The Burmese scholar said that Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership has been the direct product of the icon manufacturing by Western media and activists which was intended to give acceptability to what, he believes, is a “military-controlled ethnocracy, wrapped in Buddhism.”
According to the rights activist, Rohingyas in Myanmar live under restrictive measures of movement, marriage and child control in either open prisons or internally displaced persons camps (IDP camps). He also added that the Muslim minority’s access to food supplies and medical care is awfully limited.
Maung Zarni is a democracy advocate, Rohingya campaigner, and an adviser to European Centre for the Study of Extremism. He is also a research fellow at Genocide Documentation Centre and has been frequently interviewed by international media outlets such as BBC, Al Jazeera, Press TV, and TRT World.
Q: Rohingya Muslims are not included in Myanmar’s list of 135 official minorities, meaning they are deprived of the right to citizenship. Why do you think the Rohingyas have been left stateless by their own government in the first place?
Firstly, 135 official minorities are nothing but a fiction used by the Burmese military to justify their institutional narrative that Myanmar faces a constant threat of Balkanization if the military return to the barracks. So, I don’t and won’t repeat the regime’s self-serving propaganda.
The military has since early 1960’s shifted its policy of the official embrace of Rohingyas as an ethnic community of the Union of Burma to a radical strategic perspective according to which a sizable pocket of Muslims in a single geographic pocket next to a populous Muslim region of the then Pakistan was a threat to Burma’s national security.
Every wave of expulsion, violence, death, and destruction of Rohingyas over the last 40 years has been triggered by this dangerous strategic paradigm.
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Q: Aung San Suu Kyi’s coming to power as the Nobel Peace laureate and first democratic government brought about major hopes to the Burmese including the Rohingya. In your opinion, has anything changed for the Muslim minority since she took office?
Suu Kyi’s leadership, and Suu Kyi the person, have been the direct product of the icon manufacturing by Western media and activists. Her ascendancy to de facto leadership has only lent the veneer of acceptability to what really is a military-controlled ethnocracy, wrapped in Buddhism.
The plight of Muslim Rohingyas has gotten worse, with 100,000 fleeing every week. Mirroring the military’s Muslim-free armed forces, she presides over her party, National League for Democracy (NLD), and the NLD-controlled Parliament, with not a single Muslim representation.
Q: There are reports about mosques across Burma being damaged or completely destroyed, and authorities have been refusing to allow Muslims to repair their mosques. Why is the government refusing to allow the Muslim minority to access their place of worship which is considered to be a fundamental right to freedom of expression and religion?
Mosques – like any places of worship in any religion – serve as the anchor of Muslim communities throughout Burma. The severe restrictions on the repair, renovation, or expansion of mosques are motivated by the intent to prevent the growth of the community in spirit and strength.
It is a part of the Buddhist ethnocratic state’s attempt to monitor, control and subjugate Muslim communities – although Islam in Burma has long been a peaceful religion for centuries since it arrived centuries ago.
Q: Could you please let us know about the conditions of displaced Rohingyas living both in and outside Myanmar’s borders?
Even seasoned humanitarian workers would tell you how shocked they are at the first sight of the conditions under which Rohingyas living in India and Bangladesh. Inside Myanmar, Rohingyas live in two different types of situation: open vast prisons and the internally displaced persons camps.
They have no freedom of movement; all aspects of their lives are totally controlled by the Burmese military authorities at the top of the administrative structures and local Buddhist Rakhine who occupy the majority of the admin posts. Rohingyas’ access to food and food systems (such as streams and rivers, paddy fields, etc.) as well as opportunities to earn a living has been controlled and restricted.
Doctor-patient ratio for the two major towns – Buthidaung and Maungdaw – is estimated to be 1: 150,000 – while the national average is 1: 1,000 – 2,000. Extreme malnutrition is prevalent with sub-Sahara-like conditions. Only Rohingyas are singled out for strict marriage control and child control.
Rape and gang-rape of Rohingya women and even girls are rampant. Mass arrests of Rohingya males are routine. Summary execution, forced labor, extortions, etc. are routinely practiced by the security troops that split Rohingya region into two dozen security grids.
It is this kind of inhuman conditions under which Rohingyas are forced to exist – not live as humans – that has been a major push factor behind regular, if less dramatic and less reported than the most recent one, waves of fleeing Rohingyas.
Emphatically, I must state that these conditions are maintained as a matter of policy by the central governments since the late 1970’s: to destroy life as we know it, for the entire Rohingya community as a distinct ethnic group, whether recognized by the State officially, as such or not.
Precisely because of the policy of destroying Rohingya community as a group I have been calling this a genocide – a textbook genocidal act as defined by the Genocide Convention.
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Q: The state counselor faces mounting criticism over what the United Nations calls “textbook ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya. This systematic persecution has been ongoing for years. Why do you we do not see any strong reaction by international human rights organizations, namely the United Nations to stop all the injustice and atrocities?
To the U.N. and all the world powers, typically all genocides are inconveniences. The refusal to recognize the nature of the heinous crimes by its proper legal name, that is, genocide speaks volumes about the absence of collective will to end this international crime.
I find it utterly disgusting that U.N. and even human rights agencies opting to call it by Milosevic’s original euphemism. The genocidal Serb was a clever bastard who knew ‘ethnic cleansing’ was not a crime under international law. If a crime is recognized as genocide that the U.N. system would be obliged to intervene to end it.
Truth is international law is nothing without the political will to enforce it. Ending genocide has never been deemed strategically or commercially profitable. Hence, empty talks and outcome less meetings.
Q: On several occasions we have seen the western countries, namely the U.S. and the U.K., acting without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council. We have seen them imposing sanctions and even taking military action against countries solely based on their own political and geopolitical interests. But when it comes to Myanmar, they do not seem to be much concerned about the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing as we do not see any strong reaction. What do you think is the reason behind the double standard?
The U.K. and U.S. are known to bypass the Security Council, in pursuing their strategic interests, however defined. They have launched invasions in countries throughout the world, from Korea and Vietnam to Africa and the Middle East. But ending genocides is viewed as part of their strategic interest.
Additionally, they delude themselves into thinking that some semblance of democracy and human rights regime can still be salvaged with its Burmese proxy Aung San Suu Kyi, although she has lost the support and admiration of the world.
The truth is the U.N. and international law, as well as the institutions of global governance do not work for the oppressed majority of peoples around the world. Rohingyas are not an exception.
Q: Aung San Suu Kyi did not attend this year’s U.N. General Assembly session. She did so without providing any reason for the withdrawal. As we discussed, the United Nations so far has failed to act properly to stop the violence. Why do you think then she decided to cancel her trip to the U.N.?
It’s a clear sign that she now views the world as a hostile place for her to go. The world no longer sees her as “the hopes of Burma,” let alone “the voice of the voiceless”. She has become world-infamous for hiding her head in the sand when it comes to issues of crucial import to the country.
Forget going to the U.N. where she expected strong criticism of her leadership failures. She has no moral or intellectual integrity to confront inconvenient realities of her country, particularly the issue of Rohingya genocide that concerns the world.