Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
September 21, 2018
Mr. President: There is an image engraved in our minds of a stoic, reserved, elegant
Aung San Suu Kyi unbending in her struggle against Burma's generals for
democracy, and we assumed for human rights. Last year, when the refugees
streamed out of her country in the wake of atrocities, it blocked all UN agencies from
delivering food, water and medicine to affected civilians; her office accused aid
workers of helping terrorists.
Her iconic stature long gone, she made a public appearance the day after the
International Fact-Finding Mission released its initial 20-page overview to the UN
Human Rights Council on August 27, 2018. The damning evidence of murder, rape,
torture, persecution, burned villages, landmines along escape routes reported on by
NGOs and news media over the past year had been confirmed. Elegant and patrician
as usual, Aung San Suu Kyi discoursed on poetry and literature. No mention of the
genocide or the UN report. No longer an icon, there have been calls to relieve her of
the Nobel Peace Prize.
The UN group criticized her for her continued refusal to condemn the genocide. The
full report detailing unspeakable horrors in its 440-page account has now been
released (September 18, 2018). What might surprise people is a simple shocking
fact: This is not the first UN report on Rohingya massacres.
On February 3, 2017, the UN issued a detailed account of the military's operations in
north Maungddaw with "the very likely commission of crimes against humanity." It
recounted the murders, rapes and tortures that have now become the trademark of
military operations against the Rohingya.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein is quoted as
saying " ... what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his
mother's milk. And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being
gang-raped by the very security forces that should be protecting her."
There were no major consequences for Myanmar then and what happened the
following summer was the same magnified over Rakhine state. As a result we have
700,000 refugees, and they are still coming -- "11,342 new arrivals as of mid-June
this year," Mr. Zeid has noted.
Will this time be different? Following the UN Commission's summary report, 160
British parliamentarians across party lines signed a petition to Prime Minister Theresa
May to refer the Myanmar military to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The UN
report accuses the military of genocide, and identifies six generals, singling them out
for investigation and prosecution. They are, the senior general who heads the
military, the commander of the army, and four operational commanders.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has now been authorized to begin a
preliminary investigation to gather evidence before launching a full investigation.
Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC but Bangladesh
hosting the refugees is, thus giving the court jurisdiction.
Marzuki Darusman providing details of massacres and unmentionable atrocities said
in reporting to the Human Rights Council, "I have never been confronted by crimes as
horrendous and on such a scale as these."
If the UN Security Council is to be stymied by veto -- China preventing any action
against Myanmar -- will the ICC effort also fizzle out in practice if not in theory?
Justice remains tenuous for the weak and powerless in our world.