A weak re­sponse to Burma’s bru­tal crimes

U.S. pres­sure on the mil­i­tary could help halt the ‘text­book’ eth­nic cleans­ing of the Ro­hingya.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

IN JUST three weeks, the long-sim­mer­ing con­flict be­tween the Burmese gov­ern­ment and the per­se­cuted Ro­hingya mi­nor­ity has ex­ploded into the most mas­sive and bru­tal episode of eth­nic cleans­ing the world has seen in years. Since a mil­i­tant at­tack on Aug. 25 pro­vided a pre­text, Burmese troops have driven hun­dreds of thou­sands of Ro­hingya across the bor­der to Bangladesh by sys­tem­at­i­cally burn­ing scores of vil­lages and ter­ror­iz­ing their res­i­dents. Last week, more than 380,000 peo­ple were re­ported to have crossed the fron­tier; on Fri­day, U.N. of­fi­cials said many thou­sands were still wait­ing to pass. An es­ti­mated 240,000 of the refugees are chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to UNICEF.

What U.N. Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­tónio Guter­res rightly called “a text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing” is the cul­mi­na­tion of years of dis­crim­i­na­tion by Burma’s gov­ern­ment and Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity against the Ro­hingya, Mus­lims who have been de­nied ci­ti­zen­ship even though many have lived in the coun­try for gen­er­a­tions. On Aug. 25, a small mil­i­tant group claim­ing to rep­re­sent the Ro­hingya at­tacked a hand­ful of po­lice posts and army camps, killing about a dozen peo­ple. The gov­ern­ment’s scorchedearth re­sponse has, by its own ac­count, left 176 out of 471 Ro­hingya vil­lages in the north­ern re­gion of Rakhine state com­pletely aban­doned.

Ev­i­dence col­lected by hu­man rights groups, in­clud­ing satel­lite photos, shows scores of vil­lages burned to the ground. In a re­port re­leased Fri­day, Hu­man Rights Watch said it counted 62 vil­lages tar­geted by ar­son at­tacks and 35 with ex­ten­sive de­struc­tion. Jour­nal­ists on the Bangladesh bor­der Fri­day re­ported smoke still bil­low­ing up from Burmese ter­ri­tory. More de­tailed re­port­ing, as well as re­lief ef­forts, has been im­pos­si­ble be­cause of the au­thor­i­ties’ re­fusal to al­low in most jour­nal­ists, aid work­ers and diplo­mats — in­clud­ing the se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial who ar­rived in the coun­try Fri­day.

The in­ter­na­tional re­sponse to this crime, which ri­vals the cleans­ing cam­paigns in Dar­fur, Su­dan, in the early 2000s and Kosovo in the 1990s, has been shock­ingly weak. Af­ter meet­ing be­hind closed doors on Wed­nes­day, the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil used its low­est-or­der form of state­ment to ex­press con­cern about “ex­ces­sive vi­o­lence dur­ing se­cu­rity oper­a­tions.” The State Depart­ment has been equally cau­tious.

Too much at­ten­tion has been fo­cused on Burma’s de facto civil­ian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been woe­fully silent about the atroc­i­ties but also lacks the abil­ity to con­trol the mil­i­tary. What’s needed in­stead is more di­rect pres­sure on the Burmese army. The Obama administration lifted U.S. sanc­tions on the gen­er­als and the busi­nesses they con­trol in an at­tempt to pro­mote a demo­cratic tran­si­tion; these now ought to be reim­posed by the Trea­sury and State de­part­ments. Some of­fi­cials ex­press con­cern that tough mea­sures might cause the army to turn on Aung San Suu Kyi and her civil­ian gov­ern­ment. In fact, in­ter­na­tional cen­sure could pro­vide the No­bel lau­re­ate lever­age — if she is will­ing to use it.

At the United Na­tions, Burma is shielded by China, which is un­trou­bled by its atroc­i­ties and may even wel­come them for their po­ten­tial to ruin the coun­try’s re­la­tions with the West. The United States should nev­er­the­less seek to force a pub­lic Se­cu­rity Coun­cil de­bate on the cleans­ing. The more the crimes against the Ro­hingya are ex­posed to the world — and their au­thors made to pay a price — the more likely they are to stop.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.