SITTWE, Myanmar — In 2012, after centuries of tension, Myanmar’s Buddhist majority began oppressing the nation’s Muslim minority, forcing them into concentration camps and carrying out widespread murder and genocidal acts.
But more than racism and bigotry have inflamed tensions in this South Asian country, as the United States and its allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel enable the atrocities through their foreign aid and military power.
In June, The Economist called the Rohingya “the most persecuted people on earth,” noting that their suffering has intensified since 2012. That year, “140,000 Rohingyas were forced into squalid refugee camps after the local Buddhists turned on them,” and since then, “their situation has been especially dire.”
Conditions have grown so severe in the state of Rakhine, where most of the Rohingya live, that over 86,000 have attempted to flee to neighboring countries, often falling prey to criminal refugee smugglers along the way. Many analysts and human rights experts have warned that conditions are ripe for total genocide against the Rohingya.
According to CBS News, during his November visit to Myanmar, President Barack Obama voiced his concerns about the human rights of the Rohingya during a joint press conference with fellow Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi, widely considered the face of democratic reform in the country.
“Obama did use the term ‘Rohingya’ and said discrimination against them wasn’t consistent with the kind of country Myanmar wants to become. ‘Ultimately that is destabilizing to a democracy,’ he said.”
Despite these passing references to the suffering of the Muslim minority, the U.S. and powerful countries in Europe and the Middle East continue to enable these crimes through their support.
US and the West
In November, Nafeez Ahmed, an investigative journalist and international security scholar, accused the U.S. and the United Kingdom of encouraging investment in Myanmar in the name of “promoting democracy.” This encouragement, Ahmed argues, has continued in spite of Myanmar’s human rights violations, and despite the fact that the Rohingya have been denied the right to vote since February because they protested against their treatment.
Ahmed noted that the State Department’s “Investment Climate Statement,” published in May, attempts to encourage international businesses to move into the market while attempting to minimize the government’s complicity in the anti-Rohingya hate crimes and persecution:
“Rather than acknowledging the junta’s culpability, the document makes passing reference to ‘political violence,’ characterised ‘neutrally’ as ‘anti-government insurgent activity in various locations,’ and ‘inter-communal violence… between Buddhists and Muslims.'”
Additionally, Ahmed noted that Western countries seek to tap into Myanmar’s oil reserves, which are believed to be of considerable value. He quoted Hunter Marston, a former State Department official based in Myanmar, who believes that bringing those energy resources to the West is also a key part of the U.S. strategy to reduce China’s influence over the entire region. Writing for The Diplomat in October, Marston argued:
“The U.S. aims to inhibit China’s expanding regional influence in order to preserve the status quo security architecture put in place by the U.S. and Europe in the aftermath of World War II. The security priority helps explain why the United States has refrained from criticizing Myanmar’s shortcomings in light of President Thein Sein’s efforts to push further democratic reforms. The U.S. needs a ‘good enough’ democratic partner in Myanmar to provide a bulwark on China’s strategic southern border with India. ”
China’s pipeline and Saudi Arabia’s oil support Rohingya oppression
Ahmed also reported that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are key backers of the Rohingya genocide through their support of the lucrative China-Myanmar oil pipeline. The pipeline is the first overland access route to China for oil and gas shipments and is capable of carrying 0.5 percent of global oil demand. He wrote:
“Saudi Arabia is a major player in the Myanmar pipeline. In 2011, the Saudi’s Aramco signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to supply China 200,000 barrels of crude a day through the China-Myanmar pipeline. In return, China would help develop Saudi’s Yanbu refinery on the Red Sea coast.”
He also noted that it’s “no coincidence” that major attacks on the Rohingya occurred along the pipeline’s path, most notably near the town of Kyaukpyu, Rakhine, where Muslim villages were torched in October of 2012 to make way for development by China National Petroleum Co. and South Korea’s Daewoo International, another investor in the pipeline.
Israel supplies arms and training to Myanmar’s secret police
According to an investigation from Rania Khalek, associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, a site that advocates for Palestinian freedom, Israel has a history of supporting repressive regimes from apartheid South Africa to Serbia, and Myanmar is no exception.
“For four days in September, Israel literally rolled out the red carpet for a delegation of senior officers from Myanmar’s ground, air and naval forces,” Khalek wrote. The delegation was given a guided tour of Israel’s leading aerospace and weapons companies.
The collaboration between the two nations did not begin with recent reforms, however:
“While most of the world imposed sanctions on Myanmar in the years following a bloody 1988 military coup and the annulment of democratic elections in 1990, Israel expanded investments in the country and helped modernize its arsenal.
According to a 2000 report in the London-based publication Jane’s Intelligence Review, throughout the 1990s Israel sold 9mm Uzi submachine guns and 155mm Soltam towed howitzers to Myanmar.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Mossad espionage and assassination agency provided training to its Myanmar counterparts and former Israeli army officers ‘provided training to Myanmar’s elite counter-terrorist squad.’ Elbit Systems upgraded Myanmar’s F-7 fighter jets.”
In May, Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop of Capetown, South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, and renowned human rights advocate, warned that the country’s Muslims must not be overlooked in the push for democracy:
“Even as we seek to encourage the country to build on the reforms it has started, we have a responsibility to ensure that the plight of the Rohingya is not lost. We have a responsibility to hold to account those of our governments and corporations that seek to profit from new relationships with Myanmar to ensure their relationships are established on a sound ethical basis.”
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