhine.

Security Council delegation under the rotating Presidency vacating at the end of April by Peru and currently occupied by Poland that visited the world’s most concentrated refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.

Historically since around 1784, Cox’s Bazaar has been a sanctuary for the refugees – Rakhine, Rohingya, Arabs, Armenians, etc. who fled by the hundreds of thousands as the Burmese feudal troops invaded and characteristically ransacked the independent, cosmopolitan coastal kingdom of Arakan where Buddhist, Christian, Muslims, Hindus, and so on intermingled and lived peacefully in a remarkably tolerant Buddhist kingdom adjacent to the equally remarkably tolerant Muslim Empire of the Indian sub-continent.

Read Amartya Sen’s “Argumentative Indian” to get a glimpse of how intellectually and culturally tolerant, vibrant and free the Muslim-ruled India was.   So neither Hindu-Buddhist system of kingship in pre-colonial Burma nor Muslim-inspired feudal rule in pre-colonial India can be said to be manipulating people’s faiths for ulterior motives.

This, is a new phenomenon that has arisen as the direct result of the political classes (and organizations/parties) in New Delhi  and Naypyidaw, which despicably play on people’s religious emotions and fear of the cultural Other in order to pursue their vile political agendas.

Returning to my original subject of civil society activism versus the highest body of the Inter-state System (misleadingly termed “United Nations” as if the organization were about nations and peoples) which has proven utterly incapable, ill-designed and unprepared to activate its Chapter 7 in cases where military and political interventions are fully warranted: by any legal or social scientific assessments, the member state of Myanmar, jointly (mis-)ruled by the loathsome and murderous Myanmar generals and the West’s ‘democracy queen’ (in Burma) – as Professor Yanghee Lee put it in her Feb interview with UK’s Channel Four – has been committing crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.

Madam Aung San Suu Kyi receiving her Yo-Yo President Win Myint (former Speaker of the paper-tiger Myanmar Parliament).

The world’s most significant political body, namely Security Council, has kept failing millions of human victims of these crimes – not just in Burma but globally. They have no one, no institution, no God that will lift a finger for the end of their sufferings, beyond humanitarianism which simply keeps them alive under inhuman and sub-human conditions which most of us typing away our rage-filled words on our laptops would call “life”.

Thank you, UN, for the biscuits, rice, potatoes, and onion, of course!  But the ultimate goal ought to be the end of the genocide, which destroyed Rohingyas from their very social, physical, historical, biological and spiritual foundations on which life rests.

As diplomats typically trained to put out spins, lies, half-truths in the face of unpalatable truths and moral imperatives – like necessary interventions to end genocides and large scale crimes against humanity.

Warren Christopher, Bill Clinton’s first Secretary of State, was at pain issuing a script to all US missions in the midst of mass killings that “certain acts of genocide may have taken place”, while the genocidal process was going on for years, my Hutu friends painfully share their grounded knowledge which surpasses any genocide experts’, not to mention lawyers’, hell-bent on dissecting the word “INTENT”.     Once again the States and their collective legal system privilege – immorally – the killers’ intent, not the victims’ experience.

But Law is NOT coterminous with ethics, justice or humanity.

It is a bit like Bill Clinton splitting the word “is” , under hostile questioning by the Special Counsel Kenneth Starr, when he got cause molesting a young White House intern, with the infamous cigar.
After 30 years of interacting with diplomats as an activist rooted in the real world of the wretched of the earth, I simply can’t stand diplomacy and the humans that are capable of suspending their conscience, presumably they have it.

The last time the British Foreign Office officials wanted to meet with him I told them to come to a pub at Waterloo Station during officer hours – and they did.   Simple: I don’t want anything from them and they want something from me.  So, I set the time and place of the meeting, not they.
Truth is I couldn’t no longer be bothered to go through security checks, putting a business suit and making myself available to the State so that its  low level representatives could extract information from me, which they would certainly use selectively for their pre-ordained agenda for my country of birth.

No love lost between an anarchist who view States through the lens of the late Charles Tilly – the world’s largest criminal syndicates under the veneer of “social contract” or benevolence – and a Neanderthal State’s functionaries.

The self-same diplomats and UN officials could be found expounding esoteric legalese to justify their governments’ invasions of foreign countries, or doing nothing in cases their countries’ corporate and national security interests are at stake.

In my book the Security Council is categorically dead.   It is spelled D-E-A-D.

Jesus may have arisen biblically speaking, my friends, have no illusions.  This body entrusted with ensuring peace and security of the post-WWII world is dead.

Painting – Pietro Pajetta – Der Hass – 1896

I see the politics of states around the Security Council as nothing more than acts of necrophilia – a cluster of humans trained to be most impressively disingenuous when they open their mouths, mind-numbingly hypocritical, lacking in moral or intellectual substance, sitting around this iconic round table in an ugly high rise on the bank of New York’s Hudson River.

I watched the British Rep to UN  Karin Pierce, speaking at the press conference held in Naypyidaw when she said there were two options: ICC (which is simply impossible via Security Council’s political route given the Chinese veto:  Burma-China, Israel-USA, you get the drift) or national tribunal under Aung San Suu Suu Kyi’s judicial leadership, with the international help.

(As a matter of fact, this ICC or national justice mechanism is also a factually false binary which she stupidly set up).

Her Excellency Pierce should have been a stand-up comedian, instead of dealing with genocides: Britain’s senior diplomat on world stage saying it is a credible option for the murderous military regime – and the ignoble leadership that dismisses credible UN reports of mass rape by command as ‘one-sided’ or ‘methodologically non-credible’ – to be conducting its trial?    Kafka could NOT have come up with the more pathetically absurd line!

The same Pierce was found tweeting that the Security Council has a consensus on Myanmar:  wolves conduct your own inquiry into who is eating the hens.

As my wife and colleague Natalie pointed out that the Security Council delegation was keen to emphasize that they came to help the States of Myanmar and Bangladesh.  Rohingyas were apparently not their focus, not was their group identity mentioned – or once.

Here is the live-broadcast of that press conference:

AFP’s reporting on the press briefing is worth a glance.

Then get ready for the poor taste joke brought to you by the 15-member Security Council -at Rohingyas’ expense.

Security Council Press Statement on Security Council Visit to Bangladesh, Myanmar

Reuters’ news agency chimed in with this misleading title:

UN Security Council pushes Myanmar over Accountability.

A similarly misleading statement – about UK -was made by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon yesterday  – that UK is working to bring to account Myanmar’s rapists.  My friend Azeem Ibraham responded with a terse, to the point tweet: “No, it is NOT”.

On his part, Professor C Abrar rightly slammed the Security Council delegation’s dismal performance – and meek and mild stance – on the genocide.  No amount of diplomatic twisting will erase the genocidal nature of the crisis.

The Security Council and the Rohingya: Yet another charade?


Against this sordid backdrop of international politics where victims and survivors of genocide and wars have no real institutions to turn to the current chorus of cries for accountability and justice for Rohingyas coming from INGOs are hence needed and welcome.

However, there is something rather conceptually screwed up with this push for accountability while the genocide is still going on – with nowhere for the survivors that can call their homes.

If ICC accountability and Rohingyas’ Protected Return to Protected Homeland are equally non-feasible under the current climate, then protected homeland has incomparably far great potential to inspire grassroots communities to work towards, most importantly Rohingyas – elites and refugees in Cox’s Bazaar alike.

ICC does NOT offer a place for Rohingyas: the paradigm of protected homeland does.

Everyone remotely familiar with international justice – if at all – knows that by the time the lawyers arrive and the Court set up, the targets are all dead, their villages bulldozed in the case of Rohingyas, and they have nowhere to go or no place they can call ‘home’ or their homeland.

At the Cologne conference I heard Bosniak survivors of Serbian genocide talk about “intervene” to stop Milosevic’s genocide at EU’s doorstep, or “give us weapons”.   We know what happened in that fateful July day in Srebrenica.    Twenty years on, mothers of Srebrebica are still searching for the bones of their loved ones, who were being cold-bloodedly mass-executed as the CNN filmed the women and girls filing out of the killing fields as part of the agreement between the UN Peacekeeping Dutch contingent and the genocidal Serbian army.

At the Cologne Conference I met two such mothers, and they were deeply human and inspirational.  They came to say a few words of solidarity for the Rohingya mothers – and their loved ones.

But the situation for Rohingya mothers (and widows) are far worse than their Bosniak counterparts: they still do not have access to the killing fields which are part of their ancestral homeland where they can begin their bone-searching.

Let the Rohingya struggle for the real deal – protected return to protected homeland.


A Buddhist humanist from Burma, Maung Zarni is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, former Visiting Lecturer with Harvard Medical School, specializing in racism and violence in Burma and Sri Lanka, and Non-resident Scholar in Genocide Studies with Documentation Center – Cambodia.  His analyses have appeared in leading newspapers including the New York Times, The Guardian and the Times. Among his academic publications on Rohingya genocide are The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingyas (Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal), An Evolution of Rohingya Persecution in Myanmar: From Strategic Embrace to Genocide, (Middle East Institute, American University), and Myanmar’s State-directed Persecution of Rohingyas and Other Muslims (Brown World Affairs Journal, forthcoming). He holds a PhD (U Wisconsin at Madison) and a MA (U California), and has held various teaching, research and visiting fellowships at the universities in Asia, Europe and USA including Oxford, LSE, UCL Institute of Education) , National-Louis, Malaya, and Brunei. He is the recipient of the “Cultivation of Harmony” award from the Parliament of the World’s Religions (2015).

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 May 2018.

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