Friday, 7 August 2020

OPINION - Time to add Myanmar’s most influential genocidal monk Sitagu to ICC List

Source AA, 5 Aug

Sitagu offered scriptural justifications for 'killing millions of non-Buddhists'

In November last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC) moved to begin the full investigation into Myanmar's violent international crimes and other events connected to the exodus of Rohingya from western Myanmar in decades.

In August 2017, Myanmar Tatmadaw, or the military, launched the "Security Clearance Operations," which resulted in the exodus of 750,000 Rohingya from across the borders into the adjacent Bangladesh city of Teknaf.

As the ICC proceeds with its full investigation, it needs to look into the instrumental role of Sitagu Sayadaw, Myanmar's most influential Saffron-robed hate preacher, in the genocidal and other crimes against predominantly Muslim Rohingya.

The ICC was set up in the Hague in 2002 to try individuals sufficiently linked to grave crimes under international law owing to their criminal responsibility, for instance, political and military leaders of the perpetrating state, militia heads and key civilians.

The proactive involvement of leading Buddhist monks and "race and faith" defense organizations is well-documented. And Sitagu has more than sufficient linkages with the Buddhist monk-led ethno-nationalist movement with its essential Islamophobia. The populist mobilization of public opinion against Rohingya victims is firmly anchored in Islamophobia although there are other driving factors behind the genocide.

For the last eight consecutive years since I first blew the genocide whistle on the systematic and phased destruction of Rohingya people by my country of birth and the state-backed sharp rise in Islamophobia, I found that the TIME magazine dubbed Wirathu "the Face of Buddhist Terror" on its cover, while Wirathu's patron, namely Sitagu abbot, has largely escaped international scrutiny.

It was Sitagu, who as the head of Myanmar's state-backed Buddhist Fascist group named Ma Ba Tha (Race and Buddhism Defense League), provided scriptural justifications for the military's genocidal killings of Rohingya and has helped cement Islamophobia into a national policy.

'One faith, one race'

On July 20, I did a Facebook Live in Burmese language, following Myanmar Martyrs' Day commemoration on July 19 during which the late Gen. Aung San, the father of current de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi who is widely considered the architect of Burma's independence from Britain, along with eight other colleagues and staff were assassinated during a colonial-era cabinet meeting in Rangoon.

I pointed out the perils of the public's continued embrace of "one faith, one race" exclusionary, majoritarian, and populist nationalism with Buddhism as the de facto state religion. In this connection, I singled out Sitagu as the most impactful Islamophobic demagogue: his YouTube-ed words of fear and loathing of Islam and Muslims in the Burmese language are extremely influential with both military and political decision-makers and the Buddhist lay public.

Alas, it has touched raw nerves.

The clip has since gone viral among the Burmese Facebook users, attracting 1.5 million views, provoking thousands of hate comments and death threats.

A popular Facebook platform, namely Akothi (We-know-everything), with nearly 2 million followers, further amplified my blistering words about the poisonous pseudo-Buddhist ethnonationalism of the majority public – with its own negative spin against my criticism directed at the Burmese genocidal leaders and preachers.

In the wildly spread clip, I singled out the two individuals who intentionally spread Fascist-like "pure" ethnonationalism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, namely the late dictator Gen. Ne Win and Sitagu.

Both men were responsible for the poisonous idea that originated in the inter-World War period in Germany that certain – usually nationally dominant – "races" are indigenous and hence "host" (blue-eyed, blond-haired Germans in Germany of the inter-world-war years, for instance) while others (such as German Jews) are "guests".

In 1919, a year after Germany lost the World War I, the exiled Kaiser Wilhem II, wrote to one of his former generals, "(the Germans) were (e)gged on and misled by the tribe of Juda whom they hated, who were guests among them! […] Let no Germans forget this nor rest until these parasites have been destroyed and exterminated from the German soil! This poisonous mushroom from the German oak-tree!"

The late Gen. Ne Win, who died under house arrest in December 2002, was the architect of the slow-burning genocide of Rohingya which began under the invented pretext of "illegal immigration of Muslims" from Bangladesh.

Nazi-esque policy discourse

Gen. Ne Win, as chairman of the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party government, decreed a new Citizenship Law in 1982 which was designed to exclude, disempower, and render stateless primarily over 1 million Rohingya Muslims on their own ancestral and historical western region of Myanmar. Ne Win introduced this Nazi-esque policy discourse "host-vs-guest" communities in the process of radically re-writing the originally inclusive Burmese Citizenship Law.

Ne Win is no more; he was put under house arrest by a new generation of generals in 2002 and he died the same year. But his guest-vs-host genocidal idea is kept alive and further popularized by Sitagu monk.

Unlike the younger charismatic monk Wirathu, Sitagu's genocidal role is little known outside a handful of international experts on Myanmar Buddhism.

In an article for Oxford Tea Circle, titled Challenging the Distortion of Influential Monks?, Matthew Walton, formerly Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Fellow on Burma Studies, said: "[Sitagu monk's] remarks [at the commando training school] had a chilling purpose: to provide a religious justification for the mass killing of non-Buddhists."

While the Oxford-based scholar who held the academic post that bears Myanmar Counsellor's name was sounding alarm bells in his writing about Sigtagu, Suu Kyi was conferring on the hate monk Agga Maha Pandita or Great Learned Sage.

Suu Kyi is not the only Myanmar leader who has patronized Sitagu.

Commander in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung, who declared the existence of Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar region "an unfinished business" from the World War II era, is often seen to pay the monk visits.

In a video clip that was circulated by Sitagu's Burmese media network, Sitagu was telling the Senior General – sitting on his knee on the floor in a gesture of reverence to the monk – that "the world is fussing over this 'genocide thing' while only a handful – about 200 – Muslims were killed."

Offer to fight alongside armed forces

In the same conversation, the abbot sought to assuage the senior general's concerns about being hauled to the ICC. Specifically, Sitagu offered to help "mobilize hundreds of thousands of monks to fight alongside the Armed Forces" should any external actor chose to militarily intervene and snatch the senior general.

My decade-long research on Burmese Islamophobia and policies of genocide has coughed up Sitagu's instrumental role in promoting Islamophobia and poisoning the Burmese Buddhist mind with fear and loathing of Muslims.

This most revered monk has effectively incorporated the genocidal strain of Islamophobia in Myanmar nearly two decades before the 2017 wave of the state-directed and systematic destruction of a large segment of the Rohingya population, the wave that hit world news headlines.

In his audio-recorded address to the congregation of several hundred monks in the southernmost part of Mandalay, my city of birth, known as Pha Ya Gyi, the young Wirathu was heard telling his fellow Buddhist preachers that the Muslim take-over of Buddhist Burma was happening through marrying Buddhist women as a matter of demographic strategy.

Here, Wirathu pointed out that only Buddhist monks are capable of repelling such conspiratorial assault on the Buddhist society while the Burmese troops armed with guns looked on helplessly.

In this Islamophobic narrative, Muslim invasion in the bed rooms of Buddhist homes is the first step towards the Islamicization of Myanmar. Burmese Muslims make up only 5% of the total population in the country, where 90% of the public are Buddhists of different ethnicities.

His words roused the rage of hundreds of the monk audience as he disclosed the Mossad-like secret, monk-led campaign to "deprive all Muslims in the country of livelihood opportunities and eventually starve them to death, or simply trigger the forced Muslim exodus as a whole." Importantly, Wirathu publicly named the High Rev. Sitagu as the patron-monk of this emerging monks' nationwide network who viewed Muslims and Islam as the greatest threat to the majoritarian Buddhist society.

Today, Myanmar's civilian government has an active warrant to arrest the world (in)famous Reverend Wirathu for his public denunciation of its autocratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and has gone into hiding accordingly.

In sharp contrast, Sitagu continues to enjoy protection and extraordinary privileges including being flown around the country including the country's military frontline outposts on military helicopters with armed escorts. And more ominously, Sitagu remains extremely popular with the Burmese lay Buddhist public who falsely believes him to be a holy prophet, despite the latter's well-documented promotion of racism and hatred of the most toxic kind.

*The writer is a Burmese coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition, general secretary of Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia.

**Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency

Myanmar’s Rohingya Genocide Identity, History and Hate Speech

Source Bloomsbury,

By: Ronan LeeMedia of Myanmar's Rohingya Genocide
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Monday, 22 June 2020

Hindi film on Rohingya genocide in the works

Source Cinemaexpress, 29 May

Director Haider Khan's debut feature focuses on the Rohingya refugee crisis. The upcoming film, titled Rohingya, tells the story of over 9,00,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar and sought refuge in Bangladesh and other countries. The film is produced by Thunder Dragon Productions of Bhutan. It also highlights "the unsung Special Forces Indian paras, also known as the maroon berets of our nation."

Haider has previously directed promos for Salman Khan Films as well as several ad films and videos. The actor-turned-filmmaker is the son of an ex-Indian army paratrooper.

"This will be world cinema's first-feature film on the Rohingya genocide," Haider claimed. "The film is shot in complete natural light and we actually didn't have hair and makeup. I wanted to bring realism and the feel of the pain (experienced by) them."

The film was shot in Bhutan, North East India and Uttarakhand. The cast is led by Sangay Tsheltrim, a former royal guard of Bhutan who will also be seen in Salman Khan-starrer Radhe. He's joined by Tangia Zaman Methila, a supermodel from Bangladesh, who plays a Rohingya girl. Other cast members include Baharul Islam, Rajib Kalita, Anil Choudhary, Gautam Gossain and Kapil Gujar.

Yanghee Lee: Champion of justice for Rohingyas

Source TheDailyStar, 19 May

"We all knew that [Aung San Suu Kyi] was put on a pedestal or portrayed as the icon of democracy and human rights, but ever since [her party] has taken office [after the 2015 election] and ever since she took the office of the State Councillor, all of her actions and her words, statements point otherwise", noted Professor Yanghee Lee, in one of her last conversations with Al Jazeera as the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Burma. "Perhaps the world didn't really know who she was", she said.

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee, pictured in Kuala Lumpur on 18 July, 2019. Photo: AFP

At a time when the world, including neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand, have shunned the Rohingya (acknowledged as the most persecuted minority in the world), at a time when the Burmese state audaciously tramples the whole corpus of international human rights instruments being aided and abetted by major powers; at a time when those who stand for reason, rule of law and justice feel betrayed by the high and mighty of the world, Yanghee Lee stood firm as a beacon of hope.

A developmental psychologist and professor with decades of involvement in the UN's rights bodies, Lee held the mandate of the Special Rapporteur from 2014 until end of April this year. Over the years, she made extensive visits to the region, including Burma. Her objective reporting on the human rights situation in Rakhine and the rest of Burma did not augur well and during their last one-to-one meeting, the de facto head of Burmese government Suu Kyi threatened visa denial if the UN Special Rapporteur kept pushing the "UN line". Lee refused to be cowed by the former human rights icon's interference and Suu Kyi delivered on her threat—she has been denied entry to the country since 2017. Lee viewed the Burmese decision "as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine, as well as in the rest of the country". While holding office, she was one of the very few global public figures who unwaveringly championed the Rohingyas' quest for dignity, justice and protected return to their homeland.

Yanghee Lee's tenure came to be largely dominated by the Burmese state's attempt to complete the "unfinished business" of Rohingyas' physical and historical existence, the Burmese equivalent of the Final Solution, in the early fall of 2017. The genocidal terror that was unleashed resulted in the exodus of at least 750,000 people into neighbouring Bangladesh. It was presented as a clearance operation of "ARSA terrorists", a pretext enthusiastically accepted by Islamophobic western governments, world media and "security experts". Choosing to ignore the genocidal nature of these "security clearance operations", the emerging chorus of policy and media discourses faulted the Burmese military for "disproportionate and excessive use of force", despite Lee calling out the "the hallmarks of a genocide" by Burma. As a matter of fact, on August 10, 2017, at least two weeks prior to the alleged ARSA attack on Burmese police outposts, Lee warned of the buildup and ominous movement of security forces in northern Arakan and appealed for restraint and respecting human rights.

In her parting statement to the Human Rights Council, Lee noted, "(w)hen I took up my mandate in 2014, I had thought that by 2020 a rights-respecting democracy would have been firmly established in Myanmar… Rather than a nation that protects human rights, I observe rights violations that continue to routinely occur and a country that stands accused of the most serious crimes under international law."

Lee proposed ways to move towards an equal, tolerant and pluralistic society, including through victim-centered transitional justice mechanisms. Among other things, the UN expert underscored the need to bring the entire government and security forces under civilian control and initiate extensive legal reforms—including of the Constitution, land laws, the Citizenship Law and laws that violate fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, assembly and religion. "An end to impunity is the lynchpin for Myanmar to succeed in its transition to democracy. Perpetrators of human rights violations and international crimes must be held accountable," she argued.

Yanghee Lee was appalled at the world's reaction to the Rohingya plight—particularly that of the Security Council, which could not manage to agree on a single unified stance on an unfolding genocide in real time. She made her feelings loud and clear. Lee felt it was "shameful" that China and Russia, being UN security council members, have not taken any action against Burma. "China cannot be a global leader if it ignores such atrocities," she noted. The Special Rapporteur also said the US decision to impose sanctions against senior military leaders in Burma did not go "far enough" and recommended these be tougher and applied to more generals.

She was disappointed at the response of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to the developments in northern Arakan. The situation posed an increasing risk to the peace and security of countries of the region, she warned, urging them to prioritise human rights in its dealings with Burma. She expressed regret at the lack of response from the Government of India on her request to visit the country to meet refugees there. She reminded them that it is incumbent on member states to respect mandates established by the Human Rights Council and provide timely and reasonable answers to such requests.

The UN's role in addressing the Rohingya plight has been palpable. Lee personally appealed to Secretary General Antonio Guterres for an international investigation, to no avail. In October 2017, when The Guardian reported the scandalous news of Renata Lok-Dessalien, UN Resident Coordinator in Burma, compromising UN Human Rights Up Front policy by prioritising a cozy relationship with Burma's rulers, Guterres relented and commissioned former Guatemalan foreign minister Gert Rosenthal to do an internal assessment of the UN's performance in Burma. The Rosenthal Report condemned the organisation's "obviously dysfunctional performance" over the past decade and noted "the overall responsibility was of a collective nature; in other words it can truly be characterised as a systemic failure of the United Nations." Accordingly, no UN official was held accountable, and Lok-Dessallien was even rewarded with a larger portfolio when she was appointed head of the UN in India!   

Yanghee Lee was unequivocal in expressing her disappointment of the UN system in dealing with the Rohingya issue, particularly the UN's technical agencies in the New York headquarters and in Burma. She was brutally honest about how she felt about the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed by the Burmese government, UNHCR and UNDP in early June 2018 purportedly "to assist the process of repatriation from Bangladesh". The document was not made publicly available, nor was there any transparency about its terms. UN's failure to defend the self-identity of the Rohingya and their refugee status appalled her. "I am dismayed about the fact that the parties to the MoU, including the United Nations agencies involved in this process, have apparently failed to recognise Rohingya living in Bangladesh as refugees and as Rohingya".

The tendency of concerned states, including Burma and Bangladesh, to deny any role to Rohingya refugees was of grave concern for her. "Most frightful … is the fact that the Rohingya refugees have not been included in any of the discussions … around this MoU nor consulted in relation to the repatriation process as a whole", she noted, posing the uncomfortable but pointed question to the Council—"how can the process of repatriation be voluntary with the people who the process is for excluded from it? How can you be sure that any return is based on individual informed consent?"

Conveying the common view among Rohingya refugees to the Council, Lee said "it is futile to speak about their safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return unless the root causes of their exodus are properly addressed". She argued that to ensure such repatriation, the international community must ensure that Burma dismantles the system of discrimination against the Rohingya by law, policy and practices that continue to exist, and guarantee fundamental human rights to them, including by restoring their citizenship rights and property.

Helping lay the foundation for global justice for both Rohingyas and other victims within the UN's system of accountability has been the single most important contribution of Professor Lee to Burma's oppressed communities (not just the Rohingya), especially given that the country does not have national or domestic justice and accountability mechanisms that recognise and are capable of processing the gravest crimes in international law, such as crimes against humanity and genocide. Her persistent demand for an independent investigation into Burma's state crimes against the Rohingya led to setting up of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFMM) by the UN that was succeeded by the creation of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) by the Human Rights Council in September 2018. The IIMM became operational on August 30, 2019—it is mandated to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law and prepare files for criminal prosecution.

Despite widespread skepticism, it was the relentless effort of Lee that led to the huge success in setting up of an accountability mechanism. She even wrote the TOR of the personnel of IIMM and prepared its budget. All these were achieved with the meagre support of a desk officer and a research assistant. Acknowledging her significant role, Rohingya genocide scholar Maung Zarni succinctly noted "No Yanghee Lee, no Fact Finding Mission and The Gambia-vs-Myanmar case at the International Court of Justice". 

In our meeting during her last visit to Bangladesh, she underscored the need for sustained engagement of civil society against all odds. Brushing aside my shyness, I told her that we celebrate her good fight against a system that stands for the status quo and the powerful, and has repeatedly failed to deliver justice. I added, she was the role model for those who stand for justice for the wretched of the earth. Maintaining her graceful composure, she smiled. Gracias, Professor Yanghee Lee.


C R Abrar is an academic. He is the Coordinator of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Genocide Watch Launches Timestream on Rohingya Genocide

Source GenocideWatch, 8 May

Genocide Watch has published its first Timestream presentation, a new educational tool created by Ntrepid LLC.  Timestreams on other genocides will follow.

The Rohingya Timestream covers the history of the genocide and forced displacement of the Rohingya in Myanmar.  It explores key events leading up to the Gambia's case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice.  View the Timestream presentation here .



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