United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has warned the brutal Burmese military operation against Rohingya Muslims is at risk of spiraling into an ethnic cleansing campaign, as the violence against the long-persecuted minority group continues. The U.N. says almost 150,000 Rohingya have fled the predominantly Buddhist country into neighboring Bangladesh in the last 12 days since the military operation began — with up to 15,000 more expected to flee every single day this week. Advocates say as many as 800 Rohingya civilians, including women and children, have been killed in recent days. For more, we speak with Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation in the U.K. He was born and brought up in Burma’s Arakan state. In 1982, he was rendered effectively stateless along with a million other ethnic Rohingya under a new nationality law. And we speak with Richard Weir, a fellow in the Asia Division covering Burma at Human Rights Watch.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show by looking at Burma. The United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, has warned the brutal Burmese military operation against Rohingya Muslims is at risk of spiraling into an ethnic cleansing campaign as the violence against the long-persecuted minority group continues. The U.N. says almost 150,000 Rohingyas have fled the predominantly Buddhist country into neighboring Bangladesh in the last 12 days since the military operation began, with up to 15,000 more expected to flee every single day this week.
AMY GOODMAN: Advocates say as many as 800 Rohingya civilians, including women and children, have been killed in recent days. This is Rohingya Muslim, Salma Begum, one of the tens of thousands who have fled to Bangladesh following the army crackdown, which began last month.
SALMA BEGUM: [translated] They burned our houses. We could not take our belongings. We were hiding near a hill for two days. We were there in the rain without food and with my children. When we heard the sound of shooting, we took a boat and crossed the sea to come here to Bangladesh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Burma’s de facto leader and Nobel Peace laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, has blamed terrorists for what she termed, quote, “a huge iceberg of misinformation” about violence in the western part of the country. More than 300,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Nobel Committee to revoke her peace prize over her response to the violence.
Meanwhile, accusations have emerged that Burmese security forces have been planting land mines along the Bangladesh border to prevent fleeing Rohingya from returning. Burmese officials said Wednesday they are lobbying powerful allies China and Russia to prevent a U.N. Security Council resolution on the issue.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the issue, we are joined right now by two people to talk about both the Rohingya in Burma and those who have fled to Bangladesh: in London, Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation in the U.K., born and brought up in Burma’s Arakan state, in 1982 rendered effectively stateless along with a million other ethnic Rohingya under a new nationality law; here in New York, Richard Weir, fellow in the Asia Division covering Burma at Human Rights Watch, based in Burma last year.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Tun Khin, what is happening to the Rohingya, to your people? Explain, for a global audience who may have never even heard of that word before, the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma.
TUN KHIN: Rohingya people are native people of our Arakan state. They are living in Arakan state early 7th century A.D., according to the history. You know, after we got independence from British, 1948, Rohingya were recognized as an ethnic group of Burma. On that time, Rohingya parliamentary members and MPs are there. You know, according to the history, Rohingya — Rohingya were living there early 7th century A.D. You know, the thing is, Burmese government systematic persecution started in 1962, when General Ne Win took power. So, that — what we are facing today is the last — the last stage of genocide. Rohingya have been stripped of their citizenship and stripped of their ethnic rights. They were not allowed to move from one village to another. They are not allowed to get married. They can’t go to higher education. That’s what we’ve been facing many years in Arakan state.
So, what’s happening now is, since 25th of August, Burmese military launched attack when some Rohingya militant attacked some police posts. So, by taking that excuse, Burmese military targeting the whole Rohingya population. According to our information we received from Arakan state, at least 3,000 Rohingya have been killed, shot dead and slaughtered, and including elderly men, women and children. We are receiving information that many children have been thrown to the fire, Burmese army continuously burning down Rohingya villages until today. And some sources are saying death toll could be more than 7,000 and thousands of Rohingya houses burned down. You know, according to the information we’re receiving, 180,000 Rohingya IDPs’ humanitarian crisis is growing in Arakan state. Thirty thousand Rohingya have been trapped in the mountain. There is no food, no shelter, no medicine for them. And it is very horrific situation we are facing in our history. You know, that should not be happening in 21st century, where death toll is increasing and children are dying day by day. It’s a quite, quite — I should say, it’s been going a last vestige of genocide, where government is targeting the whole population to wipe out Rohingya minority from Burma.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Human Rights Watch has published new satellite imagery that shows 700 buildings burned in the Muslim village of Chein Khar Li in Rakhine state. The imagery shows that 99 percent of the village was destroyed. Now, we’re also joined by Richard Weir, a fellow in the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. You were based in Burma last year. So, first of all, tell us what this satellite imagery showed.
RICHARD WEIR: Right. So, this satellite imagery shows that a village, primarily occupied by the Rohingya population, is completely destroyed. So the damage that we’re seeing is consistent with burn damage. And that’s something that — we’ve only been able to see one village out of 21 unique sites that we’ve identified where there have been active fires. And so this is just sort of a small window into the sort of destruction that’s occurring in northern Rakhine state.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, what’s happening now is reportedly unprecedented, I mean, despite the fact that the Rohingya minority has been targeted for decades. It’s unprecedented in terms of the sheer violence and brutality that’s been deployed by the Burmese security forces. Could you explain why this is happening now?
RICHARD WEIR: Well, this — so, as we’ve been discussing, the Rohingya population has been discriminated against and attacked on various occasions throughout the last — throughout many decades. And this series of attacks follows another set of attacks in October 2016 where very similar violence was documented by Human Rights Watch, by other organizations, including the U.N., which said those violations very likely amounted to crimes against humanity. And those attacks and the kind of the scope and the scale of the destruction wrought was less than what we’re seeing right now. We haven’t seen this number of villages on fire. And this is something that we just haven’t seen before.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the role of the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was imprisoned for like 15 years. She has faced widespread criticism for her response to the crisis. She’s considered sort of the de facto leader of the Burmese now, working closely with the Burmese military. She initially blamed, quote, “terrorists” for what she termed, quote, “a huge iceberg of misinformation” about violence in western Burma. Earlier today, she said her government is doing its best to protect everyone in the strife-torn state of Rakhine, but she did not refer specifically to the exodus of the Rohingya in recent weeks.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI: We have to take care of our citizens. We have to take care of everybody who is in our country, whether or not they are our citizens. It is our duty, and we try our best. Of course, our resources are not as complete and adequate as we would like them to be, but still we try our best. And we want to make sure that everyone is entitled to the protection of the law.
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Richard Weir. What is her role here?
RICHARD WEIR: Well, her role is she’s the de facto leader of the government. And she’s not only that, but she is the leader of the people. And as a former lauded human rights advocate, she needs to do more, not just as an advocate, but as the leader of a government that requires the protection of all the people in the states. And frankly, her comment that they are doing all that they can is not borne out in our research. What we’re hearing from people that have fled to Bangladesh is that the military is firing on villagers, is using bombs to attack them. It’s just not — what she’s saying has not been borne out by our research, and people aren’t being protected.
AMY GOODMAN: More than 300,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Nobel Committee to revoke her peace prize. How responsible is she? I mean, she’s not the official leader of Burma yet, but, of course, considered the de facto leader, a person who’s been jailed by the military for so many years, now working closely with the Burmese military.
RICHARD WEIR: Well, the problem is, is that in the Burmese constitution, the 2008 constitution, there is a divide between who controls what in the government. And the senior general, Min Aung Hlaing, controls the military. He controls the police. He controls the border guards. So, Aung San Suu Kyi doesn’t have direct control over the forces that are — that, we’ve documented, have engaged in these abuses. But she does have a responsibility to do everything that she can to call out these abuses, to force an end to what’s going on.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Tun Khin, I want to turn, very quickly, to the 1982 citizenship law with which you were effectively stripped of — well, you became stateless. And even today, Rohingya are not granted Burmese citizenship. Could you tell us, very quickly, what the implications of that are?
TUN KHIN: Actually, 1982 citizenship law deprived basic fundamental rights of Rohingya. Because of that law, today 1.3 million Rohingya have become stateless in their own state. Because of that law, even myself, I’m not a citizen of Burma, even though my grandfather was a parliamentary secretary. That law, designed for Rohingyas and other minorities in Burma, particularly they are practicing for the Rohingya Muslims because we don’t have a national registry card after introducing that law, so we can’t go to university, we can’t get married, we can’t move from one village to another. That is what they are practicing.
So the point here is, I point here out what we are facing today is decades of persecution going on against Rohingya, right now mass killings going on. It’s a genocide, where direct killings involved by Burmese army. We need urgent — urgent U.N. intervention, to send U.N. peacekeeping force to Arakan state to save the lives of Rohingya before too late, where death toll is increasing. So, we are a people, 1.3 million in Arkana state, begging, appealing international community to come and save us. That’s what people have been telling from the ground. You know, day by day, death toll is increasing, and continuously and consistently they are burning down the buildings.
AMY GOODMAN: Tun Khin, we’re going to have to leave it there. We thank you so much for being with us, president of the Burmese Rohingya [Organisation] in London. And thank you so much to Richard Weir.
That does it for our show. Tonight in New York, Juan González will be unveiling his book at The New School. We hope everyone will come at 7:00. Check our website.
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