Saturday, November 8, 2014

The ugly realities of modern-day Myanmar (Burma)

Recent reports have shone a light on the dark side of a country supposedly reforming its ways

All of a sudden, Myanmar is being squeezed from all sides. It couldn't have happened at a worse - or better - time, depending on how one looks at it.

This past week, the country's security forces have been accused of profiting from human trafficking of Rohingya Muslims via boats off the west coast of Myanmar.

Fortify Rights revealed, in a report released this week, that Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State, where most of the Rohingya reside, have since 2012 been collecting payments from these Muslims, who are desperate to get out and find better lives, usually in Malaysia. The United Nations says Rohingya are some of the most mistreated people in the world.

In some cases, the Myanmar navy escorted boats run by criminal gangs out to international waters, the report claimed.

"Not only are the authorities making life so intolerable for Rohingya that they're forced to flee, but they're also profiting from the exodus," said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. "This is a regional crisis that's worsening, while Myanmar authorities are treating it like a perverse pay day."

The report said local Rohingya brokers mostly delivered payments to members of the Lon Thein riot police, Myanmar Police, the navy, and the army in amounts ranging from Ks500,000 (Bt16,200) to Ks600,000 per shipload of Rohingya asylum seekers in exchange for passage out to sea.

In one case documented by Fortify Rights, the navy demanded Ks7 million from a criminal gang operating a ship filled with Rohingya fleeing to Malaysia.

More than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar's western shores by boat over the past two years amid anti-Muslim violence that many said was tactically supported by government security officials.

The setback has become a source of embarrassment for many Western countries who often talk about the so-called reforms the country has taken but not enough about the atrocities committed against the people, as well as the jailing and harassment of local media for their criticism and vicious assaults on ethnic armies amid talks of peace and a national ceasefire.

Also this past week, a report by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School said there is sufficient evidence to prosecute high-ranking officers for crimes against humanity that government troops committed against the Karen ethnic minority.

The report is based on a three-year study of villages near the Thai border, where the military conducted a large-scale widespread and systematic attacks against ethnic Karen fighters from 2005 to 2008.

The report accuses the military of "firing mortars at villages; opening fire on fleeing villagers; destroying homes, crops, and food stores; laying land mines in civilian locations; forcing civilians to work and porter; and capturing and executing civilians" during the offensive against the Karen. Three Myanmar military commanders were named for the offensive. All are still active in the country's military.

Myanmar President Thein Sein was dismissive of the report, saying some human rights violations might have taken place but suggested that it was normal in civil war.

And then there was the death of an ethnic Karen journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, better known as Par Gyi, who died while in military detention. It was nothing less than a sad reflection on the rule of law in a country whose government is still largely run by the military top brass.

Domestically, pro-democracy icon and key opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has finally broke her silence and put a squeeze on the country's leaders. She said reforms have been slow and warned against optimism.

The deepening crisis comes ahead of the next week's Asean Summit, the largest event in the country over the past six decades. While the summit is a suggestion that the country is making progress in its relationship with the international community, Myanmar's past deeds must not be swept under the carpet and forgotten.

It's not too late for the country to face up to its past and come to terms with its dark past. But they can only do this if they face the truth, instead of brushing these concerns aside as if they were fiction. The Nation, Bangkok


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