December 2, 2016
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The “G-word” has recently come up in regards to the escalation of mass violence currently taking place in Burma. The perpetrators, ethnic Buddhist Rahkine, began attacking Burma’s Muslim minority, the Rohingya, in early October in response to militant attacks on police outposts. It does not appear that the group is acting under the authority of Aung San Suu Kyi, but it’s obvious the Burmese government is most definitely not doing anything to stop it. Several indicators of genocide developed by past scholars have been evidenced in the war-torn Rahkine State, some of which include “the systematic dehumanization of the target group”, “their isolation inside camps and barricaded ghettos”, and “violent attacks on them involving the participation of security forces”. Oddly familiar, don’t you think? The Wall Street Journal has, in a recent article, pointed out the
unnerving similarities between the aspects of this event and the hallmarks of tragedies like those in Bosnia, Darfur, Kosovo, and Rwanda.
October 26, 2016
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Human Rights Watch and France International News both released statements regarding the displacement of the minority group, Rohingya, in Burma. This forced displacement was spurred on by the deaths of nine police officers earlier in October. Some government officials believe that the armed attackers belonged to a Rohingya rebel group. Although journalists and humanitarians have not been allowed access to these areas, reports are estimating that 18,000 civilians have been displaced thus far, the majority of which are Rohingya. Many victims are claiming cases of forced removal, looting, burning, rape, and executions among the crimes being committed by the Burmese government.
Not only has the government denied access to journalists and humanitarians, but aid efforts as well. The displaced have limited resources and food available to them, and are in dire need of relief efforts. According to the Human Rights Watch report, “Under the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, all authorities “shall grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the internally displaced.” Human rights groups are calling upon the Burmese government to provide aid for the displaced, or allow aid efforts to move freely.
November 19, 2012
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With Barack Obama making the first presidential trip to Myanmar, I think think the time is right to talk about transitional justice in that country. Though Myanmar is not a member of the ICC, there have been attempts by other countries to refer its leaders to the Court for crimes against humanity (noticeably, the EU called for a referral after leaders blocked foreign aid for a cyclone that had killed over 75,000 people), and the government has been widely seen over the past several decades as extremely oppressive and insensitive to human rights. Among the many reported abuses are systematic rapes in the military, the facilitation of widespread human trafficking, and violence against political opposition, all of which contribute to the UN referring to the situation as a “systematic [violation] of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
However, as indicated in Obama’s visit, the country is currently undergoing a relatively rapid transition to democracy. Over the past two years, President Thein Sein has taken the reigns of the country and has somewhat facilitated a shift in control from the military junta to an “army-managed, quasi-democracy.” Indeed, Obama focused his visit on placing pressure on the country to carry out full democratic reforms—sanctions on most imports from Myanmar were lifted and it was announced a USAID program for Myanmar would resume its assistance. He did so while making it clear that the country is far from being a true democracy and is currently in the shadow of an abusive military regime.
Although Myanmar’s government seems to be reforming itself and facilitating the country’s own transition (before Obama’s visit, about 500 prisoners were given amnesty), how will the country reconcile with the regime’s extremely serious past abuses that amount to crimes against humanity? Of course, other countries have managed to do well while having political leaders who held ties to abusive regimes, but are trials a necessary first step? Is accountability essential for transition in Myanmar’s case? Even if there will inevitably be a push back against the past regime, is it not true that continuing with cooperation (and even amnesty) is the best way for the government to peacefully continue the transition to democracy?