Category Archives: Bangladesh

From Cotton to Brinjal: Fraudulent GMO Project in India Sustained by Deception

Insecticidal Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton is the first and only GM (genetically modified) crop that has been approved in India. It has been cultivated in the country for more than 20 years. In a formal statement to the Supreme Court of India, the Indian government has asserted that hybrid Bt cotton is an outstanding success. It therefore argues that Bt cotton is a template for the introduction of GM food crops.

However, over the last week, two important webinars took place that challenged the government’s stance. The first was on Bt cotton and involved a panel of internationally renowned scientists who conclusively debunked the myth of Bt cotton success in India. The webinar, organised by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Jatan, focused on an evidence-based evaluation of 18 years of approved Bt cotton cultivation in India.

The second webinar discussed the case of Bt brinjal, which the country’s apex regulatory body, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), has brought to the brink of commercialisation. The webinar highlighted deep-seated problems with regulatory processes in India and outlined how the GEAC is dogged by secrecy, conflicts of interest and (scientific) fraud: participants outlined how the GEAC has been colluding with crop developers and seed companies to drive GM crops into agriculture.

Bt cotton failure

The panel for the Bt cotton webinar (YouTube: Bt Cotton in India: Myths & Realities – An Evidence-Based Evaluation) on 24 August included Dr Andrew Paul Gutierrez, senior emeritus professor in the College of Natural Resources at the University of California at Berkeley; Dr Keshav Kranthi, former director of Central Institute for Cotton Research in India; Dr Peter Kenmore, former FAO representative in India, and Dr Hans Herren, World Food Prize Laureate.

Dr Herren said that “the failure of Bt cotton” is a classic representation of what an unsound science of plant protection and faulty direction of agricultural development can lead to.

He explained:

Bt hybrid technology in India represents an error-driven policy that has led to the denial and non-implementation of the real solutions for the revival of cotton in India, which lie in HDSS (high density short season) planting of non-Bt/GMO cotton in pure line varieties of native desi species and American cotton species.

He argued that a transformation of agriculture and the food system is required; one that entails a shift to agroecology, which includes regenerative, organic, biodynamic, permaculture and natural farming practices.

Dr Kenmore said that Bt cotton is an aging pest control technology:

It follows the same path worn down by generations of insecticide molecules from arsenic to DDT to BHC to endosulfan to monocrotophos to carbaryl to imidacloprid. In-house research aims for each molecule to be packaged biochemically, legally and commercially before it is released and promoted. Corporate and public policy actors then claim yield increases but deliver no more than temporary pest suppression, secondary pest release and pest resistance.

Recurrent cycles of crises have sparked public action and ecological field research which creates locally adapted agroecological strategies.

He added that this agroecology:

… now gathers global support from citizens’ groups, governments and UN-FAO. Their robust local solutions in Indian cotton do not require any new molecules, including endo-toxins like in Bt cotton.

Prof Gutierrez presented the ecological reasons as to why hybrid Bt cotton failed in India: long season Bt cotton introduced in India was incorporated into hybrids that trapped farmers into biotech and insecticide treadmills that benefited GMO seed manufacturers.

He noted:

The cultivation of long-season hybrid Bt cotton in rainfed areas is unique to India. It is a value capture mechanism that does not contribute to yield, is a major contributor to low yield stagnation and contributes to increasing production costs.

Prof Gutierrez asserted that increases in cotton farmer suicides are related to the resulting economic distress.

He argued:

A viable solution to the current GM hybrid system is adoption of improved non-GM high-density short-season fertile cotton varieties.

Presenting data on yields, insecticide usage, irrigation, fertiliser usage and pest incidence and resistance, Dr Keshav Kranthi said that a critical analysis of official statistics (eands.dacnet.nic.in and cotcorp.gov.in) shows that Bt hybrid technology has not been providing any tangible benefits in India either in yield or insecticide usage.

He said that cotton yields are the lowest in the world in Maharashtra, despite being saturated with Bt hybrids and the highest use of fertilisers. Yields in Maharashtra are less than in rainfed Africa where there is hardly any usage of technologies such as Bt, hybrids, fertilisers, pesticides or irrigation.

It is revealing that Indian cotton yields rank 36th in the world and have been stagnant in the past 15 years and insecticide usage has been constantly increasing after 2005, despite an increase in area under Bt cotton.

Dr Kranthi argued that research also shows that the Bt hybrid technology has failed the test of sustainability with resistance in pink bollworm to Bt cotton, increasing sucking pest infestation, increasing trends in insecticide and fertiliser usage, increasing costs and negative net returns in 2014 and 2015.

Dr Herren said that GMOs exemplify the case of a technology searching for an application:

It is essentially about treating symptoms, rather than taking a systems approach to create resilient, productive and bio-diverse food systems in the widest sense and to provide sustainable and affordable solutions in it’s social, environmental and economic dimensions.

He went on to argue that the failure of Bt cotton is a classic representation of what an unsound science of plant protection and a faulty direction of agricultural development can lead to:

We need to push aside the vested interests blocking the transformation with the baseless arguments of ‘the world needs more food’ and design and implement policies that are forward looking… We have all the needed scientific and practical evidence that the agroecological approaches to food and nutrition security work successfully.

Bt brinjal – the danger is back

The government’s attempt to use a failed technology as a template for driving GMOs into agriculture has been exposed. Nevertheless, the GEAC has been moving forward with late-stage trials of Bt brinjal, while ignoring the issues and arguments against its commercialisation that were forwarded a decade ago.

In February 2010, the Indian government placed an indefinite moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal after numerous independent scientific experts from India and abroad had pointed out safety concerns based on data and reports in the biosafety dossier that Mahyco, the crop developer, had submitted to the regulators.

The then Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh had instituted a unique four-month scientific enquiry and public hearings. His decision to reject the commercialisation of Bt brinjal was supported by advice from the renowned scientists. Their collective appraisals demonstrated serious environmental and biosafety concerns.

Jairam Ramesh pronounced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in February 2010 by stating:

It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt brinjal, till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in our country.

The moratorium has not been lifted and the conditions he set out have still not been met. Moreover, five high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops in India. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies. The TEC went a step further by recommending a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.

The regulatory process was shown to lack competency, possessed endemic conflicts of interest and demonstrated a lack of expertise in GMO risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts.

Ten years on and regulators have done nothing to address this woeful state of affairs. As we have seen with the relentless push to get GM mustard commercialised, the problems persist. Through numerous submissions to the Supreme Court, Aruna Rodrigues has described how GM mustard is being forced through with flawed tests (or no tests) and a lack of public scrutiny. Regulators are seriously conflicted: they promote GMOs openly, fund them and then regulate them.

And this is precisely what the webinar ‘Bt brinjal – the danger is back’ (watch on YouTube) discussed on 27 August. Organised by the Coalition for a GM-Free India, the webinar was arranged because the regulators have again brought to the brink of commercialisation a new Bt brinjal ‘event’ – a different Bt brinjal than the 2010 version. Also included in the webinar were the experiences of Bt brinjal introduction in Bangladesh.

Dr Ramanjaneyulu (Centre for Sustainable Agriculture) highlighted how need has never been established for Bt brinjal of which India is a recognised centre of diversity. The argument for Bt brinjal in the run-up to Jairam Ramesh’s moratorium was that pesticide use is a problem in containing the brinjal fruit and shoot borer. He noted that Bt brinjal was promoted by Monsanto, USAID and Cornell University, but serious protocol violations, environmental contamination concerns and potential adverse health impacts were discovered.

He outlined simple non-pesticidal, agroecological management practises that can and are being used to deal with the brinjal fruit and shoot borer.

Farida Akhter of UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternative) outlined how the introduction of Bt brinjal in Bangladesh was not needed but imposed on the country, which has 248 varieties of brinjal. Where pesticide use is problematic, she argued that it concerns hybrid varieties rather than traditional cultivars of which 24 varieties are resistant to fruit and shoot borer.

Akhter said that poor quality brinjal and financial losses for farmers have been major issues. Many have abandoned Bt brinjal, but farmers have received incentives to cultivate and where they have done so, fertiliser use has increased and there have been many pest attacks, with 35 different types of pesticides applied.

The Bill Gates-funded Cornell Alliance for Science, a public relations entity that promotes GM agriculture, and USAID, which serves the interests of the GMO biotech sector, tried to sell Bt brinjal on the basis it would ‘save’ people from the overuse of pesticides and related illnesses. But Akhter argued that Bangladesh was targeted because the Philippines and India had rejected Bt brinjal. Again, protocol violations occurred leading to its introduction and Akhter concluded that there was no scientific basis for Bt brinjal: its introduction was political.

As for India, event EE1, the initial Bt brinjal, has now been replaced by event 142, a different Bt brinjal. Kavitha Kuruganti (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture) explained this in the webinar and notes that the GEAC, immediately after the 2010 moratorium was announced, went straight ahead and sanctioned new trials for this Bt brinjal. The GEAC basically stated that the moratorium did not apply to this version, while ignoring all the criticisms about lack of competence, conflicts of interest, non-transparency and protocol violations. It was effectively business as usual!

With event EE1, Kuruganti implied that the GEAC acted more like a servant for Mayco and its Monsanto master. Nothing has changed. She noted the ongoing revolving door between crop developers (even patent holders) and regulators. As before, developers-cum-lobbyists were actually sitting on regulatory bodies as event 142 was proceeding.

Under public-private-partnership arrangements, event 142 has been licensed to private companies for biosafety testing/commercialisation. Despite major concerns, the GEAC has pressed ahead with various trials. In May 2020, under lockdown, Kuruganti notes that the GEAC held a virtual meeting and sanctioned what were effectively final trials prior to commercialisation. She explains that important information and vital data is not in the public domain.

According to Kuruganti, the regulator sits with the crop developer and the companies and grant biosafety clearance, claiming all tests (soil, pollen flow, toxicity, etc) are complete. What is also disturbing is that these licensed companies have closed and opened under new names (with the same people in charge), thereby making accountability and liability fixing very difficult if something were to go wrong further down the line.

She concludes that the story of event 142 is even worse than event EE1:

Once again, they are certainly hiding things that they don’t want conscientious scientists and aware citizens to see and know.

Taken together, the two webinars highlighted how hybrid Bt cotton is being deceptively used as a template for rolling out GM food crops: a fraud being used to promote another fraud in order to force unnecessary GMOs into Indian agriculture.

The post From Cotton to Brinjal: Fraudulent GMO Project in India Sustained by Deception first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible

“In my four years as High Commissioner, I have heard many preposterous claims. That claim is almost in its own category of absurdity. Have you no shame, sir, have you no shame? We are not fools.”

These were some of the remarks made by outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, in his final briefing to the Human Rights Council on July 4. He was responding to a Burmese official’s claim that his country is not targeting Rohingya in a genocidal campaign but is defending the rights of all of its citizen.

The Burmese government is now at par with the Israeli government, both practicing ethnic-cleansing and murder while insisting that they are fighting terrorism.

In both Tel Aviv and Yangon, the two governments are cracking down on journalists who dare expose their phony democracies and ‘wars on terror’.

On June 18, the Israeli government endorsed a bill that seeks to criminalize filming of Israeli soldiers “for the sake of shaming them.” The language of the bill was purposely broad as it simply attempts to prevent the documenting of the violent practices of the Israeli army against Palestinians.

It should come as no surprise that Israel is one of the main suppliers of weapons to Burma.

Israel’s pseudo-democracy is also, in many ways, similar to Burma’s. In Israel, Jews are the privileged group; democracy and human rights applies to them and not to Palestinians.

In Burma, the Buddhist majority receives special treatment in comparison with the country’s minorities, especially the Rohingya who, for years, have been victim to a massive government-led campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee from their homes in the Northern Rakhine State in Burma last year alone. They have been exiled mostly to Bangladesh. Many of the refugees are forced into deplorable existence in prison-like, extremely crowded refugee camps in the no man’s land between Burma and Bangladesh.

Even before the last exodus, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were already living in exile, as the Burmese army’s ethnic cleansing of its ill-fated minorities has been in the making for years.

Despite a recent burst of media attention, however, Western governments, which are eagerly welcoming Burma’s former junta government to the ‘democratic world’ are yet to carry out any meaningful action, or even a threat of action to slow down the genocide.

In a recent report, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) relayed the harrowing death toll of Rohingya during the first month of the army’s violent campaign last year. In the period between August 25 and September 24, at least 9,000 Rohingya were killed, including 730 children under the age of five, MSF reported.

When two brave Reuters journalists attempted to uncover the extent of the army’s crimes, they were arrested. On July 9, they were charged with the violation of a colonial-era law known as the ‘Official Secret Act’, and now face the possibility of spending 14 years behind bars.

Wa Lone, 32 and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are heroic young journalists, for they knew what fate awaited them should the government uncover their investigation of a massacre committed in the village of Inn Din on September 2.

On that day, 10 Rohingya men were executed in cold blood. Two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers and the remaining eight were shot by the army. Their mass grave was dug in advance, where their frail bodies were dumped near their village, after homes in the village were set ablaze.

That story, although horrific, is quite typical in Rakhine State, where whole families were shot by soldiers or hacked to death by mobs. The two brave journalists were documenting this single episode with a thorough investigation based on government papers, interviews with Buddhist villagers and security personal. Their reporting was meant to provide indisputable evidence of government-mob synchronization in killing Rohingya and covering up their crimes.

Despite the arrest of their colleagues, the Reuters staff in Burma and Bangladesh still managed to produce an exhaustive investigative report that details how the army’s 33rd and 99th light infantry divisions were used as a “tip of the spear” in the savage government campaign to ethnically-cleanse the nearly 700,000 Rohingya last year.

The report also discusses the culture of impunity that is now rampant in that country.

“Are you going to eat Bengali meat?” a Facebook friend asks a soldier, Kyi Nyan Lynn, who was getting ready to join the onslaught in Rakhine.

The ‘Bengali meat’ refers to the killing of Rohingya, who are also often referred to by the derogatory term ‘kalar.’

“Crush the kalar, buddy,’ urged another friend.

“Will do,’ Kyi Nyan Lynn casually responds.

The soldier made sure to keep his friends abreast on the bloody development on the ground.

“If they’re Bengali, they’ll be killed,” he posted a comment on August 11.

Although the government remains very guarded regarding its slaughter of Rohingya, Buddhist activists on social media have no qualms in sharing their racist views, violent images and details of the mass murder.

However, the Massacre of Inn Din, thanks to the work of the two journalists, forced the government to ‘investigate’. It shared the results of its alleged investigation on Facebook on January 10.

Although the government acknowledged that the 10 Rohingya men were executed by the army and a Buddhist mob, it largely placed the blame on the murdered men.

In a jumbled-up statement, the government’s ‘Truth Team,” wrote:

It was found that local ethnics had grievance against those 10 Bengali terrorists involved in the terror attacks against Bengali villagers, who arrested and killed U Maung Ni without reason, and they threatened and bullied the local ethnics. So the ethnics killed 10 arrested Bengali terrorists as they were keen to kill the arrestees with taking revenge.

Burma’s killing campaigns are now impossible to hide, and no clumsy government attempts at cover-up will conceal the facts. The real tragedy is that the rest of the world looks on as if nothing is the matter.

How long do the Rohingya have to endure before something is done to alleviate their suffering?

“Whitewashing” Genocide in Myanmar

Although the genocide of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar has gathered greater media attention in recent months, there is no indication that the international community is prepared to act in any meaningful way, thus leaving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees stranded in border camps between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

While top United Nations officials are now using the term ‘genocide‘ to describe the massive abuses experienced by the Rohingya minority at the hands of the Myanmar army, security forces and Buddhist militias, no plan of action to stem the genocide has been put in place.

In less than six months, beginning August 2017, an estimated 655,000 Rohingya refugees fled or were pushed out across the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Most of the ‘clearance operations’ – a term used by the Myanmar military to describe the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya – took place in Rakhine state.

In a recent report, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) relayed the harrowing death toll of Rohingya during the first month of the genocidal campaign.

At least 9,000 Rohingya were killed between August 25 and September 24, according to MSF. This number includes 730 children under the age of five.

Eric Schwartz of Refugee International described these events in an interview with American National Public Radio (NPR) as “one of the greatest crimes in recent memory – massive abuses, forced relocations of hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks.”

Coupled with numerous reports of gang rape, outright murder, and mass burning of villages, Rohingya are left defenseless in the face of unspeakable atrocities.

Worse still, a recent agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh has been reached to repatriate many of these refugees, with absolutely no guarantees for their safety.

With no safeguards in place, and with the Rohingya having been stripped of their legal status as citizens or legal aliens in Myanmar, going back is as risky an endeavor as is fleeing.

The plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees without any protection, or the guaranteeing of their basic rights is part of a larger campaign to whitewash the crimes of the Myanmar government and to, once more, defer the protracted crisis of the Rohingya.

Although the cruelty experienced by the Rohingya goes back decades, a new ethnic cleansing campaign began in 2012, when 100,000 Rohingya were forced out of their villages and towns to live in prison-like makeshift refugee camps.

In 2013, more than 140,000 were also displaced, a trend that continued until last August, when the bouts of ethnic cleansing culminated into all-out genocide involving all security branches of the government, and defended by Myanmar officials, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

The latter was celebrated for decades by western media and government as a democracy icon and human rights heroine.

However, as soon as Suu Kyi was freed from her house arrest and became the leader of Myanmar in 2015, she served as an apologist for her former military foes. Not only did she refuse to condemn the violence against the Rohingya, she even refuses to use the term ‘Rohingya’ in reference to the historically persecuted minority.

Suu Kyi’s support for the military’s relentless violence has earned her much contempt and criticism, and rightly so. But too much emphasis has been placed on appealing to her moral sense of justice to the point that no strategy has been formed to confront the crimes of the Myanmar military and government, neither by Asian leaders nor by the international community.

Instead, an unimpressive ‘international advisory board’ was set up to carry out recommendations by another advisory council led by Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General.

Expectedly, the advisory board is proving to be nothing but an instrument used by the Myanmar government to whitewash the crimes of the military. In fact, this is the very assessment of former US cabinet member and top diplomat, Bill Richardson, who recently resigned from the board.

“The main reason I am resigning is that the advisory board is a whitewash,” he told Reuters, asserting that he did not want to be part of “a cheerleading squad for the government.”

He, too, accused Suu Kyi of lacking ‘moral leadership.”

But that designation no longer suffices. Suu Kyi should be held accountable for more than her moral failings but, considering her leadership position, she should be held directly responsible for crimes against humanity, together with her top security and army brass.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch is one of the leading voices among rights groups who are calling for the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Court of Justice (ICC) in The Hague. Even though Myanmar is not a signatory of the Rome Treaty, such a referral is the only way to take a non-ratifying state to the ICC.

This step is both legally defensible and urgent, as the Myanmar government has showed no remorse whatsoever towards the horrible violence it has meted to the Rohingya.

Robertson also called for ‘targeted sanctions’, which will most certainly get the attention of the country’s rich and powerful elites that rule over the military and government.

In recent years, Myanmar, with the help of the US and other Western powers, was allowed to open up its economy to foreign investors. Billions of US dollars of foreign direct investments have already been channeled into Myanmar and six billion US dollars more are also expected to enter the country in 2018.

That, too, is a great act of moral failing on the part of many countries in Asia, the West and the rest of the world. Myanmar should not be rewarded with massive largesse of foreign investments, while whole communities are being killed, maimed or made into refugees.

Without sanctions that target the government and military – not the people – coupled with legal action to prosecute Myanmar’s leaders, including Suu Kyi, before the ICC, the genocide of the Rohingya will continue unabated.

“Say the Word”: What the Rohingya Struggle is Really About

Pope Francis lost a historical opportunity to truly set his legacy apart from previous popes. Alas, for him, too, political expediency trumped all else. In his visit to Burma (Myanmar) on November 27, he refrained from using the word ‘Rohingya.’

But what’s in a name?

In our frenzied attempts at understanding and articulating the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma, we often, perhaps inadvertently, ignore the heart of the matter: The struggle of the Rohingya is essentially a fight for identity.

Burma’s Buddhist majority and its representatives, including the powerful military and the country’s de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, understand this well. They use a strictly-guarded discourse in which the Rohingya are never recognized as a unique group with pressing political aspirations.

Thus, they refer to the Rohingya as ‘Bengali‘, claiming that the Muslim minority are immigrants from Bangladesh who entered the country illegally. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But historical accuracy, at least for the Buddhist majority, is beside the point. By stripping the Rohingya from any name affiliation that makes them a unique collective, it becomes possible, then, to deny them their rights, to dehumanize them and, eventually, ethnically cleanse them as has been the case for years.

Since August, over 650,000 members of the Rohingya community have been driven out of their homeland in Burma by a joint and systematic operation involving the military, the police and various Buddhist nationalist groups. They call it “Clearance Operations.”

Thousands of Rohingya have been killed in this grave act of genocide, some in most abhorrent and inhumane ways imaginable.

The United Nations Human Rights Council Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has recently referred to the purges in Burma as a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing. There can be no other interpretation of this horrendous campaign of government-led violence.

But as thousands were pushed into the jungles or the open sea, the silence was deafening.

Only recently, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who visited Burma last November decided to label the massive human rights violations against the Rohingya as ‘ethnic cleansing.’

Although his statement labeled the government-centered genocide as “abuses by some among the Burmese military,” it was still a clear departure from past failure to even address the issue altogether.

Still, it was a major disappointment that the Pope abstained from mentioning the Rohingya by name while in Burma. He only stated their name when he crossed the border to Dhaka. In Bangladesh, using the word ‘Rohingya’ seemed like a safe political strategy.

It is understood that refraining from using the word ‘Rohingya’ while in Burma was done as a “concession to the country’s Catholics”, reported the Washington Post. The logic goes: by challenging the popular narrative that cast the Rohingya as foreigners, the Pope would have ignited the ire of the Buddhists against the country’s Christian minority, itself persecuted, at least in two Burmese states.

If the Rohingya are to be named0, it means that the core of the issue would have better chances of being directly addressed. The moment they retain their collective identity is the moment that the Rohingya become a political entity, subject to the rights and freedoms of any minority, anywhere.

The Pope, as bold as he has been regarding other issues, has the moral authority to challenge the permeating – yet disconcerting – narrative in Burma that has dehumanized the Rohingya for generations. In 1982, the embattled minority group was denied the status of a minority group and was stripped of its citizenship, paving the way for eventual ethnic cleansing.

Alas, in the end, the Pope joined the regional and international powers that insist on understanding the Rohingya crisis outside the realm of political solutions, pertaining to political rights and identity.

Indeed, he is not alone. ASEAN leaders meeting in Manila, Philippines in mid-November made no mention of the Rohingya by name. Worse, in their 26-page final document, they mentioned the crisis in the Northern Rakhine State – the epicenter of the Rohingya genocide – in passing:

We … extend appreciation for the prompt response in the delivery of relief items for Northern Vietnam flash floods and landslides … as well as the affected communities in Northern Rakhine State.

That is how the Southeast Asian leaders respond to one of the worse political and humanitarian disasters in Southeast Asia in recent decades. Pitiful.

Standing proudly in the final photo with the rest of the leaders was Aung San Suu Kyi, who was promoted by western media for many years as a ‘democracy icon’. The ‘Lady of Burma’ who challenged the military junta and spent years under house arrest for her defiance has, in recent years, found a convenient political formula that allows her to share power with the military.

A political opportunist at best, Aung San Suu Kyi, too, does not call the Rohingya by their name. Worse, her government has played a major role in dehumanizing the Rohingya and, at times, blamed them for their own suffering.

Last September, in a last-ditch effort at salvaging her tattered reputation, she gave a 30-minute televised speech in which she explained her position using a most confused logic.

The best she came up with was, “We are a young and fragile country facing many problems … We cannot just concentrate on the few.” The “few”, of course, being the Rohingya.

When the Pope arrived in Bangladesh, a man by the name of Mohammed Ayub was awaiting him as part of a small delegation of Rohingya refugees.

Mohammed’s 3-year-old son was killed by the Burmese military. The father’s message to the Pope was not seeking humanitarian relief for despairing refugees, or even justice for his own child, but something else entirely.

“He should say the word as we are, Rohingya,” Mohammed told the Catholic Crux Now. “We have been Rohingya for generations, my father and my grandfather.”

In Dhaka, the Pope attempted to reclaim that missed opportunity.

“The presence of God today is also called Rohingya,” he said.

The Genocide of the Rohingya

To a certain extent, Aung San Suu Kyi is a false prophet. Glorified by the west for many years, she was made a ‘democracy icon’ because she opposed the same forces in her country, Burma, at the time that the US-led western coalition isolated Rangoon for its alliance with China.

Aung San Suu Kyi played her role as expected, winning the approval of the Right and the admiration of the Left. And for that, she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991; she joined the elevated group of ‘The Elders’ and was promoted by many in the media and various governments as a heroic figure, to be emulated.

Hillary Clinton once described her as “this extraordinary woman.” The ‘Lady’ of Burma’s journey from being a political pariah in her own country, where she was placed under house arrest for 15 years, finally ended in triumph when she became the leader of Burma following a multi-party election in 2015. Since then, she has toured many countries, dined with queens and presidents, given memorable speeches, received awards, while knowingly rebranding the very brutal military that she had opposed throughout the years. (Even today, the Burmese military has a near-veto power over all aspects of government.)

But the great ‘humanitarian’ seems to have run out of integrity as her government, military and police began conducting a widespread ethnic cleansing operation that targeted the ‘most oppressed people on earth’, the Rohingya. These defenseless people have been subjected to a brutal and systematic genocide, conducted through a joint effort by the Burmese military, police and majority Buddhist nationalists.

The so-called “Cleansing Operations” have killed hundreds of Rohingya in recent months, driving over 250,000 crying, frightened and hungry people to escape for their lives in any way possible. Hundreds more have perished at sea, or hunted down and killed in jungles.

Stories of murder and mayhem remind one of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people during the Nakba of 1948. It should come as no surprise that Israel is one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to the Burmese military. Despite an extended arms embargo on Burma by many countries, Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, insists that his country has no intentions of halting its weapons shipments to the despicable regime in Rangoon, which is actively using these weapons against its own minorities, not only Muslims in the western Rakhine state but also Christians in the north.

One of the Israeli shipments was announced in August 2016 by the Israeli company TAR Ideal Concepts. The company proudly featured that its Corner Shot rifles are already in ‘operational use’ by the Burmese military.

Israel’s history is rife with examples of backing brutal juntas and authoritarian regimes, but why are those who have positioned themselves as the guardians of democracy still silent about the bloodbath in Burma?

Nearly a quarter of the Rohingya population has already been driven out of their homes since October last year. The rest could follow in the near future, thus making the collective crime almost irreversible.

Aung San Suu Kyi did not even have the moral courage to say a few words of sympathy to the victims. Instead, she could only express an uncommitted statement: “we have to take care of everybody who is in our country”. Meanwhile, her spokesperson and other mouthpieces launched a campaign of vilification against Rohingya, accusing them of burning their own villages, fabricating their own rape stories, while referring to Rohingya who dare to resist as ‘Jihadists‘, hoping to link the ongoing genocide with the western-infested campaign aimed at vilifying Muslims everywhere.

But well-documented reports give us more than a glimpse of the harrowing reality experienced by the Rohingya. A recent UN report details the account of one woman, whose husband had been killed by soldiers in what the UN described as “widespread as well as systematic” attacks that “very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

“Five of them took off my clothes and raped me,” said the bereaved woman. “My eight-month-old son was crying of hunger when they were in my house because he wanted to breastfeed, so to silence him they killed him with a knife.”

Fleeing refugees that made it to Bangladesh following a nightmarish journey spoke of the murder of children, the rape of women and the burning of villages. Some of these accounts have been verified through satellite images provided by Human Rights Watch, showing wiped out villages throughout the state.

Certainly, the horrible fate of the Rohingya is not entirely new. But what makes it particularity pressing is that the west is now fully on the side of the very government that is carrying out these atrocious acts.

And there is a reason for that: Oil.

Reporting from Ramree Island, Hereward Holland wrote on the ‘hunting for Myanmar’s (Burma) hidden treasure.’

Massive deposits of oil that have remained untapped due to decades of western boycott of the junta government are now available to the highest bidder. It is a big oil bonanza, and all are invited. Shell, ENI, Total, Chevron and many others are investing large sums to exploit the country’s natural resources, while the Chinese – who dominated Burma’s economy for many years – are being slowly pushed out.

Indeed, the rivalry over Burma’s unexploited wealth is at its peak in decades. It is this wealth – and the need to undermine China’s superpower status in Asia – that has brought the west back, installed Aung San Suu Kyi as a leader in a country that has never fundamentally changed, but only rebranded itself to pave the road for the return of ‘Big Oil’.

However, the Rohingya are paying the price.

Do not let Burmese official propaganda mislead you. The Rohingya are not foreigners, intruders or immigrants in Burma.

Their kingdom of Arakan dates back to the 8th Century. In the centuries that followed, the inhabitants of that kingdom learned about Islam from Arab traders and, with time, it became a Muslim-majority region. Arakan is Burma’s modern-day Rakhine state, where most of the country’s estimated 1.2 million Rohingya still live.

The false notion that the Rohingya are outsiders started in 1784 when the Burmese King conquered Arakan and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Many of those who were forced out of their homes to Bengal, eventually returned.

Attacks on Rohingya, and constant attempts at driving them out of Rakhine, have been renewed over several periods of history, for example: following the Japanese defeat of British forces stationed in Burma in 1942; in 1948; following the takeover of Burma by the Army in 1962; as a result of so-called ‘Operation Dragon King’ in 1977, where the military junta forcefully drove over 200,000 Rohingya out of their homes to Bangladesh, and so on.

In 1982, the military government passed the Citizenship Law that stripped most Rohingya of their citizenship, declaring them illegal in their own country.

The war on the Rohingya began again in 2012. Every single episode, since then, has followed a typical narrative: ‘communal clashes’ between Buddhist nationals and Rohingya, often leading to tens of thousands of the latter group being chased out to the Bay of Bengal, to the jungles and, those who survive, to refugee camps.

Amid international silence, only few respected figures like Pope Francis spoke out in support of the Rohingya in a deeply moving prayer last February.

The Rohingya are ‘good people’, the Pope said. “They are peaceful people, and they are our brothers and sisters.” His call for justice was never heeded.

Arab and Muslim countries remained largely silent, despite public outcry to do something to end the genocide.

Reporting from Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, veteran British journalist, Peter Oborne, described what he has seen in an article published by the Daily Mail on September 4:

Just five years ago, an estimated 50,000 of the city’s population of around 180,000 were members of the local Rohingya Muslim ethnic group. Today, there are fewer than 3,000 left. And they are not free to walk the streets. They are crammed into a tiny ghetto surrounded by barbed wire. Armed guards prevent visitors from entering — and will not allow the Rohingya Muslims to leave.

With access to that reality through their many emissaries on the ground, western government knew too well of the indisputable facts, but ignored them, anyway.

When US, European and Japanese corporations lined up to exploit the treasures of Burma, all they needed was the nod of approval from the US government. The Barack Obama Administration hailed Burma’s ‘opening’ even before the 2015 elections brought Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy to power. After that date, Burma has become another American ‘success story’, oblivious, of course, to the facts that a genocide has been under way in that country for years.

The violence in Burma is likely to escalate and reach other ASEAN countries, simply because the two main ethnic and religious groups in these countries are dominated and almost evenly split between Buddhists and Muslims.

The triumphant return of the US-west to exploit Burma’s wealth and the US-Chinese rivalries is likely to complicate the situation even further, if ASEAN does not end its appalling silence and move with a determined strategy to pressure Burma to end its genocide of the Rohingya.

People around the world must take a stand. Religious communities should speak out. Human rights groups should do more to document the crimes of the Burmese government and hold to account those who supply them with weapons.

Respected South African Bishop Desmond Tutu had strongly admonished Aung San Suu Kyi for turning a blind eye to the ongoing genocide.

It is the least we expect from the man who stood up to Apartheid in his own country, and penned the famous words: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

“Never again” is happening to Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims

The world vowed never again after the Holocaust, never again after Bosnia, never again after Rwanda and yet in Myanmar it seems that here we are again. Over the last week, violence and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Myanmar’s army have forced nearly 40,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee the Rakhine State to neighboring Bangladesh, where around 400,000 Rohingyas already live in squalor.

Haunting images and videos of the army burning dozens of Rohingya villages in Rakhine have flooded social media, which has been accompanied by reports from global news outlets and human rights groups that dozens of civilians have been killed including children. According to Chris Lewa, director of The Arakan Project, the estimated death toll is around130 people. Reports have also indicated that a vicious campaign of rape has been carried out against Rohingya women by the army. Violence in Rakhine State is not a new phenomenon; ethnic clashes between Rakhine Buddhist and Muslims have been ongoing for years.

This recent spate of violence began in Myanmar on August 25th when Rohingya militants attacked a border post killing government officials and police. In response the army has seemingly launched an unwavering campaign of terror to punish the entire Rohingya community. Persecution of the Rohingya lies in the fact that the government denies citizenship rights to them, claiming that their origins lie in Bangladesh and therefore they are illegal immigrants despite many of them having lived in Myanmar for centuries.

Rohingya Muslims live under an Apartheid-like system where they can’t even move about freely without permission from authorities. In early 2017, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee said that previous crimes by Myanmar’s security forces amounted to crimes against humanity.

The situation of the Rohingyas is horribly disappointing, especially since there were hopes from within the international community that Nobel Prize winner and former political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, once in power, would foster a new period of democracy and respect for human rights after decades of military dictatorship in the wake of her historic election in 2015.

However, this hasn’t been the case thus far. When asked or pressed about the situation of the Rohingya, the Nobel Prize winner simply claims that the reports are exaggerated and overblown. Oddly enough, the government refused visas for a United Nations team tasked with investigating the alleged human rights violations against the Rohingyas. In defense, Aung San Suu Kyi argued that admitting the team of human rights experts would have only fueled further conflict between ethnic Buddhists and the Rohingyas in Rakhine.

Beyond the failures of the government in Myanmar to protect lives of Rohingya, even more disappointing has been the international community’s inaction. While international intervention is difficult and controversial, we have learned from contexts like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan, that the international community must unequivocally take sides and be clear that human rights atrocities will not be tolerated. The international community has the power of economic means to influence the political elites of Myanmar, as billions of dollars in aid have poured into the country since 2011, after 50 years of military rule ended.

According to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. has provided over $500 million to support the country’s transition to democracy since 2012. In 2016, the U.S. lifted all remaining economic sanctions on Myanmar which came to the surprise and shock of many. The Obama administration maintained that the removal of economic sanctions would help demonstrate to the people of Myanmar that the international community was supportive of their efforts to move towards democracy.

Also in 2016, U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Az) and Ben Cardin (D-Md) introduced the “Burma Strategy Act” which laid out a number of key foreign policy objectives to help Myanmar’s transition.  It included elements such as economic assistance to civil society, initiatives to promote ethnic reconciliation, military-to-military training between the militaries of Myanmar and the United States to help reinforce civilian control of the military and respect for human rights, among other things.

While tasked with encouraging further democratic and human rights developments in Myanmar, the sanctions lifted targeted key individuals and companies that supported the old military regime. Lifting these sanctions didn’t further democratic principles; it eroded them. Accountability is a key principle in a democracy, and if the U.S. or the international community is going to push for democratic changes, accountability has to be at the forefront of those changes. Anything less is encouraging a culture of impunity and corruption.

At present, what is the incentive for the current government in Myanmar to cooperate with the UN on investigating the human rights circumstances of the Rohingyas? The situation of the Rohingyas will not change without pressure from the U.S. and other key international actors. While Aung San Suu Kyi at one time may have been a beacon of human rights in Myanmar, she is not now. She may not control the military directly, but her evasive actions and silence on the issue make her complicit in the plight of the Myanmar’s Rohingyas. If the international community does not take definitive action to hold the current government in Myanmar accountable, then it should stop saying “never again”.

Climate Change: The Catastrophic Impact on Developing Countries

The Paris Agreement on climate change, signed in November 2016, was the first time all the world’s nations (except Nicaragua and Syria) signed up to reduce emissions and cap man-made global warming.

Amongst a number of positive pledges made by governments a key agreement was the goal to limit the increase in the average global temperature to well below 2°C (above pre-industrial levels) and to aim for 1.5°C. The probability is that neither of these goals will be met; in fact, a recent study conducted by the University of Washington, estimates there is a mere 5% chance of meeting the 2°C target, and states that, “The likely range of global temperature increase [up to 2100] is 2.0–4.9 °C.”

Another Trump Mistake

An important part of the Paris Agreement was a commitment to assist developing countries as they try to prepare for and mitigate the impact of rising global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere by industrialized countries.

In a somewhat optimistic statement after the Paris accord, UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa and Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said, “Humanity will look back on November 4, 2016, as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster.” They went on to say that: “The Agreement is undoubtedly a turning point in the history of common human endeavor, capturing the combined political, economic and social will of governments, cities, regions, citizens, business and investors to overcome the existential threat of unchecked climate change.”

A step of huge significance then, not just in our approach to climate change, but in the development of a global sense of unity. And whilst little of substance has been done since the accord, it represented a major shift away from isolationism, nationalism and ideology towards collective responsibility and cooperative action.

The decision by President Trump not to implement the Paris Agreement violates this unifying act and is a massive mistake, one of many. It reveals how out of touch his administration and certain sections of US business are with the mood of the times and the majority of people around the world. His violent, irresponsible and ignorant action further isolates the US, and reinforces international feelings of anger and dismay at successive US governments’ approach to global affairs and the destructive values espoused and exported by the Neo-Liberal ideologues that determine American government policy.

Michael Brune, from the US environmental group, the Sierra Club, expressed the view of many when he said that: “Donald Trump has made a historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality.” Trump has “shamelessly disregarded the safety of our families just to let the fossil fuel industry eke out a few more dollars in profits.” America is a significant source of financial and technological support for developing countries: this is also jeopardized by the decision to withdraw. The ambitions of many countries to reduce emissions are dependent on receiving international support, and lack of funds will impact on their ability to meet agreed targets.

By this decision the US, which is responsible for 15% of all carbon emissions, has made it more difficult to reach the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement and intensified the risks resulting from climate change. The results could well be devastating for the whole World (including America), in particular those countries in the front line of climate change, many of which constitute the poorest nations on Earth, are not the principle polluters, have little or no resources – socially, technologically or financially – to cope with the impact of increases in global temperatures and need the support of wealthier countries.

A World Bank report (Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty) states that climate change “threatens the objective of sustainably eradicating poverty”, and unless substantial worldwide efforts are made, more than 100 million people could be pushed back into poverty by 2030. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, home to the poorest of the poor, are the regions that will be hit the hardest. Studies by the Bank show that climate change in these regions will result in increased agricultural prices and could threaten food security: it’s the same old story, the poor always suffer most, no matter what the threat is.

Over the next ten years, according to The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “it is predicted that billions of people, particularly those in developing countries, [will] face shortages of water and food and greater risks to health and life as a result of climate change.” Concerted global action – not withdrawal from international agreements – is needed they state: “To enable developing countries to adapt to the effects of climate change that are happening now and will worsen in the future.”

The poor live in a state of perpetual uncertainty; one natural disaster can take away what little they have, destroying homes and livestock, bringing death and disease. Based on three reports, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast that a global temperature increase within the lowest targets agreed at Paris, of between 1.5ºC and 2ºC will have a devastating impact: reduced crop yields in tropical areas fueling hunger, the spread of malaria and diarrhoea, and the risk of extinction of 20 – 30 per cent of all plant and animal species. By 2020, “Up to 250 million people in Africa could be exposed to greater risk of water stress,” and over the course of the century millions of people around the Himalayas and Andes will be at risk of bouts of flooding and drought as glaciers retreat or disappear.

Migration and agricultural degradation

Environmental changes have always fed global migration, but the impact of climate change on communities in developing countries could lead to the displacement of unprecedented numbers of people. This will impact on countries in neighbouring regions and the wider world and in turn affect the surrounding ecosystems.

The key cause of mass displacement due to climate change will come from sea-level rises — a rise of 17 – 19 cm in the next 40 years is likely, with many scientists projecting a one meter rise by the end of the century. In addition to small island states, Egypt, Bangladesh, Vietnam, India and China are countries most at risk, all have large populations and productive agricultural land in low-lying coastal areas. Higher temperatures (affecting agriculture), disruption of water cycles and increased intensity of storms are the other key factors that are set to drive people from their homes.

The Global Military Advisory Council on climate change states, somewhat alarmingly, that climate change could trigger a refugee crisis of “unimaginable scale”, and that mass migration will become the “new normal”. Major General Munir Muniruzzaman, a former general in the Bangladesh army and chairman of the military Council has told The Guardian that, “one meter of sea level rise will flood 20% of his nation. “We’re going to see refugee problems on an unimaginable scale, potentially above 30 million people.” This view was echoed by former US Secretary of State John Kerry when, in 2015 (and nothing has changed since then) he warned that with increased food insecurity and shortages of water, violent conflicts between tribal groups fighting for survival would erupt and mass migration would follow. Far from being fantastical or apocalyptic, the early signs of this vision are upon us: In Pakistan, for example, – one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, floods during 2010 destroyed crops and forced 14 million people from their homes. But according to research conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute floods are not the biggest threat, it’s hot weather, ‘heat stress’, as it’s called, that drive more people from their homes, as it severely impacts on crop yields.

Climate change is upon us, is increasingly affecting weather patterns around the world, and if the World Bank report is correct, in the short-term – between now and 2030 – there is little that can be done to reduce them; the only option for developing countries over the next 15 years or so they say, is to “reduce vulnerability through both targeted adaptation investments and improved socioeconomic conditions.”

There is an alternative way to ‘reduce vulnerability’ for the poorest people in the world, and that is by the rich nations sharing what they have, and what the Earth provides more equitably amongst everyone. Building sharing into the socio-economic model that determines peoples lives; sharing the food and water, the knowledge, skills, information and materials, technology and ideas, so that those with nothing do not suffer the most as a result of our collective poisoning of the world; contamination by the industrialized nations of the world, which has caused the greatest crisis humanity has faced and is already tearing at the lives of millions of the most disadvantaged.