Finghin Kelly writes an article on the European Union turning a blind eyes to the state’s role in communal violence in Burma:
There has been much enthusiasm internationally regarding the seeming moves by the Burmese military regime towards democracy in recent years. We have seen the release from house arrest of the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi and her election alongside 43 other NLD members to the Parliament in elections held earlier this year. However, the developments this summer in the Arakan state in the north of the country have exposed the dark underbelly of communal conflict and state repression in the country.
Sectarian violence between Arakan Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims erupted in early June following reports of a rape of an Arakan Buddhist woman by 3 Rohingya Muslims. This was then followed by an attack on a bus carrying Rohingya Muslims. These incidents have been used by sectarian forces to whip up anger which resulted in sectarian mobs from both communities attacking villages and neighbourhoods resulting in brutal killings, the burning and looting of homes and shops and other atrocities. The violence was spurred on by biased media accounts and sectarian propagandists. There is now an estimated 100,000 people that have been displaced and are in dire need of food, shelter and medical care.
In response to the violence, the European Parliament passed a resolution in its plenary sitting in September 1. The resolution recognised the violence and the suffering of the Rohingya and called for measures to be taken to end discrimination against Rohingya, an investigation into events and highlighted the dire humanitarian situation facing those caught up in the violence.
However the resolution was very disappointing in that it did not utter any real criticism of the Burmese state forces. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others reporting from Burma have reported that the Burmese state forces repeatedly stood by and allowed the violence to escalate and then themselves unleashed a campaign of violence against the Rohingya. There are widespread reports of state forces participating in killings, prisoner abuse, looting, collusion with sectarian mobs, mass arrests and other repressive measures.
The ethnically diverse nature of Burma has been exploited by its ruling elites for centuries in order to maintain their privileged positions in society. This was a tactic perused by British imperialism and by the military juntas that have ruled the country since 1962.
The Rohingya are an established minority group in Burma, comprising 800,000 to a million people. They are one of the most marginalised minorities in Burma and face widespread discrimination. Burma’s 1982 citizenship law effectively denies the Rohingya citizenship. Their rights to freedom of movement, education and employment are also violated. Discrimination against the Rohingya is widespread in Burmese society and is even supported by many in the movement against the military government.
The lack of criticism in the European Parliament’s resolution is symptomatic of the reluctance for the major EU powers to raise criticism of the Burmese military government. Unfortunately it is another example of the EU powers putting their own economic and strategic interests ahead of the so-called ‘European values’ of respect for human rights.
The recent willingness of the military regime to open up to foreign capital investment provides huge opportunities for EU big business.
Burma, a country rich in natural resources and in an important geographical location has always been an important country for the international capitalist powers. Following the Anglo-Burmese wars between 1824-1885 Burma became an important colony for British imperialism playing a key role in for trade between Singapore and Calcutta.
Now, Burma has an emerging market of 60 million people, which has been largely untouched by western big business. The country lies between China and India. Its second city, Mandalay, is within 1,000km of 10% of the world’s population. It is clear that Burma remains a very strategically important country for foreign military and big business interests in the region.
This importance has increased in recent years in the context of a decline in the world economy and its subsequent increase in rivalries and tensions between the major world powers competing for markets and influence.
The EU, the US and other powers that until now have been critical of the human rights record of the Burmese regime are now silent. The EU fears that criticism of the regime may result in a loss of influence in the country especially when other powers are competing for influence there. Already the Chinese, Australian and US military are increasing their presence in the region.
The impunity for those involved in the violence must be ended. Multi-ethnic tribunals of working class and poor must be constituted to investigate the attacks and bring to justice those responsible including Burmese state forces. All those that are displaced must be given the right to return, with state assistance for the rebuilding of villages. In the meantime there must be access to humanitarian assistance under democratic control of those displaced.
It is vital that the emerging trade union movement in Burma takes up these issues. It needs to campaign for class unity of the workers and poor people, rejecting sectarian and communal divisions and fighting for full democratic and citizenship rights for all minority groups. This is linked to the political struggle for a socialist future to assure genuine democracy and complete freedom from poverty.
1. European Parliament; ‘Resolution on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma/Myanmar’; 13 September 2012.