Maung Zarni comes from a military family and left Burma to make a career. It was only in exile, he became a dissident and activist, and an advocate for the country's most vulnerable minority - the Muslim Rohingya ethnic group. Amnesty Press met Maung Zarni when he visited Stockholm.
|REPORTAGE | 2015-02-22 |
BY: IVAR ANDERSEN
Flyktinglägret Taung Paw i Myebon i Rakhine i december 2012. Foto: UN Photo/David Ohana
The concept of slow genocide is not Maung Zarnis own. Parallel to that, he published studies and reports he was looking for a suitable terminology to explain the situation in Rakhine, the state in western Burma, which represent ethnic group Rohingya traditional home. During a conference at Harvard in the US came from Nobel laureate Amartya Sen with a proposal.
- He said we should call it slow genocide, says Maung Zarni. Legally, it would have been enough to call it genocide but there is a misconception that the definition of genocide is that many have been killed during a short time. Genocide is basically about to destroy the conditions for a people to be able to think of themselves as just a people.
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines five intentional acts which - together or in combination - constitute genocide if carried out in order to "wholly or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group". They do both dead and physically harming people from the group, but also to attack the group's cultural identity.
- That's a little more complicated to define, says Maung Zarni. But imagine that you are walking down the street here in Stockholm and a police officer stops you and asks where you are from. When you reply that you are Swedish, he hits you and says "no you are norwegian, go home", and continue beating until you provide with you. So, the Burmese government acted for 40 years, it says "you are not Rohingya, you are Bengali and do not belong here."
Maung Zarni visited Stockholm in February. Photo: Ivar Andersen
People Group Rohingya's fate has long been an invisible tragedy. According to Amnesty International, the human rights continuously violated by Burma's central power since 1978, but few news has leaked from it for a long time closed country and the Rohingya have been largely voiceless. In addition to the Muslim Rohingya Rakhine is also home to the Buddhist community the state takes its name from. People Group rakhines is, unlike Rohingya, recognized as one of Burma's 135 national minorities and represent approximately 75 percent of the state's four million inhabitants.
Tensions between rakhines and Rohingya have long existed, but exploded in the summer of 2012 in large-scale violence. The origin is disputed, but the Rohingya were the clear losers. Hundreds were killed when villages were set on fire, tens of thousands were displaced. At least 100,000 Rohingya live today interned in camps in dire humanitarian conditions.
Maung Zarni mean that what outwardly described as an ethnic conflict is in fact the result of an active approach from the Burmese regime.
- Both rakhines and Rohingya victims of Burmese colonization. When Burma became a sovereign state in 1948 was shot groups off against each other. Rakhines demanded independence, but the Rohingya of Burma helped to put down their rebellion. As a thank you became Rohingya recognized as citizens, but rakhines has never forgiven them. Now, the regime has revived the old antagonisms.
Military Handlebar end of 2011, the rakhines opportunity for local political representation, and greater opportunity to make demands on the central government.
- Rakhines demanded autonomy and to take part of the revenues from natural gas development in the state, said Maung Zarni. The claims were directed against the Burmese military, so the military decided to direct their anger against Rohingya instead.
Data on military involvement in the violence that erupted in 2012 quickly spread. Human Rights Watch , who argue that what is happening in Rakhine constitute ethnic cleansing, has in a report gathered dozens of testimonies of the armed forces actively participated in the expulsion of the Rohingya.
Rohingya's modern history is in many ways a case study in how Burma's military regime worked. After initially favored and used it as a buffer against other minorities requirements Rohingya lost his favor with the junta. 1982 was deprived of his Burmese Rohingya citizenship and considered since then officially as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Maung Zarni argues that what he calls "national security paranoia" has hit extra hard against the Rohingya, the only Muslim group along the 275 km long border with the populous neighbor to the west.
- 1978 regime launched a plan to clean up the country's border areas. It was not specifically directed against, but was particularly deadly for, Rohingya. Many fled to Bangladesh, and the reason that they were deprived of their citizenship was to Bangladesh in 1982 threatened to arm the refugees unless Burma took them back.
In the autumn of 2015 planned general elections in Burma. The government has announced that Rohingya will be allowed to vote. A step on the road to restoring the long-suffering minority status as Burmese citizens in democratic reforms wake? Not at all, says Maung Zarni.
- What you must understand is that this is still a military government and that they see everything as a military operation. The Constitution was an operation that automatically gave them 25 percent of the seats in Parliament. And when they give Rohingya right to vote, they buy themselves automatically 500,000 votes with one stroke of the pen. Rohingya do not support the government and know that it is complicit in atrocities against them, but they know that the government is the only force that has the ability to improve their situation. Many Rohingya supported the former National Leauge for Democracy , but after the democratic party turned its back on them. No one will forget it.
Maung Zarni is disappointed with Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the main opposition party NLD: "It's hard for me she does not say anything about the Rohingya". Photo: Ivar Andersen
During the junta's rule supported Aung Saan Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, NLD, the Rohingya's struggle for civil rights. But since the democratic process started, the support turned into eloquent silence. Maung Zarni believe that tactical considerations underlie and his sentence is harsh:
- Aung Saan Suu Kyi feels she can not win anything on standing up for the Rohingya. The army will be upset, the party supports her. And she has relativiserat abuse by attempting to describe it as a conflict between two complicit parties. It's hard for me she does not say anything about the Rohingya. Amnesty International was fighting for her freedom for decades and she goes out into CNN and says that she is not an activist for human rights without a political leader. But you can be both. What values drive one if you do not fight for human rights?
Personally, Maung Zarni an easy unlikely champion of what the UNHCR called "one of the world's most vulnerable minorities". He comes from a military family and considered himself a career in the armed forces, but ambition and adventurousness wanted different. He took employment as a guide for getting to know tourists, and to get their help to arrange employment abroad. A requirement for obtaining an exit permit.
- When I was 24, in 1988, so I left the country to study in the US. There were no political reasons, I was not part of the student movement. My goal was to go back and marry my girlfriend, not to become a political dissident.
Activist for Rohingya rights became Maung Zarni not until he met the British woman who later became his wife:
- My wife is a researcher, it was she who taught me about the Rohingya. I had lived in Burma for 24 years but never even heard of them. My English wife had to educate myself about my own country! Eventually I began to feel ashamed. We call ourselves Burmese Buddhists and face the world with a friendly smile but we treat these people as the Nazis treated the Jews.
Facts / Maung Zarni
• Is scholars and human rights activist.
• Teach at Harvard Medical School faculty for global health. Has previously conducted research at Oxford,London School of Economics and Malay University of Malaya .
• Said in 2013 up from a managerial position at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam then the employer urged him to stop advocating democracy in the Sultanate of Brunei.
• Blogs about Rohingya situation, Buddhist nationalism and Burmese Policy on www.maungzarni.net/