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Withdrawn US sanctions empowered the Myanmar military regime

Published : Sunday, 9 September, 2018 at 12:00 AM  Count : 117
Kazi Salim

The former US President, Barack Obama and his administration withdrew economic sanctions against the brutal Burmese regime in 2017, despite the world's outcries against the ongoing genocide and persecution, of the Rohingya ethnic community by the Military regime in Myanmar. Findings on the genocide against the Rohingya people in the Western Rakhine were described in frequent reports by the Washington based United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is located very close to the White House, where President Barack Obama was pontificating for the safeguarding of global human rights.

It has been reported through documentation, and daily reports conducted by various international organizations and NGOs, whom have identified and warned that Burma as one of the top three countries most at risk for a mass atrocity. Researchers throughout the world, including in the USA have argued vehemently since 2015, that a "genocidal campaign was already underway". With this kind of strong early warnings and strong indications it was clear that a humanitarian catastrophic crisis was imminent.

In 2016 various human rights groups were warning that the military regime in Burma systematically employed extrajudicial killings, torture, and sexual violence against the civilian minority population in the name of counterinsurgency. In 2017, a UN report concluded that the so- called "clearance operations" likely amounted to crimes against humanity. Globally repeated early warnings and indications could not have saved the Rohingyas; they could not compensate for the countervailing interests or cooperation challenges that make preventing or halting mass atrocities difficult.

Brutal violence broke out in parts of Rakhine State in June and October of 2012, facing the Rohingyas with the final stages of genocide. Since then a marked escalation in State-sponsored brutality, torture, rapes, discrimination, segregation and the daily systematic weakening of the ethnic Rohingya community has occurred making them vulnerable for their final eradication from their motherland. The final stage of the eviction and eradication of the Rohingya began with diabolical brutality and unrelenting force in August of 2017.

While these inhuman atrocities were being committed by the Burmese military regime since 2012, President Obama was sitting in the White House at the helm of power, preaching and giving lessons about democracy and Human Rights to the world in his presidential addresses on a daily basis.  Now a major question arises; what enticed and encouraged Barak Obama to be so soft and generous to a regime, that was continuously conducting brutal mass killing operations in the Rakhine state until 2017, and was described by the UNHRC Chief as the "Text Book of Ethnic Cleansing", following the intensity and barbarity of a state planned and directed against the Rohingya ethnic population?

Being a President of the USA and a former law student-cum-Senator, he was much more aware of what happened in Germany in the 1930s and Rwanda in the early 1990s, and even the genocide of 1971, committed by the Pakistani occupation forces in Bangladesh. His responsibility as a President and a former law student - having been fully aware of the ongoing dehumanising situation in the Rakhine State - did not prevent him from withdrawing the imposed US Economic Sanctions against the Burmese regime since 1997 which were intended to isolate the military regime that was ruling the country. The sanctions were crucial for pressuring the military regime to end the human rights abuses, persecutions and brutalisation of Burma's ethnic communities, including the Rohingyas and to transfer power to a civilian government. It was conditioned that the sanctions should not be lifted until the democratic transition is totally irreversible.

The sanctions restricting Burmese financial institutions, imports, and US investments in Burma were removed entirely between 2012 and 2016, when Obama was in the White House. Most of the sanctions specially targeted the Ministry of Defence, state or non-state armed groups, and individuals and entities on the US Department of Treasury's "Specially Designated Nationals" list. Key provisions in the sanctions aimed to prevent US companies and individuals from doing business with the military regime officials and military -- owned enterprises, prohibited the import of Burmese Jade and gemstones into the US, and restricted businesses and persons involved in that sector.

The withdrawal of economic sanctions by Obama and his administration empowered and facilitated the autocratic regime to implement their 'final solution' against the Rohingya population. Obama withdrew sanctions against some individuals whom the US had earlier determined would threaten the peace, security and stability of Burma's reforms and were responsible for, or complicit, in wider human rights abuses. Having withdrawn economic sanctions, Obama enabled some who were on the US sanctions list, including criminals, and suspected perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and violations, to become beneficiaries of Obama's privileges.

The common people of Burma, of course, did not benefit. What did Obama at the end of his tenure, gain from the withdrawal of sanctions upon the Burmese regime, which has evicted the entirety of an ethnic population from their own land?   
Following the ruthless atrocities and crimes committed against the Rohingya population, the consequential mass exodus of the Rohingya people has rendered one million of them as stateless refugees as of 2018. Now it has become necessary for the US and its Congressmen to evaluate whether Obama's decision to withdraw the sanctions was contrary to humanitarianism and the US policy? Was it not a condemnatory death sentence against the Rohingyas? The renowned and most respected US Congressmen, like the late John McCain, Senators Dick Durbin and Ed Royce demanded and voiced their support, in favour of re- imposing economic sanctions against the Burmese military and the brutal regime. Let President Trump and his administration rethink their policy regarding one of the gravest humanitarian disasters of this century.

The US sanctions withdrawn by Obama and Hillary Clinton against Burma did not help in reducing the intensity of mass killings, rapes, destruction and atrocities committed by the military regime against the Rohingyas, but instead helped in invigorating, re-fuelling and igniting the ongoing crimes against humanity, that unfolded and created the conditions for the perpetration of "text book examples of ethnic cleansing" as cited by the UN.

Obama's unorthodox and inhuman action has thrown Bangladesh into the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe, with growing uncertainty regarding the repatriation of over 1 million Rohingya refugees, currently hosted in Cox's Bazar, to their own homeland. Obama, despite being a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, facilitated and empowered a brutal regime to be more cruel and vicious against an ethnic minority population, by withdrawing economic sanctions. Now this is the right time for the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to review and reconsider whether Obama and Aung Sun Suu Kyi of Burma really deserved this precious Peace Prizes.

 Kazi Salim is a researcher and writer

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