Saturday, 12 April 2014

Myanmar: Building a Legacy of Genocide

One of the first video clips I saw of the Rohingya genocide was this one in June 2012:

As a mother of a boy of similar age, his cry pierced my soul and compelled me to act.

Further amateur video coming out at that time alerted me to something extraordinarily wrong that was happening in Burma.

I had no knowledge of genocide or Burma then, but after hurriedly contacting those I could find with experience of Burma, its politics and its history of similar such crimes against minorities, I came to understand that it was indeed plausible that a genocide was taking place. I was stunned to find Genocide Watch had issued a genocide emergency alert for the area, yet it was clearly being ignored by the international community who were busy with the world tour of Aung San Suu Kyi, praising the Burmese government for reforms and dropping sanctions.

My research led me to this documentary, Genocide: Worse than War, an exploration of the nature of genocide, ethnic cleansing and large-scale mass murder in our time. It is by Daniel Goldhagen, the award winning author who has devoted his life to researching genocide in the hope to find ways that would put an end to stop such killing, which he argues claims more lives than war.

Genocides follow standard patterns. Here Genocide Watch lists 10 stages of genocide. Goldhagen's key finding explained in this documentary is that genocide is always politics, and it is always planned and organised by one or just a few people. This conclusion comes from deep research of just about every genocide he could find over years of work. One would be a fool to dismiss such findings. The type of people who organise genocide are those that have risen to power through careful calculated decisions where pros and cons of actions are weighed up. Genocide is a carefully calculated decision. Key to stopping genocides therefore is changing the balance so that the consequences of committing a genocide outweigh the benefits.

A video of the Rohingya exodus that took place in June 2012 was leaked out and published on YouTube in October 2012. This shocking video shows clearly the way in which thousands upon thousands of Rohingya were forcibly driven from their homes and marched into remote camps in the countryside, never to return to their homes again.This was not an operation that happened suddenly to protect people in a hurry, amidst violence that had organically broken out - this was  well planned, well organised, and led by the military. This video should leave no person under any illusion as to the lack of state involvement (and control) in this genocide.

With this understanding I had two questions in mind:
1. Who is the person (or maybe few people) organising the Rohingya genocide?
2. How do we change the balance so that the consequences for those people who are planning and organising this genocide outweigh the benefits?

I do agree that there is a huge amount of hatred and tension between ethnicities in Burma, especially in the state of Arakan/Rakhine. However, this hatred is driven by propaganda and encouraged through state policies of persecution. Whatever efforts to build peace (and I know there are many, and they are important) will always struggle, because behind everything that is taking place, there is a mind set on eliminating the Rohingya from the land, calculating, plotting, and this mind has power, lots of it.

Not knowing much about Burma I started to research previous leaders. I was interested to see that the efforts to remove the Rohingya had started in the late 70s/early 80s, with removal of the Rohingya's right to citizenship in 1982, and then further clearly defined elimination campaigns taking place in the 90s led by the military junta. It therefore seemed logical that whoever is behind this current campaign was involved with previous persecution. In addition, whoever it is must have influence over all arms of the security forces, since all had been implicated in crimes. The mastermind had to be at the top of the hierarchy, the very top.

Was Thein Sein the mastermind behind the genocide? Everything I had read led me to doubt this. It seems that his time as president is already numbered. Previous dictator Than Shwe has already spelt that out. Behind the scenes people tell me that Thein Sein is a puppet.

The real puppet master, it seems, is still Than Shwe. Apparently 'retired' in 2012. I've never heard of a dictator that retires. They die. Sometimes they are removed. But retiring? Not unless they are forced too. It just doesn't happen. Everything I read about his character appears to fit the description of a genocidal mind. But all this is just speculation, without proof, and I can say this, because I'm a nobody - don't expect anyone in any organisation to mention such a name for fear of repercussion.

I may be wrong about the person, but still, I am convinced, there is a mind planning, organising, giving orders. Genocide simply does not happen by chance.

So here is my message to that person organising the Rohingya genocide:

"You may not believe it now, since you have largely gone about all of your previous atrocities with complete impunity, but there will be consequences to your actions. Gone are the days when you can eliminate 1 million of your people unnoticed. If the Rohingya genocide goes ahead:
- It will become very difficult for businesses to carry on as before. Whilst organisations may be happy to do business now, they will not afterwards.
- Your position as a member of the international community will change. Whilst you may be getting away with crimes now, after you eliminate the Rohingya, you will not be accepted as before.
- You will be pursued personally at the ICC. You got away with previous crimes, just, but your days are numbered, and advances are being made in international prosecutions. A nail in the Rohingya coffin will seal your fate.
Most of all, consider this: You will leave behind a legacy, like Germany, like Bosnia, like Rwanda. Burma/Myanmar will be forever known as that blood stained place of the Rohingya genocide. You will never eliminate that memory. Is that what you want to leave behind for your children?"

Of course, the dictator genocidal mastermind might change his mind. I have hope in that, because he is a calculating person, and the sums don't add up. And what then? Will the Rohingya be saved?

I have a campaigning friend that describes big planned projects as being like huge oil tankers. Once they get going, they take a long time to stop, because they start to carry their own momentum. To stop the Rohingya genocide, the brakes need putting on, direction needs changing, the genocidal mastermind can change his mind, but even then it will take a huge amount of work to rebuild the damage done and stop the hatred, build peace, heal wounds, and everyone will have to play their part in that.

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