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
January 31, 2020
Mr. President: Today, January 31st, is Franz Schubert's birthday and, as I write, the
strains of the final movement of his last symphony "The Great" play in the
background -- the urgency in the melody, the insistent measured beat, holding one in
thrall through to the climax.
From transcendental beauty to horrific ugliness for, sadly, Schubert's countrymen
became unwitting accomplices to a Nazi party's hatred and extermination of Jews a
century after his death. On a much smaller scale and less systematically organized
has been another onslaught on a different religious minority, in a different part of the
The killing of the Rohingya by the Burmese military, and by local militants, instigated
by a vitriolic Buddhist monk, grabbed headlines a few years ago. Survivors escaped
to Bangladesh and wherever else possible.
Fulfilling criteria for genocide, a case was brought by Gambia against Burma (also
now known as Myanmar). The latter was defended by Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel
Peace Laureate and Myanmar's defacto leader, although in the shadow of its
powerful military, which she was defending.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is unique in that it hears cases between
countries. Ms. Suu Kyi presented the usual defense of renegade, random acts of
communal violence. But the evidence against her country was, and is, overwhelming,
the barbarity horrifying -- the means including murder, rape, burning of villages,
sometimes with occupants of houses trapped within. Victims numbered not in dozens
or hundreds but in thousands causing some three-quarters of a million to flee for their
lives. Those ending up in India are not eligible for citizenship under Mr. Modi's new
law specifically barring Muslim refugees.
The ICJ has now issued its ruling. It rebukes Aung San Suu Kyi, and noting the
"extremely vulnerable" and precarious situation for the Rohingya, it calls on the
Myanmar government to protect them from the military. Unfortunately, the court does
not have an enforcement mechanism. It simply transmits its finding to the UN Security
Council, where, in Myanmar's case, its friend and protector China is a permanent
member and has a veto.
All the same, the court's decisions are binding, so the UN General Assembly can
introduce a resolution, or the Human Rights Council based in Geneva could be
interested. The court also set up a reporting requirement for Myanmar's government
to account to it for whatever is going on with respect to the Rohingyas -- in the first
instance after four months, and then every six months ... much like a delinquent or a
parolee reporting at intervals.
Myanmar has also been warned not to destroy evidence. In the past, aerial photos
have shown that they have. Much will depend on how much international pressure
develops to force it to comply, and any attempts by Myanmar to evade or subvert the
ruling will only increase it.