Rohingya devastation must be seen to be understood

Rohingya devastation must be seen to be understood

Bangkok: As staunchly Islamic Achenese bulldozed mass graves for the victims of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the only explanation they could come up with was “inshallah”- it is God’s will.

A tsunami, the height of coconut trees, had swept across Asia’s shores and no-one could be blamed for one of the world’s worst natural disasters.

Thirteen years later, survivors of Asia’s worst calamity since then are documenting acts of almost unspeakable barbarity committed by Myanmar’s military in Rakhine State.

And the generals are literally getting away with murder, so far.

There has been plenty of outrage across the world but little punitive action has been taken against them.

Denunciation by UN agencies and human rights groups – and much global hand wringing – seems an acceptable price to pay for forcing the Rohingya population from their homelands.

To be sure, Myanmar’s transition to democracy is at a critical crossroad.

Australia and most other countries have resisted calls for imposing new sanctions on the Myanmar military believing it could damage an already parlous economy and push the country back into isolation.

They worry punitive action could undermine the difficult situation facing Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s civilian de facto leader, who was swept into power on a wave of democratic euphoria at historic elections in 2015.

But she has become the military’s chief apologist, mocking a “huge iceberg of misinformation” and rejecting reports of sexual abuse against women as “fake news”.

Only the United States has moved to impose new sanctions on those responsible for the Rohingya atrocities, singling out Myanmar General Maung Maung Soe, who was in-charge of troops in Rakhine.

But at the same time the US has invited the Myanmar military to take part as formal observers, with Australia, in a major multinational military exercise next year, led by the US and Thailand.

Australia is resisting growing calls to cut the Australian Defence Force’s support and training for the Myanmar military, known as Tatmadaw.

The ADF released to Fairfax Media details of its defence engagement program with Myanmar, which includes 22 Tatmadaw members training or studying in Australia, paid for by Australia taxpayers.

The ADF provides support in non-combat areas, including humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peacekeeping, it said.

An ADF spokesperson told Fairfax Media Australia’s “limited engagement” with Myanmar is to “encourage positive change through engagement.”

The spokesperson added that the maintenance of lines of communication with Myanmar’s military “provides a mechanism as required to influence behaviour and address the challenging situation in Rakhine State.”

I don’t buy it.

Those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable if we are not to lose faith in humanity.

Myanmar’s generals have for decades ignored international condemnation of their treatment of Rohingya, who have been denied basic rights, including citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

International sanctions and pressure matter to the generals because that is what led to them to end half a century of iron-fist rule and allow democratic elections.

Without being held to account, they will be free to continue their barbaric treatment of Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in the country.

The Turnbull government’s reaction to the Rohingya crisis has been feeble. Foreign Minister Bishop Julie Bishop has pledged $30 million of Australia’s more than $3 billion-a-year overseas aid budget and sent aid experts to Bangladesh, to where more than 800,000 Rohingya have fled.

Last week she announced Australia would deploy a team of medical experts to survey health needs following an outbreak of deadly and highly contagious diphtheria in the camps, months after experts warned of a looming health catastrophe.

Bishop should go to Bangladesh to see for herself how the Rohingya are struggling just to survive in horrific conditions, and hear some of the harrowing accounts of atrocities, including the slaughter of babies and mass rape.

She could be the first high-profile politician from a foreign country to go into the camps, sending a blunt message to Myanmar that the world will not stand idly by as the Rohingya are exterminated.

Bishop may then come to see that Australia should take the lead as a regional power to ramp up pressure on Myanmar, including as a first step, ending the ADF’s support for the country’s generals.


Fairfax Media ???South-East Correspondent Lindsay Murdoch and Photographer Kate Geraghty visited the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh last month.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.