Friday 30 December 2016,
by Collective, HOLMES Oliver
Letter says Myanmar’s leader and peace prize winner has failed to act as ‘grossly disproportionate’ crackdown on minority Muslim group kills hundreds.
More than a dozen fellow Nobel laureates have criticised Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, for a bloody military crackdown on minority Rohingya people, warning of a tragedy “amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity”.
The open letter to the UN security council from a group of 23 activists, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, warned that the army offensive had killed of hundreds of people, including children, and left women raped, houses burned and many civilians arbitrarily arrested.
It was delivered as Bangladesh announced around 50,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the violence across its border.
“Access for humanitarian aid organisations has been almost completely denied, creating an appalling humanitarian crisis in an area already extremely poor,” reads the letter, whose signatories include current and former political and business leaders and campaigners such as Yousafzai, the youngest winner of the Nobel peace prize.
“Some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide. It has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies – Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo,” the letter reads.
“If we fail to take action, people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets.”
The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar says it is responding to several attacks carried out by Rohingya militants that killed nine police officers on 9 October .
But the signatories to the letter said the army’s response had been “grossly disproportionate”.
“It would be one thing to round up suspects, interrogate them and put them on trial,” the letter said. “It is quite another to unleash helicopter gunships on thousands of ordinary civilians and to rape women and throw babies into a fire.”
The Rohingya are a minority of about a million people who, despite living in the country for generations, are treated as illegal immigrants and denied citizenship. They have been persecuted for years by the government and nationalist Buddhists.
The recent bloodshed is the most deadly  since hundreds were killed in clashes in 2012 and more than 100,000 were forced into squalid camps.
An Amnesty International report this month , based on extensive interviews with Rohingya as well as analysis of satellite imagery, claimed that actions by Myanmar’s military may constitute crimes against humanity.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent much of the past two decades under house arrest and was awarded the 1991 Nobel peace prize, won elections last November , ending decades of junta rule.
But the Myanmar armed forces, or Tatmadaw, retain significant power in Myanmar. Under the army-drafted constitution, the military controls the three most powerful government ministries: home, defence and border affairs.
Aung San Suu Kyi is foreign minister and state counsellor, as the law bars her from the presidency , which is held by her close aide Htin Kyaw . However, she is widely considered the country’s de facto leader.
The open letter said that “despite repeated appeals to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi we are frustrated that she has not taken any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas. Daw Suu Kyi is the leader and is the one with the primary responsibility to lead, and lead with courage, humanity and compassion.”
Nobel peace laureates who signed the letter include Jose Ramos-Horta, former president of East Timor, and Yemeni opposition activist Tawakul Karman. It was also signed by former prime minister of Italy Romano Prodi and British business leader Sir Richard Branson.
Bangladesh has stepped up patrols to try to stop refugees crossing the border during the last three months , and its foreign ministry had summoned Myanmar’s ambassador to express “deep concern at the continued influx”.
“Around 50,000 Myanmar citizens took shelter into Bangladesh since 9 October 2016,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
A spokesman for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees told AFP that at least 43,000 Rohingya have taken shelter in Bangladesh since October.
Oliver Holmes and agencies
AP and AFP contributed to this report
* The Guardian. Friday 30 December 2016 05.12 GMT Last modified on Friday 30 December 2016 22.00 GMT:
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL AND MEMBER COUNTRIES OF THE COUNCIL TO END THE HUMAN CRISIS OF ROHINGYAS IN MYANMAR
Dear President and Members of the Security Council,
As you are aware, a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity is unfolding in Myanmar.
Over the past two months, a military offensive by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State has led to the killing of hundreds of Rohingya people. Over 30,000 people have been displaced. Houses have been burned, women raped, many civilians arbitrarily arrested, and children killed. Crucially, access for humanitarian aid organisations has been almost completely denied, creating an appalling humanitarian crisis in an area already extremely poor. Thousands have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, only to be sent back. Some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide. It has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies - Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo.
The head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the Bangladesh side of the border, John McKissick, has accused Myanmar’s government of ethnic cleansing. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee has condemned the restricted access to Rakhine State as “unacceptable.”
The Rohingyas are among the world’s most persecuted minorities, who for decades have been subjected to a campaign of marginalisation and dehumanisation. In 1982, their rights to citizenship were removed, and they were rendered stateless, despite living in the country for generations. They have endured severe restrictions on movement, marriage, education and religious freedom. Yet despite the claims by government and military, and many in society, that they are in fact illegal Bengali immigrants who have crossed the border, Bangladesh does not recognise them either.
Their plight intensified dramatically in 2012 when two severe outbreaks of violence resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands and a new apartheid between Rohingya Muslims and their Rakhine Buddhist neighbours. Since then they have existed in ever more dire conditions.
This latest crisis was sparked by an attack on Myanmar border police posts on 9 October, in which nine Myanmar police officers were killed. The truth about who carried out the attack, how and why, is yet to be established, but the Myanmar military accuse a group of Rohingyas. Even if that is true, the military’s response has been grossly disproportionate. It would be one thing to round up suspects, interrogate them and put them on trial. It is quite another to unleash helicopter gunships on thousands of ordinary civilians and to rape women and throw babies into a fire.
According to one Rohingya interviewed by Amnesty International, “they shot at people who were fleeing. They surrounded the village and started going from house to house. They were verbally abusing the people. They were threatening to rape the women.”
Another witness described how her two sons were arbitrarily arrested: “It was early in the morning, the military surrounded our house, while some came in and forced me and my children to go outside. They tied my two sons up. They tied their hands behind their backs, and they were beaten badly. The military kicked them in the chest. I saw it myself. I was crying so loudly. When I cried, they [the military] pointed a gun at me. My children were begging the military not to hit them. They were beaten for around 30 minutes before being taken away”. She has not seen them since.
Despite repeated appeals to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi we are frustrated that she has not taken any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas. Daw Suu Kyi is the leader and is the one with the primary responsibility to lead, and lead with courage, humanity and compassion.
We urge the United Nations to do everything possible to encourage the Government of Myanmar to lift all restrictions on humanitarian aid, so that people receive emergency assistance. Access for journalists and human rights monitors should also be permitted, and an independent, international inquiry to establish the truth about the current situation should be established.
Furthermore, we urge the members of UN Security Council to put this crisis on Security Council’s agenda as a matter of urgency, and to call upon the Secretary-General to visit Myanmar in the coming weeks as a priority. If the current Secretary-General is able to do so, we would urge him to go; if not, we encourage the new Secretary-General to make it one of his first tasks after he takes office in January.
It is time for the international community as a whole to speak out much more strongly. After Rwanda, world leaders said “never again”. If we fail to take action, people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets, and we may end up being the passive observers of crimes against humanity which will lead us once again to wring our hands belatedly and say “never again” all over again.
Professor Muhammad Yunus
2006 Nobel Peace Laureate
1996 Nobel Peace Laureate
1976 Nobel Peace Laureate
1976 Nobel Peace Laureate
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
1984 Nobel Peace Laureate
1987 Nobel Peace Laureate
1997 Nobel Peace Laureate
2003 Nobel Peace Laureate
2011 Nobel Peace Laureate
2011 Nobel Peace Laureate
2014 Nobel Peace Laureate
Sir Richard J. Roberts
1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Former Italian Foreign minister
Founder and Editor, The Huffington Post
Sir Richard Branson
Business Leader and Philanthropist
Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
SDG Advocate, Film Director
SDG Advocate, Voice of Libyan Women
Business Leader and Philanthropist
Human Rights Activist
Former Italian Prime Minister