We must not let the Rohingya people slip to the bottom of the international agenda

On 2 December 2022 a group of approximately 180 Rohingya refugees boarded a boat in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Their intended destination was Malaysia, where many hoped to be reunited with family and loved ones, or to build a better life than the one available to them in the overcrowded, unsanitary and increasingly dangerous camps in Bangladesh.

They never made it.

In a statement issued on 25 December, the United Nations expressed concern that the boat had sank after it went missing in the Andaman Sea. Relatives of those onboard told the Guardian that they had little hope that their family members were still alive, and if confirmed it would bring the number of Rohingya refugees who have died on sea crossings to Malaysia in 2022 close to 400.

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In a world of crises and tragedy, we must not forget about Myanmar

By Benedict Rogers

When Myanmar (Burma)’s army reportedly killed 11 children in a helicopter attack last week, those of us who follow Myanmar heaved a sigh and shed a tear, and the rest of the world gave a shrug and averted its gaze. In a world filled with so much tragedy, the crisis in Myanmar seems to be passing so many by. For those of us watching, it was yet another bombing, yet another massacre, yet another atrocity – and dare I say it, yet another attack which has become daily news.

It’s staggering, really. Myanmar’s illegal military regime seized power in a coup just over 18 months ago, overthrowing a democratically elected government, snuffing out a decade of hoped-for liberalization, and turning the clock back by at least ten years – and yet the rest of the world shrugs its shoulders. A brutal, criminal dictatorship has locked up a Nobel Laureate – who had already spent years under house arrest and then a decade sharing power with the military in government – and the world turns its back. A junta arrests and jails a former British ambassador, Vicky Bowman, alongside an Australian academic, Sean Turnell, both of whom I know, and no one really says a word. And that regime spends months relentlessly bombing innocent civilians and the international community is silent. What is going on?

True, the world right now is full of woes. The war in Ukraine. The energy crisis. The threats to Taiwan. Protests in Iran. And many other tragedies – some in the news, others forgotten. Nigeria. Yemen. Syria. North Korea. Hong Kong. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. These are all desperate heartaches which sometimes gain the spotlight and yet so often remain forgotten. But Myanmar is a Ukraine in slow-motion, and yet almost no one is speaking about it.

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One year on from the coup in Myanmar, today must be a turning point

By Benedict Rogers

A year ago today, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar/Burma’s military, ordered his troops to take over government buildings, raid the offices of the governing party, arrest members of Myanmar’s democratically elected government and Parliament, shut down independent media, take control of the state media and seize power in a brutal coup d’etat. His decision turned the clock back by more than a decade, reversing ten years of fragile democratisation in which the country had seen credible elections, an independent media, the release of political prisoners, a vibrant civil society and opening up to the international community.

Of course, that decade of reform was far from perfect – not least because it included the genocide of the Rohingyas, continued conflict in ethnic states, particularly Kachin, Shan and Rakhine, and the rise of extreme religious nationalism leading to increased religious discrimination and persecution. But nevertheless, it allowed some seeds of political liberalisation to grow, and enabled the people of Myanmar to vote freely.

Twice – in 2015 and 2020 – Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) won an overwhelming mandate to govern. After years under house arrest, prison, hiding or exile, the NLD – whose mandate from the 1990 elections was never accepted by the military – was now in government.

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Six months after the coup, what are we going to do about Myanmar’s new nightmare?

By Benedict Rogers

Exactly six months ago yesterday, Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, was plunged into yet another dark chapter in its history – perhaps one of the darkest yet.

On 1 February the army’s Commander-in-Chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, seized power in a bloody coup that overthrew the democratically elected civilian government, led to the arrest of most pro-democracy leaders, and ushered in a new era of brutal repression which many of us hoped had been consigned to Myanmar’s history.

Relentless repression

In the past six months, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the junta has killed 940 civilians, arrested 6,994 and currently holds 5,444 political prisoners in jail. Among them are many of my friends – including the incredible Thin Thin Aung, Myawaddy Sayadaw and others.

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Arrests, torture, violence and oppression, and yet there is still hope for Myanmar/Burma

By Benedict Rogers

Last week, people in Myanmar/Burma marked 100 days since the military coup with yet more protests. For over three months since General Min Aung Hlaing seized power on 1 February, overthrowing the democratically-elected civilian government, people have courageously taken to the streets throughout the country. Almost 5,000 have been arrested, just under 4,000 are currently in jail, and almost 800 have been killed, yet still the demonstrations continue.

Myanmar now stands on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. The economy has collapsed, and a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) by public sector workers has led to thousands losing their homes and salaries. Many are facing extreme poverty and starvation.

For those detained by the military, torture is “almost ‘automatic’” according to survivors and eyewitnesses in evidence documented by the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO). “Systematic torture practices are used by Burmese soldiers to extract information or forced confessions from people arrested for exercising their right to peaceful protest or other anti-junta activities,” CHRO report.

According to one former detainee, “Once inside the interrogation center, we are made to kneel down, hands tied behind our backs, blindfolded and forced to lie on our belly on the ground. That’s when the interrogation and beatings begin. Depending on how quickly the soldiers obtain the information they want, detainees are caned with up to 40 lashes, some detainees are made to dig holes in the ground to make them think that they are about to be killed and they are digging their own grave.”

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