Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Letter to Mr Swire about the Rohingya

This is my video letter that I presented to Mr Hugo Swire, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK government, during his #AskFCO live Twitter session at 11.30am on 13th February 2013, on the topic of Burma. In it I put a question to him about the Rohingya.

13th February 2013

Dear Mr Swire,

I have been campaigning for the Rohingya since last Summer when thousands of homes were burnt down and many people were slaughtered in a most inhumane manner, including little children who were stabbed with spears, chopped into pieces and even thrown alive on to fires, whilst the Burmese security forces at best stood and observed, and at worst participated in the burnings and killings and then marched out thousands of Rohingya from their homes, miles out of the city, to live in squalid camps in remote areas, never to return again.

No sooner had they been marched out than bulldozers were brought in by the central government to level the ground in preparation for new developments. Even Rohingya houses that had not been burnt were also levelled.

During this time my friend and I were interviewing a Rohingya village leader on the ground by telephone and he spoke of great suffering, untreated injuries, and starvation. When they tried to get access to aid they were shot at. He also reported Rakhine dressing  like mullahs go into Muslim villages to burn and kill, as well as Rakhine shaving the heads of Rohingya dead bodies to make them look like Buddhists. He told us that the reports that Rohingya were burning houses was a complete lie and we have been told the same by other Rohingya since then too.

The media reported the happenings as ethnic  tension,  inter communal violence and riots. They failed to mention the mountains of propaganda distributed beforehand, the confiscation of computers and cameras from the Rohingya just before the events, the throwing out of NGOs and journalists from the land, and the Internet blackout to try and keep the outside world from knowing the truth about these crimes. In addition no one spoke about the numerous genocidal efforts by the Burmese regime to wipe out the Rohingya in recent history, including Operation Dragon in 1978 and Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation in 1991. Noone wanted to hear this because everyone was busy watching Aung San Suu Kyi do her world tour for the reformed Junta who had decided to put on suits and become politicians.

As the second wave of violence took place and thousands more Rohingya were burnt out of their land and thousands took to sea in desperation to try and escape, I made friends with a Rohingya refugee who had had his house burnt down and had managed to get hold of a phone to send out tweets from one of the camps. To this day he has called villages all across Arakan every day and tweeted updates on what is happening and has emailed me every bit of information he can get hold of. What he reported was most disturbing. I remember one particular day well as it was my birthday, as we desperately tried to get help for 10 thousand Rohingya stuck stranded at sea for days without food or water. Young children were dying in the boats. As the Rohingya tried to land they were shot at by the security forces. It was reported that even a lady who had given birth on the boat was shot at and killed as was her baby as they tried to get out of the water.

To get access to the official IDP camps and measly portions of rice, Rohingya were forced to register as Bengali immigrants in order to keep their families barely alive, whilst those who preferred to hold on to their ethnic name whatever the cost set up makeshift camps where life was much harder. Those that remained in their homes were barricaded off from the rest of the world by the military who stated that they were protecting them, but they stopped anyone and everything from entering or leaving these camps, refusing to allow people to work or buy or sell, stopping them from farming their own land or going out to fish, as well as blocking all access to healthcare. Outside hospitals, signs have been erected stating 'No Kalar allowed'. Those Rakine caught selling to the Rohingya are paraded around the towns with signs around their necks to mark them as traitors to be ridiculed. The only people that seem to have free access to these enclaves are the military who enter as they wish to rape the women and girls and to arrest and hold hostage whoever they wish until a ransom is paid or else keep hold of them for torture and gratification of their sadistic perversions.

Dear Mr Swire, I understand you have visited the Rohingya in some of the displaced camps in Arakan. I understand you saw people living in a dire situation. But you saw the best of the camps, and I am told now that those not in camps but in their own homes are in an even worse state as they have no access to aid and are dying now from untreated diseases and starvation.

In addition to the many thousands suffering in the camps and the villages there are also literally thousands of completely innocent Rohingya now  languishing in prisons where they are tortured so inhumanely that one cannot begin to imagine. A recent report from now released prisoners speaks of torture like something one would only imagine taking place in the middle ages, it is so gruesome to even describe here.

It is no surprise therefore that Rohingya are risking drowning at sea rather than suffering such torment on their own land. But are you aware of the authorities involvement and coordinated operation in order to ship as many out to sea as possible? Are you aware that a hotline telephone number was distributed to the Rohingya for them to call should they wish to book a place on a boat, with assurances that there was no need to worry about the RNDP politicians or NaSaKa as they were involved. Boats are filled with fuel and Rohingya pushed off to sea by the hundreds every week, but sadly many don't make it anywhere, some dying from dehydration and starvation, others by drowning due to accident, but are you aware that Rakhine boats are intentionally being sent out to attack and sink boats so that no one will ever  know just how many really left?

Mr Swire, one day my Rohingya friend told me that they are being treated worse than the Jews in Nazi Germany. I disagreed suggesting maybe as bad, but surely no worse. However now I am starting to think he could actually be right. Looking at the mountain of evidence arising, and the blatant hatred amongst the majority of the Burmese population for the Rohingya, and the open request of Thein Sein for all Rohingya to be removed from the land, it is not difficult to draw to the conclusion that this is indeed genocide, a textbook case. And yet no one is protecting these people. Country after country sends its envoys to visit the Rohingya and then pours yet more aid into the pockets of the Burmese government, but I am quite sure that for any sack of rice that ever reaches the Rohingya there is ten times that amount being spent on increasing the oppression against these people to drive them out of the land.

Every government in every country professes to believe in justice, yet justice is compromised when it is not in the national interest, and that is no justice at all. Clearly the Rohingya is not in any countries' national interest as everyone clamours to get a piece of the investment  opportunities arising from the new Shwe gas pipeline starting in Sittwe in the Arakan state crossing over to another persecuted people, the Kachin. So politicians will not call this genocide but will play along with the Burmese authorities lies, because that is the truth everyone would prefer to believe. And the United Nations and the World Food Program will forever be restricted from stating the facts exactly as they are, due to political sensitivities. And NGOs will bite their tongues in order to get visas and not get arrested whilst trying desperately to save a few lives. So who will speak up for these people and who will speak truth?

Mr Swire, you can't say it, but I can. This is genocide, and the whole world is complicit in its silence. And in years to come everyone will be analysing what happened as they dig up the bodies and politicians will declare that they simple didn't have the right information. And everyone will say 'Never Again' once more. But Mr Swire, I've told you, so now you have this information.

And my question to you, Mr Swire, is what are you going to do to save the Rohingya?

Ms Jamila Hanan

I am grateful to Mr Swire for retweeting my question and also responding with this reply:

All questions that Hugo Swire responded to on Burma during his Twitter question time can be read here.

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