Arthur Holmes 

Naked Politics Blogger

Ethnic cleansing is happening in Myanmar. As the United Nations definition explains, one group (the majority Buddhist military) are forcibly removing by terror-inspired means (mass rape and murder) a target group (Muslim Rohingya), from Rakhine state. The Myanmar military is carrying out ethnic cleansing; this is impossible to refute.

According to the united Nations’ Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the UN is “prepared to take collective action” in cases where peaceful means fail to stop crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. It is easy for the UN to see that such crimes are taking place, and as early as 2013 this was described as ethnic cleansing by Human Rights Watch. Satellite imagery has shown the destruction of villages and consistent reports of gang rape and mass murder have emerged throughout the millions of refugees who have fled Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh. It would be impossible for this many individuals (as claimed by the Myanmar government) to have done this to themselves – burning down their own villages, shooting and killing their own people. News reports from Al Jazeera and the UK’s Channel 4 News have provided the world with harrowing, clear reports from the ground in Bangladesh, showing live the harrowing tales of those currently Unicef and other NGOs are carrying out work now assumed to be the normal practice of aid organisations. As much as this is an absolute necessity, it is simply not enough.

The UN has perhaps come to show its changing colours. As the influence of Russia and China grows, so does their willingness to exercise the power of their veto. One UN expert told methat the responsibility to protect will soon be a thing of the past in light of this fact. Where condemnation could be met with action, fear of angering now powerful states has stopped the West’s supposed mission to uphold human rights.

This is the ideal situation for a step forward in human rights protection, rather than the evident step back. Myanmar, unlike Syria and Libya before it, is not entangled in the web of international influence and ulterior objectives. Some have suggested that the West’s affinity toward Aung San Suu Kyi is the barrier to military action, but this is simply not true. If this is the case, then humanitarianism is already dead.

What is more, intervention in Myanmar would prove to Russia, China and other sceptics that interventionism is not merely a cover for Western neocolonialism or other such criticism. Where in Libya NATO overstepped their remit by toppling Gaddafi, no such stretching could occur in Myanmar. Previous attitudes have been friendly between the West and the supposedly democratised state – there is no desire to remove Myanmar’s government. However, stopping their military is a necessity.

Perhaps my faith in Western powers is misplaced. Similar patterns emerged prior to Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Darfur. In some cases intervention came, but came too late. Perhaps an international system designed to protect the rights of every individual underneath it is merely a dream of the turn of the century. But if democracy is everything we’re told to believe, then this cannot be the case.

Intervention must happen in Myanmar. Where the UN fails to act, democratic states must show unity to put it right. Sceptical states such as Russia and China must see that the UN is a body with the power to protect the rights of all people and if it fails to do so, others will go out of their way to do just that. If they don’t, then we may well be seeing a reversion to the widespread human rights violations of the twentieth century – where Myanmar is not a rare example, but the accepted norm.

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Last Update: April 29, 2018