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Deja Vu as Trump ignores Rohingya

Deja Vu as Trump ignores Rohingya

By Yvonne Ridley

By the time you read this war could already have started between America and North Korea, such are the precarious times in which we live. Certainly the world moved one step closer to the abyss thanks to sabre rattling from your president, Donald Trump who recently despatched US Air Force bombers and fighter jets to fly off North Korea's coast.

It all appears to be in response to an escalation of undignified name calling between the leader of the Free World and North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Tensions between Pyongyang and Washington intensified after the North conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test this month and then threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted its ninth round of sanctions on Pyongyang in response to the nuclear test but sending war planes over waters east of North Korea is insane. Let's be frank, it is purely because of the name calling and verbal exchanges between Pyongyang and Trump.

Of course it would be highly entertaining if it came from where it belongs ... the locker rooms of American footballers ahead of the Super Bowl not the international stage of the United Nations General Assembly. One American columnist from the Boston Globe described Trump's speech as "Hitlerian in tone and content, filled with vitriol and grievance".

The US President ranted about the Obama-led agreement with Iran as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” before he then threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, a country with a population of 25 million people. Almost as shocking as his speech was the reaction from US neo-cons ... you know the ones who were behind the disastrous war with Iraq with consequences affecting us all today following the emergence of Daesh.

Cheerleaders rather predictably included the former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who cheered loudly as though he was at a Texan rodeo and not in the hallowed environment of the UN. Of course just as unrestrained was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made no secret of the fact that he would welcome the US to wipe out Iran. 

Sadly this naked male aggression (yes, it's always the men, isn't it?) serves only to divert global attention from where it is most needed and that is with the Rohingya people who must be feeling bewildered and rejected, abandoned by the world but for a few notable exceptions, including the Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan and at least 12 Nobel Peace laureates.

Have we really lost focus of what the United Nations is all about? Trump in particular, doesn't seem to realise that it was founded in 1945 as a civilised talking shop to promote international co-operation, peace and tolerance and create and maintain international order. His vulgar, common display there earlier this month, reveals a bragger with swagger ... he was in the wrong arena.

Standing at the podium, threatening to annihilate an entire nation in addition to petty name-calling leaders. Trump is a man without a restraining filter, it's almost as though he is suffering from a form of Tourette's syndrome. Great leaders are known for their compassion and ability to listen but sadly these are qualities bereft in Trump.

He proved this by showing he is oblivious and immune to the suffering endured by a people which is being ethnically cleansed off the face of the earth. The proof, if there was any doubt, came when Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ambushed him after his first ever address to the UN last week. Stepping in front of his entourage after his sabre-rattling speech, she raised the plight of the 410,000 Rohingya Muslims flooding into her country from Myanmar, but was dismayed when he blatantly ignored the issue of the refugees, asking instead: "And how is Bangladesh?" before walking on.

While Sheikh Hasina was despondent with the US President's reaction at least some hope was thrown to Bangladesh last month when Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Bangladeshi authorities to “open your doors”, pledging Turkey would cover the costs associated with letting in more Rohingya.

Clearly, the UN seems reluctant to use the word "genocide" to describe what is happening to the Rohingya in Myanmar, but at least the Turkish president has no such qualms for he recognises that if the watching world doesn't act swiftly there will be another Srebenica, Kosovo or Rwanda to deal with. “There is a genocide there,” ErdoÄŸan said in a speech in Istanbul last month during during the Eid al-Adha feast. “Those who close their eyes to this genocide perpetuated under the cover of democracy are its collaborators.”

The UN has already branded the Myanmar government’s offensive as a “cruel military operation” which “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, yet the international organisation is extremely reluctant to use the word genocide to describe what is going on. For that, the faceless mandarins in the UN are even more despicable in their silence than the likes of the disgraced Aung San Suu Kyi.

Of course this is not the first time the Muslim minority in Myanmar has been targeted. Over the years there have been countless atrocities committed at the hands of the military. In 2005, for example, Home Minister Ko Ko and two current senior military commanders serving under the previous military junta, supervised what appear to be war crimes, according to a study by Harvard Law School published in November 2014. If the contents of the report bear scrutiny, then these three are guilty of war crimes which, according to the evidence produced, links them to executions, torture and other atrocities.

Under international law, the three military leaders could be held accountable for their actions as well as crimes committed by troops under their command and control, just as Senior General Min Aung Hlaing should be held accountable for the ethnic cleansing carried out on his watch, today.

Several reports similar in content and gravitas to Harvard’s have emerged creating a feeling of déjà vu to events which began last month. It's an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth but some will conclude that had those military leaders been put before the International Criminal Court (ICC) back in 2006 it is likely more than 410,000 would not have fled their homes in recent weeks.

While Suu Kyi, the de facto Prime Minister of Myanmar, may not have blood on her hands her silence has served to protect those who do, which makes her a rather despicable individual. As it is, she is now reaping the rewards of her vile behaviour by being catapulted to the boondocks of international society. I have a feeling that honorary degrees and international platforms in the West will no longer be offered to Myanmar's social pariah in the future. She can now reflect in a swamp of her own making but it is hard to see how she can ever regain her global rock star status.

However, thanks to human rights groups, lawyers and other NGOs, the identities of those responsible for carrying out war crimes in Myanmar both today and over the last two decades are now publicly known. Why, then, is the UN so reluctant to act and use the word "genocide"? As soon as it does, then it will have to issue arrest warrants for those suspected of war crimes against the Rohingya people; and so will UN member states.

Hence, the UN's silence is reprehensible and even more unforgivable than Suu Kyi's silence, because its action could actually make a huge difference. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describes what is happening as "catastrophic", while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein, went one step further by calling it "ethnic cleansing". The situation in Myanmar is more than “catastrophic”, though; it is more than “ethnic cleansing”; it is another Rwanda, Srebrenica, Kosovo; it is genocide.

If the Turkish leader can call out the atrocities for what they are, then why is the UN so reluctant to use the G-word? Turning a blind eye sends out the message that such behaviour will be tolerated and, in that case, we can only conclude that the ICC, established in 2002 by the Rome Statute, is unfit for purpose. 

This was the conclusion reached by the South African government at the African Union summit in Johannesburg in 2015. No doubt others will also view the ICC as being institutionally flawed if it does not act swiftly over what are clearly war crimes being committed in Myanmar today and in years gone by. The court is already mired in accusations of racism, blatant double-standards, hypocrisy, corruption and serious judicial irregularities so you can't help but wonder what has to be done to get the “world's court” to swing into action for the Rohingya people.

The institution has special prosecutorial rights of referral and deferral to the UN Security Council; by default, the council’s five permanent members (three of which — China, Russia and the US — are not even ICC members) could act. This begs us to ask whether the UN is indeed a force for good, or if that too is selective in how it operates.

Despite having received more than 9,000 formal complaints about alleged war crimes in at least 139 countries, the ICC has largely chosen to indict around 40 black Africans in eight African countries. In doing so the ICC has ignored all Western human rights abuses in conflicts such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the West’s client states. Attempts to charge Israeli generals with war crimes, for example, have never made it beyond the first stage at the ICC which, at the moment, clearly has no interest in what is unfolding in Rakhine State, or Palestine for that matter.

Sadly, unless the international community takes urgent action, the Rohingya will soon only be remembered alongside the genocide victims of Rwanda, Srebenica and Kosovo. Their plight has already been compared to that of the Jews in Nazi Germany or apartheid-era South Africa. So much for the phrase: "Never again."

(Sister Yvonne Ridley is an author and journalist living in the UK. Her latest books is called TORTURE: Does it work? Interrogation issues and effectiveness in the Global War on Terror. You can order a copy here: )



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