Thursday 29 July 2021

Citizenship in Myanmar brief in Burmese and English

Myanmar rights advocates blast Australian inertia on sanctions

Source Asia Nikkei, 2 July

'It's crazy,' top lawyer says as Canberra resists calls to punish Min Aung Hlaing

Protesters rally against Myanmar's coup outside Australia's Parliament House in February. While Western allies have imposed fresh sanctions on top junta officials, Canberra has held off.    © Getty Images

SYDNEY -- "Shameful," "crazy," "unconscionable" -- Australia's government is coming under heavy criticism from experts, activists and opposition politicians for what they see as its tepid response to the violence in Myanmar.

The U.S., U.K., Canada and the European Union have imposed sanctions against 38 senior Myanmar military figures since Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government was ousted on Feb. 1. Seventeen businesses with ties to the military have also been sanctioned, including the conglomerate Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL).

Australia, by contrast, has imposed no fresh sanctions in the four months since the takeover, and some describe its lack of action against military leader Min Aung Hlaing as particularly baffling.

Canberra did halt its defense cooperation program with Myanmar. It also diverted development assistance to partners such as the United Nations World Food Program, in order to prevent funds from going to the regime. Long-standing restrictions on exports of military equipment remain in place, as do sanctions and travel bans on five military officers, imposed in 2018 after a United Nations fact-finding mission documented acts of genocide against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims.

But a member of the fact-finding mission, international human rights lawyer Chris Sidoti, told Nikkei Asia he was surprised by the choices the Australian government made on sanctions in the first place.

"They didn't impose sanctions on the two people most responsible for what happened to the Rohingya: the commander in chief and his deputy," Sidoti said. "These two men are also the most responsible for the coup and everything that has happened since. It's crazy not to be sanctioning them while sanctioning five others."

He suspects that in the case of the Rohingya, neither Min Aung Hlaing nor his deputy, Soe Win, were sanctioned because Australia wanted to maintain a line of communication to the top levels of the military.

"They thought they were sending a sufficient signal [by imposing sanctions on others]. But events since then demonstrate that it was not based on any real understanding or analysis of what is happening," Sidoti said.

Chris Sidoti, a member of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar, speaks to reporters at the United Nations in Geneva in 2018.   © Reuters

Speaking at a Senate budget estimates session on June 3, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the question of whether to impose sanctions was still "under review" and would depend on Australia's "national interest."

Christopher Lamb, former ambassador to Myanmar and president of the Australia Myanmar Institute, said this argument does not hold up. He said he sees "no obvious reason for the lack of action."

"If it were just a theoretical case of a country far away, then the public-interest argument might lose its force," he said. "But in this case, there is a significant public interest in Australia, which is evidenced by two parliamentary hearings and a bipartisan approach to the need for action on Myanmar in the form of a cross-party committee."

Lamb said he is disappointed but not surprised.

"We have a situation in Australia where governments tend to take the least problematic option and say nothing. Australia was once a prominent defender of human rights: In 1948, we were the first country to propose the establishment of an international criminal court. But we don't see that anymore."

Australia has also lagged behind the U.S. and other Western peers in establishing Magnitsky-style laws -- broad legislation used to sanction foreign officials over human rights.

But within Australia, calls for the Scott Morrison government to do more on Myanmar are not dying down.

The co-founder of Democracy for Burma, Nang Si Si Win, has attended numerous rallies and vigils in Sydney. "Australia's Burmese community is appalled by the reaction of the Australian government," she said. "They have done nothing to acknowledge that the military is denying democracy to Myanmar, committing brutal killings and violating basic human rights. Their lack of action is shameful."

"We want democracy" is spelled out on a street in Yangon in February, weeks after the coup.   © Reuters

She wants to see at least 200 individuals slapped with travel bans and targeted sanctions, including Min Aung Hlaing and his wife, the latter of whom visited Australia on vacation several years ago.

Greens Sen. Janet Rice pointed out that 390 civil society organizations in Myanmar sent an open letter to Australia's foreign minister in May calling for sanctions. Yet their pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Rice told Nikkei that it is "unconscionable" that Australia still has not gone after Myanmar's military.

"Every day this goes on, more people are imprisoned, injured or killed," she said. "The people in Myanmar, and the diaspora communities here in Australia, are demanding action. Australia must listen, and we must act -- urgently."

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official rejected the idea that imposing sanctions would provide any practical benefit to the people of Myanmar.

Like Rice, Sidoti disagrees.

"I'm not naive in thinking that sanctions turn everything around overnight, or even in the medium term," he said. "It takes time for them to bite. If we had imposed sanctions [on the top officials] in 2018, they would be biting now. And there is already some evidence that the sanctions imposed by other countries over the last four months are impacting the military's access to cash."

One possible explanation for the softly-softly approach is the detention of Australian academic Sean Turnell, who on Feb. 6 became the first foreign national to be arrested in relation to the turmoil. He awaits trial in Yangon's Insein Prison and could face more than a decade in prison for supposedly trying to flee the country with "secret information."

Could the Australian government be holding out on sanctions in order to secure his release? Experts maintain there would be little merit in such a strategy. "I believe that Sean himself would agree that he alone should not be a reason for the Australian government to adopt a position which satisfies the military," Lamb said.

Nicholas Coppel, adjunct associate professor at Monash University and former ambassador to Myanmar, said that Turnell "is not being held hostage because of anything Australia is saying or doing."

"He is being detained because of his association with Aung San Suu Kyi," Coppel said. "I think the commander in chief wants to get at Aung San Suu Kyi, and Sean is being used as a weapon in that fight."

Sidoti said Turnell's incarceration is proof that the current policy is not working and that the military regime does not "give a damn what Australia thinks."

Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief of Myanmar's ruling military. Australia has appeared reluctant to punish him directly for either the treatment of Rohingya Muslims or this year's coup.   © Reuters

Payne has pointed to the fact that Japan, South Korea and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have also refrained from imposing new sanctions. On June 3, she said, "We have been very committed to supporting regional efforts to de-escalate the situation in Myanmar and to work towards a solution."

Coppel made a similar point that Australia is under no obligation to follow traditional democratic allies.

"Australia is not an outlier. It is only the U.S., Canada and the EU that have imposed new sanctions -- the remaining 180 or so countries in the world have not. We have an independent foreign policy, and we have strong relationships throughout the region. It's a style of diplomacy that is different from countries who are very far removed, and don't have deep relationships in the way that we do."

He also believes the often-heated debate on sanctions obscures the real problem.

"There's no point trying to create divisions in our society on the basis of this. We really need to keep the focus on the commander in chief. He is the man responsible for the entire crisis. All these other activities which look at other things just take all the oxygen and distract us from the real culprit, Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing."

Sidoti, however, is adamant that sanctions are one of the few meaningful ways Australia could push for the restoration of democracy.

"The future of Myanmar is going to be resolved by the people of Myanmar, whether now or at some point in the years to come. As outsiders, there are two things we can do: offer support and encouragement to the democratic movement, and send a clear signal to the military that their conduct will be penalized by the outside world. Sanctions are a way of doing both those things."

OPINION - Myanmar’s twin curse of murderous military and cultist opposition

source AA, 29 June

The author is coordinator of the UK-based Free Rohingya Coalition, general secretary of Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia, and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia.


The last few days saw heated debates and name-calling in Burmese-language social media between, on the other hand, national minority activists who are completely fed up with the ethnic majoritarian colonial mentality and on the other, political practices and the majoritarian democrats who treat Aung San Suu Kyi's words like holy scripture.

The trigger was a well-known Suu Kyi loyalist in the cabinet of the Zoom-based parallel National Unity Government, repeating on Facebook her historically inert, politically condescending, dismissive remark on the long-standing political demands and grievances that minorities have voiced since independence.

"State-building driven by the politics of (ethnic minority) demands will only result in the country marked by conflicts and contests (of interests). Only the politics of self-sacrifice (by all groups) will lead to respective gains and national fulfillment," wrote an influential NUG "cabinet minister," Lwin Ko Latt.

These were the words of political wisdom infamously dispensed by the NUG's patron Aung San Suu Kyi – then in office as Myanmar state counselor or de facto head of state – in response to the typical demands for group equality and administrative and political autonomy validly voiced by the country's national minorities.

For their part, national minority leaders from Kachin, Shan, Karen, and other communities then responded firmly, and with righteous anger, along the following lines: "We minority communities of resistance have nothing more to give or sacrifice for the Union. For 70 years since independence, we have long been subjected to policies of political subjugation and ethnic repression by the central majoritarian unitary state controlled by the Bama or Myanmar majority, both generals and democrats."

Coupled with the mass hysteria with hashtags #HappyBirthdayMotherSuu #FlowerStrike – on display in the Burmese diaspora and inside Myanmar, around Suu Kyi's June 19 birthday, the flare-up over the Facebook post indicates a monumental obstacle to the emergence of federal democracy, the ultimate aim of the current nationwide resistance against the murderous military regime. Specifically, the Burmese majority's continued adherence to Suu Kyi's tried and spectacularly failed populist cultism with majoritarian colonialist features.

Three decades since Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy's (NLD) emergence in 1988-89 as the most formidable democratic alternative to the country's military dictatorship, the country has been plagued by two types of political and institutional cancers, the murderous military and the ethnic majoritarian cultist NLD.

On one hand, the national armed forces, which Suu Kyi's father founded as a key instrument of liberation against British rule under the fascist patronage of World War II Japan, have become the primary source of pain, suffering, and national destruction.

On the other, the National League for Democracy, which Suu Kyi co-founded with the two strange bedfellows – left-leaning progressive Burmese intellectuals and former anti-leftist veteran commanders who served under the late strongman Gen. Ne Win – has stymied any development of properly democratic political culture, institutional practices, or public ethos.

I have written online and published extensively on what is accurately referred to as "the common enemy" of the people, namely the Tatmadaw and successive generations of military leaders. I have condemned the military, which has misruled the country for more than a half-century with its ruinous economic, social, and ethnic policies. And as a lone voice, I blew the whistle on the military-led genocide of Rohingya, even when doing so risked one's reputation and vilification as a "national traitor."

As a Burmese – and a Buddhist at that – who grew up in an extended military family, I was acutely aware of the rape, torture, and burning of ethnic minority villages that troops and officers had been perpetrating against our own national minorities a few decades before 1994 when the UN established the mandate for a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar.

I am not alone in the realization as to the mass-murderous and criminal record of our national military. Both the NUG's patron Suu Kyi and her populist base knew of the crimes that the Burmese military was committing in minority regions.

And yet neither the millions of Suu Kyi supporters nor Suu Kyi herself has shown any appreciable indignation or opposition to the military's grave crimes in international law – particularly against non-Bama ethnic communities.

Amid global condemnations of the Myanmar genocide and the UN's official findings, Suu Kyi – and millions of her ethnic Bama supporters – closed ranks and stood with the perpetrators. The national slogan then was "We Stand With You" (Mother Suu), as she traveled to The Hague to serve as "the Agent of Myanmar" in The Gambia vs Myanmar genocide case at the International Court of Justice several months before the COVID-19 pandemic in the first week of December 2019.

Her unconscionable stance on Myanmar's international crimes against Rohingya culminated in her appearing as the agent of Myanmar defending the genocide allegations at the court. Deservedly, she was roundly and universally condemned by the very media that had a huge role in the manufacturing of Suu Kyi as an inspiring global icon.

And yet the majoritarian Burmese electorate continues unabated to express their unconditional reverence for Suu Kyi – bordering on absolutist "Mother-Suu-can-do-no-wrong" devotion, in spite of the global condemnations of their leader and her well-documented absence of empathy for thousands of Rohingya rape victims, insensitive dismissal of minorities' political grievances, and mindless demand for their "sacrifices" for the Union (of Myanmar).

This cancerous cultist trait is pervasive across rural and urban divides throughout the majority-dominated regions of Myanmar. It is widespread among both the educated or "the great unwashed," as well as the Burmese diaspora worldwide.

Suu Kyi loyalist Lwin Ko Latt is not alone in his show of mindless devotion to the leader. Aung Myo Min, union minister for human rights in the parallel National Unity Government, himself joined in the mass hysterical act of well-wishing the genocide defender only two weeks after the Zoom-based government's issuance of a pro-Rohingya policy, undoubtedly out of political expediency.

Millions of Burmese people in Myanmar and around the world, including those with advanced Western educations such as doctors, engineers, academics, writers, poets, etc., have over the last three decades placed blind faith in Suu Kyi's leadership, integrity, and policies even as she has categorically failed morally, intellectually, politically, and strategically.

Almost 20 years ago in 2004, the nationally acclaimed US-exiled poet and ex-prisoner of conscience, the late Saya U Tin Moe, a good friend of my late parents from Mandalay, angrily lashed out at me at the Bi-Annual Burma Studies Conference at Northern Illinois University in the US city of DeKalb. As we sat down for coffee, he rebuffed my criticism of Suu Kyi for her sanctions policy orthodoxy and cultist leadership, saying: "I have absolute faith in Daw Suu. If she said jump, I will leap off a cliff!"

On June 22, in their popular podcast Now & Then, Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman noted historians from Boston University and Yale University, respectively, dissected the historical phenomenon of cult politics with a focus on QAnon in the present-day US. They also briefly touched on the rise of fascist leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini in terms of cults and governments.

The Myanmar-relevant takeaway from their deeply learned podcast discussion is a psychological symbiosis between "the disposed" who want salvation and cult leaders, who are typically believed to have the necessary answers to their problems, or salvation.

The mass hysteria around Suu Kyi's birthday is the clearest indication of deeply entrenched cultist neo-totalitarian thoughts, mental habits, and political behavior among her populist base. Additionally – and disturbingly – the birthday hysteria only confirms how pervasively indifferent this base is to democratic ethos, international law, and normative principles of human rights.

In sharp contrast to the country's military – which by definition is a command-totalitarian institution, like every military – a proper democratic political party, conservative or liberal or progressive, is expected to foster debate, dialogue, and deliberations within the party as well as in the political life of a nation at large.

Over the last three decades, Myanmar has been cursed by two types of neo-totalitarian institutions – the murderous military under various dictators in generals' uniforms and the National League for Democracy party, which Suu Kyi ruled as a strong woman. Even in detention at the age of 76, and with no prospect of holding any public office or leading any party, Suu Kyi has cast a long shadow over Myanmar's national politics.

This is Suu Kyi's lasting gift to Myanmar and her dark legacy from which society will reel for decades.

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