Myanmar coup changes little for persecuted Rohingyas: expert

More than a million Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, have fled violence in the Buddhist-majority country in successive waves since the early 1990s. (AFP)
More than a million Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, have fled violence in the Buddhist-majority country in successive waves since the early 1990s. (AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2021

Myanmar coup changes little for persecuted Rohingyas: expert

Myanmar coup changes little for persecuted Rohingyas: expert
  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim unpacked coup’s implications for marginalized minority during an Arab News Research & Studies Unit webinar
  • More than a million Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in the Buddhist-majority country since the early 1990s

LONDON: Four years have passed since Myanmar’s military crackdown drove more than 742,000 mostly women and children of the Rohingya minority over the border into Bangladesh — a mass displacement which UN investigators say amounts to genocide. Now, in the wake of the Feb. 1 coup, the Rohingya are again left wondering what lies in store for them.

Myanmar's military, known as Tatmadaw, seized power in a bloodless coup on Monday, detaining Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Secretary; President Win Myint; and several other senior cabinet ministers just hours before parliament was due to reconvene for the first time since elections on Nov. 8.




“One could argue that the military was always in power in Myanmar, it was always in full control,” says Dr. Azeem Ibrahim. (AFP)

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won the election by a landslide, but the Tatmadaw alleges widespread fraud. Now army chief Min Aung Hlaing has appointed himself head of a new cabinet.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, a director at the Center for Global Policy and author of the 2017 book “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide,” believes the coup has changed very little for the persecuted Rohingya minority — in large part because Myanmar had only a “veneer” of democracy in the first place.

“The reality is that not much has actually changed,” Ibrahim told a webinar hosted by the Arab News Research and Studies Unit on Wednesday. “Despite the fact that we had elections in Myanmar on two occasions, many would argue that it wasn't actually a real democracy by any stretch of the imagination.”

For instance, a democracy would not automatically allocate 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military or allow the four main ministries of state — foreign affairs, defense, the interior and border control — to remain in the hands of the military. Nor would a true democracy be involved in “genocidal activity” or deny entire swathes of the population the right to vote, he said.

“One could argue that the military was always in power in Myanmar, it was always in full control. Now the military has simply removed that veneer and taken direct control once again,” Ibrahim said.




Government soldiers and local militias rampaged through Rakhine state, torching villages, committing murder and mass rape as they went. (AFP)

More than a million Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar, have fled violence in the Buddhist-majority country in successive waves since the early 1990s.

The latest crackdown, which began on Aug. 25, 2017, in response to attacks on police posts and an army base by Rohingya militants, saw government soldiers and local militias rampage through Rakhine state, torching villages, committing murder and mass rape as they went.

At the peak of the crisis, thousands of Rohingya were crossing the border into Bangladesh on a daily basis, most of them walking for days through jungles and mountains or braving dangerous sea voyages across the Bay of Bengal. Some 600,000 remain in Rakhine state, including around 120,000 who are confined to camps.

The vast majority who reached Bangladesh were women and children — more than 40 percent of them under the age of 12, according to the UN’s refugee agency. Many have ended up in sprawling refugee camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara in the Bangladesh district of Cox’s Bazar.




“You have these very large geopolitical machinations going on between superpowers, nuclear powers. Minority groups like the Rohingya simply don’t fit into that equation.”

The Kutupalong refugee settlement now hosts more than 600,000 people in an area of just 13 square kilometers.

Burdened with the responsibility of hosting this huge influx, Bangladesh is eager to send the Rohingya back to Myanmar. However, the majority refuse to leave, fearing further violence and persecution in a country that denies them citizenship.

Ibrahim says the chances of Rohingya refugees returning any time soon are low.

 




Dr. Azeem Ibrahim, a director at the Center for Global Policy

“It has always been the case that when the military’s popularity declines, it increases campaigns against these minority groups. So, the immediate term for the Rohingya doesn't look good and the probability of the repatriation of the Rohingya, which was already next to zero, has diminished significantly further,” he said.

“The Myanmar military has spent over half a century trying to get rid of them. They finally did so in 2017. The probability of military backtracking on any of this is very slim.”

In large part this is due to the military’s deliberate effort to quickly change the facts on the ground, making it very difficult to reverse the process of ethnic cleansing.




Many Rohingya have ended up in sprawling refugee camps in Kutupalong and Nayapara in the Bangladesh district of Cox’s Bazar. (AFP)

“The reality is the Rohingya have actually got nowhere to return back to,” said Ibrahim. “When they were driven over the border into Bangladesh, the Myanmar military very swiftly mined the border to make sure none of them could come back.

“They also burned down their villages, bulldozed their land, and the land has already been redistributed to local Buddhists. The facts on the ground have changed.”

One concern among human-rights observers now is whether the coup will impact the pending genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the UN seated in The Hague.

“I think this is highly unlikely, because the case was not against a civilian government or a military — the case is actually against the state of Myanmar, and the state still remains completely intact,” said Ibrahim.

In his view, the case may have been strengthened in fact. When Aung San Suu Kyi addressed The Hague in 2019 to deny the charge of genocide, she argued there were sufficient mechanisms within the democratic state to hold any individual perpetrators to account.

Now that the military has seized power, “all the democratic institutions have been diluted,” Ibrahim said, thereby strengthening the ICJ’s remit to investigate.

The coup has drawn widespread condemnation from the international community, with Joe Biden’s new US administration already weighing the possibility of reimposing sanctions on Myanmar and the generals involved.

However, Ibrahim believes the West’s options for pressuring the military are “extremely limited” and that any sanctions leveled against the generals will solely press for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the restoration of democracy — with much less emphasis on human rights and minority groups.

Ibrahim predicts that such sanctions will, in all likelihood, be ineffective given China’s diplomatic and financial support for Myanmar.

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“China is playing a much bigger role in Myanmar. They are the biggest investors in infrastructure and development and financing in the country,” he said, implying that the Tatmadaw believes it can weather any anticipated US sanctions.

“The military learned that despite the fact they were involved in full-scale genocide against the Rohingya minority, China used its veto power at the Security Council to protect it, and that protection will still continue.”

Biden and others in the West will also wish to avoid being pulled into a conflict in Myanmar, especially if that risks confrontation with China.




At the peak of the crisis, thousands of Rohingya were crossing the border into Bangladesh on a daily basis. (AFP)

“China has ambition to be a global superpower, but before it can become a global superpower it must become a regional power. That means keeping its regional nuclear rival India in check. Access to Myanmar gives it access to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean,” said Ibrahim.

“You have these very large geopolitical machinations going on between superpowers, nuclear powers. Minority groups like the Rohingya simply don’t fit into that equation.”

With limited means to lobby on their own behalf, the Rohingya find themselves in a very precarious situation and will need others to speak on their behalf. Even if its options are limited, Ibrahim says the international community must stand by the Rohingya.

“One thing that the West must do,” he said, “is try to ensure that there are red lines drawn against the persecution of minorities.”

Twitter: @RobertPEdwards


US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’
Updated 08 March 2021

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

US says Russian-backed outlets spread COVID-19 vaccine ‘disinformation’

WASHINGTON: The United States has identified three online publications directed by Russia’s intelligence services that it says are seeking to undermine COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna , a State Department spokeswoman said on Sunday.
The outlets “spread many types of disinformation, including about both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as well as international organizations, military conflicts, protests, and any divisive issue that they can exploit,” the spokeswoman said.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) first reported on the identification of the alleged campaign on Sunday. A Kremlin spokesman denied the US claim Russia was spreading false information about vaccines to the WSJ.
Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A sample article from the OrientalReview.org talking about a plot by Bill Gates and Microsoft to dominate the world using vaccines and microchips, with a patent ominously carrying the numbers 666. 

Russia approved its Sputnik V vaccine in August, before a large-scale trial had begun, saying it was the first country to do so for a COVID-19 shot. Peer-reviewed trials months later proved it was almost 92% effective in fighting the virus.
Pfizer, headquartered in New York, and Germany’s BioNTech, produced the first vaccine that was authorized in the US, which regulators approved in December. The second, made by Moderna, headquartered in Massachusetts, was authorized later that month.
The State Department’s Global Engagement Center, set up to counter propaganda and disinformation campaigns, identified the three outlets, the spokeswoman said.
News Front is controlled by Russia’s federal security service, the center found. New Eastern Outlook and Oriental Review are directed and controlled by the Russian foreign intelligence service.
A fourth outlet, Rebel Inside, controlled by the Russian army, was also named by the center but is largely dormant, the spokeswoman said.
“The Department will continue to expose Russia’s nefarious activities online,” she added. “We will also continue to work closely with our allies and partners to provide a global response to countering disinformation.”

 


Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup
Updated 08 March 2021

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup

Australia ends defense cooperation with Myanmar over coup
  • Myanmar's junta has also detained since February Australian citizen Sean Turnell, an economic policy adviser of Aung San suu Kyi

CANBERRA: Australia has suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting humanitarian aid because of the military takeover of the government and ongoing detention of an Australian citizen.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that Australian diplomats and relatives had only been able to contact economic policy adviser Sean Turnell twice by phone since he was detained in early February. She described the access as “very limited consular support.”
“We believe Professor Turnell has been arbitrarily detained along with senior members of the Myanmar government including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, including the President” Win Myint, Payne told reporters.
“We do not accept the conditions of his detention and the reasons for his detention. We seek a return to democracy. We seek absolutely the cessation of any armed violence against unarmed peaceful protesting civilians. And in everything we are doing we are seeking Professor Turnell’s release,” she added.
Australia announced late Sunday it had suspended a defense training program with Myanmar worth about 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.2 million) over five years. The program had been restricted to non-combat areas such as English-language training.
Australian humanitarian aid will be directed away from Myanmar government and government-related entities. Instead it will focus on the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar including the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities, Payne said.
“One of the things that I do not want to do, and that Australia does not want to do, is to penalize the people of Myanmar,” Payne said.
Australia had previously imposed sanctions including an arms embargo and sanctions targeting five members of Myanmar’s armed forces. These sanctions would continue to be reviewed, Payne said.
Turnell was detained within weeks of arriving in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, from Australia to take up a job as adviser to Suu Kyi’s government.
Turnell’s Australian friend and fellow Myanmar expert Monique Skidmore described Australia’s response to the Feb. 1 military coup as late and “very soft.”
“The reality is that they have enough money, they have enough weapons, they have enough trade partners with China on their doorstep. They don’t need the West,” Skidmore said.
“I assume that we are going more softly than otherwise at the moment until Sean is returned to Australia,” she added.


UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
Updated 08 March 2021

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia

UAE breaks ground for Sheikh Zayed Mosque replica in Indonesia
  • $20m replica of UAE’s largest mosque was gifted by Abu Dhabi crown prince

JAKARTA: Top Emirati officials have broken ground for a replica of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Indonesia.

The mosque will be constructed in Solo in Central Java province, the hometown of Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

The replica of the UAE’s largest mosque was gifted to Widodo during the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan to Jakarta in July 2019. 

The crown prince’s visit to Indonesia was the first by a UAE leader since that of his father Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan in 1990.

On the Emirati side, the ground-breaking ceremony was attended by Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazroui, and General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments Chairman Dr. Mohammed Al-Kaabi. 

On the Indonesian side, it was attended by Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir and Solo Mayor Gibran Rakabuming Raka, who is Widodo’s eldest son.

“The mosque will be almost 100 percent similar to the one in Abu Dhabi, but it will also incorporate some Indonesian ornaments and will maximize the use of local materials,” Husin Bagis, Indonesia’s ambassador to the UAE, told Arab News on Sunday.

The mosque, which will be built on a 3-hectare plot, will feature four minarets, with the main dome surrounded by smaller domes. It will be able to accommodate about 10,000 worshippers.

The ambassador said it could become a major religious tourism destination in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country. “Now worshippers can go to Solo to marvel at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s splendor,” he added.

The $20 million mosque project is expected to be ready to welcome worshippers in September 2022. 

Construction is being fully financed by the UAE, Qoumas said during the ground-breaking ceremony.

“The mosque, which has a contemporary historical value, will be dedicated to all Muslims and will be managed by the Indonesian government,” he added.

The mosque compound will include an Islamic center to provide UAE-sponsored training for clerics to promote religious moderation.

The ground-breaking ceremony capped a series of events as part of Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week in Jakarta, Solo, Bandung and Surabaya, which started on March 1 and witnessed the signing of a number of agreements.

The visit by Al-Mazroui and his delegation is a follow-up to $22.9 billion worth of UAE investment deals signed by Widodo during his visit to Abu Dhabi in January 2019.

The agreements, which cover energy, infrastructure, defense and mining, are seen as the biggest foreign investment in Indonesia’s history, and a major advancement of its ties with the Gulf state.

In October 2020, one of the roads in Abu Dhabi’s diplomatic quarters was renamed President Joko Widodo Street.

The Indonesian ambassador said: “Following the grand mosque construction in Solo, the UAE will also construct a mosque named after President Widodo on a location near President Joko Widodo Street.”


Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
Updated 07 March 2021

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote
  • The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed
  • The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community

ZURICH: A far-right proposal to ban facial coverings in Switzerland won a narrow victory in a binding referendum on Sunday instigated by the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets.
The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed.
The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not mention Islam directly and also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks, yet local politicians, media and campaigners have dubbed it the burqa ban.
"In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms," Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party, had said before the vote.
He called facial covering "a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland".
The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community.
"Today's decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority," it said.
It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined.
The proposal predated the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required adults to wear masks in many settings to prevent the spread of infection.
Two cantons already have local bans on face coverings.
France banned wearing a full face veil in public in 2011 and Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public.
Practically no one in Switzerland wears a burqa and only around 30 women wear the niqab, the University of Lucerne estimates. Muslims make up 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The government had urged people to vote against a ban.
"After the ban on minarets, a majority of Swiss voters has once again backed an initiative that discriminates against a single religious community and needlessly stirs up fears and division," Amnesty International said.
"The veiling ban is not a measure for women's liberation, but a dangerous symbolic policy that violates freedom of expression and religion."


Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
Updated 07 March 2021

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths
  • The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours

MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday reported 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,534 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,322,776 since the pandemic began.
The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 89,094.