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 29, 2017 (posted October 2, 2017)
Mr. President: The UN Security Council held its first meeting on Rohingya in nine
years last Thursday (September 28, 2017). The language was harshly critical of
Myanmar. Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the situation as a "human
rights nightmare" and "urged Myanmar to end its military operations". The number of
Rohingya refugees has meanwhile mushroomed to more than 500,000. All the
members tiptoed carefully around the word 'genocide' ... for a very good reason.
Accepting such triggers action on their part.
During the Kosovo crisis when Serbs were expelling Kosovars, the Clinton
administration, reluctant to get involved, invented the euphemism 'ethnic cleansing'. It
has remained a favorite.
What does the Convention on Genocide actually state. Well, Article 2 lists five acts
each of which constitute genocide:
(a) Killing members of a group.
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its
in whole or in part.
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The systematic attacks, rapes, killings, burning of villages, destruction of crops,
livestock, shooting at fleeing villagers, mining of borders to hinder return are activities
so obviously violating acts (a), (b), (c) and (d), there is no counterargument. The
Myanmar military and the government by implication are unquestionably guilty of
genocide. The real issue is who wants to do something about it.
Among the border states, Bangladesh does not want to upset the Chinese who are
pragmatic supporters (for economic reasons) of the Myanmar regime. India is afraid
to set a precedent where its own activities in Kashmir are called into question. With
deaths there rumored at 100,000, bodies in unmarked graves and countless injured,
there appears to be a prima facie violation of counts (a), (b) and (c). On the eastern
side, Thailand is exposed for its own equivocal relations with its minority Muslim
community. The rest of the world? Well, they have their own interests ... generally
geopolitical. So they talk.
Meanwhile, a seven-member international panel of judges chaired by Daniel
Feierstein of the Center for Genocide Studies at the National University of Tres de
Febrero has found the Myanmar government guilty of "crimes against humanity and
genocide". It delivered its verdict after hearing testimony from more than 200 victims.
The panel made 17 recommendations to end the crisis and restore peace. It called
on Myanmar to permit the UN Human Rights Council to conduct a fact-finding mission
to investigate human rights violations against its Muslim population including the
Rohingya. Not well known is the fact that 4 percent of Myanmar's population is
Muslim of which 2 percent are (or used to be) Rohingya.
The panel also called for all discriminatory laws and policies to be reversed and for
the government to restore full citizenship to the Rohingya and other ethnic groups.
Finally, it urged Bangladesh and other countries to permit the Rohingya to settle until
their rights are restored and they can return home.
On the quieter side is a rebuke from Aung San Suu Kyi's alma mater. St. Hugh's
College at Oxford University has removed her portrait which was displayed in the main
entrance. By chance, Theresa May the current British Prime Minister is also an
alumna, and probably even more furious. Again in Oxford, the City Council is to meet
to consider revoking Ms. Aung San's Freedom of the City award.
The French director Barbet Schroeder has completed his Trilogy of Evil series with
"The Venerable W". The documentary released last June is a chilling look at the
Myanmar Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu whose Islamophobic vitriol has fueled violence
against Muslims. A true artist seldom minces words and in this case does not really
have to: Wirathu speaks for himself. That is what is chilling.