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UN’s 75th Anniversary

Erasure of village names in Myanmar and passivity of the UN

Published : Monday, 28 September, 2020 at 12:00 AM  Count : 571
Ishrat Zakia Sultana

Erasure of village names in Myanmar and passivity of the UN

Erasure of village names in Myanmar and passivity of the UN

Two important countries in the world are going to have election in early November this year. They are Myanmar and the US. Interestingly, despite the difference in their geographical locations, both have some similarities. Both have recalcitrant troublemaker governments in disguise of democracy. Government patronized brutal killings occur in both countries around people's race, religion, and ethnic identity. Both have set great examples of human rights violations as both prioritize business interest only. Budget for education and health is much lower in both countries compared to that of their defense and military allocations. According to the Global Peace Index 2020, both are close to the end of the list of 163 countries: the USA is 121st with a score of 2.307 and Myanmar is 127th with a score of 2.434. Both fall behind Bangladesh.

Along with so many commonalities, it would be interesting to see whether and how their election results resemble to or differentiate from each other. No doubt, the election in both countries will affect the relationship between Bangladesh and them. The election results of Myanmar, however, is more important for Bangladesh because the decisions regarding 1.1 million Rohingya refugees living is Bangladesh is related to that.

Before and after the ICJ verdict on "the prevention of killing and "causing serious bodily or mental harm" to members of the group, as well as preserving evidence of possible genocide that has already occurred" (BBC News, January 23, 2020), a few significant incidents took place in Myanmar. These were two Myanmar troops' confession of killing Rohingya and erasure of the name of a dozen of selected villages in Myanmar. The first one is quite surprising for the entire world while the second one was planned and strategic, which started in 2019 but the world came to know about this in 2020. What signal does such act provide ahead of the election?

Two soldiers who left Myanmar's military force confessed that they were ordered to "shoot all that you see and that you hear" in the Rohingya villages. They followed the command literally. Some Rohingya started to hope that such confession will surely bring justice to the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Would this confession really force Myanmar--a country that is backed up by the big powers-to change its position? Moreover, the state counsellor of Myanmar, sitting inside the ICJ building denying all accusations against her country in December 2019, vehemently and confidently argued that what the verdict said was "incomplete and incorrect". Would she label the confession of the troops same way-"incorrect"? Or has she taken advanced strategic cautionary steps in 2019 by erasing names of Rohingya villages to keep her genocidal team safe and clean from allegations and to show the back to the world on Rohingya repatriation issue?

Myanmar, despite committing genocide, is one of the very few countries on earth whose government is strongly supported and protected by some of the big powers who prioritize business over human rights. These big powers-mainly China, India, and Japan-either raise voice in favour of Myanmar's genocidal act or remain silent according to the situation. Unfortunately, United Nations, which was born to unite the nations and is a last resort to the helpless ones, also played frustrating roles on the issue of Rohingya. This is echoed in an international webinar jointly organized by North South University and the UN on 16-17 September. Although many in this event technically avoided the discussion on this extremely critical issue, the foreign secretary and the planning minister of the government of Bangladesh clearly pointed out that the UN has totally failed to mediate this crisis.

It was unclear whether the UN resident coordinator was disappointed, if not ashamed, of such straightforward words in a public gathering on the occasion of the 75thanniversary of the UN but its failure on the Rohingya issue has been revealed. The event focused on what UN did, and is doing, in times of people's needs. Sadly, it kept the Rohingya issue almost outside the discussion, which indicates that the UN is an organization of the privileged and for the privileged; the underprivileged ones remain ignored.

Take the example of UNHCR. How many refugee crises have been successfully resolved with the intervention of the UNHCR? Regarding Rohingya crisis, how many times UNHCR sat with the Myanmar government to expedite the repatriation process? UNHCR's voice is loud on issues such as keeping the border open or erecting fences around the refugee camps, but the output of discussions between UNHCR and Myanmar on Rohingya repatriation issue is always unknown. Such passivity of a UN agency whose core mandate is to see refugees compels the refugees of Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps to tell "UNHCR-UN have been doing business with us". The role of UNFPA, another UN agency, is also contentious. In 2014, the census conducted by Myanmar with the support of UNFPA excluded 1.09 million Rohingya living within Myanmar. What messages these instances convey- is the UN in favour the oppressed or the oppressor?

It took a year for the mapping unit of the UN to discover that Myanmar has erased the names of a dozen of villages where Rohingya ethnic community used to live. Nobody needs to be a rocket scientist to understand the purpose of such action. Even a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh tells "they did it intentionally so that we can never go back to our villages". Preparing report for ICJ and erasing Rohingya villages names go on simultaneously. Is UN so na�ve and inefficient to take action against such shrewd acts? Who will then remind Myanmar that erasing village names shall not let them escape their responsibilities of committing genocide? Did UN not find rational evidence to cancel UN membership of Myanmar after ICJ verdict? The passivity of UN in Rohingya crisis echoes Martin Luther King Jr who said that there comes a time when silence is betrayal.

UN may not care much about Myanmar election as the US election is more important to the UN. For the Rohingya, Myanmar's election is extremely important. The foreign policy of Bangladesh government is to have friendship with all, malice to none. Following this moto, Bangladesh has been able to take the side of the Rohingya. What did Myanmar do as of now? What did UN do? In her address on the occasion of 75th anniversary of the UN, the PM of Bangladesh has urged the international community to play a more effective role for a solution to the Rohingya crisis. Surely it is UN who should lead the international community to do so.

It would not be a matter of surprise if the consequence of Myanmar's acts regarding erasing names  become similar to the event of placing Bangla letters on the grave of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This man objected Bengali language to be the state language of Bangladesh, which led bloodshed in the language movement in 1952.After his death, his dates of birth and date had been written in Bangla, along with his own language, on his grave. Not only this man, but also those who supported his unjust decision about state language-his younger sister, the first PM of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan, another PM Nurul Amin, communication minister Abdur Rab Nishtar--all had to have Bangla texts on their grave.

Myanmar government and the genocide icon have lessons to learn from this incident.
Dr Ishrat Zakia Sultana, Assistant Professor, Department of
Political Science and Sociology,
North South University

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