World stays si­lent over Myan­mar

De­spite UN’s geno­cide warn­ings, the Ro­hingya are still left to their fate

The Guardian Weekly - - International News - Si­mon Tis­dall

A stark warn­ing from the UN in mid-De­cem­ber that geno­cide may be tak­ing place in Myan­mar has been met by an awk­ward si­lence around the world, in­di­cat­ing a lim­ited ap­petite for force­ful hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tion, even in ex­treme cases.

The per­se­cu­tion of the Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity is be­gin­ning to re­sem­ble the slaugh­ter of the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity vowed the Rwanda tragedy would never hap­pen again. Now, it seems, the night­mare is back.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein, UN high com­mis­sioner for hu­man rights, has de­scribed sys­tem­atic at­tacks on the Ro­hingya by Myan­mar’s mil­i­tary and civil­ian mili­tias as eth­nic cleans­ing. But in a BBC in­ter­view last month, he went a big step fur­ther. “You can­not rule out the pos­si­bil­ity that acts of geno­cide have been com­mit­ted … It wouldn’t sur­prise me in the fu­ture if the court were to make such a find­ing on the ba­sis of what we see.”

The em­bar­rassed si­lence that fol­lowed re­flects the fact there is zero sup­port for di­rect ac­tion in Myan­mar. The con­cept of force­ful hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tion, for­mu­lated in a speech in 1999 by Tony Blair – and im­ple­mented in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and East Ti­mor – is blown. The dis­as­trous in­va­sion and oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq in 2003, jus­ti­fied on moral and hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds af­ter the WMD ar­gu­ment im­ploded, dis­cred­ited the “Blair doc­trine”.

Now the pen­du­lum has swung the other way. Myan­mar’s gen­er­als are not alone in their im­punity. In Yemen, Saudi forces are ac­cused of caus­ing large-scale civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, and of il­le­gally block­ing aid as a weapon of war. A sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion ex­ists in Syria. Bashar al-As­sad has been widely ac­cused of war crimes. But af­ter six years of may­hem he still sits tight in Da­m­as­cus.

Lack of po­lit­i­cal will is only one rea­son why the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity ap­pears pow­er­less to halt mass killings. Hus­sein’s pre­dic­tion that Myan­mar’s nom­i­nal leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and its top gen­eral, Min Aung Hlaing, could end up be­fore a court was pre­sum­ably a ref­er­ence to the in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal court, charged with in­ves­ti­gat­ing and pros­e­cut­ing in­di­vid­u­als re­spon­si­ble for geno­cide, war crimes and crimes against hu­man­ity. But Myan­mar, like Syria and Yemen, is not a party to the ICC and lies out­side its ju­ris­dic­tion.

The ICC has en­joyed lim­ited suc­cess, in large part be­cause ma­jor pow­ers such as the US, China, Rus­sia and In­dia re­ject its ju­ris­dic­tion, os­ten­si­bly on grounds of na­tional sovereignty – although the US sup­ports the court when it suits its pur­poses. Shamed by the fail­ures in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, a UN world sum­mit meet­ing in 2005 agreed that the prin­ci­ple of state sovereignty car­ried with it the obli­ga­tion of the state to pro­tect its own ci­ti­zens. If a state was un­able or un­will­ing to do so, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity was em­pow­ered to act.

In Myan­mar, where 870,000 Ro­hingya have fled to Bangladesh and up to 10,000 peo­ple have been killed so far, their govern­ment has not only failed to pro­tect them. It also ap­pears di­rectly cul­pa­ble. This is the sort of sit­u­a­tion the 2005 UN dec­la­ra­tion was in­tended to pre­vent. And it promised that mem­ber states would take “timely and de­ci­sive ac­tion”. All over the world, this solemn prom­ise is be­ing bro­ken ev­ery day.


Ex­iled … Ro­hingya reach out for food at a camp in Bangladesh Dar Yasin

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