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Ask me anything
July 2, 2013
*** TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic Violence, Homicide, Torture, Rape, Sexual Violence, Sexual Assault, Sexual Abuse, Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, Humiliation ***
Yesterday, a United States district court dismissed a case brought on behalf of four Iraqi men who were tortured at Abu Ghraib. The men were suing CACI Premier Technology, Inc., a private, U.S.-based contractor that U.S. military investigators concluded had participated in torture and other “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” of detainees at Abu Ghraib.
In dismissing the torture victims’ claims, the district judge did not suggest that the plaintiffs’ allegations of torture or a conspiracy involving CACI were unfounded. Instead, the judge held that, pursuant to the recent Supreme Court case Kiobel v. Shell/Royal Dutch Petroleum, individuals can no longer sue U.S. corporations for human rights abuses committed abroad.
At Abu Ghraib, the detainees were subjected to electric shocks, sexual violence, forced nudity, broken bones, and deprivation of oxygen, food, and water. U.S. military investigators concluded that several CACI employees serving as interrogators directed abuse of Abu Ghraib employees in order to “soften” them up for interrogations.
CACI and the contractors it employs are completely unaccountable in U.S. court for the atrocities they committed at Abu Ghraib, despite the fact that CACI is a U.S.-based corporation, it conspired with U.S. soldiers to commit war crimes that were punished in U.S. courts martials, and the torture and war crimes occurred at a time when the United States exercised total jurisdiction and control over Abu Ghraib prison.
The decision was announced yesterday, on the International Day in Support of Torture Victims.
TW: Torture - US steps up efforts to break Guantanamo hunger strike June 22, 2013
Increasingly brutal tactics are being used in an attempt to break the hunger strike by detainees at Guantánamo Bay, according to fresh testimony from the last British resident still held in the camp.
Shaker Aamer claims that the US authorities are systematically making the regime more hardline to try to defuse the strike, which now involves almost two-thirds of the detainees. Techniques include making cells “freezing cold” to accentuate the discomfort of those on hunger strike and the introduction of “metal-tipped” feeding tubes, which Aamer said were forced into inmates’ stomachs twice a day and caused detainees to vomit over themselves.
The 46-year-old from London tells of one detainee who was admitted to hospital 10 days ago after a nurse had pushed the tube into his lungs rather than his stomach, causing him later to cough up blood. Aamer also alleges that some nurses at Guantánamo Bay are refusing to wear their name tags in order to prevent detainees registering abuse complaints against staff.
Speaking last week from the camp in Cuba, exactly four months after he joined the hunger strike, Aamer said: “The administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead.”
On Wednesday, in a response to a parliamentary question about what had been discussed by the two leaders, Cameron revealed that his next step would be to write to Obama about the “specifics of the case and everything that we can do to expedite it”. He added: “Clearly, President Obama wants to make progress on this issue and we should help him in every way that we can with respect to this individual.”
The prime minister’s comments are the most positive indication to date that Aamer will eventually be freed – he has been cleared for release twice since 2007.
Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal charity Reprieve, who passed a transcript of his conversation with Aamer to the Observer, said: “These gruesome new details show just how bad things are in Guantánamo. The whole thing is at breaking point. Clearly the US military is under enormous pressure and doing everything it can to hurt the men and break the hunger strike.”
Although the military initially denied that there was a hunger strike inside Guantanámo, it now concedes that, of the 166 detainees, 104 are on hunger strike and 44 are being force-fed.
Aamer also documents his declining health and how the camp’s regime deliberately inflates the weight of detainees on hunger strike. Aamer, who has permission to live in the UK indefinitely because his wife is a British national, said: “They said I was 160lb, but I was 154lb a few days ago. Unless there has been a miracle, my weight has not gone up without eating. But they cheat by adding shackles and sometimes even pressing down as they do it to add to your weight.
“If you have a medical standard for when a detainee should be force-fed for his own health, then force-feed him when it can still save his health. Don’t wait until his body is so harmed by the lack of food that all you are protecting is the US military – from the harm of a prisoner dying for a principle.”
Aamer describes his daily diet at Guantánamo as a cup of tea or two each day with a low-calorie sweetener and occasionally an Ocean Spray powder mix that has 10 calories – enough to give an energy boost.
For long periods we forget it, even though it is a human rights disgrace surely unequalled in recent American history. But now, 11 years after it opened, the prison for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay is demanding our attention once again, thanks to the largest hunger strike by detainees in its infamous history. Al-Qa’ida has been decimated; America’s war in Iraq is over and the one in Afghanistan soon will be. But the scandal of Guantanamo endures.
Today, 166 inmates remain. Three have been convicted, while a further 30 will face trial. Fifty or so are in a legal no-man’s-land, deemed by the authorities too dangerous to release but against whom there is not enough evidence to prosecute. And then there are 86 who have been cleared for release, but who instead rot in a hell from which there is no escape. No wonder yesterday more than 160 of them were involved in clashes with guards that led to what the US said were “less than lethal” rounds being fired.
In 2009, Barack Obama entered office vowing to close Guantanamo within a year. Perhaps he should have listened more closely to his predecessor. George W Bush, too, wanted to shut Guantanamo; even he came to understand it was perhaps the most powerful single recruiting agent for global terrorism. But, he warned presciently, the devil was in the detail – or, more exactly, in Congress.
Mr Obama’s planned to transfer most inmates to a high-security prison in Illinois, but that idea was blocked. Then Congress made things harder still, first scotching a plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the organiser of 9/11 and Guantanamo’s best-known prisoner, in a civil court in the US, and effectively banning the use of public money to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the US or abroad.
Even so, Dan Fried, the special envoy in charge of closing the prison, managed to resettle 40 detainees during Obama’s first term. But at the end of January, Mr Fried was reassigned and not replaced, his duties incorporated into the State Department’s existing legal office. For the 86 inmates eligible for release it was the last straw. Within a week the hunger strikes started.
Detainees tell their lawyers that up to 130 now are taking part. The Pentagon claims they number no more than 40, of whom a dozen are being force-fed. Given the lack of independent access to Guantanamo, the exact number is impossible to establish.
Like others before it, the protest may have been sparked by complaints that guards were abusing detainees’ copies of the Koran. But even the Pentagon admits the real reason was despair. Inmates were “devastated” by the signal that the administration no longer believed that closing the prison was a realistic priority, Marine General John Kelly told Congress, so “they want to turn the heat up, get it back in the media”. And who can blame them?
By all accounts, the atmosphere within Guantanamo has never been as bleak. The Soviet Union had gulags, “but no Soviet gulag ever had 52 per cent of its prisoners cleared for release,” says Clive Stafford Smith, director of the legal charity Reprieve, who has been representing Guantanamo detainees almost since the place opened in January 2002.
One of his clients is the Saudi-born British resident Shaker Aamer, captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and brought to Guantanamo in February 2002. He has been cleared not once but twice, in 2007 and then by the Obama administration in 2009. But the US won’t let him go, not even back to its trusty ally Britain, where Aamer’s family live. Fluent in English, Mr Aamer is regarded as a “leader” among the detainees. Many suspect that the Americans will never free him, because he knows so much, and would speak out.
Today, even George Orwell would have been pressed to conceive the plight of the 86: cleared for release, but denied freedom, using a hunger strike as their last weapon, only to be kept alive by the very people who will not let them go. On Thursday, Mr Aamer gave the most recent account of events at Guantanamo to Mr Stafford Smith in an hour-long phone conversation, described by his lawyer in a sworn affidavit.
Mr Aamer is participating in the hunger strike, although he is not yet being force-fed. But other harassments abound. He is in Guantanamo’s Camp Five, where “non-compliant” prisoners are held. His health is poor and deteriorating. There is noise throughout the night. It is getting harder to speak to lawyers. Then there are the FCEs, or “forcible cell extractions”, to use the euphemism for being picked up and shackled by a team of six guards who burst into your cell. “They FCE me just to give me water,” Mr Aamer recounted.
Each day, he says, there are 10 to 15 “code yellow” incidents, when a prisoner on hunger strike collapses or passes out. Even contact with lawyers is a mixed blessing. “Each phone call [from a lawyer] is a curse. They hear what I am saying to you and use that against me to make things worse,” he told Mr Stafford Smith. The situation, in short, is grimmer even than during what Mr Aamer calls “Miller time”. For ordinary residents of the US, the phrase advertises a well-known brand of beer. But in the extra-territorial Hades of Guantanamo, the reference is to General Geoffrey Miller, the prison’s second commandant before he was sent to Iraq in August 2003 to advise on “more productive” interrogations of prisoners, that is, to “Gitmo-ise” Iraq.
The hunger strike is succeeding in returning the spotlight to Guantanamo. On the day Mr Stafford Smith talked to Mr Aamer, Chuck Hagel, the Defence Secretary, told Congress he favoured closing the prison, while leading human rights groups wrote to Mr Obama demanding again that Guantanamo be shut and its inmates either released or tried in civilian court. But it seems optimism bordering on insanity to believe these entreaties will succeed where every other has failed.
Mr Aamer, by all accounts, is a proud man not given to self-pity. But by the end of the phone call, Mr Stafford Smith declared, his client seemed to be crying. “They are killing us, so it is hard to keep calm. It’s hard to understand what they are doing, or why. No matter how much I show you I am tough, in reality I am dying inside. If you want us to die, leave us alone. But they do not want us to die, and they do not want us to live like a human being. What is worse than that?” What indeed?
International medical groups have denounced the forced-feeding of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, which invariably involves strapping detainees into restraint chairs (marketed as a “padded cell on wheels” by their manufacturer), pushing a tube up their nose and down their throat, and pumping liquids into their stomach. Although it is considered a method of torture by the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the US military insists forced-feeding is a form of “medical intervention” and that the practice is less aggressive than it was.
Forced-feeding first received widespread public attention in the Edwardian era, when it was used against hunger-striking suffragettes who were held down as the instruments were painfully inserted into their bodies, an experience that has been likened to rape. This technique was also performed on hunger-striking Irish Republicans: in 1917, Thomas Ashe died as a result of complications from the procedure.
Forced-feeding in prisons has been outlawed since 1975 when the World Medical Association issued the Declaration of Tokyo, guidelines for physicians concerning torture and other cruel or degrading treatment in relation to detention. The declaration stipulates that: “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgement concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.”
Regiment 207’s military camp a few miles from Sittwe.
Burma’s Muslims are still having a pretty awful time of it. Last year, the country’s Buddhist majority launched a series of attacks on the minority Rohingya Muslim population, supposedly because they’re not “ethnically pure”. The attacks have continued this year and now include the general Muslim population, as well as the ethnic Rohingyas, getting their homes burned down and heads smashed in by marauding gangs of vicious Buddhists.
After monitoring the plight of the Rohingya and the two incidents of violence against them in June and October last year, I decided to fly out to Burma in wary anticipation of another round of trouble. The problem was that I had no money, no commission, no media organisation backing me and the mainstream media had pretty much stopped reporting on the issue. When I turned to the public to help fund my trip, the response was overwhelming (turns out people do have an interest in helping to expose the extended violent persecution of vulnerable minorities) and they collectively helped me raise enough money to go.
We stayed in Sittwe, the main city in Arakhan state, which is where the majority of the Rohingya camps are situated. Travelling past the police check points every morning and into the Rohingya camps, it felt like being transported into a parallel world where suddenly it’s fine to forget about your obligations as a human to not be an unscrupulous bully to a group of people just because they originally come from somewhere different to you. The Rohingya Muslims aren’t recognised as citizens of Burma, meaning they have no rights and very little access to education and healthcare.
A Rohingya boy at an unregistered internally displaced person camp in Arakhan state.
While in Sittwe, some of my contacts told me about Rohingya women being kept at a military base. I tracked down some of the eyewitnesses, but I needed to get close to the camp to confirm what I’d heard. Bear in mind that taking pictures and video of a Burmese military base obviously isn’t something to be taken lightly, and the people who’d agreed to take me there risked their lives if they were caught.
The evidence I obtained during my week in Sittwe strongly implies that the Burmese military is imprisoning Rohingya women from the Arakhan region and using them as sex slaves. That evidence has been passed on to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency dealing with labour issues, who have lodged a complaint to the Burmese government and launched an investigation in an attempt to rescue the women.
Eyewitness testimony of a military camp situated a few miles from Sittwe town (and home to Regiment 270) describes around 20 women and three children under the age of eight being held at the camp. One of the witnesses, Amina (name changed), described walking past the camp when she heard voices calling out to her. The imprisoned women asked Amina if she was Muslim; she is.
“Please help us. If you can help us escape from here you will go to jannah (heaven),” one woman told her. “Many military men come, we can’t breathe. We want to become Muslim again. If we stay like this we will go to hell.” The intended meaning of what was said was, Amina felt, clear: these women are being raped, and they don’t have to say it explicitly for anyone to understand what’s taking place.
The prisoners asked Amina to pass the message on to someone who could help. “Our parents can’t find us,” they added.
A Rohingya woman at a medical clinic. Photo by Dougal Thomas.
The women only managed to speak to Amina because it was Burmese Independence Day and the soldiers were away. “We’ve been arrested here for quite a long time now. They have left us today because they have a special visitor,” they told Amina. The women continued, telling Amina that if the word was spread too much that the military would kill them, as well as warning her that she was at risk of being killed herself if she was spotted talking to them.
Amina saw three children inside the camp. Two of them popped their heads up on the windowsills and one came up to the fence so that Amina could pass through some vegetables she’d collected. “The women were crying,” she told me. “Some of them called me daughter, others called me sister.”
Amina described some of the women as pregnant, which could indicate that they’ve been prisoners since the June or October violence and have become pregnant during their imprisonment. Information relayed from various sources indicates that local villagers are aware that women are being kept as prisoners but are too scared to speak out. And as Rohingya aren’t recognised as citizens of Burma – and therefore have no rights – it’s fair to assume that the punishment inflicted on them for making these kinds of allegations wouldn’t exactly be regulated.
A Rohingya burnt to the ground in Arakhan state. Photo by Spike Johnson.
An 18-year-old Rohingya man I interviewed described another camp 20 minutes away (which is home to the medical regiment), where another woman was apparently being held under similar conditions. He was one of around 14 rice paddy workers who went to speak Rakhine with the woman, the language spoken by the Buddhist population of Arakhan. The woman replied, “Don’t speak Rakhine with me any more, I am Muslim and a prisoner here.”
She then told the men her father’s name and where she was from. They asked her what she was doing at a military camp if she was Muslim, and if she was ready to come with them. She replied, “I have two children,” implying that her children are being used to keep her at the camp. This evidence has also been passed on to the ILO.
I tracked down other eyewitnesses, but they were mostly too afraid to speak. One woman who’d seen the women imprisoned at Regiment 270’s camp initially agreed to speak to me, but backed out after her husband threatened to divorce her if she spoke to any journalists about the situation. The Rohingya have no rights or official form of protection, and those who do speak to journalists are risking their lives, so the reluctance to divulge what they know is perfectly understandable.
The last known sighting of these women was at the end of March and it’s uncertain whether they’re still alive. It’s also uncertain if the women are still at the camp or have been split up into different camps. But what is certain is that there are innocent Rohingya women being held captive by the Burmese military and plenty of locals know about it, only it’s impossible for them to do anything about it without the threat of losing their lives.
An inmate hunger strike at Guantanamo prison has entered its 40th day, with more than 100 reportedly taking part. Experts warn of health risks over a strike prompted by the confiscation of prisoners’ belongings and rough handling of Korans.
The prisoners’ lawyers, along with other experts and former detainees, are sounding the alarm over the inmates’ critical condition. “They are indeed threatening their own lives, putting their lives on the line in this heroic effort to express a sense of autonomy, outrage at being imprisoned in what can be characterized as nothing less than the American sort of medieval torture chamber,” anthropologist Mark Mason, who studies the cultural factors behind human suffering, told RT.
“We have here conditions where 166 people are imprisoned, more of half of them cleared, they should be out to the streets, free today,” Mason added. “I frankly cannot describe some of the horrific conditions and treatment and humiliation that many detainees have reported. They have been stripped and required to stand around in cold rooms for hours naked. This is itself a physical stressor, but it is almost unspeakable psychological torture.”
“We are humans, we are not eagles in a bag of skin, we relate to each other, we need human contact and relationships to be healthy psychologically and physically,” he said.
Mason claimed that the US lives in a “distortion zone,” where “people imprisoned in Guantanamo should be free while the president, our former president, vice president and bankers in the US and Wall Street should be in jail.”
US President Barack Obama began his first term by announcing his intention to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Now, just two months into his second term, the prison has entered its 12th year of operation with 166 detainees still languishing behind bars and a reported 130 on a life-threatening hunger strike.
9- to 12-year-old kids detained and tortured in Guantanamo?
Former Guantanamo detainee Murat Kurnaz described to RT the horrible conditions he faced while being detained there, and explained the reasons behind the hunger strike.
“I have been tortured in different kinds of ways. There are no human rights over there. That means they could do whatever they wanted to with us,” Kurnaz said. “They tortured me to force me to sign papers and every time I’ve refused, they kept on torturing me in different kind of ways.”
“They really tried everything to break us including psychological and physical torture. I myself got tortured by electroshocks and waterboarding. I have seen also kids 9 years and 12 years old inside the camp. It was very difficult to watch how those kids getting beaten up in front of me,” he added.
Kurnaz argued that detainees have “many justified reasons” to go on a hunger strike:“It is a bad situation, prisoners want to go to court and want their rights back. They don’t have the opportunity to go to the court or see their families. They do not have the right to write or receive letters.”
The state of legal limbo was also frustrating for Kurnaz, who was determined to be innocent by the US but had to spend an extra five years in detention because Germany refused to take him back.
“Their hunger strikes are the only way they have of making themselves heard. Years and years without any hope of release. Without any real charges,” political writer and activist Sara Flounders told RT.
Lawyers for the Guantanamo prisoners said the men began the hunger strike on February 6 in protest against the alleged confiscation of personal items such as photographs and personal mail, as well as the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Korans during searches of their cells.
The Center for Constitutional Rights said that they have received reports of detainees coughing up blood, losing consciousness, losing more than twenty pounds of weight and being hospitalized. Medical experts have predicted that by the 45th day of a hunger strike, participants can experience hearing loss and potential blindness – on top of the psychological suffering they have endured for more than a decade.
The UN issued a statement this week that the US is violating international human rights law by holding detainees indefinitely and without charge.
A new study finds Russians more hostile toward LGBT people than they were eight years ago.
By Trudy Ring
March 13, 2013
As Russia contemplates a new national antigay law, a new survey indicates hostility to LGBT people in the country is on the rise.
In the survey released Tuesday by the Levada Center, a Russian polling organization, 22% of respondents said they think LGBT people should be “cured,” up five percentage points from eight years ago, when a similar poll was conducted, Gay Star News reports. Some 23% of respondents expressed a live-and-let-live attitude toward the LGBT population, down seven percentage points in the past eight years. A total of 16% said LGBTs should be isolated from society, up from 12% in the previous study.
Other findings included that 85% opposed same-sex marriage, 87% did not want gay pride celebrations in their cities, 80% opposed letting gay couples adopt children, and 5% said LGBT people should be “liquidated.”
The survey of 1,600 Russians, conducted in February, comes as the national government considers a law against “homosexual propaganda” similar to those enacted in the city of St. Petersburg and nine other cities or regions. The law would impose fines for any positive public mentions of homosexuality that might be accessible to minors, in effect outlawing pride parades and other public events. It was approved by the State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, in January, but must go through two more votes and be signed by President Vladimir Putin before taking effect.
[Photo: Gay right activists brave flying rotten eggs thrown at them by antigay activists during a gay “kiss-in” protest just outside the lower house of Russia’s Parliament, the State Duma, in December .]
By Ramzy Baroud Columnist and Editor of Palestine Chronicle
March 4, 2013
One fails to understand the unperturbed attitude with which regional and international leaders and organizations are treating the unrelenting onslaught against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, formally known as Burma.
Numbers speak of atrocities where every violent act is prelude to greater violence and ethnic cleansing. Yet, western governments’ normalization with the Myanmar regime continues unabated, regional leaders are as gutless as ever and even human rights organizations seem compelled by habitual urges to issue statements lacking meaningful, decisive and coordinated calls for action.
Meanwhile the ‘boat people’ remain on their own.
On February 26, fishermen discovered a rickety wooden boat floating randomly at sea, nearly 25 kilometers (16 miles) off the coast of Indonesia’s Northern Province of Aceh. The Associated Press and other media reported there were 121 people on board including children who were extremely weak, dehydrated and nearly starved.
They were Rohingya refugees who preferred to take their chances at sea rather than stay in Myanmar. To understand the decision of a parent to risk his child’s life in a tumultuous sea would require understanding the greater risks awaiting them at home.
Reporting for Voice of America from Jakarta, Kate Lamb cited a moderate estimate of the outcome of communal violence in the Arakan state, which left hundreds of Rohingya Muslims dead, thousands of homes burnt and nearly 115,000 displaced.
The number is likely to be higher at all fronts. Many fleeing Rohingya perished at sea or disappeared to never be seen again. Harrowing stories are told and reported of families separating and boats sunk. There are documented events in which various regional navies and border police sent back refugees after they successfully braved the deadly journey to other countries - Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh and elsewhere.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported that nearly 13,000 Rohingya refugees attempted to leave Myanmar on smugglers’ boats in the Bay of Bengal in 2012. At least five hundred drowned.
But who are the Rohingya people?
Myanmar officials and media wish to simply see the Rohingyas as ‘illegal Bengali immigrants’, a credulous reading of history at best.
The intentions of this inaccurate classification, however, are truly sinister for it is meant to provide a legal clearance to forcefully deport the Rohingya population. Myanmar President Then Sein had in fact made an ‘offer’ to the UN last year that he was willing to send the Rohingya people “to any other country willing to accept them.” The UN declined.
Rohingya Muslims, however, are native to the state of “Rohang”, officially known as Rakhine or Arakan. If one is to seek historical accuracy, not only are the Rohingya people native to Myanmar, it was in fact Burma that occupied Rakhine in the 1700’s. Over the years, especially in the first half of the 20th century, the original inhabitants of Arakan were joined by cheap or forced labor from Bengal and India, who permanently settled there.
For decades, tension brewed between Buddhists and Muslims in the region. Naturally, a majority backed by a military junta is likely to prevail over a minority without any serious regional or international backers. Without much balance of power to be mentioned, the Rohingya population of Arakan, estimated at nearly 800,000, subsisted between the nightmare of having no legal status (as they are still denied citizenship), little or no rights and the occasional ethnic purges carried out by their Buddhist neighbors with the support of their government, army and police.
The worst of such violence in recent years took place between June and October of last year. Buddhists also paid a heavy price for the clashes, but the stateless Rohingyas, being isolated and defenseless, were the ones to carry the heaviest death toll and destruction.
And just when ‘calm’ is reported – as in returning to the status quo of utter discrimination and political alienation of the Rohingyas – violence erupts once more, and every time the diameters of the conflict grow bigger. In late February, an angry Buddhist mob attacked non-Rohingya Muslim schools, shops and homes in the capital Rangoon, regional and international media reported. The cause of the violence was a rumor that the Muslim community is planning to build a mosque.
What is taking place in Arakan is most dangerous, not only because of the magnitude of the atrocities and the perpetual suffering of the Rohingya people, which are often described as the world’s most persecuted people.
Other layers of danger also exist that threatens to widen the parameters of the conflict throughout the Southeast Asia region, bringing instability to already unstable border areas, and, of course, as was the case recently, take the conflict from an ethnic one to a purely religious one.
In a region of a unique mix of ethnicities and religions, the plight of the Rohingyas could become the trigger that would set already fractious parts of the region ablaze.
Although the plight of the Rohingya people have in recent months crossed the line from the terrible, but hidden tragedy into a recurring media topic, it is still facing many hurdles that must be overcome in order for some action to be taken.
While the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been making major economic leaps forward, it remains politically ineffective, with little interest in issues pertaining to human rights.
Under the guise of its commitment to ‘non-interference’ and disproportionate attention to the festering territorial disputes in the South China Sea, ASEAN seems unaware that the Rohingya people even exist.
Worst, ASEAN leaders were reportedly in agreement that Myanmar should chair their 2014 summit, as a reward for superficial reforms undertaken by Rangoon to ease its political isolation and open up its market beyond China and few other countries.
Meanwhile, western countries, led by the United States are clamoring to divide the large Myanmar economic cake amongst themselves, and are saying next to nothing about the current human rights records of Rangoon. The minor democratic reforms in Myanmar seem, after all, a pretext to allow the country back to western arms. And the race to Rangoon has indeed begun, unhindered by the continued persecution of the Rohingya people.
On February 26, Myanmar’s President Sein met in Oslo with Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in a ‘landmark’ visit. They spoke economy, of course, for Myanmar has plenty to offer. And regarding the conflict in Arakan, Jens Stoltenberg unambiguously declared it to be an internal Burmese affair, reducing it to most belittling statements. In regards to ‘disagreements’ over citizenship, he said, “we have encouraged dialogue, but we will not demand that Burma’s government give citizenship to the Rohingyas.”
Moreover, to reward Sein for his supposedly bold democratic reforms, Norway took the lead by waving off nearly have of its debt and other countries followed suit, including Japan which dropped $3 billion last year.
While one is used to official hypocrisy, whether by ASEAN or western governments, many are still scratching their heads over the unforgivable silence of democracy advocate and Noble Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi.
Luckily, others are speaking out. Bangladesh’s Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, along with former Timor-Leste president Ramos-Horta had both recently spoke with decisive terms in support of the persecuted Rohingya people.
“The minority Muslim Rohingya continue to suffer unspeakable persecution, with more than 1,000 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes just in recent months, apparently with the complicity and protection of security forces,” the Nobel laureates wrote in the Huffington Post on February 20.
They criticized the prejudicial Citizenship Law of 1982 and called for granting the Rohingya people full citizenship.
The perpetual suffering of the Rohingya people must end. They are deserving of rights and dignity. They are weary of crossing unforgiving seas and walking harsh terrains seeking mere survival.
More voices must join those who are speaking out in support of their rights. ASEAN must break away from its silence and tediously guarded policies and western countries must be confronted by their own civil societies: no normalization with Rangoon when innocent men, women and children are being burned alive in their own homes.
This injustice needs to be known to the world and serious, organized and determined efforts must follow to bring the persecution of the Rohingya people to an end.
Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com. Baroud’s website can be visited here: www.ramzybaroud.net.
Article one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It does not, however, say “with the exception of Palestinians.”
But we, 11 million Palestinians, know very well that we are the exception to that rule. Whether we are “Israeli Arabs,” “Arabs of the occupied territories,” or diasporic Arabs, we cannot have the same rights as “all human beings.” Others have the right to life, work, security, health, movement, democracy, education, electricity, water, medicine, food, love, marriage. We don’t.
Any attempt to understand the rationale behind these blatant human rights violations – what Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, John Dugard, and many others call apartheid – is faced with accusations of anti-Semitism, a weapon used to silence voices calling for justice in the Middle East. Take, for example, the accusations hurled at the organizers of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) event at the Brooklyn College. Of course, no American president wants to be at the receiving end of such accusations
As Ben White wrote: “The abuse of the charge of anti-Semitism to shield systematic human rights abuses and to smear activists, while tired and transparent to many, is still a favorite tactic.”
The possibility of peace with justice at this moment is far from realization. The impossibility of the realization of the national dream of one third of the Palestinian people has brought forward the embarrassing question of the rights of the remaining two thirds, namely the dispossessed refugees living in miserable camps.
What is the Palestinian cause if not the right of return of the refugees both inside and outside Palestine? Is there a slight possibility of having ‘peace’ in the Middle East without resolving this question? If, as some Israeli leaders claim, there is a way of finding a ‘just solution’ that does not include their return, does that guarantee a just comprehensive peace?
The whites of apartheid South Africa defined the institutions of the country as democratic – albeit white democracy, i.e. by and for whites only. Native Africans never recognized the ‘white nature’ of that country. The idea of defining the country as exclusively white and democratic at the same time was never accepted by the international community. It was considered blatant racism. Unlike Palestinians, black Africans are considered human beings, and therefore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to them.
That is precisely what the call for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state means. Forget about 6 million refugees scattered all over the world as a result of the process of ethnic cleansing that accompanied the establishment of Israel.
According to this formula, the Palestinians are only those who live in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. ‘The Middle East conflict,’ in case you didn’t know, will be resolved if the latter are given a flag and three to four truncated bantustans with a chief that we can call a president.
US President Barack Obama’s expected talks in Ramallah and Tel Aviv next month are not going to allude to the refugees’ issues. Obama also won’t utter a word about the civil rights of 1.2 million Palestinian citizens inside the state of Israel. One thing he will not forget to say again and again: The US is committed to the security of the state of Israel! Hendrik Verwoerd and P. W Botha, the architects of Apartheid, would have been vindicated.
Haidar Eid is an assistant professor at al-Aqsa University in Gaza.