By Dr. Maung Zarni
With the 22 May release of its report “Attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on Hindus in northern Rakhine State”, Amnesty International has poured fuel on the anti-Muslim fear and loathing in Burma as well as in Modi's violent anti-Muslim India.
To be sure, no human rights activist must object to human rights watchdogs carrying out their own mission.
However, it is deeply disturbing that Amnesty International, a Nobel-prize winner, released its latest report with a callous disregard as to the predictable international consequences for Rohingyas as well as other faith-based communities in Myanmar and beyond. Within 24 hours of the report’s release, Myanmar’s extremists are having a field day -- citing AI in order to further whip up anti-Rohingya racism. This incites the exact type of violence that Amnesty purports to try to prevent.
There are an estimated 40,000 – 60,000 Rohingya refugees concentrated in several pockets in India, living with very real threats of being burned-out or deported en mass. Violent Hindu extremism against Muslims of India has taken hold in Modi’s India, where innocent Rohingyas attempt to survive and sustain their families in precarious circumstances. By such Hindu groups they are wrongly associated with terrorism. In the midst of the genocidal violence by the security forces in Myanmar, the Modi government threatened to deport all Rohingya refugees in India in the interests of “national security”. Amnesty’s report, far from purveying hard but necessary facts in the interests of human rights, is likely to have a further detrimental
impact on those living in Myanmar, India and beyond.
Further, Amnesty’s report calls into question the real motive or unstated objective of the organization, beyond uncovering and reporting on a massacre allegedly committed by a Rohingya militant group.
While calling for an independent investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Myanmar government and Rohingya militants, Amnesty proceeded to repeat verbatim Myanmar military’s official but never independently verified narrative -- that Myanmar’s “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingyas was triggered by ARSA insurgents: Amnesty copied, cut and pasted “ARSA launched coordinated attacks on 30 different police outposts”.
This talk of “Rohingya insurgency” in N. Rakhine has been rejected by senior UN officials, Special Envoys and former U.S. Government officials with years of expertise on Burmese affairs, including UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees and Migration Eric Schwatz. It beggars belief that Amnesty with its standard independent verification would -- without problematizing it -- echo Myanmar’s invented pretext of “ARSA insurgency”. In compiling this report, Amnesty International was assisted by none other than the Ministry of Defence, which centrally coordinates with Myanmar Ministries of Information, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and Rakhine State administration without whose approval no foreign researcher could travel to Rakhine state. The Hindu witnesses and survivors from the reported massacre were brought to Sittwe by Myanmar authorities where they were in turn interviewed by Amnesty researchers.
Amidst the mounting pressure against Myanmar government for the mass killings and mass deportation of the Rohingya population from N. Rakhine region -- Myanmar’s “psych-war chief” Major General Aung Ye Win of “People’s Relations and the Armed Forces” Department was seen leading a group of domestic journalists on the military-organized tour examining the bodies of victims alleged to be Hindu. A Burmese journalist asked the propaganda General for concrete evidence that these killings were perpetrated by ARSA. He could not come up with a single shred of evidence other than saying that “it is clear that no Hindus would kill other Hindus”.
Apparently, Myanmar military facilitated Amnesty to generate that evidence.
Importantly, Amnesty used the word 'apartheid' in 2017 to refer to a situation which is widely recognized as killing fields and open prisons where people are slaughtered and mass raped, and being starved slowly, if they are not subject to direct slaughter. The apartheid was noticed decades before. In the article entitled “Burma’s Brand of Apartheid”, Far Eastern Economic Review (14 July 1978) described the Rohingyas' conditions as apartheid 39 years before Amnesty opted to characterize the conditions inside Myanmar under which Rohingyas have been forced to live. By now, less than half of the Rohingya population remain in their places of birth, where, according to UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights Andrew Gilmour, they are being starved into fleeing.
With this report, Amnesty has falsely put the two groups on a moral parity: ARSA, on the one hand, which is made up of desperate, hopeless and angry Rohingyas who are extremely primitively armed, and Myanmar's genocide-perpetrating government backed by world's major powers such as China, Russia, and India, one the other.
Tragically, those of us who are former card-carrying AI members have long known the organization to be pursuing its organizational agendas and interests while masquerading itself as a “uncompromising” and “principled” defender of human rights. In the world where everything is commodified and marketed, human rights becomes just another tradable item -- not a principle or ideal. Indeed, through this report, we can see that Amnesty has morphed into a human rights merchant, rather than acting as a genuine defender of human rights.
[ The writer is Coordinator for Strategic Affairs, Free Rohingya Coalition (https://freerohingyacoalition.org) & adviser to the European Center for the Study of Extremism, Cambridge, UK. ]
* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.