Sunday, January 28, 2018

Myanmar's Army's atrocity

YANGON, Myanmar — For Myanmar’s army, the campaign of atrocity it has waged to drive hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims out of the country is no innovation. The force was born in blood 76 years ago and has been shedding it ever since.
Its founders, known as the Thirty Comrades, established the army in 1941 with a ghoulish ceremony in Bangkok, where they drew each other’s blood with a single syringe, mixed it in a silver bowl and drank it to seal their vow of loyalty.
The army that they formed led the nation to independence in 1948. But except for a brief, initial period of peace, it has spent the last seven decades warring with its own people.
The army, known as the Tatmadaw, seized power from the civilian government in Burma, as the country is also known, in 1962. The military killed thousands of protesters to keep power in 1988 and suppressed another popular uprising, the Saffron Revolution, in 2007.
In constant fighting with ethnic minorities, the Tatmadaw has displaced millions of people while taking billions of dollars in profit from jade mines, teak forests and other natural resources. Its strategy has been to fight ethnic rebels to a standstill, manage the conflicts through cease-fires and enrich its officers.
“There has never been any sense of needing to win hearts and minds,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington. “The Tatmadaw’s doctrine is based on total submission by the population through fear. And to that end, there is little they will not do.”
Though it holds itself up as the protector of Myanmar’s people, the military has a long history of murdering civilians, torturing and executing prisoners, committing rape, conscripting child soldiers, impressing convicts as porters and making civilians walk ahead of its troops to trip land mines.
After decades of running an isolated pariah state, the military began loosening its grip in 2010, allowing elections and gradually giving civilian leaders authority over public services, foreign affairs and economic policy. It also began permitting public access to the internet and the mass sale of cellphones.
The moves, aimed at reviving a struggling economy, gave Myanmar a veneer of democracy and prompted the United States and the European Union to lift economic sanctions.
But under the Constitution it imposed in 2008, the Tatmadaw is not subject to civilian authority and retains control over other key institutions, including the police and border guards, and it unilaterally appoints a quarter of the Parliament. And the atrocities against minorities continue.
“The Tatmadaw is an unreconstructed, unrepentant institution that is abusive to its core,” said David Mathieson, an independent analyst in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
The violent expulsion of the Rohingya from Rakhine has been condemned as ethnic cleansing by the United States and the United Nations. Human rights advocates have called for the International Criminal Court at The Hague to investigate the Tatmadaw for crimes against humanity.
The military and the government have blocked independent investigations and kept neutral observers from visiting the area, even as the Tatmadaw’s commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, denied that the army committed atrocities against the Rohingya.
But there are signs that the military is feeling at least some pressure.
General Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged on Wednesday that four members of the security forces shot 10 Rohingya men whose bodies were found in a mass grave.
Two officials who oversaw the security forces in Rakhine, Maj. Gen. Maung Maung Soe, head of the Tatmadaw’s western command, and Brig. Gen. Thura San Lwin, the border guard commander there, were removed from their positions in recent months without explanation.

In landslide vote, Denmark excludes settlements from agreements with Israel

The Danish parliament voted this week to exclude Jewish settlements in the West Bank from bilateral agreements with Israel. In addition, it was decided that government guidelines against investing in projects over the Green Line by both public and private bodies would be strengthened. 
The resolution passed by a majority of 81-22, with all parties in the Danish parliament voting in favor, except for the far-right Danish People's Party. The move saw Denmark adopt UN Resolution 2334, wherein settlements are defined as a violation of international law, and a distinction is made between Israel within the Green Line, and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The same view is held by the European Union in all multilateral agreements with Israel.

In addition, the resolution expresses support for a "black list" of Israeli companies operating in the territories being formulated by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The decision was raised in a formal query to the Danish Foreign Ministry last November, after a number Danish pension funds were forced to withdraw their investments in Israel following a public outcry and a report by the DanWatch independent research center last January, which dealt with ties between Danish companies and Israeli settlements.

Sampension, Denmark's third-largest pension fund with assets of $43.5 billion, announced its divestment of Israeli companies operating in the territories as a result.

According to reports at the time, Israeli companies affected by the divestment included two of Israel's major banks, Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, and Israeli telecoms giant, Bezeq.

Sampension had already forbidden investments in dozens of other Israeli companies, including many in military industries such as Elbit.

According to the Foreign Ministry, Israel and Denmark currently have 13 direct bilateral agreements in the fields of aviation, culture, education, law, industry, taxes and visas.

The latest resolution will affect future agreements between the two countries, with regard to their implementation in the territories, whether with institutions or private citizens. Existing agreements might be effected pending updates.

Last month, Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen announced that his country would toughen the terms of support for Palestinian NGOs, reduce the number of NGOs supported and tighten supervision.

The statement followed Israeli pressure to stop Danish funding of Palestinian organizations and associations allegedly involved in incitement of violence, as well as those involved in the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. In May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had forwarded a list of Palestinian and Israeli organizations receiving Danish funding to the foreign minister and which Israel claims are involved with BDS efforts.

A few months after receiving the list, Samuelson announced that his ministry decided to freeze the remainder of the support for 2017 and to formulate more stringent criteria for the future. However, it was stressed that Denmark would continue to support organizations focusing on human rights in Palestine, calling it a "high priority." It was also stressed that Denmark supports the two-state solution and the role of Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations in promoting it.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at the time called the move the right step and described it as praiseworthy and necessary. "European countries fund Palestinian organizations with ties to terrorism, who promote a boycott against Israel. I call upon additional European states to implement similar steps," Erdan added.
However, the celebrations may have been too early. In recent months, Samuelsen's statement that he intends to look into reducing funding has encountered fierce domestic opposition. Parliament and the press in Denmark are attacking it and by the end of this month a debate is expected on the subject.

Three steps Myanmar should take to turn the Rohingya disaster around

Bill Richardson is a former governor of New Mexico and a former United States ambassador to the United Nations. He is the founder of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement. Here below his view is presented.
For the past two months, I have served on an international panel designed to help the Myanmar government arrive at just and reasonable policies for its conflict in Rakhine state, including its long-suffering Rohingya minority. This week I resigned. The reason: I have little confidence in the body’s ability to address the critical challenges facing the region and the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s effective leader, is isolated and unwilling to listen to constructive criticism. Her government is focused on getting things done quickly instead of getting them done right. If Myanmar, also known as Burma, is to have any hope of preventing a further downward spiral to the crisis in Rakhine state and restoring its international reputation, immediate and dramatic changes are required. A continuation of the current approach is likely to lead to a dangerous cycle of violence that threatens both Myanmar’s hopes for peace and democracy and broader regional stability.
To be sure, Myanmar faces daunting challenges on Rakhine. Coordinated attacks by a new Muslim militant group triggered a brutal and sustained “security clearance operations” by the Myanmar military that, in just 15 months, forced nearly 800,000 people to flee to Bangladesh. Deep-seated mistrust festers between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine, as well as between each of these communities and the government. Systemic discrimination against minority groups, especially Muslims, remains rampant. Major drug-smuggling and human-trafficking networks plague the region. And chronic underinvestment in health, education and the economy exacerbate the problems.

These challenges are compounded by Myanmar’s botched efforts to address them. Though the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Advisory Commission’s final report provides the foundation, Myanmar has yet to develop or articulate a strategy for Rakhine. The government is focused on outputs at the expense of impact and rapid implementation to show progress rather than efforts to design processes that help to build trust and confidence. Moreover, Aung San Suu Kyi’s lack of moral leadership in a domestic political environment that is increasingly nationalistic, anti-Muslim and hostile to the changes required to de-escalate the situation in Rakhine is particularly troubling. Myanmar’s renewed penchant for attacking freedom of the press, highlighted by the recent arrest of two Reuters journalists investigating the conflict in Rakhine, surely does not help.
Myanmar is rightly facing tremendous international pressure to implement changes, but this does not justify the government’s siege mentality and its resistance to constructive criticism from an international community that wants to see Myanmar succeed in its efforts to establish peace and development in Rakhine and to entrench democratic norms.
To begin to turn the situation around, the government of Myanmar should take three steps immediately. First, Aung San Suu Kyi must establish her moral leadership on the Rakhine issue. Although her popularity is lower than when her party swept elections two years ago, she is still widely respected in Myanmar, particularly among the majority ethnic Burmese. She should use her stature to unequivocally condemn hate speech and discrimination in her public communications to the people of Myanmar. It would also be helpful if she ensured that state media, which has referred to Muslims from Rakhine as “human fleas,” does not exacerbate the potential for conflict.
Second, Myanmar must establish effective accountability mechanisms for perpetrators of violence. The signal that impunity is tolerated is a threat to the rule of law that Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly stated she seeks to instill. I am encouraged by Myanmar’s seeming willingness to establish an independent and credible investigation into the discovery of mass graves in Rakhine, and I hope that this will be the first of several steps to further understand and account for the violence that has occurred there since October 2016.
Finally, Myanmar must develop a strategy to deal with Rakhine that appropriately prioritizes and sequences among the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission. The government’s focus on infrastructure and development, while important, is insufficient to address the structural changes necessary. To ensure that key challenges such as freedom of movement, citizenship and the closure of internally displaced persons camps are addressed effectively and in the spirit in which they were intended, the Myanmar government should work closely with international partners to develop clear and public plans that lay out the step-by-step process by which these issues will be addressed and bench marks met.
Left unaddressed, the situation could quickly become an even bigger headache for Myanmar, the region and the world. In the short term, the repatriation process that Myanmar is racing to implement is sure to be symbolic at best: Provided returns are safe, voluntary and dignified, few refugees will go back to a country in which they have been violated, which does not respect their basic rights and which offers no means of redress for wrongs. That leaves a large, destitute and aggrieved population just across the border in Bangladesh that is susceptible to radicalization. For the sake of its own interests and those of the region, Myanmar must immediately correct course and recognize that the international community wants to help it to do so.

Malaysia focuses on humanitarian aspect of Rohingya crisis

Reported by Nurul Islam Hasib from Ukhia, Tekhnaf
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has sent a special delegation with relief materials to
Cox’s Bazar as he focused on humanitarian aspects of the Rohingya crisis.

“Our Prime Minister is very much concerned about the whole humanitarian issue that those Rohingya [people] facing here,” Malaysian Armed Forces Chief General Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor said.

“He [PM] sent us this morning that shows how he cares about the humanitarian aspect of the plight of Rohingya. We are proud of this,” said Noor who is leading the delegation along with an acclaimed Malaysia-born Hollywood actress Michelle Yeoh.

Along with Yeoh, also a UNDP goodwill ambassador, the General visited the Kutupalang Rohingya camp and Malaysia Field Hospital in Ukhia on Saturday to evaluate the impact of the aid to date.

According to the Malaysian prime minister’s office, the visit is also to ensure that the Malaysian Hospital is equipped with adequate resources to tackle the conditions faced by Rohingya refugees.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since Aug 25, following an army crackdown triggered by attacks by Rohingya insurgents in Buddhist-majority Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine State.

Meanwhile, preparation is in progress to start the repatriation process as the two countries signed deals despite international criticism.
Malaysia was the first country to establish a fully functional and complete Field Hospital in Ukhia, with a maximum capacity of 100 beds and staffed by trained medical personnel.


So far, 3,768 patients have received treatment from that hospital beginning on Dec 1.

The team leader of the hospital, Dr Fatahul Laham Mohamed, said at least 140 people were operated upon for different types of issues from hernia problem to fall from the hillside.

“We also performed 14 caesarian sections,” he told Four more mothers also gave birth through normal vaginal delivery.

Md Amin, a 22-year-old Rohingya boy, admitted her mother for her lung infection.

“She has long been suffering from lung problems and blood pressure. But I could not see her a doctor in Rakhine. Now her condition deteriorated,” he told while waiting beside the bedside as her mother was on the ventilator.

The Hospital is also serving the local Bangladeshis. Anwara Begum, living within a kilometre of the hospital, came with her three years old son who has been suffering from a skin condition for long.

“I have been at our [Bangladesh’s] Ukhia Hospital, but he did not get cured. Later, one advised me to come here,” she told

The Malaysian delegation brought relief items such as medical equipment, medicine, food and other basic necessities in response to the escalating need for medical care and basic needs among refugees.

“The context of the visit is to see the plight of the people and how Malaysian armed forces can help further in this regard,” the General told the reporters.

He said his government is concerned about the humanitarian aspect.

The actress described the situation Rohingyas faced ‘desperate’ and said they have no homes and they have no ways to go back to.

“Would anybody want to live in that situation – no. They must have been so desperate to leave to what was there home before,” she said, speaking to reporters.

“It is time for action and I urge all countries to immediately look at channelling desperately needed aid especially to the children, women and elderly who are clinging to only hope and not much more for survival,” she was later quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Malaysian prime minister’s office.

The delegation left Bangladesh Saturday night after completing the visit.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Davos 2018 – the talking shop for oligarchs, bankers and global elites (?)

Habib Siddiqui

Last week, Davos - the mountain resort, which sits high up in the eastern Alps of Switzerland in Graubunden – welcomed more than 2,500 movers and shakers - business, political and academic leaders from around the globe. They came to attend the yearly World Economic Forum (WEF), scheduled for January 23-26. It was the 48th forum to date.

As the U.S. dollar continued to plunge (losing approx. 17% of its value in a year) against the Euro and the news of his personal lawyer brokering a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) in October 2016 to prohibit her from publicly discussing the alleged affair before the election surfaced, President Donald Trump arrived without Melanie by his side at Davos. His speech was the most widely-anticipated moment at this year's event. It was the first time since Bill Clinton in 2000 that a sitting U.S. leader joined the Davos elite.

Trump told the audience: "We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others." His “America First” protectionism came under intense criticism at Davos. He declared, "America is open for business" and that he "wants the world to invest in America and create jobs for hard-working Americans".

There was no talk of tearing up trade agreements or leaving the World Trade Organization. Instead, “we are working to reform the international trading system so that it promotes broadly shared prosperity and rewards to those who play by the rules.” The U.S. didn’t want to pick fights but to “enforce our trade laws and restore integrity to our trading system. Only by insisting on fair and reciprocal trade can we create a system that works not just for the U.S. but for all nations."

Trump even held out the possibility of rejoining the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the draft agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries he renounced within days of taking office.

These soothing words clearly came as a relief to the financiers, multinational executives and foreign officials in the audience. It was ironic that he would deliver such assuaging words just days after the U.S. had taken one of its most protectionist actions in years: the unilateral imposition of “safeguard” tariffs on imports of washing machines and solar panels. There is little sign, publicly, that the U.S. has bridged deep differences with Mexico and Canada on how the North American Free Trade Agreement should be rewritten.

Trump said the stock market had reached record highs on more than 80 separate occasions over the past year and tax cuts that offer most to corporations and the well-off were trickling down to workers. “We lowered our corporate tax rate from 35% all the way down to 21%. As a result, millions of workers have received tax cut bonuses from their employers in amounts as large as $3,000,” he said.

Trump’s claims were condemned by Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam International, who said the speech amounted to a “billionaires-first” policy. “President Trump’s boastful sales pitch was a victory lap for the trillions of tax cuts that the wealthy elites and corporations have clamored for. The evidence is clear: these tax cuts are looting the US treasury to enrich the 1%,” she said.

Trump, true to his innate character, mixed facts with fictions in his speech. He falsely claimed that 2.4 million jobs were added since his presidency. However, as the New York Times showed, the actual figure is 1.8 million in the first 11 months of his presidency.

There was derision from the audience when Trump said in a question and answer session that he had not understood how “nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the media can be” before entering politics.

Like most autocrats and despots, Trump wants the press to act as his cheer leader and not a critic. He frowns at the notion that for a country to be responsible and powerful, its people must be informed by a free press. Way back in 1786, the 3rd US President Thomas Jefferson had famously mused that he would rather have newspapers without a government than a government without newspapers.

A sharp weakening of the US currency was one of the main discussion topics at Davos, following comments from the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin when he said that a weaker dollar is good for the U.S. During a CNBC panel on Thursday, Jan. 25, the U.S. treasury secretary said that dollar weakness in the short term was "not a concern of mine." He added: "In the longer term, we fundamentally believe in the strength of the dollar."

Earlier in the week, Trump told CNBC that "the dollar is going to get stronger and stronger, and ultimately I want to see a strong dollar."

On Tuesday, Jan. 23, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the Davos event’s opening address in Hindi to speak about a "worrying trend" against globalization and towards isolationism. "Forces of protectionism are raising their heads against globalization, their intention is not only to avoid globalization themselves but they also want to reverse its natural flow," he said.

This is quite odd given the fact that for decades India maintained a tightly controlled economy and still has many regulations in place. Modi added: “The negative impact of this kind of mindset cannot be considered less dangerous than climate change or terrorism.” He urged governments not to turn towards isolationism and sought to hard sell India as an investment destination, saying those wanting wealth with wellness and peace with prosperity should come to India. He even quoted Indian independence leader MK Gandhi, by saying: “I don’t want the windows of my house to be closed from all directions. I want the winds of cultures of all countries to enter my house with assurance and go out also.”

Obviously, Mr. Modi did not talk about the current reality: since taking office, India has become an unwelcome house for tens of millions of its minority Muslim, Dalit and Christian citizens who face lynching daily in the hands of Hindutvadi fascists that his ruling party fosters. Who would be foolish to enter a house where one finds no assurance of peace, security and safety of life but only of dehumanization and slaughter? How can a state that fails to protect its own minorities, the marginalized citizens of non-Hindu faiths create a ‘heaven of future’ for outsiders?

Last year, the opening address was delivered by the Chinese President Xi Jinping who portrayed his country as a champion of free trade on the same week Trump was inaugurated president. He skipped this year’s forum. According to Chinese state media, he can take credit for shaping this year’s Davos theme, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” State news agency Xinhua in a commentary published Jan. 24 said that specifically, the theme draws on this Xi remark: “As long as we keep to the goal of building a community of shared future for mankind and work hand in hand to fulfill our responsibilities and overcome difficulties, we will be able to create a better world and deliver better lives for our peoples.”

However, as we have seen repeatedly, talks are cheap while noble deeds are few or far between. Otherwise, how can one explain Xi’s policies that deny a ‘shared future’ for the Rohingyas who are victims of genocide inside Suu Kyi’s Myanmar (enjoying China’s protection inside and outside the UN)? How about the future of the persecuted Uighurs of Xinjiang (East Turkestan) inside China?

Germany is currently going through a political impasse — something that Europe wants to see fixed very soon with more integration. Speaking at Davos, German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that Germany has problems of its own. "Frankly speaking, the country I have the honor to represent and where I am chancellor has difficulties. And polarization is something that we see in our country as well, which we haven't had for decades," she said.

As I have noted elsewhere, Germany is not alone in experiencing the meteoric rise of neo-fascist forces in Europe, esp. since Trump’s election win. Such forces, unless checked persuasively, are bound to fracture our world irreversibly to a point of no return.

Praised by many in the business community, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to reform France and Europe with a medium-term strategy, in order to provide clarity to investors.

"Let us not be naive, globalization is going through a major crisis and this challenge needs to be collectively fought by states and civil society in order to find and implement global solutions," Macron said.

Is the world any safer today than before?

Billionaire investor George Soros believes that the open societies are in crisis today with the emergence of various forms of dictatorship and mafia states, esp. in the USA and Europe. He said, “Mankind’s ability to harness the forces of nature, both for constructive and destructive purposes, continues to grow while our ability to govern ourselves properly fluctuates, and it is now at a low ebb.”

Soros believes that the U.S. is on course for a nuclear war with North Korea. "The fact of nuclear war is so horrendous that we are trying to ignore it, but it is real," Soros said during a speech on the outskirts of the World Economic Forum. "Indeed, the United States is set on a course towards nuclear war by refusing to accept that (North) Korea has become a nuclear power." He said, “Beijing holds most of the levers of power against North Korea, but is reluctant to use them.”

Soros said, “The other major threat to the survival of our civilization is climate change, which is also a growing cause of forced migration… it is well known what needs to be done. We have the scientific knowledge; it is the political will that is missing, particularly in the Trump administration. Clearly, I consider the Trump administration a danger to the world.”

The policies of the U.S. president were under scrutiny, but not everyone was unhappy with the direction Trump is taking. "I'd say I like a lot more stuff than I don't like, and some of the stuff I don't like I really don't like," Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, told CNBC during an interview. "But I don't want to be hypocritical, either. I've really liked what he's done for the economy," he added.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau challenged business leaders and politicians to end gender inequality and tackle unacceptable and systemic sexual harassment. He warned that businesses and politicians are failing to help their workers and citizens in today’s “rapidly changing world”.

"Even without testosterone, we can produce positive, constructive energy," the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde said in Davos.

Lagarde was one of seven female co-chairs at this year's forum, drawing attention for women's rights, including equality in the workplace.

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate and activist for education told the World Economic Forum that the only way to ensure women's rights is by educating young boys. "The education of young boys on the subject of women's rights is crucial. When we talk about feminism and women's rights, we are talking to men. We have to teach young boys how to be men," Malala Yousafzai said at Davos.

Australian actor Cate Blanchett criticized politicians for pandering to anti-refugee sentiment, instead of helping the millions of people displaced worldwide. She was ‘bewildered’ to see the multi-cultural Australia she grew up in “flouting the UN human rights convention”. Out of 65 million displaced people in our globe, 22 million are refugees, but just 1 per cent have been resettled in advanced developed countries. She said, “It’s the developing world that is shouldering the deep burden of refugees.”

How about the health sector?

From 2000 to 2016, the number of malaria cases worldwide dropped 60%, thanks to a large global public health effort, a number of tireless nonprofit NGOs—and targeted spending from organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates offered his take on what would allow us to eliminate this scourge by 2040—which is a real possibility, he says, if we keep relentless energy and focus on the effort. More sophisticated precision data tools to understand how, where, and why infections are spreading, where mosquito populations are thriving, whether prevention strategies are working or not, and where we’re making progress or backsliding are needed. “We need smart data and analytics to guide the path,” Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Gates foundation, said.

As can be seen, from the speeches and the comments on global trade, the depreciation of the dollar and women's rights, the World Economic Forum of 2018 made headlines once again.

In his Davos speech, Trump said something that is interesting. He said, “Only by hearing and responding to the voices of the forgotten can we create a bright future that is truly shared by all.” The rich and powerful people that gathered at the Swiss mountain resort had the power to transform lives and shape their countries’ destinies, Trump added. “With this power comes an obligation, however, a duty of loyalty to the people, workers, customers, who made you who you are,” he said.

I only wish that Trump’s wonderful rhetoric here is backed up by good deeds. He has three more years to create a bright future for that ‘forgotten’ people who are fast becoming an extinct group.

As I see it, the great beneficiaries of globalization have been the richest 1% in the society. Obviously, the lectures, dialogues and discussions at Davos in the last five decades have miserably failed to make a difference. There must be a complete change in the economic model.

Getting back to Soros’s call, can our movers and shakers, leaders and governmental and non-governmental institutions and organizations empower local people to deal with their own problems, assist the disadvantaged and reduce human suffering to the greatest extent possible? Can they help to develop local economies to stop migration crisis? Do they have the sincerity and will to make that difference in the lives of so many – from the stateless Rohingyas dwelling either in the refugee slums inside Bangladesh or in the concentration camps inside Apartheid Myanmar to the ‘forgotten’ or marginalized many that live in the ghettos of Europe, Americas, Africa and Asia?

A report by Oxfam published in advance of the Davos summit revealed that half of the world's population received no share of all wealth created globally in 2017. Billionaires increased their wealth by $762 billion last year, enough to end "global extreme poverty seven times over", the UK-based charity's annual inequality report said.

As long as such inequalities exist in our world, the WEF would only be viewed - and rightly so - as a "talking shop" incapable of delivering meaningful change.



Friday, January 26, 2018

Pope Franscis’s Chilean Betrayal

There were certain words that Chileans were hoping that Pope Francis would say during his three-day visit to our country last week. They were hoping he would denounce the sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic clergy, and particularly the offenses perpetrated by a corrupt and malevolent priest named Fernando Karadima. They were also waiting for Francis to condemn the hierarchs in the Catholic Church who had silenced and humiliated the victims and helped to cover up Karadima’s crimes.
Above all, my compatriots wanted the pope to publicly chide Bishop Juan Barros, who had been Karadima’s protégé and, according to reports (denied by Barros), had witnessed his mentor’s pedophilia. The issue of Barros mattered symbolically because the pope himself, in 2015,had appointed this collaborator of Karadima’s as the bishop of Osorno, a city in southern Chile, in spite of angry complaints from the congregation.
In an op-ed I wrote for The New York Times that appeared just before the papal visit, I argued that, for Chileans, the way in which Francis handled this case would be a critical test of whether he could restore the prestige of the disgraced local Church, so wounded by these scandals, to the noble place it had held in public sympathy for decades because of its brave opposition to the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990). Pope Francis failed that test.
He did express “shame and pain” at the abuse of minors by members of the clergy, and he did hold a brief meeting with some of the victims—though not with any of those who had been mistreated by Karadima, or with anyone who has blamed Barros for his connivance. But Barros was flagrantly present at three ceremonies over which the pope officiated in Chile during the visit, and on one occasion, the pontiff embraced the bishop and kissed him on the cheek in a display of affection and support.
This was not entirely surprising. The Catholic Church is known for circling the wagons when there is a crisis, defending the institution at all costs, and this pope, after all, pointedly attended the funeral of the notorious Cardinal Law, whose cover-up of the depredations of the Catholic clergy in Boston was the subject of the Oscar-winning film Spotlight. What nobody could have predicted was one word that Francis did indeed utter on the last day of his trip, just as he was leaving the country. Asked about Barros, Francis lost his temper and, with uncharacteristic vehemence, stated that there was not a shred of evidence against the bishop of Osorno and that all the accusations against him were nothing more than “calumnia,” slander.
It is difficult to exaggerate the outrage that greeted this attack upon the integrity of the victims and their testimony. One, Juan Carlos Cruz, who had been abused many times by Karadima, tweeted that perhaps as proof the pope needed him, Cruz, to have taken a selfie while Karadima raped him as Barros looked on. Other Chileans mocked Francis, calling him a hypocrite and worse.
For me, personally, it felt like a betrayal. When I was sixteen years old, Karadima tried unsuccessfully, on several occasions, to convert me to Catholicism. I have no “evidence” that he would not let go of my hand while he promised the fires of Hell if I did not yield to his guidance. Having escaped unscathed from his clutches, I can well imagine how his victims feel when it is demanded that they provide proof of what happened to them. No wonder they are indignant.
But the chief rebuke came from an American clergyman, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who heads the Vatican Committee for the Protection of Minors. This prelate—from Boston, perhaps notably—wrote that the pope’s words were “a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy,” and added: “Words that convey the message ‘if you cannot prove your claim then you will not be believed’ abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile.” The cardinal did not doubt, however, that the pope felt the pain of those survivors. O’Malley had seen Francis weep and pray with other victims of abuse in multiple occasions.
What nobody has been able to explain is how the pope could have committed such a colossal blunder when, at worst, he could have easily sidestepped the issue. You do not get to be the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be elected as the successor of Peter if you are not a savvy operator. Why sabotage his own message in Chile, and elsewhere, with that one word, “slander”? Why erase the memory of all the other wonderful words he’d said during his sojourn: words in defense of indigenous rights, refugees, and the environment; his call to young people to set aside despair and commit themselves to a world without greed and exploitation; his challenge to the priests and nuns to dedicate their lives to the sick, the elderly, the homeless; the words with which he comforted incarcerated women, reminding them that they were loved and should not be despised for having spent time in jail?
Why go out of his way to attack those who were demanding he face the uncomfortable truth about Bishop Barros and his complicity in the sins of Karadima? Why, when he half-apologized this week, on the plane back to Rome, did Francis still adamantly insist on the innocence of Barros?
It seems to me that the answer may lie deep in Pope Francis’s own turbulent past. From 1974 to 1983, the military of his native Argentina waged what has become known as the Dirty War, torturing, killing, and disappearing many thousands of citizens. The Catholic bishops of Argentina, in contrast to the courage shown by their Chilean brothers, were vocally supportive of that repression. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as Francis was then known, was at the time the provincial superior (or head) of the Jesuit Order in his country.
Although he was opposed to this regime of terror and personally intervened to save the lives of several endangered men and women (even giving one persecuted man his own ID card so that the man could escape the country), Bergoglio maintained a public silence on the horrors of the dictatorship. Later, there were claimsthat he had collaborated with the military junta, and failed to protect two priests under his jurisdiction who were arrested and tortured. Though the justice system in Argentina investigated Bergoglio and found no evidence against him, and the allegations of complicity were mostly disproven, those charges resurfaced once Francis was anointed as pope. The Vatican insisted that “there has never been a credible, concrete accusation against him,” and the pope has dismissed the accusations as “slander”—the very word that Francis used to defend Bishop Barros.
It seems probable, then, that the pope saw in Barros a reflection of his own experience: someone who believes he has been falsely indicted, but is unable to clear his name, who feels he has been a target of malicious left-wing and anticlerical activists determined to stain the reputation of an innocent man. It would be tragic, but all too human, if this were the explanation for Francis’s offensive and counter-productive defense of Barros.
The pope has often referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells the story of this stranger who tends to an unknown traveler who had been beaten and stripped of his clothing and left half-dead, and takes care of him as if he were a neighbor. And Jesus condemns the priest who passed by that injured man with utter indifference, without offering any aid.
Francis, tormented perhaps by his own dark and secret history, has misunderstood who are the victims and who are the perpetrators in this Chilean story. Instead of following the example of the Good Samaritan and comforting the wounded bodies and souls of those violated by sexual abuse, he has sided with the priest, Barros, and the other prelates who not only did nothing to alleviate that suffering, but were part of the gang that beat the victims and robbed them of their dignity.
Did the pope not understand that this was a chance to redeem himself for not having been a Good Samaritan in Argentina? Did he not realize that this was a unique opportunity to show the courage he lacked years ago? Instead, he has damaged his moral standing and weakened the impact of his vital messages about the threats to humanity of poverty, war, and ecological disaster.
May the God Francis believes in forgive him.

Women take to Honduran streets en masse to protest president's reelection

Tegucigalpa (AFP) - Hundreds of women protested Thursday in Honduras against Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is preparing to begin his second presidential term Saturday after winning November's disputed vote.
In commemorating the Day of the Honduran Woman, some 1,000 women protestors marched in Tegucigalpa, demanding leftist candidate Salvador Nasralla be declared the winner.
Some carried crosses emblazoned with the names of those who died in protests that erupted following the November elections, with thousands taking to the streets claiming Nasralla's victory.
Hernandez narrowly won the contentious vote over Nasralla, prompting supporters of the leftist Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship to take to the streets in protest.
Manuel Zelaya, who was overthrown in 2009 and now coordinates the opposition alliance, marched alongside the women and called on the populace to protest Saturday's inauguration ceremony.

The Slow-Burning Genocide in Myanmar Continues. We Cannot Be Passive

As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day (27 January) and remember the millions of people murdered by the Nazi regime, we must also pause and reflect.

When we say never again, what we really mean is: hopefully, it won’t happen again. We hoped and hoped, and, in the meantime, the Cambodian genocide happened, Rwanda happened, Bosnia happened, and Darfur happened. We repeatedly failed to prevent mass atrocities and let down those who have relied on us, both on our voices and our actions.

Not that long ago we were presented with another challenge, “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” as the situation in Myanmar was referred to by the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein. On one hand, we saw Myanmar rejecting all allegations of ethnic cleansing or genocide, on the other hand, many academics,  have clearly labelled the situation as “genocide”.

Slow-Burning Genocide

                                Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar in 2014. Image Credit: United Against Genocide / Flickr
Speaking at a panel last weekDr Maung Zarni, a British-Burmese scholar and human rights activist, spoke wholeheartedly about how those who made it from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh were “survivors”. By labelling them merely as “displaced people”, we automatically diminish the horrors and suffering the Rohingya have been subjected to.

This choice of language may seem insignificant to some, but as Dr Zarni explained, this “slow-burning genocide” is the first many of will have watched in real-time, whether it be through Facebook or Twitter, or on our TV screens. It’s therefore vital that we don’t numb ourselves into inertia.

Long-Term Policy of Extermination

Image Credit: DFID / Wikimedia
When questioned about the history of the Rohingya, Dr Zarni explained to the audience at SOAS and STAND UK that: “What the Rohingya people have been subjected to is nothing less than full-scale genocide since 1978. There is no communal conflict that has to put Rohingya in this situation. The Rohingyas are not fighting back, they are not trying to secede from Burma and become part of Bangladesh or they are not trying to establish a new Muslim country just for themselves.”
"What the Rogingya people have been subjected to is nothing less than full-scale genocide since 1978. It is very similar to that of the Jewish community across Nazi-occupied Europe."
Drawing a stark parallel, he added: “The situation of Rohingya is very similar to the situation that the Jewish community across the Nazi-occupied Europe faced in late 1930s and early 1940s. They are being persecuted because of their identity, because of who they are. The Burmese military has misframed them as a threat to national security. They have adopted an essentially long-term policy of extermination against these people. This is a genocide that has been in slow-motion for 40 years.”

Proven Long-Term Roots

                                           Image Credit: United Against Genocide / Flickr
Prof Michael Charney, a military and imperial historian specialising in South East Asia, also spoke at the Lawyers Without Borders event, highlighting how British colonial rule had uniquely impacted the Rakhine state differently to other areas of Myanmar. According to Prof Charney, and maybe surprisingly to many, there is even considerable evidence that Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar had been getting along considerably well in the past.
"Rohingya have long-term roots in the area – and we can support that with documentation."
When asked about the biggest thing people should know about the Rohingya, Prof Charney said that:

Rohingya have long-term roots in the area and they aren’t the foreigners that the Burmese government pretends they are – and we can support that with documentation. It’s the same documentation that people often deny just because of their political beliefs, not because of any other legitimate reasons.” Prof Charney also called for more academic research into the region but warned that this must be done with an open mind.

A Complex and Multilayered Situation

Image Credit: John Owens / Wikimedia
According to Dr Mandy Satan, a lecturer at SOAS, there are currently more than 120,000 internally-displaced people in the north of Myanmar, yet there has been very limited, if any, coverage of the situation.

“Is there a scale? And if there is, where is the tipping point?” she asked the audience. Whether it be the Rohingya, or the internally-placed people in the Kachin state in the north of Myanmar, or the Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, which have been there for more than 20 years – Dr Sadan sees a rather common structural issue, which is the Burmese army.

According to Dr Sadan, racism is deeply rooted and runs through many sectors of the Burmese society, hinting at the complexity and multilayeredness of the situation. Dr Sadan also called for important changes in education, which could transform Burmese education to reflect its multi-cultural society and allows students to study different kinds of history.

Questioning Our Humanity

                                              Image Credit: European Commission / Flickr
Towards the end of the panel discussion, Dr Zarni raised the most poignant issue – our own failures. He explained that all the atrocities post-WWII are not just failures of the international community, but that we must also call into question our shared humanity.

In order to truly make sure genocides never happen again, we can’t just echo empty sentiments or dispassionately soul search. Instead, we must do everything we can to act and to make our voices heard.