Friday, May 29, 2015

Really? I mean . . . REALLY?????

Buddhists in Myanmar deny boat people are Rohingya

Of course they do.

Silly me. I guess those 200 Rohingya men we took care of in Aceh in 2009 were all ghosts or figments of our imagination. It gets crazier and crazier. Those monks (shown in the photo, telling people that the world is “making up stories”) must be doing some really good drugs.  And again I ask, where is our “Goodwill Ambassador” Angelina Jolie???????

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Several hundred protesters in Myanmar's main city denied Wednesday that boat people arriving on Southeast Asian shores are Rohingya Muslims, a religious minority the government and many others in the predominantly Buddhist nation say does not exist. About 30 radical Buddhist monks led the rally in Yangon.
"The boat people are not from Myanmar" one banner carried by the demonstrators said. [Those crafty monks finally caught on to them!  They're not Rohingya--they're actually members of Monte Carlo royalty hiding from their gambling debt.]

Another read, "The United Nations and the international media are making up stories!"
Myanmar has experienced a surge in Buddhist nationalism since it began moving from dictatorship toward democracy four years ago. [Buddhist nationalism in this case translates to “kill anyone who is not a Buddhist.”]

Up to 280 Rohingya have been killed by machete-wielding mobs and tens of thousands have taken to the seas in wooden trawlers, hoping to find better lives elsewhere. [the numbers are more likely far greater than that.]
In recent weeks, more than 3,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis fleeing persecution and poverty have landed in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

"This is not Myanmar's problem, this is a global issue now," said Thuda Nanda, a Buddhist monk. "These boat people have made up the name 'Rohingya.' They are pretending to be refugees so they can find a way to come to Myanmar. We cannot accept them." [Now this . . .this is insane.  This is hard-line Madrassa-like brainwashing of people who will say and believe anything that their authority tells them.]

Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya are denied citizenship by national law, rendering them stateless. The government calls them "Bengalis," implying all are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, though many of their families arrived generations ago.  

Related Stories
  1. Hundreds rally in Myanmar over 'boat people' crisis Reuters
  2. Myanmar nationalists rally against pressure over boat people AFP
  3. The Latest on Rohingya: US envoy says address root causes Associated Press
  4. The Latest on Rohingya: UN estimates 3,000 still adrift Associated Press
  5. Myanmar says it's not to blame for migrant crisis Associated Press

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Aceh group helps the Rohingya . . . as Suu Kyi’s popularity continues downhill

Junaidi's been in touch with Mr Yani from the group that’s been donating food and supples directly to the Rohingya in the camps in Aceh Utara—it is called ASOKAYA. 
Over the weekend the group took a truck full of supplies and gave it to the government officials who are now managing the camp.  Junaidi also reported that the Minister of Social Services in Jakarta has now agreed to allocate funds to help support the camp. Also, the Myanmar Ambassador in Jakarta was contacted by Indonesia’s foreign Minister and a meeting was scheduled to dscuss how to “solve this issue.”  In the meantime, news outlets report that the Indonesian government will accommodate refugees for up to a year, while they try to find appropriate employment, housing and permanent residences.

Yesterday, Aceh Online had an article on ASOKAYA and their work.

Forsi ASOKAYA Salurkan Bantuan ke Pengungsi Rohingya (ASOKAYA group donates aid to Rohingya Refugees)

The group’s founder, along with the Chair of the town of Puentet-Lhokseumawe, spoke to the press and said that the aid was the result of donations they had received the previous week.  They also gave information to the public who wish to make additional contributions.  If anyone in Indonesia wants to know how to donate they can call 081264302456 or 085 260 328 310 (Oesman, Chair of Lhokseumawe).

In other news, Aung San Suu Kyi wasn’t invited to the Oslo conference concerning the Rohingya crisis.  Other Nobel Laureates Desmund Tutu and Jose Ramos Horta (East Timor) gave video presentations at the conference. “Suu Kyi has been playing a delicate balancing act,” notes the article. “She has been careful not to rile the military, which still wields tremendous political power. . . . She also realizes she and her party risk public backlash if she speaks in defense of Rohingya . . .
"’Those who criticize me for not condemning one side or the other — they've never said exactly what they hope will come out of such condemnation,’ she told the paper. ‘You're just taking the moral high ground for the sake of sounding good — it sounds a little irresponsible.’”

However, Bishop Tutu didn’t see it that way.
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor," Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to South Africa's brutal apartheid regime, said in his video statement. "If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Why no condemnation of Myanmar from the US and others? Bad for business, of course!

Why does the US remain nearly silent in condemning Myanmar?  Take a guess, and if it doesn’t include a dollar sign, it’s wrong. 

In 2012 the Obama administration “authorized U.S. companies to invest in Myanmar for the first time since 1997.”  In late 2014 President Obama visited our pal, opposition leader Aung San “What Rohingya?  I don’t see any Rohingya here” Suu Kyi, at her home and “warned” her (over tea, I’m sure) that  “Myanmar’s steps toward democracy are far from complete.”   

But in the meantime, let’s do business! 

To be fair, there is still a prohibition on “ventures with businesses connected to the country’s former junta.”  But let’s face it, where there are billion-dollar contracts, there’s a way, and in November 2014 Bloomberg reported that  “U.S. companies registering in Singapore to skirt sanctions on Myanmar helped the city state trump China as the country’s number one investor this year, Myanmar’s deputy finance minister said.” Meaning that while US investors may not be dabbling in Myanmar on paper (and staying away from those nasty former junta members, also on paper), they are certainly there taking advantage of what Amnesty International calls “the perfect storm of a rich natural resource base, a weak legal system and an economy dominated by military and special interests. The government has forcibly evicted people, crushed all attempts at peaceful protest and displayed a complete unwillingness to hold companies to account.” (Meghna Abraham, Amnesty International’s Corporate Crimes Researcher.)

Businessmen from other powerful nations, it seems, are not as sneaky when it comes to hiding their slime trail, and so get exposed:

Myanmar: Foreign mining companies colluding in serious abuses and illegality

In a report released Tuesday, “Canadian and Chinese mining interests have profited from, and in some cases colluded with the Myanmar authorities in serious human rights abuses and illegal activity around the Monywa copper mine complex, which includes the notorious Letpadaung mine.”
Amnesty International’s report describes how Canadian and Chinese mining companies have benefited financially from large-scale, forced evictions and serious pollution linked to the Monywa mining complex, which have destroyed local people’s livelihoods and exposed thousands of people to health risks.
 “The Monywa project is a cautionary tale for the government of Myanmar and investors,” it said in the report titled “Open for Business? Corporate Crime and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine.”
 “Foreign investment cannot benefit Myanmar when such contexts prevail.”

So, um, now we might know why we in North America are keeping the lowest of profiles when it comes to holding Myanmar responsible for the genocide of thousands of its rightful citizens.

It’s just not profitable.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Where are you now, Angelinia Jolie?

Interesting developments regarding the Rohingya in what could be viewed as neighboring countries’ currying world favor. But hey, whatever works!

Boat people grateful for sanctuary, baffled by Gambia offer

The Malaysian and Indonesian governments should get many kudos for allowing refugees to land on their shores, but Gambia wins the prize. Although one cannot help but wonder if the Gambia government has some savvy PR people who are betting that accepting a great many refugees will open a possible floodgate of financial aid from grateful nations who don’t have to take them.  

 And while Indonesia and Thailand  get slammed in the press for not taking them, we hear practically no peep from, or about Myanmar, the source of the problem.

I also have to point out that while Jakarta may have previously issued edict prohibiting refugees from landing, few Acehnese citizens obeyed these rules, and continued to help refugees who either landed on shore or who were encountered by Acehnese fishermen drifting in Aceh’s waters. These poor, downtrodden local Indonesians have continually come to the aid of their brethren, giving when they have nothing left to give while, most of the world sits on its keester and ignores the entire problem.

Fishermen wept as they rescued starving migrants off Indonesia

These recent activities are also interesting because the Quran speaks of Muslims helping Muslims as well as others. Where are the oil rich Arab nations, home to scores of wealthy Muslims? But mostly, where is humanity? I remember all too well begging in 2009 for help for the refuges in Aceh Timur, and 90% of humanitarian aid doors slamming in my face. At least now there is some breathing room and I am sure some token of assistance. (JMD is also providing assistance, per the request of a grassroots organization on-site.)
The Thais and the Burmese, however, have to be held accountable for their crimes against humanity. These "gentle" people have to be taken to task for their roles in this genocide, which have been nothing short of vile, murdering psychopaths. The Buddhist community worldwide, should rise up and condemn these acts.

And again, I ask, where are you now, Angelina Jolie?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

May 21: the anniversary of the fall of Suharto . . . I was there in 1998 taking pictures

  I worked in Indonesia a long time.  I was in Jakarta when Suharto was in power, and for the majority of that time the situation was grim. Suharto had been a general under Sukarno and came to power in 1966 after a coup.  He wasted no restricting civil liberties and freedom of movement, and eventually even his own party became fed up with the way in which he manipulated the legislation to keep being “re-elected” 5 times, until 1998.  Opposition factions were jailed, or worse.  The economy had grown during his regime, but the economic crisis of 1997/98 along with world attention on Indonesia’s participation in the genocide in East Timor, as well as Suharto’s participation, as a general, in the 1965 massacre of over 500,000 Chinese Indonesians, pushed the public over the edge.  

In the beginning of May 1998, students across Indonesia were holding peaceful protests against skyrocketing fuel prices and civil liberties violations, demanding that President Suharto step down.

 On May 12, a planned march to Parliament was stopped by police and four students were killed.  Then the riots began in earnest, (some say incited by the military) and for two days Jakarta was a war zone. At least 1,000 people died, some say it was as many as 5,000 across the country.

Many victims died in burning malls and supermarkets but some were shot or beaten to death. A government minister reported the damage or destruction of 2,479 shop-houses, 1,026 ordinary houses, 1,604 shops, 383 private offices, 65 bank offices, 45 workshops, 40 shopping malls, 13 markets, and 12 hotels.

And so I decided to leave my house, located in the middle of all this, and go take some photos.
Much to the shrieking protest of my friends and colleagues.

So in honor of the May 1998 riots that were the precursor to the fall of Suharto, I present a few of the photos I took.  As you can see, I was not harmed or menaced; in fact, many of the looters wanted to pose for pictures.  It was a strange time.

Without going into the sociopolitical history behind Suharto’s resignation, it’s fair to say that the jig was up.  General Prabowo (remember him?  Our favorite jackbooted thug/presidential candidate?) professed loyalty, but so did Wiranto, who might have been fibbing; he allowed the students to occupy Parliament and told Suharto he no longer had the support of his army. Suharto was forced to resign on May 21 and was replaced by Habibe, his Vice President.

--> There wasn't much peacekeeping going on during those days; in some of these photos you can see the military just standing by while looting, burning and violence is happening.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lots of press, lots of hand-wringing, but still no accountability

 Yesterday I received word from JMD staff that a small community group is helping the Rohingya in Aceh Utara by providing as much food and clothing as they can, and have asked JMD to help.  I am wondering if this is the same tiny agency who was with us in 2009 in Aceh Timur, alone and with no help from any large aid agency, even the UN back then.

We did get some help from Mustafa, who worked at that time for Islamic Relief; he came with me to translate but on his own personal time and not in an official capacity from that agency.

The fact that JMD, a local and small NGO with a now-miniscule amount of funding, is being asked to assist the Rohingya again by a local agency even smaller than JMD, speaks volumes about the level of assistance the donor community is giving these refugees, world media notwithstanding.

According to Junaidi, “Now the Myanmar ambassador and Bangladesh ambassador in Jakarta is now in discussion with the Indonesian government regarding this refugees.  Seems the Rohingya want to stay in Aceh.”

Gosh, I can’t imagine why.

And Jokowi’s party is pressuring him to help.  But still, where is Myanmar?  If they don’t want the Rohingya at least they can send a check, sort of like the notes with $10 bills attached to baskets of abandoned children in the 20’s.  No, better they just ignore their 100,000 citizens and hope someone else deals with it.

And speaking of celebrities . . . you can hear the crickets in Hollywood over this. I remember Angelina Jolie having her picture taken with Rohingya back when we did the camp in 2009. Big talker about Burma--so many of them are. Where are the publicity-hungry faux humanitarians now? Congrats to the Malaysian PM, though. Job well done. Why should Malaysia take the rap? Put the blame where it belongs--on all the countries who suck up to Burma but avert their eyes from the genocide committed by those peaceful, loving, caring Buddhists.

The world’s priorities continue to astound me.

The UN has condemned the refusal of South-East Asian countries to rescue thousands of migrants adrift at sea.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A miserable game of ‘maritime ping pong’

At last the plight of the Rohingya from Myanmar/Burma has gotten world media attention for longer than a day.  I’m sure it’s thanks to in part to some good investigative reporting, and some tireless advocacy by our colleague Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project (, who’s been tracking these refugees almost since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. But what has probably gotten people talking about the inhumane abominations that the Rohingya have faced and are still facing is that, like the tsunami, the magnitude of the issue has now shown itself and is staggering.  Year after year, thousands upon thousands of people, whose home country has been Myanmar for generations, have been denied rights, citizenship, basic human needs, housing, employment, physical safety, medical care and dignity.  They have been persecuted, raped, tortured for fun, and killed by the Buddhist majority, often led by monks.  

 this boat full of Rohingya refugees was abandoned by traffickers and left adrift; Rohingya are jumping off the boat to get supplies dropped into the water

When 200 Rohingya landed in the north of Aceh Timur 2009 it was a chore for JMD to find anyone other than the Acehnese people, themselves living at the poverty level, to help set up temporary shelters and provide basic medical care.  Now, the world is watching as Indonesia (Aceh again) takes in 300 more and news of 6,000 left to die at sea has people “debating” on line and in the press the “correct” way of dealing with refugees.

An otherwise good article from NPR (“Why No One Wants the Rohingyas,” March 15, by Scott Neuman) goes into detail about what UNHCR is saying about migrants in general, about trafficking issues in Thailand and elsewhere, about how the US State Department thinks this is a “regional issue.”  Etc. etc. etc. Its still an academic luncheon for many people.  And none of the many comments on this report mention Myanmar.  Not one.

[“You can’t have these people float around until they die. ASEAN, take in Rohingya Muslims!”  ]

Only the most recent article from AFP (French media outlet) has quoted someone, finally, talking about Myanmar—the Rohingya’s country of origin, in a way that tries to hold it accountable.

“‘These are not people who are making choices. They are being forced out of their country,’ said Amy Smith of Fortify Rights ( They are denied citizenship and scrape by in appalling conditions.”
“The regional blame-game has escalated with both Thailand and Malaysia calling on Myanmar to stem the flow of Rohingya, 1.3 million of whom live in the western state of Rakhine. Myanmar maintains they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.” [even though the majority have lived in Myanmar for over 3 generations!  And while I’m at it, who would ever call this a “blame game?”  There is no game to play—these people are from Myanmar—period.]

“Myanmar ‘should deal with the Rohingya community internally instead of forcing it on its (Southeast Asian) neighbours,’ Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted by local media on Sunday as saying, in an unusually strong rebuke to a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
But Myanmar has so far stuck to its line, denying that the Rohingya exist as a minority group on its soil and maintaining they belong to Bangladesh. It has also threatened to snub planned regional talks on the crisis called for May 29 in Bangkok.”
Indonesia has, as far as I can tell, stepped up more than any other country to assist the Rohingya.  But the enormity of the issue, and Myanmar’s as-yet unchallenged refusal to concede that what they are doing is tantamount to genocide, is for the moment keeping this particular world horror in the public eye.

Which is the only good that has come out of this.

And where, might I ask, is Angelina Jolie THIS time???

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

More mass graves of Rohingya found in Thailand . . . and still Myanmar refuses to acknowledge their citizenship, or humanity

Human Rights Watch’s May 1st story about the discovery of 30 Rohingya buried in  mass graves in Thailand is the latest in the hundreds of instances each year highlighting the continual persecution of this group from Myanmar/Burma that the country refuses to acknowledge or assist. ( 

“Each year, tens of thousands of Rohingya flee the dire human rights situation in Burma only to be further abused and exploited at the hands of traffickers in Thailand,” HRW’s Asia Director Brad Adams said. “The discovery of these mass graves should shock the Thai government into shutting down the trafficking networks that enrich officials but prey on extremely vulnerable people. Instead of sticking Rohingya in border camps or immigration lockups, the government should provide safety and protection.”

The 30 who were found had starved to death or died of disease “while held by traffickers who were awaiting payment of ransoms before smuggling them into Malaysia.  Traffickers controlling this camp apparently departed into the mountainous jungle, taking surviving Rohingya with them.”

Look at that photo.  That stick wrapped in plastic is a person.

Rescue workers transport one of the bodies found at an abandoned camp in Thailand's southern Songkhla province on May 1, 2015. © 2015 Reuters 

Human trafficking is something that Thailand seems to excel at, but what concerns me here is Myanmar, the country from which these people come and whose highest-ranking officials, including the Buddhist clergy, have waged an open genocidal war against their own citizens who they will now not even grant basic human rights.  “They’re Bangladeshi,” says Myanmar of these Myanmar-born Muslims who have never even set foot in Bangladesh, nor have their parents.  That’s like the US saying that everyone whose ancestors came from somewhere else will be denied social services, voting rights, employment, health care or housing. Plus, Catholic priests and Protestant ministers get to lead vicious attacks on groups of these non-citizens, beating the crap out of them, killing them, rounding them up and throwing them into camps and leaving them to die.  No wonder the Rohingya take their chances with Thai traffickers, who sound downright cuddly in comparison.

When you do a Google search of “Rohingya Killed in Myanmar 2014,” this is what you come up with, all in a row:

·      Rohingya Muslims feared killed in new Burma Rakhine State
·      Burma violence: UN calls for Rohingya deaths inquiry - BBC
·      28+Myanmar Rohingya Muslims Killed by Buddhists
·      Two-child limit on Myanmar Rohingya draws criticism   
·      U.N.: Dozens of Muslims massacred by Buddhists in Burma
·      4,000 Muslim Rohingyas killed, 8,000 missing in Myanmar
·      Rohingya Muslims considered by UN to be one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.   
·      How The World Is Ignoring Myanmar's Potential Genocide
·      Burma: End 'Ethnic Cleansing' of Rohingya Muslims

And that’s just the first page.

When I wonder why the world isn’t paying attention, I remind myself that it’s scarier to think that the world is paying attention . . . and it just does not care.