Saturday, March 29, 2014


The Rakhine nationalists' mob attack on international aid workers last week is showing the early signs of genocidal tendency towards Rohingyas. Various international NGOs, including UN World Food Program, had been working in Rakhine State since 1994 refugee repatriation. This is not a simple case of unruly mob randomly attacking INGOs. Clearly, there are underlying political motives on removing/attacking those INGOs. Unless U Thein Sein government put a stop to these mob intimidation and violence, there is potential to escalate into a large scale conflict. Such escalation of conflict will pose a threat to Burma's democratic transitions.
Should such escalation of conflict eventuated to a large scale, it will serve in the interest of RNDP and Rakhine nationalists. Surely, there must be elements within Burmese military who would be watching with intense interest on this situation.
Nationalist Agendas
By removing international aid workers, the Rakhine nationalists think they can silence advocates of Rohingyas. By sabotaging census-collecting process, the Rohingyas will become 'unregistered forever' in the Rakhine State. Should UN WFP were to withdraw from Rakhine State, hardships for Rohingyas will increase and will trigger greater ever flight for them to Bangladesh. These are the kind of simplistic mob agendas which RNDP, Wirathu and PBMU monks are trying to promote.
Some of those who are reasonably well informed about politics, this kind of genocidal agendas are un-thinkable. And some would even say that can never happen in Burma.
Unfortunately, the world's history had proven time and again that such genocides can happen, especially in transition. One example is the rise of nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic in the 80s in former Yugoslavia. Once this kind of natiolanist leader is in power, it is sure to have much political violence and bloodshed.
Intolerance -- the early signs
What we have repeatedly seen in Rakhine State in particular and in proper Burma at large is the form of racial and religious intolerance against a minority group. As I mentioned before, this kind of intolerance will be resonating with greater majority of Burmese masses. The populist Monk Wirathu and nationalist groups like RNDP will ride on the waves of such intolerance using freedom of speech as a vehicle. Needless to say, there are such populist and racist elements are within even in Australia with the same secenario for riding the tides of intolerance.
Then again, in a democratic and open society, such a freedom of speech MUST be allowed. In comparison to a mature democracy like Australia, Burma in a transitional state does not have a proper balancing powers. In Australia, for example, certain populist leaders within Executive Powers can impose racist laws as measures to margnialise minorities. In such case, there will be opposition by civil society -- reflected in Parliament and Senate, reinforced by regular and periodic general elections -- and a challenge at the High Court (Constitutional Court of Australia). As such, the excesses of Executive Powers can be put on a break by the other balancing powers.
The danger Burma is facing now is not having such balancing powers. At the end of the day, people like Wirathu and group like RNDP which has racist agendas will be Burma in the future. U Thein Sein government, for a short and medium term therefore, should put in place strong protection for international aid workers and their operations. The freedom of speech is to be allowed but incitation of mob violence should not be tolerated. The rights to organize and assemble is to be respected, but those with intent to break the laws and initiate violence must be punished.
For the long term though, Burma will need an independence of judiciary, and especially setting up of a Constitutional Court. For example, the interfaith marriage laws which proposed by PBMU, even if being approved by the Burmese Parliament, should be scrutinized and challenged at the Constitutional Court. As we can see, the democracy is not all about 'majoritarian rule'. And certainly, the democratic political leadership isn't quite the same as populist mob-leadership. In democracy, while the freedom of speech is allowed, the rights of minority must be protected. A true political leadership must rise above those mob agendas. Otherwise, Burma's transition will fail.
Future for INGOs
For the INGOs and UN, I think this is about time to ponder forming a consortium of some sort for their humanitarian work in Burma. Whilst there have been set-backs in their operations, they should not be discouraged. Those who have Burma expertise should now formulate a policy of reintegrating Rohingyas and development of Rakhine State as a whole.
I also think those community and resistance leaders in exile & resistance should also look for models of reintegration for their respective displaced people. For example, Karen and Kachin community leaders in particular; they should look at finding international assistance when ceasefire and peace previals in Burma. Obviously, for refugees in Thailand and elsewhere, the resettlement option is limited and, definitely, not for everybody: I heard years ago, a Karen refugee individual who took suicide option when resettlement to abroad was for him (He's not insane -- I dare say).

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