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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2282

Letter from America: U.S. Congressional Hearing on Burma - 1

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

The House Foreign Affairs/Asia Sub-committee of the U.S. Congress recently held a hearing to examine the current political environment inside Burma (Myanmar), the growing human right abuses among its ethnic groups, and assess U.S. policy towards the country. Amongst other dignitaries Professor Wakar Uddin of the Arakan Rohingya Union, Tom Andrews and Jennifer Quigley were invited to answer a series of questions on the above subject. Hearings of this kind do show that the U.S. Congress is mindful of Myanmar and is interested to better the situation for all inside the country. I welcome such an initiative.

In my opinion, the changes that have happened in the state of Myanmar in the last couple of years are mostly cosmetic and not genuine. I wish I could have sounded more optimistic. But I can’t and I shall share why I feel this way.

1. On the positive side, hundreds of political prisoners have been released from the prisons where once they had been rotting for years.

2. There is even a parliament (with members coming mostly from the armed forces) that discusses national issues, but the debates there don’t reflect an environment of a genuine democracy. Important issues affecting the future of the state, the role of military, the nature of the ‘emerging democracy’ and federation needed for Myanmar to survive in the 21st century as a united country that is composed of many races, ethnicities and religions are mostly ignored.

3. People, esp. the minorities – ethnic and religious – are discriminated in every strata of the society – from local levels to federal state of the government administration. The minority Rohingyas are still denied their basic rights to citizenship in spite of the fact that they are indigenous to the Arakan state, bordering Bangladesh. Thousands of Rohingya and other Muslim prisoners of conscience still continue to languish in Burmese prisons. Many of these prisoners have lost everything that they once owned. Sadly, many of the Rohingya political prisoners, previously uncharged all these years, are all on a sudden charged with fictitious crimes which they never committed, with the objective of excluding them from getting released under mounting international pressure to release of political prisoners. Worse still, in recent ethnic cleansing drives while the victims were Muslims almost all the prisoners connected to such pogroms have been Muslims, aged from 8 to 60 plus years old, who are sentenced anywhere from 7 to life imprisonment terms. Only in Mogher mulluk can one witness such travesty of justice!

4. The Myanmar government policy continues to advocate deportation of the Rohingya Muslims, unless, of course, they can be eliminated inside.

5. The government has not allowed freedom of trade unions to operate freely within the prevalent laws.

6. There is no journalistic freedom to report from war-torn and riot (or more correctly pogrom) affected areas and express views that may be critical of the government.

7. Neo-Nazi Fascism is at an all time high inside much of Myanmar where the minority Muslims are forced to live a life of traumatic fear and absolute insecurity. Instead of much anticipated security and integration, insecurity and marginalization to the level of wholesale extinction have, sadly, become their lot in this ‘new’ Myanmar. They face ever increasing mob violence that is directed against them with full support from top to bottom – from those in administration to the security forces and local racist Buddhist politicians and extremist Buddhist monks. Sadly, there is no Buddhist voice of conscience except probably that of U Gambira condemning such ethnic cleansing drives against minority Muslims. If this situation is allowed to continue unchecked the Rohingyas of Myanmar will become an extinct people in our time.

8. Succinctly put, while the outside world is somewhat amused with the political reforms initiated by the administration of President Thein Sein, such reforms are too little and far between to address the more pressing issues of Myanmar – its fractured society that is divided along ethnicities, nationalities, races, religions, etc., and the role of the politicians, government officials, and the society at large to building the foundations for a stable and viable democracy in this otherwise multi-racial, -religious, -ethnic country. Unless the reforms are genuine by all intent and purpose, I am afraid that Myanmar will continue to bleed internally widening the gaps between religious and ethnic communities, creating an environment in which Buddhist monk-encouraged, racist politicians-motivated and government supported pogroms against vulnerable minorities would become the norms and not the exceptions. This would have, something already witnessed, a very adverse impact in the entire South Asia and South-East Asia leading to permanent chaos, conflict, regional insecurity, and instability - none of which is desirable for our world. As a resource rich but structurally and technologically weak, Myanmar cannot afford such an outcome.

Questions have been raised if the Obama Administration has moved too quickly in easing sanctions on Burma and increasing its overall engagement efforts over the last two years. As any expert would tell the regimes like those of Thein Sein crave for opportunities that give a lift to their legitimacy. The visits of the former Secretary of State Mrs. Hillary Clinton and President Barak Obama to the state of Myanmar are what the Myanmar’s new government craved for its public image and to boost its standing at home and abroad. Such visits gave the impression that the U.S. government is okay with the so-called reform efforts and the direction in which Myanmar is heading. Naturally, with all the sanctions almost lifted, there is no bar any more for any U.S. company to do business with this government, which still runs an apartheid state by any definition.

1. In my humble opinion, the Obama Administration has moved too quickly in easing sanctions on Burma.

2. What was required was a slow - give and take policy in which the new regime had to prove its sincerity for true reform before it could extract such political, economic, trade privileges or concessions from the USA.

3. The lifting of sanctions has been very counterproductive and damaging on the human rights front sanctifying violent and inhuman actions of the government as if those practices are okay. Thus, what we have been witnessing is an evolving face of Genocide of Muslims of Myanmar. And, there is no other way around to describe this ugliness. Neo-Nazi Fascism, a la Myanmar style, targeting minorities has become the new dark force of our century. Sadly, it is growing in a very calculated way but with devastating results, permanently altering the face of Myanmar. Unless, the UN and the USA see this danger nakedly and stop it now, I am afraid that the burden of doing too little and too late will haunt us much like when it came to Rwanda.

4. Many observers see such easing of U.S. sanctions as highly hypocritical in which U.S. policies are considered opportunistic and short-sighted that are more dollar-pleasing and conscience-starving! It is morally bankrupt and ill-advised, to say the least.

>>> to be continued …

- Asian Tribune -

Letter from America: U.S. Congressional Hearing on Burma - 1
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