By Habib Siddiqui
Last week the Myanmar Police Force announced a plan to recruit and arm ethnic Rakhine and other non-Muslim civilians in restive Maungdaw Township, a predominantly Muslim township in Buddhist-majority Rakhine State. The township has recently witnessed widespread abuse of human rights against the minority Rohingya and other Muslims by the police and military forces. Weeks earlier, military moved into the territory to flush out the attackers – reportedly Rohingyas – who had raided 3 police posts.
Rakhine State Police Chief Colonel Sein Lwin told Reuters that the new “regional police” would include non-Muslim residents who would not otherwise meet educational or physical requirements to join the Myanmar Police Force, adding that recruits would serve in their own villages. More than 100 recruits between the ages of 18 and 35 are to receive a 16-week “accelerated” training program, beginning in the state capital of Sittwe on November 7. The police intend to provide the recruits with weapons and “other equipment” as well as compensation.
It is worth noting here that the creation of such a force violates international law, as articulated by the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. According to the Principles, “internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked to justify any departure from these basic principles.”
“Arming civilians based on their ethnic and religious identity in this racially-charged context is profoundly irresponsible and could turn deadly,” said Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights. “We fully expect the government to put a stop to this plan and to immediately provide aid groups with free and unfettered access to all in need. The best way to prevent violent extremism is to promote and protect human rights, not equip people to potentially commit abuses.”
Fortify Rights has called on the Government of Myanmar to immediately scrap the plan.
Nor should we fail to see a sinister link. Truly, Rakhine police chief’s fascist plan is like a page taken out of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Our readers may recall that Schutzstaffel (SS, literally “Protection Squadron”) was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP; Nazi Party) in Nazi Germany. Under Heinrich Himmler (1929–45), SS grew from a small paramilitary formation to one of the most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany. From 1929 until the regime’s collapse in 1945, the SS was the foremost agency of surveillance and terror within Germany and German-occupied Europe. [Note: Sturmabteilung (or SA, literally Storm Detachment), which functioned as the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party (NSDAP), was a precursor to the SS. The SA played a significant role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. Their primary purposes were providing protection for Nazi rallies and assemblies, disrupting the meetings of opposing parties, fighting against the paramilitary units of the opposing parties, especially the Red Front Fighters League (Rotfrontkämpferbund) of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), and intimidating Slavic and Romani citizens, unionists, and Jews – for instance, during the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses. The SA have been known in contemporary times as “Brown Shirts” (Braunhemden) from the color of their uniform shirts, similar to Benito Mussolini’s Black Shirts.]
The Rakhine Buddhists have long been fighting, unsuccessfully, for liberating Arakan (Rakhine) state from the clutches of the Myanmar government. They have their own militias fighting government forces. So, one cannot but question the real intent behind the creation of another SS-type para-military fascist force under the pretext of protecting the Rakhine lives.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is equally concerned about the development. According to the ICJ, if a new security authority is contemplated, it must be a professional police force, whose members are recruited and trained in accordance with principles of non-discrimination and respect for human rights. “In a country where the regular police and military are notorious for grave human rights violations,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director, “establishing an armed, untrained, unaccountable force drawn from only one community in the midst of serious ethnic tensions and violence is a recipe for disaster.”
Since 2012, we have already witnessed a series of genocidal pogroms directed against the Rohingya and other Muslims, who are ethnically, racially and religiously different, by the Rakhine and other Buddhist fascists that came from all walks of life, including the government security forces and the Buddhist monks. Some 150,000 Rohingyas continue to live in IDP concentration camps as a result of such ethnic cleansing drives against them.
The border security force NaSaKa in Arakan terrorized the Rohingya population for many years by following the footsteps of the SA before it was unilaterally disbanded in 2013 by Myanmar President Thein Sein. Everyone welcomed the move hoping that Myanmar would not revisit its troubled fascist past. Obviously, in Suu Kyi’s Myanmar such lessons from the past have lost their meanings.
As a result of the latest ethnic cleansing drives by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) some 15,000 Rohingya men, women, and children and a number of aid workers remain displaced and isolated in Maungdaw Township.
It is important to highlight the fact that outside the propaganda fed from the government and a new Rohingya group (Faith Movement) that claimed to strive for the rights of all the minorities in Myanmar, including the Rohingya, we don’t know how serious was the threat posed by this group. What we know for fact is that the apartheid government in Myanmar has long been trying to bring about a ‘final solution’ to the Rohingya problem one way or another. However, unlike the other minorities, insurrecting against the central government, the worst persecuted Rohingyas have long been a very peaceful, unarmed civilian population. Thus, a highly sinister ploy had to be devised by the government.
Unless the Rohingya group could be presented as a real threat – a ‘thorn’ – with hundreds of militant recruits, with affiliations of – as you guessed it – ‘known terrorist’ outfits like the ISIS (Daesh), such an evil ploy to carry out the ‘final solution’ (i.e., elimination) against their entire community was deemed highly risky or damaging to Myanmar’s international image, esp. with a new civilian government whose de facto leader is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Thus, from the very beginning without any evidence the small local band of alleged attackers who were armed with knives were presented as a large group of 400 Jihadists who had planned launching attacks on six locations simultaneously. It was all part of a very sinister plan to use the alleged raid by the Rohingya militants as an excuse to finish the unfinished eliminationist task. The war crimes perpetrated by the Tatmadaw since October 9 once again underscore that criminal blueprint.
It was no accident that the government rhetoric surrounding the situation in Rakhine State was increasingly alarming. On October 31, Rakhine State Member of Parliament Aung Win declared, “All Bengali villages are like military strongholds.” On November 1, state-run media appeared to refer to Rohingya as a “thorn” that “has to be removed as it pierces,” and on November 3, state-run media alleged that international media “intentionally fabricated” allegations of human rights violations “in collusion with terrorist groups.”
Fortify Rights received eyewitness reports of extrajudicial killings of unarmed Rohingya men in Maungdaw Township by Myanmar Army soldiers on October 10. Numerous reports subsequently alleged that Myanmar Army soldiers and security forces raped women and girls, killed unarmed civilians, and carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions. Several Rohingya Muslim villages were razed.
On October 24, five U.N. Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement urging the Government of Myanmar to “address the growing reports of human rights violations in northern Rakhine State.”
The Office of the President of Myanmar repeatedly denied all allegations of abuses or wrongdoing, dismissing allegations as false propaganda. It has retained an old guard – Zaw Htay – who acts as Goebbels serving the President. As he has always done in the past, e.g., with Thein Sein government, he rejected the allegations of rape, saying, “There’s no logical way of committing rape in the middle of a big village of 800 homes, where insurgents are hiding.”
One wonders if there is no truth to such allegations, why would Myanmar authorities block journalists and human rights monitors from accessing areas of northern Rakhine State!
What’s really happening inside Suu Kyi’s Myanmar cannot be hidden under Zaw Htay’s filthy rug. The images of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims are written all over it. Anyone doubting or contesting the Goebbels-type narratives fed by the government is not welcome in this den of hatred and intolerance called Myanmar. As such, on November 3, the Myanmar Times, the country’s oldest English-language daily, fired journalist Fiona MacGregor for writing a widely read article published by the newspaper on October 27, which included allegations that Myanmar Army soldiers raped dozens of Rohingya women in a single village in Maungdaw Township on October 19. Fiona, by the way, was not alone in stating that in Suu Kyi’s Myanmar today her military was committing heinous crimes against the unarmed Rohingyas. For instance, Reuters also reported on the rape allegations, interviewing eight women who said they were raped by troops.
“It’s extremely concerning and unacceptable that representatives of the democratically elected government would use social media and bullying tactics to suppress stories about important issues like gender-based violence in conflict,” said MacGregor.
According to an internal memo seen by AFP, Myanmar Times management ordered editors “not to analyze, comment, report or have opinion pieces on the following subjects until further notice: Rakhine State; Rohingya; and military actions in Rakhine state.”
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, said the case marked “a new low” for the government. “Rather than trying to shut down reports that it doesn’t like, the government should respect press freedom and permit journalists to do their jobs by investigating what is really happening on the ground,” said Robertson.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said reporters trying to cover the unrest in Rakhine faced obstruction and harassment. Suu Kyi’s government should “assert civilian control over its security forces”, Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement. “The best way to prove or disprove allegations of rights abuses is to allow independent media to probe the accusations.”
Authorities have not allowed foreign journalists to visit the area and the international media was not invited to travel with senior diplomats who visited this week, even as the state media obtained full access.
Still, the Myanmar government could not hide its crimes against the Rohingyas. Renata Lok-Dessallien, the U.N.’s resident and humanitarian coordinator and the United Nations Development Programme’s resident representative in Myanmar, said during a press conference in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, “We have urged that the government pull together an independent, credible investigation team quickly and send the team into the area to address these allegations.” She and several foreign ambassadors to Myanmar conducted a two-day visit to Maungdaw to survey the situation on the ground and talk to residents and security forces. Many of those Rohingyas interviewed have later been questioned by the authorities and detained for speaking to the foreign delegates.
“We all know that underneath this incident are many items of concern and it’s now more important than ever for the government to promote lasting solutions to the interlocking challenges that face Rakhine state at this moment,” Lok-Dessallien said. “So, we’ve urged that these root causes and underlying issues be addressed as soon as possible.”
Obviously, Myanmar government is trying to stonewall the press, as it has also tried to avoid launching an independent probe, hoping that its latest pogrom will be forgotten. It should know that as much as the crimes of the SS – that was most responsible for the genocidal killing of millions of Jews in the Holocaust – were neither nor forgiven, as they were tried for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during World War II (1939–45) the world community will neither forget nor forgive the perpetrators of the genocidal crimes against the Rohingyas of Myanmar.