Myanmar’s Shameful Denial – The New York Times


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Rohingya women near a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in November.

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Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Last month, President Obama lifted sanctions against Myanmar, citing “substantial progress in improving human rights” following the historic election victory of the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in November 2015. Tragically, that praise is proving premature.

Hopes that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi would bring an end to the brutal repression of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, lie dashed by a military campaign against the Rohingya in Rakhine State that began after an attack on a police station on Oct. 9. Since then, some 34,000 people have fled over the border to Bangladesh amid allegations of murder and rape by military forces, and satellite images of burned villages. At least 86 people have been killed.

Yet, a commission appointed by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi concluded last week that “there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region.” Human rights groups rightly accuse the commission of a whitewash. In an effort to muzzle reporting, Myanmar’s government has barred independent journalists from the region, and dismissed reports of abuses as “fake news” and “fake rape.”

After a disturbing video of police brutally beating Rohingya villagers in November surfaced in late December, the government said “legal action was being taken.” But, as Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski observed, the video suggests such abuses are “normal and allowed.”

Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group reports a new militant Rohingya organization with ties to individuals in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan was behind an Oct. 9 attack. The group warns that failure by Myanmar to address longstanding grievances by the Rohingya and the indiscriminate military crackdown in Rakhine State risk “generating a spiral of violence.” This is the last thing Myanmar needs.

As the United Nations’ human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said last month, Myanmar’s approach to the crisis is “shortsighted, counterproductive and even callous.” On Monday, the United Nations human rights envoy for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, arrived in the country on a 12-day visit. She will present a report to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in March. Given the failure of Myanmar’s own commission to conduct a credible investigation, Ms. Lee should call for an independent investigation conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.

Last April, the European Union renewed remaining sanctions on Myanmar on “arms and goods that might be used for internal repression” for one year. The union should renew those sanctions if the government of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi fails to end abuses against the Rohingya. That failure would also warrant new sanctions from the United States.

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