Thursday, December 7, 2017

U.N., European Union and Pope Criticize Trump’s Jerusalem Announcement

ROME — Pope Francis said, “I cannot remain silent.” The United Nations secretary general spoke of his “great anxiety.” The European Union expressed “serious concern.” American allies like Britain, France, Germany and Italy all declared it a mistake.
A chorus of international leaders criticized the Trump administration’s decision on Wednesday to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, calling it a dangerous disruption that contravenes United Nations resolutions and could inflame one of the world’s thorniest conflicts.
Secretary General António Guterres and Pope Francis both expressed alarm that the announcement would provoke new tensions in the Holy City, which is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Within minutes of Mr. Trump’s speech, in which he said the American Embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Mr. Guterres delivered what amounted to a diplomatic rebuke.
Reading a statement outside the Security Council chambers at United Nations headquarters in New York, Mr. Guterres criticized “any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” underscoring the administration’s departure from decades of American policy.
“Jerusalem is a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides,” Mr. Guterres said.
“In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear: There is no alternative to the two-state solution,” he said. “There is no Plan B.”
In Rome, Pope Francis prayed that Jerusalem’s status be preserved and needless conflict avoided.
“I cannot remain silent about my deep concern for the situation that has developed in recent days,” Francis said at his weekly general audience at the Vatican. “And at the same time, I wish to make a heartfelt appeal to ensure that everyone is committed to respecting the status quo of the city, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”
“Jerusalem is a unique city,” he said, “sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, where the Holy Places for the respective religions are venerated, and it has a special vocation to peace.”
In especially strong language, the pope added, “I pray to the Lord that such identity be preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the entire world, and that wisdom and prudence prevail, to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts.”
Protesters burned the flags of Israel and the United States in Gaza City on Wednesday. Credit Mahmud Hams/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The European Union’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, expressed concern about “the repercussions this may have on the prospect of peace.”
In a statement, she reiterated the bloc’s position that Jerusalem should be a future capital of two states, Israeli and Palestinian, and that embassies should not be moved there until the city’s final status was resolved. She cited a 1980 United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s attempted annexation of East Jerusalem as a violation of international law.
She called on actors in the region “to show calm and restraint in order to prevent any escalation.”
Within a few hours of Mr. Trump’s speech, eight countries on the 15-member Security Council — including some of America’s closest allies — requested an emergency meeting to be held before the end of the week. Diplomats said it would most likely be scheduled for Friday.
Joakim Vaverka, political coordinator of Sweden’s United Nations mission, said in a statement that the delegations of Bolivia, Britain, Egypt, France, Italy, Senegal, Sweden and Uruguay had sought the meeting, including a briefing by Mr. Guterres, “in light of the statement today by the president of the United States regarding the status of Jerusalem.”
The warnings by the pope, the United Nations and the European Union spoke to a broad fear that Mr. Trump’s announcement would be the death knell for an already moribund peace process and that it would pull the plug on a two-state solution.
Critics of the announcement said the change in policy removed any pretense that the United States is a neutral broker for peace. Palestinians and other Arabs in the region already view the Trump administration as leaning toward Israel’s right-wing government. The change in American policy “destroys the peace process,” said the Palestinian prime minister, Rami Hamdallah.
Some of the United States’ closest allies expressed apprehension.
Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain called Mr. Trump’s decision “unhelpful in terms of prospects for peace in the region.”
President Emmanuel Macron of France, who was in Algeria on Wednesday meeting with the country’s president and other figures, said in a news conference that the decision by Mr. Trump was “regrettable” and that “France and Europe are committed to a two-state solution.” He called on all parties to refrain from violence.
Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, said through a spokesman that her government “does not support this position, because the status of Jerusalem is to be resolved in the framework of a two-state solution.”
Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy wrote on Twitter: “Jerusalem holy city, unique on earth. Its future will be defined within the framework of the peace process based on the two states, Israel and Palestine.”
In China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Geng Shuang, expressed support for a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and urged all parties to the conflict to proceed cautiously. “What we worry about is any potential flare-up of regional tensions,” he said. “The status of Jerusalem is a complicated and sensitive issue.”
Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, told reporters in Brussels, “Clearly this is a decision that makes it more important than ever that the long-awaited American proposals on the Middle East peace process are now brought forward.”
That process, led by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has seemingly failed to get off the ground.
Leaders in the region had already warned against the move. A statement from the royal palace of King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose kingdom is the custodian of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, emphasized that the city was critical to “achieving peace and stability in the region and the world.”
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was convening a summit meeting of the main Pan-Islamic body next week in Istanbul to discuss the American move and to show, as his spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in Ankara, “joint action among Islamic countries.”
Mr. Kalin called the expected change a “grave mistake,” adding that “Jerusalem is our honor, Jerusalem is our common cause, Jerusalem is our red line.”
Iran, unsurprisingly, condemned the change. Its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said at a conference in Tehran on Wednesday that it reflected the “incompetence and failure” of the American government.
Like much of Europe, the Vatican has long been sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. The Vatican established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1994, and Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI visited Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In 2012, the Vatican called for “an internationally guaranteed special statute” for Jerusalem, with the goal of “safeguarding the freedom of religion and of conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a Holy City, (and) respect for, and freedom of, access to its holy places.”
Francis visited the Holy Land in 2014, but he upset some Israelis by flying by helicopter directly from Jordan to the “State of Palestine,” as the Vatican schedule at the time referred to the territories. He visited Israel afterward.
In 2015, the Vatican entered into a treaty with the “State of Palestine.”
On Tuesday, Francis spoke by telephone to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, about the unfolding crisis. Before the pope’s public remarks to the faithful at the Vatican on Wednesday, he met privately with a group of Palestinians participating in interfaith dialogue with officials at the Vatican.
“The Holy Land is for us Christians the land par excellence of dialogue between God and mankind,” he said. “The primary condition of that dialogue is reciprocal respect and a commitment to strengthening that respect, for the sake of recognizing the rights of all people, wherever they happen to be.”
Reporting was contributed by Melissa Eddy and Steven Erlanger from Berlin; Rick Gladstone from New York; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; and Alissa J. Rubin from Paris.

Why the Rohingya Can’t Yet Return to Myanmar?

Here below is an article by Dr Ibrahim, which made a  small error in stating that the Bangladesh had signed an agreement, it is actually an arrangement, with the apartheid Myanmar.
On Nov. 23, the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement to return the Rohingya refugees — more than 600,000 people who escaped from Rakhine state in western Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh — after ethnic cleansing carried out by Myanmar’s armed forces since August.
Bangladesh is expected to compile lists of refugees wanting to return on a voluntary basis. Myanmar intends to verify each application to establish whether a refugee is eligible for repatriation. The returnees must provide copies of identity cards and documents certifying the address of their residence in Myanmar.
It might create the illusion of a policy decision by two governments moving toward addressing a shared refugee crisis. But the agreement is a hollow political gesture.
One of the first factors to consider is Myanmar’s verification process for a refugee to return. Myanmar’s military governments have had a consistent policy of either withholding official documentation from the Rohingyas or seizing and destroying the little documentation they had. A British government report documented how the Myanmar government changed its citizenship rules in 1989 and rendered the residency cards that most Rohingyas were carrying invalid. The government collected those invalid residency cards, but in most cases failed to provide the Rohingyas with the new residency cards. As a result, a majority of the Rohingyas in Myanmar did not have any official documentation at the beginning of this year.
Most of the Rohingyas who fled for Bangladesh left under dire circumstances — their villages set on fire, their lives in peril. They made desperate runs with their children and elderly. How many would have had the luxury of time and safety to look for their documents before the exodus?
The agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar specifies that the refugees should be returned to their homes and property. It is highly improbable, because numerous Rohingya villages have been burned and their cattle and lands seized by their Buddhist neighbors.
And last week, Myanmar announced that it would be building camps for some of the returnees. It is unclear whether it is a serious policy proposal or yet another talking point. No details about the capacity of the proposed camps are available. What is known is this: Myanmar’s minister for resettlement, Win Myat Aye, has said that his country would be taking back no more than 300 refugees per day. At that rate, it would take over five and a half years for all the 600,000 Rohingyas to be allowed back in.
The other issue is that the resettlement has to be voluntary. Why would a Rohingya prefer moving from a refugee camp in a relatively safe country to a refugee camp in an intensely hostile country and depend upon safety from the very people who killed their families and burned their villages?
Several Rohingya refugees I met in the camps in Bangladesh did tell me that if they were granted citizenship and equal rights, they would return to Myanmar. But that seems improbable because of Myanmar’s long history of systematically depriving the Rohingyas of their legal and basic human rights.
The government of Myanmar has given no assurances about the legal status of the returnees nor spoken about guaranteeing their safety. They might simply end up being described as “immigrants from Bangladesh,” a phrase their persecutors all along used to describe them.
A recent statement from Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military chief, about the proposed repatriation process has renewed fears about the safety of potential returnees. “The situation must be acceptable for both local Rakhine ethnic people and Bengalis, and emphasis must be placed on (the) wish of local Rakhine ethnic people who are real Myanmar citizens,” he said.
All of this raises severe doubts about the agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Several Bangladeshi leaders I met in Dhaka after the agreement was signed seemed keen to send the Rohingyas without having given much thought to how they would achieve it. They regard the Rohingyas as a financial burden on their impoverished country and a potential security threat.
Bangladesh has tried to keep the Rohingya refugees in camps isolated from the rest of society to signal that they are not meant to live there for good. Bangladeshi politicians signed the agreement because from their point of view, any deal that might move some Rohingyas back across the border is a good deal.
For the civilian government of Myanmar and its de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the refugee agreement is a public relations exercise to ward off international condemnation. Sources in Myanmar told me there is no communication between the military and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government on the issue. Without support from the military leadership, even if she would be so inclined, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi cannot stop the army from assaulting the Rohingyas.
The Rohingyas know it. And that is why there is not much in the way of a line to fill in resettlement forms around Cox’s Bazar. Staying in Cox’s Bazar is the best option for the Rohingyas at the moment. Bangladesh must let them stay and not try to push them back over the border into the hands of their persecutors.
Azeem Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy, is the author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide.”

Trump’s Transition Team Colluded With Israel. Why Isn’t That News?


Did the Trump campaign collude with Vladimir Putin to win the 2016 election? Maybe. We await Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s next move to learn more about that. But in the meantime, why aren’t more members of Congress or the media discussing the Trump transition team’s pretty brazen collusion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undermine both U.S. government policy and international law? Shouldn’t that be treated as a major scandal?
Thanks to Mueller’s ongoing investigation, we now know that prior to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, members of his inner circle went to bat on behalf of Israel, and specifically on behalf of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, behind the scenes and in opposition to official U.S. foreign policy. That’s the kind of collusion with a foreign state that has gotten a lot of attention with respect to the Kremlin – but colluding with Israel seems to be of far less interest, strangely.
Here’s what we learned last week when Mueller’s team unveiled its plea deal with Trump’s former national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn. In December 2016, the United Nations Security Council was debating a draft resolution that condemned Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied territories as a “flagrant violation under international law” that was “dangerously imperiling the viability” of an independent Palestinian state.
The Obama administration had made it clear that the U.S. was planning to abstain on the resolution, while noting that “the settlements have no legal validity” and observing how “the settlement problem has gotten so much worse that it is now putting at risk the … two-state solution.” (Rhetorically, at least, U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements has been a long-standing and bipartisan position for decades: Ronald Reagan called for “a real settlement freeze” in 1982 while George H.W. Bush tried to curb Israeli settlement-building plans by briefly cutting off U.S. loan guarantees to the Jewish state in 1991.) So what did members of the Trump team do, as they listened to loud objections to the U.N. resolution from the Netanyahu government while counting down the days till Trump’s inauguration in January 2017?
“On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood on the resolution and to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution,” reads the statement of offense against Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. “On or about December 22, 2016, Flynn contacted the Russian Ambassador about the pending vote. Flynn informed the Russian Ambassador about the incoming administration’s opposition to the resolution, and requested that Russia vote against or delay the resolution.”
Who was the “very senior member” of the transition team who “directed” Flynn to do all this? Multiple news outlets have confirmed that it was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and main point man on the Middle East peace process. “Jared called Flynn and told him you need to get on the phone to every member of the Security Council and tell them to delay the vote,” a Trump transition official revealed to BuzzFeed News on Friday, adding that Kushner told Flynn “this was a top priority for the president.”
According to BuzzFeed, “After hanging up, Flynn told the entire room [at the Trump transition team HQ] that they’d have to start pushing to lobby against the U.N. vote, saying ‘the president wants this done ASAP.’” Flynn’s guilty plea, BuzzFeed continued, revealed “for the first time how Trump transition officials solicited Russia’s help to head off the UN vote and undermine the Obama administration’s policy on Middle East peace before ever setting foot in the White House.”
None of this has been contested. In fact, on Sunday, Kushner made a rare public appearance at the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., to discuss the Trump administration’s plans for the Middle East and was welcomed by the forum’s sponsor, the Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, who said he “personally wanted to thank” Kushner for “taking steps to try and get the United Nations Security Council to not go along with what ended up being an abstention by the U.S.” Kushner’s response? The first son-in-law smiled, nodded, and mouthed “thank you” to Saban.
Meanwhile, the Israelis have been pretty forthcoming about their own role in all of this, too. On Monday, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. and a close friend and ally of Netanyahu, told Politico’s Susan Glasser that, in December 2016, “obviously we reached out to [the Trump transition team] in the hope that they would help us,” and “we were hopeful that they would speak” to other governments “in order to prevent this vote from happening.”
Got that? The Trump transition team — in the form of key Trump advisers Kushner and Flynn — reached out to the Russian government in order to undermine the U.S. government because the Israeli government asked them to.
Where’s the outrage? How is the sheer “scope and audacity” of the Trump-Netanyahu backchannels — to quote one U.S. official who spoke to me on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on this issue — not a bigger story? For a start, as University of Chicago law professors Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner argued in a New York Times op-ed on Monday, the much-mocked Logan Act of 1799 remains “a serious criminal statute that bars citizens from undermining the foreign policy actions of the sitting president.” These two legal scholars point out that “if Mr. Flynn violated the Logan Act, then so did the ‘very senior’ official who directed his actions. If that official is Mr. Kushner, then Mr. Kushner could go to jail.”
Then there is the issue of Middle East policy itself. It wasn’t outsourced to the Israelis by Trump and Co. only during the transition or only over settlements. The outsourcing has continued in office. Tomorrow, Trump is expected to announce that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — another key Israeli demand that every single previous president, Republican and Democrat, has resisted. The decision on Jerusalem is so contentious that it both undermines any chance of reviving the peace process and threatens to cost lives — not just those of Israelis and Palestinians, but of Americans too.
What was it that James Mattis, secretary of defense and former head of U.S. Central Command, said back in 2013 at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado? He pointed out that the chances of a two-state solution were “starting to ebb because of the settlements,” before adding: “I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”
Until Mueller issues his final report, we can all agree to disagree on whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. For now, however, what we do know for sure and what seems beyond doubt is that Flynn and Kushner colluded with Netanyahu and Dermer, on behalf of Trump, to make America not great again, but much less secure.
Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Trump’s own defense secretary.

Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Israeli Capital

Promises 'Magnificent' Embassy Will Be Built at Some Point

As has been expected, President Trump on Wednesday gave a speech affirming that he is formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. Trump cited the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which called for such a recognition, but which all other presidents deferred.
Despite a flurry of warnings over the last 48 hours that such a move effectively kills the peace process and threatens destabilizing the region, President Trump argued his move was done for the sake of the peace talks. He implied a correlation between the lack of progress on peace talks and the lack of recognition for Jerusalem.
The problem, of course, is that “Jerusalem” includes a large amount of militarily occupied territory, including parts which are envisioned as part of a future Palestinian state. Israel sees the recognition as an endorsement of their permanent occupation.
Beyond his defense of the move as somehow pro-peace, President Trump appeared to defer the relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem, even longer than the six months which was previously reported in the media. Trump instead promised a “magnificent embassy” to be put in Jerusalem, and reports suggest that the construction could take years.
This makes the move the worst of both worlds, making an on-paper move that’s going to cause a massive backlash, and the embassy move is far down the road at any rate.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The true origins of Myanmar’s Rohingya

The furious debate over when the ethnic group first arrived in Rakhine state will not easily be resolved

Bangkok, December 4, 2017 2:59 PM (UTC+8)

A Rohingya man who fled oppression during military operations in Myanmar's Rakhine state at a makeshift camp in Teknaff, Bangladesh on September 26, 2017. Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP/ Zakir Hossain Chowdhury
A Rohingya man who fled oppression during military operations in Myanmar's Rakhine state at a makeshift camp in Teknaff, Bangladesh on September 26, 2017. Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP/ Zakir Hossain Chowdhury
The recent visit of Pope Francis to Myanmar provoked a storm of controversy over his decision to avoid using the term “Rohingya”, with some accusing the pontiff of unwittingly emboldening ultra-nationalist forces who refuse to accept the term. Others defended the pope’s blatant omission of the word as sound diplomacy at a delicate juncture.
The highest authority of the Catholic Church eventually used the word “Rohingya” during his visit to Bangladesh, where over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar military-led “clearance operations” the United Nations has said represent a textbook example of “ethnic cleansing.”
The controversy over the Pope’s use of the term in Bangladesh but not in Myanmar speaks volumes about the gap between how the spiraling humanitarian crisis emanating from western Rakhine state is being viewed inside and outside of Myanmar. And the debate over the use of the word “Rohingya” will intensify in the weeks ahead as the two sides begin a repatriation program that will again put the term in a spotlight.
Myanmar’s citizenship criterion is based on the taingyintha, or “national races”, concept. It is defined somewhat arbitrarily as those ethnic groups that were settled in Myanmar in 1823, a year before the first Anglo-Burmese war in which the British conquered Arakan (as Rakhine was officially known until 1989) and other regions of the country.
The Citizenship Law passed in 1982 made belonging to one of the national races the primary, though not only, criterion for full citizenship. Nine years later, the government issued a list of 135 official national races, and the Rohingya were notably not on it. Arguably, Myanmar’s military-led state erased them from its national history.
Pope Francis is welcomed as he arrives at Yangon International Airport, Myanmar November 27, 2017. Osservatore Romano/Handout via Reuters
Pope Francis is welcomed as he arrives at Yangon International Airport, Myanmar November 27, 2017. Osservatore Romano/Handout via Reuters
Pro-Rohingya advocates, mostly Rohingya themselves and foreigners, claim that they have been resident in Rakhine since as far back as the 8th century. Rohingya detractors, mostly Myanmar, firmly deny this reading of history and assert that they are illegal immigrants who arrived much later, during the British colonial period (1824-1948) or even well after independence from colonial rule was achieved in 1948.
The Rohingya’s critics refer to them as “Bengalis” to indicate their supposed foreign origins and frequently warn that they pose a demographic threat to who they regard as Rakhine state’s truly indigenous ethnic group, the mostly Buddhist Rakhine.
Rakhine state’s history is muddled, to be sure, but the truth likely lies in the middle of both assertions. Importantly, the presence of Rohingya people in Rakhine cannot be reduced to a single group.
Rather, they are more likely the mixed descendants of three groups: those who were already in Arakan before the region became culturally ‘Burmanized’ from the 10th to 14th centuries (they are also probably ancestors of present day Rakhine); slaves taken by Rakhine kings and Portuguese mercenaries from Bengal in the 16th and 17th centuries and workers who migrated from Bengal during the colonial period; and those who migrated from Bangladesh after independence.
In any case, what is now a clearly delineated border between two countries was not so before the British arrived to impose their European ideas of homogenous nation states. Arakan was before the British’s arrival a diffuse frontier area between the Burmese and Bengali worlds without a strongly enforced line of demarcation.

A Rohingya boy jumps over the border fence to enter inside Bangladesh border, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 27, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
A Rohingya boy jumps over the border fence to enter Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazar, August 27, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
In certain historical eras, extensive areas of Arakan were under the sway of Bengali rulers; at other times areas in Bengal reaching up to the Bangladesh city of Chittagong were ruled by Rakhine kings.
On the term itself, the anti-Rohingya camp claims that the word first appeared in the 1950s as a political construct to get an autonomous region in the northern part of Rakhine state or, even worse, to make the region part of what was then known as East Pakistan.
Pro-Rohingya advocates, on the other hand, point to the study “A Comparative Vocabulary of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire” written by Scottish physician Francis Buchanan in 1799 as proof the term “Rooinga” was in use in the area well before the British consolidated their rule.
In the book, Buchanan asserts that: “The first dialect spoken in the Burman empire derived from the language of the Hindu nation that is spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.”
The problem with these conflicting narratives is that both have elements of truth. The term is not an unprecedented invention, as it clearly appears in a document predating the colonial period. But the colonial records don’t show the term anywhere, and it seems that it did not begin to be widely used until the 1950’s.
The solution to the puzzle is probably that the meaning of “Rooinga” in 1799 is not exactly the same as the meaning of “Rohingya” now, even though it referred to some of the ascendants of the present day Rohingya. The term likely derives from the word “Rohang”, which was the Bengali name given to Arakan at the time.
Rohingya refugee children wait to receive food outside the distribution center at Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Rohingya refugee children wait to receive food aid at Palong Khali refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 17, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Navesh Chitrakar
Thus, Rohingya would mean the same as “Arakanese.” It is also likely that the word “Rohingya” was not widely used as an ethnonym until recently and that it was done with a political purpose—as is the case with any ethnonym; ethnic identities are inherently political.
Much has been written about the origins of the Rohingya as an ethnic group, but little has been published about the origins of other groups in Myanmar which are largely taken for granted as national citizens. The Rakhine as an ethnic identity arguably did not emerge until the 19th century. The Rohingya’s problem is their political weakness inside the country and their late emerging ethnic identity.
In any case, underlying the debate on the term is an assumption that ethnic groups are closed, immutable entities that have always been what they are now. But ethnic groups change and evolve, and the concept of ethnicity evolves and changes, too. Both have changed enormously over time in ethnically diverse Myanmar.
The history of Myanmar should be viewed as a long story in which ethnic groups and the concept of ethnicity itself have gradually been solidified and politicized to the point of occupying the central role that they play today.
Anthropologists and historians such as Edmund Leach, F K Lehman and Victor Lieberman have shown that ethnic identities were fluid and ever-changing in pre-colonial Myanmar. It was the British who classified people in boxes, mainly on a linguistic basis, and often discouraged interactions between them, thereby creating hard divisions where there was virtually none until then.
Buddhist monks and others protest as a Malaysian NGO's aid ship carrying food and emergency supplies for Rohingya Muslims arrives at the port in Yangon on February 9, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun
Buddhist monks and others protest against aid given to Rohingya Muslims in Yangon on February 9, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun
Ethnic Bamar chauvinism, ethno-nationalist insurgencies and military dictatorships in the 20th century further hardened those divisions, and the democratic transition launched in 2011 has arguably exacerbated the problem as ultra-nationalist organizations have been freed to spread their exclusionary notions of Myanmar nationhood and anti-Muslim propaganda.
Sociologist Michael Mann has described modern nation states as “cages”, with the shape of the cages dependent on political, institutional, economic and ideological “crystallizations” that were to a certain extent random products of complex and unpredictable histories. Myanmar’s “cage” has come to be made, among other things, of solid ethnic bars.
Rohingya leaders, by asserting their name, are playing by the increasingly rigid rules of the game in Myanmar. They have not created these rules, but the tragic irony is that they have legitimized and encouraged the notion of national races which now ideologically underlies their oppression. Trapped in Myanmar’s cage, it is understandable they feel there is little else they can do to assert their rights.
The denial of the Rohingya to use the name they have chosen for themselves is undoubtedly part of the persecution they have suffered for decades. Conversely, such persecution has pushed them to assert more forcefully their identity and the term itself.
Their right of self-identification is undeniable, but there is a certain fetishism of such rights among pro-Rohingya activists. And the problem at root is not so much the denial of their Rohingya identity as the prevalence of “national races” and communalism in the Myanmar “cage.”
Hosne Ara, 4, a Rohingya refugee who fled Myanmar two-months ago listens to children singing at a children's centre in the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo SEARCH "POY GLOBAL" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2017 PACKAGES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Hosne Ara, 4, a Rohingya refugee who fled Myanmar at the Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 5, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Hannah McKay/File
It is likely that many Rohingya in Rakhine, if not most, would forsake the term if it opened a way to regain their rights in Myanmar. Many have tried to do so when offered the chance. In 2014, the government launched a pilot program of citizenship verification in central Rakhine’s Myebon Township.
In line with the 1982 Citizenship Law, they would be granted citizenship if they could prove that three generations of their ancestors had lived in Rakhine, an extremely difficult process in the remote area where many have been undocumented for decades while others were stripped of theirs by authorities when they were rendered stateless in the early 1990s.
Even if they could prove their ancestors’ presence, they had to accept being branded as “Bengali”, not “Rohingya”, on their national identification cards. All Rohingya in Myebon have been confined to a camp since the wave of sectarian violence in 2012, and most took part in the program.
Only 97 of almost 3,000 were granted citizenship under the scheme’s terms. But those who won citizenship soon discovered that their situation remained unchanged: they were still confined to the camp and could not even go to the hospital. Citizenship, for them, came without the rights they had naturally envisioned.
One woman who received her citizenship told this writer that her father had been a well-respected police officer in the town and that her family had previously enjoyed good relations with Muslims and Buddhists alike. Four years after being confined to the camps, she still hadn’t come to terms with the fact that none of that mattered anymore.
Her story had been erased from the Rakhine community, as the history of the Muslims in Rakhine state is now being erased from the country in a mass exodus across the border into Bangladesh. The tragedy of the Rohingya – one Pope Francis appeared publicly to overlook in Myanmar – is not so much the denial of their collective history as the erasure of such personal lived histories. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Babri Masjid Demolition: 25 Years On...

Babri Masjid Demolition: 25 Years On...
Irfan Engineer
On 6th December 1992, I was in judicial custody in Vansda (Gujarat) jail. We were struggling for the rights of adivasis on forest and forest produce which often led to friction with state and a couple of times had to face false cases being lodged on me and my comrades in the struggle. I must have been in judicial custody for about a week. Eager to read daily newspaper, I would ask night duty prison guard, who was from an adivasi community, to buy one for me while he went to the market for a cup of tea and he would oblige me. On 7th December I did not ask Bhikubhai to buy newspaper for me but he nevertheless got one for me. I protested and told him that I had no money to pay him for the newspaper. With a smile on his face he told me not to worry about the price of the newspaper and to read it. It is only when opened the newspaper that I understood why he wanted me to read the papers that day. There was news of demolition of Babri Masjid. I was horrified, not because a mosque was demolished, but the implications it would have on the polity and future of democracy in our country.
I shared the news in my cell with all of 8 to 10 other adivasi inmates. They were arrested for various petty crimes like consumption of alcohol when there was prohibition. They would not believe me. One of them said, why would anybody demolish house of the Supreme Being? I had to show photograph published on the front page of the newspaper with people dancing on the dome of the mosque with saffron flags in hand. They too were horrified. Then I heard something that sounded like a victory procession and bursting of crackers outside the jail. After a few days I was bailed out. Bhikubhai advised me not to go towards the market where police station was located as the cops were prepared to arrest me in another false case. I hitch hiked and went to Adv. Paresh Chaudhary’s home in Vedchhi (Dist. Surat). In the adivasi dominated area of the Dangs and Surat district, Babri Masjid was a non-issue, although Ramshila pujan processions – where consecrated bricks for construction of Ramjanmabhoomi temple were accompanied with DJ to attract people – had been taken out largely consisting of non-adivasi people.
For the adivasis, their main issues were their right to forest land and forest produce; access to quality education and health care and cultural space to sustain their way of life and their identity. Temple-Mosque conflict was for the ujaliat (non-adivasis). Most of them were unaware of existence of Babri Masjid or Ramjanmabhoomi temple. A few who were, never discussed it. Their world then was so insulated from the rest, that going outside the district of Dangs was going to Gujarat! To adivasis, Dang was not a part of Gujarat and the world outside Dang was Gujarat where they sometimes had to travel to access health care or markets both of which were instruments of oppression. All temples belonged to the ujaliat who were by and large seen as oppressors and if some of them were not oppressors, they were had condescending attitude towards them.
In the second week of January 1993, I headed towards my home in Mumbai. As I disembarked at Dadar Station, I learnt about the riots in city. I managed to reach Anand Patwardhan’s residence and learnt that a Hindu friend living in Andheri (West) feared attack on her. Preeti had a running dispute with her landlord and she feared that the landlord would take advantage of riots to get her to vacate her home. I decided to be with her and confront the Muslim mob that she feared would come to attack her.
I called my father to inform him that I was in Mumbai safe and would be going to Preeti’s home. My father pleaded me to come back home. It was not usual for him to plead in this manner as I was going to help a Hindu friend. But the time was not usual as well. I went to Preeti’s residence assuring my father I would return home soon and wouldn’t take unnecessary risks. When I reached her home, some other friends too were there. The next day after I returned home, we were getting frantic calls from survivors of communal violence for help. All we could do was contact police officers known to us for their integrity and fire brigade, only to learn that they too were inundated with calls.
Communal violence in Mumbai drew me to work for communal harmony – an issue to which I was not paying much attention otherwise as I was working among Adivasis since 1989. My father, Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, was heading a coalition of organizations – Ekta – which worked for communal harmony and included trade unions, women’s organizations and organizations working for civil liberties. Ekta had campaigned for peace in Mumbai and other riot prone towns for peace by organizing peace marches; public meetings and street corner meetings; bringing out publications countering demonization of minorities; and organizing perspective building camps for peace workers. Ekta had opposed kar seva and called upon religious Hindus not to join it, as demolition of Babri Masjid and construction of Ram Janmabhoomi Temple was with a political motive. However, Ekta’s outreach was limited on account of limited resources. Communal violence post demolition of Babri Masjid was on a limited scale and the casualties were mainly from the police firing on Muslim mobs protesting demolition of Babri Masjid.
Shiv Sena was not satisfied and bayed for violence on a larger scale with the sainiks controlling and participating in street violence. Only deeper communal polarization would ensure electoral benefits they aimed at. Daily published by Shiv Sena – Saamna – started hyping up inferno of Gandhi Chawl (popularized as Radhabai Chawl) in Jogeshwari and murder of two Mathadi workers in South Mumbai which they blamed on the Muslim community. They organized series of Maha-artis to arouse communal hatred against Muslim community on the two issues and those dispersing after Maha-artis indulged in violence against minorities. The efforts of Shiv Sena resulted in second phase of rioting which began from 9th January.
Helplessness and Hope
The riots in second phase were much destructive in terms of lives and properties. While police had fired to kill the mobs protesting demolition of Babri Masjid, they were by and large bystanders while the mobs mobilized by Shiv Sena were rioting on the streets. Even middle class was scared and the city had come to a standstill for days. The leaders of Industry and finance were greatly disturbed due to economic losses and future of investments in metropolis which then appeared to be chaotic and lawless. Some of them took initiative and met the then CM Sudhakar Rao Naik who appeared to be utterly helpless as his control over administration seemed to have slipped out of his hands.
Concerned activists flooded the office in Santacruz East where Ekta called for meeting. People were animatedly discussing the issue and possible interventions. All we were able to organize is relief work for the survivors. When organized lynch mobs are on the street full of fear and hatred for the ‘other’, and at times armed with deadly weapons, it is impossible to reason with them. Only state security forces could have disperse them, i.e. if they willed. But clearly in most cases the security forces and the leadership commanding the force did not seem to have any such will.
There were shining examples of citizens across religion coming together to defend their neighbourhood from communal mobs that may want to target members of either community in their locality. That was the only way to save the city from communal madness. Let me recall one such example in Sakinaka, where Ekta had organized meetings for communal harmony along with Kashtakari Sanghatana, an organization that fought mobilized the citizens from slums, on their neighbourhood problems. Sakinaka is inhabited by Hindus speaking Oriya, Telugu, Marathi and Hindi languages as well as Muslims. Muslims had provided space for electric sub-station to be installed and willing inhabitants of Sakinaka could register for electric metres in the past. Before the sub-station was installed, BSES, the electric supply company would not install metres and the residents had to buy electric connections from contractors who charged them ten times more.
The Muslims of Sakinaka were receiving threats from the Shiv Sena Shakha and were fearing attack on them. The Hindu residents told them not to worry and sleep peacefully as they would protect them from the Hindu mobs. Muslims were told not to react to any rumours and not to prepare for their defence as their houses would be defended by the Hindu residents. The Hindu residents with sticks in their hands stayed awake several nights with Muslims supplying tea for them to remain awake. When the impending mob saw the locality was protected by Hindus, they could not attack the Muslims in the area. There were some more areas in which citizens took matters in their hands while the state appeared to be collapsing.
Peace March
Ekta gave a call for peace march from Khodad Circle, Dadar in Central Mumbai to Azad Maidan in South Mumbai. I do not remember the date but prohibitory orders u/s 144 of Cr.P.C. restraining gathering of more than four people was still in force. We were mentally prepared that only a few would turn up. However, over a thousand people reached Khodad Circle, including Asghar Ali Engineer, Anand Patwardhan academicians from TISS and Mumbai University, journalists, trade unionists and peace activists. As we all gathered, police asked us to disperse as prohibitory orders were in force. We defied the police assuring them our intentions to promote peace and harmony and proceeded to march with white flags and placards with slogans of peace and love in our hands, and songs of peace on our lips. We passed through areas where rioting had taken place. People witnessing the procession from their balconies waved expressing support and communal tensions melted as they saw Hindus and Muslims march together and appealing for peace through songs and placards. The procession converted into a public meeting at Azad Maidan. Police officers thanked us.
Gradually Mumbai limped back to normalcy as this commercial city does after every disaster – human made or natural. Yet it has never been normal again. Among the things that changed irreversibly is ghettoization. Muslim survivors from many areas where they suffered human and property losses during riots sold their dwellings or shops to larger Muslim ghettoes. Mumbra, Mira Road and other such suburbs witnessed bulging Muslim population. Similarly in many localities with Hindus in minority shifted to Hindu majority localities where they felt more safe. Most survivors of riots are economically worst off than they were before. Few were compensated inadequately while most did not receive even meagre compensation, let alone rehabilitation. The perpetrators of riots by and large have gone scot free due to laxity in police investigation, marshalling of evidence and lack of will to secure justice for survivors of riots.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism was established with the support of peace loving citizens of Mumbai under the leadership and vision of Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer as a response to the riots in Mumbai in 1993. CSSS since has been organizing peace workshops to create an army of peace workers. CSSS undertook research and publication of a journal – Indian Journal of Secularism, which has brought out a special issue entitled “Babri Masjid, 25 Years On...”. The issue is collection of essays written by journalists, artists and activists going down the memory lane and examining what went wrong and what has changed since. CSSS also organizes lectures, seminars and peace activities through peace centres in communally sensitive towns. CSSS works through peace centres and reaches out to colleges, schools to inculcate values of peace, harmony, secularism, diversity and respect for human rights. With limited resources we have been able to bring about significant change and promote peace. However we need to do much more and need support and solidarity of more and more people and institutions. Peace loving people need to be more organized and committed than they are at present to multiply our ranks if we wish to see peaceful, secular India which respects freedom of expression and works for social justice.

Rohingyas are victims of genocide, says UN HR chief

The United Nations human rights chief has said an act of genocide against Rohingya Muslims by state forces in Myanmar cannot be ruled out.
More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence since August. Myanmar's army says it has been targeting Rohingya militants.
Mr Zeid said no Rohingya should be sent back unless there was sustained human rights monitoring on the ground.
He listed alleged abuses against the Rohingya, including "killing by random firing of bullets, use of grenades, shooting at close range, stabbings, beatings to death and the burning of houses with families inside".
The rights chief then asked: "Considering Rohingyas' self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture - and [that they] are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group - given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?"
Myanmar's ambassador to the rights council, Htin Lynn, denied atrocities had taken place and said his government and Bangladesh were working to ensure the return of displaced people.
"There will be no camps," he told the emergency session.
He added that UN agencies would be involved but stopped short of guaranteeing the immediate, unimpeded access to Myanmar for UN investigators that the UN has demanded.
Until now, UN officials, including Mr Zeid, have described the violence in northern Rakhine state as "textbook ethnic cleansing".
The use of the term genocide increases international pressure on Myanmar (also called Burma) and reflects deep concern at what the UN describes as decades of discrimination and violence against the Rohingya.
"Ultimately, this is a legal determination only a competent court can make," Mr Zeid told the council session in Geneva.
"But the concerns are extremely serious, and clearly call for access to be immediately granted for further verification."
He urged the council to request that the UN General Assembly set up a mechanism "to assist individual criminal investigations of those responsible".
Genocide - an attempt to wipe a group of people out of existence in whole or in part - is a legally specific term understood by most to be the gravest crime against humanity.
The UN first defined it in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948. Ethnic cleansing is not recognised as an independent crime under international law.
The Rohingya are a stateless minority who have long experienced persecution in Myanmar.
Bangladesh also denies they are its citizens. After the latest wave of arrivals it now hosts about a million Rohingya.

Rohingya inside and outside Myanmar

Map showing distribution of Rohingya in Asia
Last month, Bangladesh signed a deal with Myanmar to return hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled the army crackdown, which began after deadly Rohingya attacks on police posts in Rakhine.
A statement from the Bangladesh foreign ministry said displaced people could begin to return within two months. Few other details were released.
Map showing location of burned villages in Myanmar - and those left intact