Will the genocide against Rohingyas continue?

Rohingya refugees who were forced to leave their country by Myanmar security forces arrived in Bangladesh to save their lives. Photo Mostafizur Rahman.

By Haider A. Khan
Apr 6 2019 (IPS-Partners)

According to UN investigators in late 2018 and early January 2019, genocide against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has hardly stopped . All objective reports indicate that the government is demonstrating by its inactions that it has no interest in preventing genocide and establishing a genuine democracy for all in Myanmar.

Marzuki Darusman, chair of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar, is on record stating that thousands of Rohingya are still fleeing to Bangladesh. Furthermore, those who remain in Myanmar even after last year’s brutal military campaign against Rohingyas — an estimated 250,000 to 400,000—- “continue to suffer the most severe” restrictions and repression. “It is an ongoing genocide,” according to the chair of the UN fact-finding mission.

It would appear according to the statements by Yanghee Lee, the UN special investigator on human rights in Myanmar that Aung San Sun Kyi , the Nobel peace prize laureate and former political prisoner who now leads Myanmar’s civilian government, “is in total denial” about accusations that the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar raped, murdered and tortured Rohingya and burned their villages. One consequence has been the forced migration of Rohingyas fearing for their lives. About 700,000 have fled to Bangladesh since last August, she stated.

“The government is increasingly demonstrating that it has no interest and capacity in establishing a fully functioning democracy where all its people equally enjoy all their rights and freedoms,” according to Lee. “It is not upholding justice and rule of law”, is the judgment of experts such as Lee. She further pointed out that Sun Kyi who “repeatedly says[that all people enjoying equal rights and freedom] is the standard to which all in Myanmar are held” is being less than truthful about the Rohingya situation. It is tragic for the Rohingyas and hypocritical and disgraceful behavior for a former human rights activist like Sun Kyi.

For historical record, it should be mentioned that the British colonialists were the originators of the problem and Pakistani policies from 1947 onwards exacerbated the problems created by colonialism.

The future of Northern Arakan (Rakhine) became a subject of diplomatic spat between Pakistan and Burma because Pakistan would not give up its support for the faction of Arakanese Muslims who were put under the leadership of a pro-British leadership during WW2. In Northern Arakan, which shared its border with British India from 1937 when Burma was detached from the latter, and after 1947 with the then East Pakistan, the Muslims formed 60% of the population of Buthidaung Township and 45% of the Township of Maungdaw. To make matters worse, these Muslims as a group were punished by the Burmese government after the independence of Burma in 1948, and were classified in the then Burmese census as Pakistanis. Justifiably, the external affairs department of the Pakistani government disagreed with this view.

In fact, primarily because of the British machinations, the rivalry between the two communities in Burma had intensified during World War 2. A good part of the nationalist Burmese population rendered assistance to the Japanese. On the other hand, a segment of the Muslims in Northern Arakan were armed by the British for anti-Japanese guerrilla warfare. Even after the formal independence of Burma, the guerrilla activities of Muslims did not cease but continued under the name of “Mujahid Movement” which resisted Burmese central government control. The Burmese press accused Pakistan a number of times of giving not only sanctuary to the rebels in East Pakistan but also of rendering material and moral assistance to them. The issue of these “Mujahids” or “freedom fighters,” became the subject of intense discussion in the Burmese Parliament. Pakistan responded diplomatically and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hamidul Huq Chowdhury spoke in the national assembly on 26 March 1956. Chowdhury informed the assembly that a Pakistani delegation to Burma had been sent “to discuss and settle certain matters of mutual interest.” He referred to “the problem of the[Northern] Arakanese Muslims” as “an offshoot of the Mujahid problem.” Thus Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hamidul Huq Chowdhury went on record by calling upon the Burmese government to “do their utmost to create a sense of confidence and security in the mind of the[Northern] Arakani Muslims now living in [Northern] Arakan” and to take back all [Northern] Arakanese refugees staying in East Pakistan.

Maulvi Zahiruddin Ahmad, who was declared “President” of a ‘Republic’ of the Buthidaung and Maungdaw areas during the days of resistance to the Japanese invaders in World War 2, continued to assert that 99% of the population of Northern Arakan had close cultural, racial, and religious affinities with the people of Chittagong in then East Pakistan. He also added that during the war, the Burmese showed hostility to the Muslims of this area and indulged in mass massacres. His position was that the people of [Northern] Arakan be given the right of self-determination. The logical corollary of his position was that a plebiscite should be held to determine whether the area where the Muslims lived should continue to be a part of Burma or be merged with Bengal.

The New York Times reported in December 1951 that during the previous three years almost 250,000 Northern Arakanese Muslims had crossed into East Bengal. According to the NYT, the latest influx, which started in May 1951, resulted in the entry of 30,000 more Muslims into the then East Pakistan. The continued influx of these Northern Arakanese Muslims into East Pakistan, the NYT report said, was the subject of a strong protest note addressed by the Pakistani government to the Burmese government. This note warned the Burmese government against the possibility of disturbances by the refugees on the international border. The note also asked for the immediate repatriation of the Northern Arakanese Muslims. Later, in the summer of 1959, about 10,000 Muslims were said to have crossed into East Pakistan. However, so far as Burmese newspapers and authorities were concerned, the problem was one of illegal entry of Pakistanis into Burma and their repatriation. Historical records show, for example, that the columnist U Yan Gon wrote in the Burmese paper, The Rangoon Daily, on 17 January 1964

There are some 200,000 people who have illegally migrated from Pakistan into Burma. A large number of these illegal immigrants have been interned and fed in the Akyab prison by the Burmese government as the Pakistan government refused to recognize them as its citizens. It is surprising that Pakistan did not accept them, although they actually belong to that country. We are afraid that the illicit Pakistanis entry into Burma may in future become a problem like the illegal migration of Pakistanis into India. These people have moved into Assam, Tripura and West Bengal.

This Burmese columnist, U Yan Gon denied the existence of a problem between Pakistan and Burma like the Kashmir issue. However, he expressed serious concerns about Pakistani infiltration into Akyab district. The historian W. Norman Brown who had studied the problems of Northern Arakanese Muslims observed.

The community has felt itself insufficiently represented in Burma government affairs, considered itself discriminated against by the majority Buddhist community – as did the Muslims of India in relation to the Hindus – and some of its members have indicated a desire to be part of Pakistan.

In fairness to Burma, it needs to be admitted that there had been many areas of friction between Burma and Pakistan, for instance, the smuggling of rice from Burma into East Pakistan, which resulted in the loss of foreign exchange to Burma. And there was always the border problem, which was the subject of much discussion between the two governments from 1959 onwards. However, it was the demand of some of the leaders of the Northern Arakanese Muslims on the Arakan Coast for separation from Burma and merger with Pakistan that fuelled the desire of Pakistan to inject its two-nation theory into all neighboring areas. Accordingly, a faction of Pakistani foreign policy makers pushed for such a policy. This was to change albeit briefly, with the liberation of Bangladesh that demonstrated the hollowness of the Pakistani version of the two nations theory on the basis of just religion.

Haider A. Khan

The governments headed by Tajuddin and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1971-August 1975, started the process of a just settlement on the basis of international law and human rights principles. However, after the brutal coup of 1975 which some claim, was sponsored by the US against Mujib’s government, the military government of Ziaur Rahman adopted a Pakistan-like policy both internally and externally. Further military rule in the 1980s by General Ershad did not pay much attention to this problem. After the fall of Ershad in 1990, BNP, the party founded by Zia with the help of generally pro-Pakistan elements and opportunists did not carry out the necessary negotiations. It was only under Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League government that genuine efforts to solve the problem began. But by then the process of the Rohingya genocide has already reached almost a point of no return to normal diplomacy. Even so, the foreign minister during the second administration of the Prime Minister Hasina Wajed, Mr. Mahmud Ali, a freedom fighter against Pakistani repression and a career diplomat carried on valiantly making international law and human rights based arguments and seeking international support. Now it really is the responsibility of Sun Kyi and her regime to respond clearly and quickly to the cause of human rights against continuing genocide. However, given the situation I have described earlier, without international pressure, more of the same genocidal policies and acts in Myanmar will continue.

Regarding Myanmar’s current position, Darusman has already told the reporters ominously: “Its continued denials, its attempts to shield itself under the cover of national sovereignty and its dismissal of 444 pages of details about the facts and circumstances of recent human rights violations that point to the most serious crimes under international law” strengthens the need for international action because “accountability cannot be expected from the national processes”.

A great human tragedy like the one involving Bangladesh, India and Pakistan in 1971 has been continuing for many years, gaining in intensity and ferocity. When will the civilized nations of our international society respond in favor of protecting all that stands for decent respect for humanity?

Notes
: The writer is a Professor of Economics, University of Denver. Josef Korbel School of International Studies and former Senior Economic Adviser to UNCTAD. He could be reached by email hkhan@du.edu

Debate and Book Presentation: Migration and Human Solidarity

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Apr 6 2019 (IPS-Partners)

On the occasion of the launch of its two-volume publication entitled The Unprecedented Rise of People on the Move in the 21st Century, the Geneva Centre will organize a panel discussion and book presentation. The discussion will expand on the themes of the publication, with a particular focus on migration and human solidarity, as well as on the recent developments in Western societies with regard to current migration flows. The panellists will discuss, inter alia, the increasing hostility towards migrants and refugees in European societies and the manipulation of this issue for political ends, the growing criminalisation of migration, the role of civil society in addressing the plight of people on the move, as well as the importance of multilateralism and international cooperation in the context of this crisis.

Moderator & Opening remarks

    • Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

Speakers

    • Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission;
    • Mr José Benavente, President of the French Association Pilotes Volontaires, which provides assistance to people in distress at sea;
    • Ms. Julie Melichar, Citizen Mobilisation & Communication Officer at SOS Méditerranée, humanitarian association for the rescue of persons in distress in the Mediterranean Sea;
    • Ms Camille Pagella, journalist at L’Illustré, joint recipient of the first ACANU (Association of Accredited Correspondents at the United Nations) Prize for Reporting on Human Rights Issues;
    • Mr Adrià Budry Carbó, journalist at Le Temps, joint recipient of the first ACANU Prize for Reporting on Human Rights Issues.

For further information on the event, please see the attached concept note.

REGISTER

For any further questions or issues with registration, please contact us at info@gchragd.org

Safeguarding The Health of People and Planet Through Food

Mothers and their children gather at a community nutrition centre in the little village of Rantolava, Madagascar, to learn more about a healthy diet. Credit: Alain Rakotondravony/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 6 2019 – Food sustainability, both in production and consumption, is at the heart of a healthy public and planet.

On World Health Day, it is increasingly clear that a radical transformation of the global food system is sorely needed.

“In recent years we have witnessed a gradual departure from sustainable food models, such as the Mediterranean Diet, in favor of models rich in animal-based proteins, processed foods with high percentages of sugar, salt, fat or low in fiber,” said Barilla Foundation’s nutritionist and researcher Katarzyna Dembska.

“These food solutions can expose us, in the long run, to very expensive diseases or health problems. Choosing sustainable diets, in addition to reducing the impact on the environment, can positively affect longevity,” she added.

The EAT-Lancet Commission echoed similar sentiments in a report, stating: “Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth. However, food is currently threatening both people and planet.”

According to the Barilla Foundation, more than 650 million people over the age of 18, equal to 13 percent of the world’s population, are obese.

Obesity, caused by unhealthy diets, is among the risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems and diabetes.

New research by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) found that unhealthy diets are responsible for 11 million deaths worldwide per year, even more than smoking tobacco.

The assessment shows that diets high in sodium and low in whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and nuts all contribute to diet-related deaths. Heart attacks and strokes are the main diet-related causes of death.

The study also found that an improvement of diet could prevent one in five deaths worldwide.

“This finding suggests that dietary policies focusing on promoting the intake of components of diet for which current intake is less than the optimal level might have a greater effect than policies only targeting sugar and fat, highlighting the need for a comprehensive food system interventions to promote the production, distribution, and consumption of these foods across nations,” researchers said.

Obesity and diet-related diseases additionally incur high long-term expenses, which “weigh on the entire global economic and health system,” Barilla Foundation said.

Obesity costs the global economy an estimated $2 trillion, representing almost 3 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In Italy alone, costs associated to cardiovascular diseases amount to almost $17 billion while the treatment of cancer costs approximately $7 billion.

But it is not just the way we consume food that threatens our health, but also its production.

Food production is one of the largest contributors to climate change, accounting for a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to U.N. University, emissions from livestock account for almost 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Beef and dairy alone make up 65 percent of all livestock emissions.

In fact, meat and dairy companies are on track to become the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, surpassing the fossil fuel industry.

Already, climate change has taken a toll on health including in 2003 when temperatures rose 20-30 percent above average in Europe, resulting in over 30,000 deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition and heat stress between 2030 and 2050.

But this can be prevented with a shift in how we eat and produce food.

“The care of our health really starts from our plate,” Dembska said.

For instance, the Double Environmental Food Pyramid combines the classic food pyramid alongside a new environmental pyramid where foods are categorized according to their ecological footprint. Namely, red meat is at the bottom of the environmental pyramid with high environmental impact while being at top of the classic pyramid with low nutrition.

A shift to a Mediterranean diet, similar to the classic food pyramid which emphasizes plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, is estimated to add 4.5 years of life expectancy.

The EAT-Lancet Commission’s proposed planetary health diet is similar, requiring the consumption of red meat to be cut by half while vegetables, fruit, and nuts must double.

“The global adoption of healthy diets from sustainable food systems would safeguard our planet and improve the health of billions,” they said.