19 September 2018

Wednesday, 18:21



What is going on in Myanmar?



Some believe that the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded posthumously. It is somehow possible to assess the achievements in science or culture, and even award the laureates in their lifetime. But how can one determine the contribution to the establishment of peace? And what if the recipient is directly or indirectly involved in existing or perspective anti-humane, and often criminal, actions? After all, Gorbachev, Obama, Carter, or any other laureates of this prestigious award do not look like angels.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the actual civilian leader of Myanmar (Burma), who spent 1989-2010 under house arrest, is another recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Back in 1988, she returned home from Europe, where she studied at the Oxford University and have worked for three years at the UN. She became interested in the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Buddhist concepts, and founded the National League for Democracy. In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "Non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights".

It turns out that the doctrine of non-violence somehow does not go hand in hand in with the struggle for power. Just one and a half years after Aung San’s party became the ruling party, a petition demanding to take away her Peace Prize collects hundreds of thousands of signatures. Although the Nobel Committee declares that the procedure for revoking the award is not envisaged, Aung San Suu Kyi is not acknowledged any more as one of the symbols of democracy. Rather, she is accused of being responsible for one of the biggest humanitarian disasters of our time.


The Rohingya Tragedy

Since the end of August, hundreds of thousands of Myanmar residents have abandoned their homes trying to save their lives from the outrageous government army that destroys everything in its path. Human Rights Watch has published satellite images showing dozens of burned settlements. The number of victims, and the wave of refugees fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh in panic is growing daily.

What is the fault of this people? They prefer calling themselves Rohigya, the indigenous people of Myanmar, rather than Bengalis, as the authorities require them to do. Therefore, more than a million people are denied of citizenship and deprived all benefits of civilization: free movement around the country, education, health care and inviolability of property.

The current events, which the UN called "ethnic cleansing", are not the first in the sad fate of Rohingya. And the words of the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, Ming Aung Hlin, that the army is "completing the unfinished work of the Second World War", is actually a reference to the history of this conflict.

The majority of the residents of the northern part of Rakhine State (Arakan) are Muslims who consider themselves descendants of the Arabs who colonized the shores of the Indian Ocean in the 16th century and the indigenous ethnos of the territory. They call themselves Rohingya by the name of the area.

During the Second World War, when Japan occupied the country, the Buddhist majority of the Burmese population, who believed that cooperation with the Japanese would help them free themselves from the colonial slavery of the British empire, stepped on their side. And Rohingya supported the UK believing in promises of independence. Both sides were marked in history by bloody operations against each other.

The Burmese army created in 1941 by General Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) with Japanese support made an alliance with the British by the end of the war. In 1947, the general negotiated with Britain and the leaders of national groups the terms of independence and the creation of a single country, respectively (the Panlon Conference). In July 1947, General Aung San was killed by conspirators.

In 1946-47, Rohingya appealed, though unsuccessfully, to the leadership of Pakistan, formed as a result of the division of the territory of British India, with the request to annex the northern part of Arakan to the Pakistani province of East Bengal (in future Bangladesh).

After Burma proclaimed its independence in 1948, the successive military regimes of the country categorically refused to recognize any civil rights for Rohingya. They were and still are considered an alien people imported into Arakan in the 18th century by the British colonialists as a cheap labor force.

The Law on Citizenship adopted in 1982 covers all 130 ethnic groups living in Myanmar, including those practicing Islam. Rohingya was denied this right. Such an ethnic group simply does not exist for Burma. But the law stipulates that any Rohingya who can prove his or her residence in the country in the third generation receives citizenship as Bengalese and is migrated to other parts of the country. Away from Arakan.

It is very difficult to imagine an inhabitant of a remote village located far from civilization, endless wars and other hardships, possessing the necessary documents for three generations. Rarely, but there are such citizens. And again, not everyone dares make a deal with the government. The reasons are different: loyalty to own ethnic group, or the threats from the militants.


Endless civil war

However, it would be wrong to think that the Myanmar authorities have problems with Rohingya only. The country has suffered from unending civil wars since the day it was founded. There are even quasi-states that are not controlled by official authorities, such as Shan, Va, Kokan, Karen Region, etc.

In 2015, the Myanmar army carried out large-scale military operations involving the use of aviation and large-caliber artillery against the inhabitants of Kokan region, ethnic Chinese supported by illegal military groups made of several ethnic groups. This also included the Salvation Army of Rohingya Arakan, which the authorities accuse of provoking a conflict that is now burning on the border with Bangladesh. The war ended in an armistice with unfavorable conditions for the authorities.

In November 2016, already under the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, there were also major clashes in the north-eastern state of Shan involving all the same separatist groups that formed the Northern Brotherhood alliance.

Military operations in the state of Arakan began on August 25. According to Amnesty International, this was followed "by extrajudicial executions, torture, shelling of settlements and blocking access to humanitarian aid."

On September 10, the Rohingya Arakan Salvation Army announced a cease-fire for one month and invited the government troops to take the same step. The authorities of Myanmar rejected this proposal. "Our policy does not imply negotiations with terrorists," said the representative of the Secretary of State of Myanmar.


Human rights defender in power

What happened to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi? The fact is that she is no longer in opposition and not a human rights activist on a voluntary basis. She was heavily loaded with responsibility for the fate of the whole country, for its integrity and prosperity. And the young politician of old age (Aung San Suu Kyi turned 72 in July) made compromises with her former convictions.

It is true that she is the first leader of the country who began to call Rohingya not "Bengali from Bangladesh", but "Arakan Muslims", not recognizing them as an ethnos of Rohingya. In August last year, Aung San Suu Kyi established an advisory commission on the problems of the State of Rakhine and asked the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to lead the commission. This commission will be the main advisory body for the Secretary of State in resolving the conflict in the state of Arakan and will help her government develop the most correct political decisions, reports Myanmar Times.

Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi supports the punitive operations of the Myanmar army in Arakan, Shan, and other hot spots of the country. On the one hand, such actions are approved by the overwhelming majority of the country, and hence its electorate. Secondly, and this is perhaps the most important, she does not have real levers of power in the country and is forced to somehow negotiate with the military.


The struggle for the Constitution

The army, which formally handed over power to civilians in 2011, retained all the levers of government in the country. The first president was the retired General Thein Sein. In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi won the elections, but the military was not particularly upset.

The new president of the country was Htin Kyaw, Aung San Suu Kyi's comrade from the same party. She received the post of State Counselor specially established for her according to the Constitution, but she could not become president because of the British citizenship of her children.

Now her main concern is to amend the Constitution of 2011, which has consolidated all the levers of power behind the army.

Even in the parliament, where the National League for Democracy has 75% of the vote, she cannot do anything without the approval of the remaining 25% who are appointed by the commander-in-chief. He presents to the president the documents for the formal approval of the ministers of defense, interior and border.

According to the Constitution, the army is the guarantor of statehood and is responsible for the integrity and sovereignty of the state, and therefore, under certain conditions, can assume all the power in the country.

Now comes the first serious blunder of Aung San Suu Kyi. As a result of her parliamentary inexperience, the retired general Myint Swe has become the senior of the two vice-presidents, who, according to the same Constitution, will assume the duties of the country's president in case of any unforeseen circumstances.

Moreover, the industrial and financial elite of the country for many years of the military regime is closely connected with the military.

Such a complex ball of problems went to the first civilian government in the modern history of Myanmar. And that Aung San Suu Kyi did not relax, she was warned. The closest associate, lawyer and human rights activist Koi Nee, a Muslim by faith, was killed in January of this year. Probably, for the fact that not long before that, he had proposed concrete steps to limit the power of the army.


A special approach

Immediately after the election victory, Aung San Suu Kyi initiated the Panlon Conference of the 21st Century (in analogy with the forum organized in 1947 by her father), where representatives of the ethnic groups inhabiting Myanmar would jointly develop such a state system which would take into account the interests of all national minorities of the country.

Two such conferences were held - in September of last year and in May of this year. They supported the idea of ​​creating a democratic federal state with a high level of decentralization of power. The meetings will continue, as there is no common understanding of exactly what this level of decentralization should be. The minimum program is the decline of ethnic militant groups to the signing of the National Ceasefire Agreement.

The fate of the Rohingya people was not discussed on this forum. Neither the military nor civilian leadership of the country is ready to negotiate with them yet. While the principle is the same - no Rohingya (within Myanmar), no problems!

We are going to see soon whether the authorities listen to the words of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling on the Myanmar authorities to give citizenship or a temporary legal status to Rohingya Muslims, which would allow them to return to normal humane life.