- 14 Nov 17
The harrowing accounts of the Tula Toli massacre are heaping more pressure on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi...
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called on Myanmar President, Aung San Suu Kyi, to bring her security forces and state supported vigilante groups to heel following fresh reports of members of the minority Rohingya community being slaughtered in their thousands.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his UK counterpart Theresa May have also called on the Nobel Peace Prize winner to take urgent action to stem the violence.
U2, who championed Aung San Suu Kyi when she was still an opposition leader under house arrest, have issued this updated statement to fans:
"On behalf of our audience who campaigned so hard for her, we reached out several times to speak to Aung San Suu Kyi directly about the crisis in her country and the inhumanity being directed at the Rohingya people. We expected to speak to her this week, but it appears this call will now not happen.
"So we say to you now what we would have said to her: the violence and terror being visited on the Rohingya people are appalling atrocities and must stop. Aung San Suu Kyi's silence is starting to look a lot like assent. As Martin Luther King said: 'The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.' The time has long passed for her to stand up and speak out.
"We know that Aung San Suu Kyi has in front of her real complexities that the outside world cannot understand -- but nor should we have to. The complexity of the situation in Myanmar she inherited from her father did not sway her to compromise her ideals back in 1998, nor should it now. At some point, a fragile balancing act becomes a Faustian pact.
"We also believe we can't direct our anger solely in her direction. That plays right into the hands of those who are carrying out the violence. Min Aung Hlaing is not a widely recognised name outside Myanmar - it should be. This man is the Commander General in Chief of the Defence Services who answers to no-one when a security threat is declared. While this in no way excuses her silence, Aung San Suu Kyi has no control, constitutional or otherwise, over his actions, and it is he who has authorised and overseen the terrorisation of the Rohingya people under the guise of protecting Myanmar from terrorism. Condemning her and ignoring him is a mistake. If this horror of human rights abuses is to stop, and if the long-term conditions for resettlement of the Rohingya people are to ever occur, General Min Aung Hlaing and his military must be just as much the focus of international action and pressure as Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian government."
Here's Hot Press' recent report on the atrocities being carried out on Aung San Suu Kyi's watch:
What The Hell Is Going On In Myanmar?
Over half a million Rohingya have been forced to flee Myanmar due to ethnic cleansing. Concern’s Kieran McConville talks to Stuart Clark about the horrors they’ve experienced, and the worsening refugee crisis in neighbouring Bangladesh.
It really wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Aung San Suu Kyi had been hailed by everyone from U2 and Kofi Annan to Pope John Paul II and the Nobel Commission – they awarded her their 1991 Peace Prize – as Myanmar’s saintlike democratic saviour. Her release in 2010 after 20 years of house arrest was meant to usher in a new Myanmar, free from the isolationist military dictatorship that had been in power since 1962. The dream turned into a bloody nightmare, though, on October 9, 2016 when hundreds of militants, drawn from Buddhist Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya community, attacked three checkpoints along the country’s border with Bangladesh. After further fighting, which claimed the lives of 103 militants and 32 members of the security forces, the army launched a major crackdown that initially saw them arrest and illegally detain thousands of Rohingyas, some of them young children who clearly had no links to the militants.
Worse was to come with soldiers and vigilante mobs launching a scorched earth policy in Myanmar’s eastern Rakhine state.
The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, revealed that his team on the ground was “receiving accounts of indiscriminate shootings, summary executions, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearances, rape and other forms of sexual violence and torture.”
The international jury is out on exactly how complicit Aung San Suu Kyi has been in the violence – former Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is among those who believe she’s lost control of the military – but no one is disputing how serious the crisis is.
In the past eight weeks, 589,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh where they’ve been restricted to a network of camps along the Cox’s Bazar-Teknaf peninsula, which has the longest unbroken beach in the world and has for several decades been a popular backpackers’ destination.
“The Rohingya have experienced difficulties in Myanmar for a long time – there were a couple of hundred thousand in Cox’s Bazar already as a result of previous displacements - but the scale of this has overwhelmed everybody,” says Kieran McConville, a photographer and filmmaker working with Concern who have 40 staff in four camps where they’ve reached more than 250,000 refugees. “Every day you see big open-backed trucks coming up the road with a new influx of frightened and bedraggled families packed into them. I met a lady who said that people, including her brother-in-law, had been shot whilst crossing the border. There are unconfirmed reports of landmines being laid, which, if true, will mean even more deaths and casualties.
“The Bangladeshi government are planning to build another camp with services for 800,000 people so the expectation is that the situation is going to get a whole lot worse.”
One of the first people McConville met in Cox’s Bazar was 24-year-old Amir.
“He limped up to us slowly, his right-calf wrapped in a dirty bandage,” Kieran resumes. “Amir told us how soldiers had burst into his home, killed his young son and daughter and then shot him. His parents are also dead, and he can’t locate his wife. He’s wandering around Kutupalong, this big camp, in a state of shock with a bullet-wound in his leg and no realistic expectation of being able to return to what, if anything, is left of his home.”
While Amir survived, poor little Lukia died shortly after arriving at Cox’s Bazar.
“She was two-years-old and the first kid to arrive at our first nutrition centre,” Kieran notes sadly. “Her mother was sick back at the shelter, so her grandmother brought her in. Our job is to treat severe acute malnutrition, using an outpatient programme of therapeutic feeding. If a child has medical complications, as Lukia did, one of our paramedics refers them to a medical facility to be treated. Tragically, Lukia died before she got to our colleagues at Médecin Sans Frontiers. Our team were really devastated - but that’s what drives them on to help others.” Along with bullet and machete wounds, aid workers are also having to deal with the scars left by rape.
“Some women are understandably reluctant to talk about it themselves, but the anecdotal evidence suggests systemic rape and other forms of sexual assault,” Kieran asserts. “
Refugees have suffered the added indignity and trauma of being able to watch as their homes are burned to the ground.
“I was at our Hakin Para nutrition centre, which is up on a hill, and saw a bunch of people standing and staring off into the distance,” Kieran resumes. “I wandered over to check out what was happening, and very clearly, six or seven miles away, you could see this huge wall of fire and a military helicopter circling overhead.
“A lot of the Syrian refugees you see in Turkey and the Lebanon come from a professional background, but most of the Rohingya are subsistence farmers or labourers. Money and possession-wise they have virtually nothing. If there’s an upside to any of this, it’s that the majority of people I’ve spoken to in the camps now say that they feel safe.”
Over half of the Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar are young children.
“A lot are orphans who are there with neighbours, grandparents and other relatives,” McConville says. “What they’ve had to endure these past few months in unimaginable.”
The general consensus among western observers is that the main militant Rohingya group, Harakah al-Yaqin (The Faith Movement), is becoming increasingly radicalised and may, if the crisis worsens, start reaching out to the likes of IS who rarely pass up on the opportunity to exploit a localised conflict. At present, Harakah al-Yaqin appears to be a somewhat ragtag force of around 350 men armed with machetes, slingshots and the odd gun smuggled in from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia where they’re believed to have private backers.
The support they enjoy is far from universal, with many Rohingyas accusing the militants of unnecessarily endangering their lives. There have been recent reports of Harakah al-Yaqin preventing males of fighting age from crossing into Bangladesh.
“It suits the Myanmar authorities to have the Rohinghya fighting among themselves,” suggests a UN source who goes on to explain: “With few exceptions, they’re educated, get married, have kids and die in their own disadvantaged communities. Previously I’d have drawn a comparison
with apartheid-era South Africa; now it’s full-on ethnic cleansing.”
As cyclone season approaches, Concern are working in tandem with the Bangladeshi government to scale up their response to the refugee crisis.
“With flooding comes the increased danger of serious disease,” resumes Kieran McConville. “The refugees arriving in Cox’s Bazar are in need of shelter, food, water and healthcare. They require reassurance that they’re safe and will be looked after and that the world cares about what is happening to them.”