So what have we learnt since the holocaust?

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So what have we learnt since the holocaust?

Post by honestbroker1 » Wed Dec 20, 2017 1:50 pm

In 2017, the world let a 'genocide' unfold

The volume of utterly horrifying stories emerging from Burma can feel overwhelming. Since late August, more than 626,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled what seemed to be a systematic campaign of attacks by the Burmese military and local militias in the country's Rakhine state — the most rapid exodus of a community since the Rwandan genocide. An aid group estimated that some 9,000 Rohingya, including 1,000 small children, died between late August and late September. Satellite data showed hundreds of villages burned to the ground, while virtually everyone who escaped to squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh has a horror story to tell.

“They shot my old father, they put a log of wood in his mouth and then slit his throat,” a woman named Almas Khatun recently told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I keep thinking about my children. I couldn’t save them. They killed seven of my children, my husband and his two brothers.” She pretended to be dead and managed to later crawl to safety, away from the burning ruin of her village and the corpses of dozens of slain relatives.

Last week, an investigation by the Associated Press chronicled what appears to have been a campaign of mass rape carried out by Burmese security forces, based on interviews with 29 women and girls ranging from the ages of 13 to 35. Soldiers and anti-Rohingya vigilantes, they say, engaged in robbery and torture, including abusing and gang-raping the women they captured. "The testimonies bolster the U.N.’s contention that Myanmar’s armed forces are systematically employing rape as a 'calculated tool of terror' aimed at exterminating the Rohingya people," the AP wrote.

In a Friday column, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times recounted his own conversations with Rohingya women who were raped and had to witness the slaughter of their loved ones. He called on Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's top civilian leader and Nobel laureate, to listen to the story of Hasina Begum, a 21-year-old who saw the men and boys of her village killed, their bodies dumped in a pile, doused in gasoline and set aflame. The women and girls were meant to endure an even grislier fate.

An aid worker hands out blankets to Rohingya refugees in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh on Dec. 4. (Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
An aid worker hands out blankets to Rohingya refugees in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh on Dec. 4. (Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

“I was trying to hide my baby under my scarf, but they saw her leg,” Hasina told Kristof. “They grabbed my baby by the leg and threw her onto the fire.” The story goes on: “Hasina said she collapsed on the ground, screaming. The impatient soldiers then began to club her — she showed me scars from the beating — and dragged her into a hut with her sister-in-law, Asma Begum. The soldiers stripped the women naked and raped them, she said, and finally closed the door and set the hut on fire.”

Naked, the two women managed to escape through a hole in the hut, salved their injuries with mud, scavenged clothes and made a three-day trek to the Bangladesh border. “When I fall asleep, I look for my baby,” Hasina told Kristof. “I wake up screaming.”

The violence that prompted these shocking stories has generated plenty of international outrage. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which warned two years ago that conditions in Burma were ripe for genocide, issued a report in November alongside a local rights group saying there was “mounting evidence” that the Burmese military carried out acts that “represent a genocide of the Rohingya people.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described what befell the Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing,” while various senior U.N. officials have also made similar statements. Yet there has been little genuine action, and not just from the United States.

Muslim leaders from Turkey to Malaysia grandstanded for a time about the tragedy befalling their fellow Muslims, but most have moved on. In India, which does have influence over Burma, sympathy for the Rohingya played second fiddle to domestic politics, with the country's Hindu-nationalist government moving to deport thousands of Rohingya refugees in the country over concerns about Islamist extremism. And China, which has a close relationship with Burma's generals and deep economic interests in the country, has proposed a repatriation plan that would likely shield Burma's top brass from further international scrutiny.

“The Rohingya are a lesser consideration for Beijing,” noted Nicholas Bequelin of Amnesty International in the New York Times. "The returnees would not be allowed to go to their home villages, which have been reduced to ashes, but consigned to grim internment camps. The system of discrimination and segregation that made them so vulnerable in the first place would become further entrenched."

A Rohingya man ties wood together at the Naybara refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on Dec. 3. (Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
A Rohingya man ties wood together at the Naybara refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on Dec. 3. (Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

The Burmese government certainly seems unmoved. Suu Kyi maintains that Rohingya testimony isn't to be believed on face value and blames local “terrorists” among the Rohingya for provoking the chaos. Her defenders argue that she has to play her own complicated game with the country's overweening military, but her maneuvering still obscures the calamity in Rakhine, which remains almost entirely closed off to independent media.

When journalists recently asked Rakhine official Phone Tint about reports of rape, he scoffed. “These women were claiming they were raped, but look at their appearances — do you think they are that attractive to be raped?” he said.

Another senior official from Rakhine, speaking to Hannah Beech of the New York Times, articulated the Burmese government's refusal to even believe in the existence of the Rohingya, a largely Muslim ethnic group that has lived for generations in Burma but had its citizenship rights stripped in the 1980s by a military junta. “There is no such thing as Rohingya,” he said before parroting President Trump. “It is fake news.”

That use of the term “fake news” generated a fair bit of controversy, underscoring both Trump's broader appeal to strongmen abroad and his own muted response to the Rohingya crisis. Yet, in this instance, Trump is hardly alone in his indifference.

“Crimes against humanity are an offense against all humanity and require a response from all of us,” wrote Kristof. But in a year so profoundly steeped in bad blood, that common response is nowhere in sight.

• President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked twice over the weekend, holding conversations that seemed geared to show the desire on both sides to improve relations. In the first call on Friday, following Putin’s annual four-hour televised news conference, the Russian president praised Trump for presiding over a soaring U.S. stock market. Then, on Sunday, the Russian leader credited information provided by the CIA for allowing Russian law enforcement agencies to track down and detain a group of suspects who were planning to bomb crowded sites in St. Petersburg.

“Based on the information the United States provided, Russian authorities were able to capture the terrorists just prior to an attack that could have killed large numbers of people,” the White House said in its readout of the call. “Both leaders agreed that this serves as an example of the positive things that can occur when our countries work together.”

• Billionaire conservative Sebastian Piñera won Chile’s presidency in elections on Sunday. Piñera governed Chile from 2010 to 2014, a term sandwiched in between two spells by Michele Bachelet, a popular center-left leader. But this time, captalizing on splits within the Chilean center-left, Piñera secured a comfortable victory over his rival, Alejandro Guillier.

“The decisive 9-point victory, which came as a surprise because recent polls had suggested the race was a tossup, showed that millions of Chileans saw Mr. Piñera as best suited to jump-start economic growth and to set the tone for contentious social debates. Among them is one over a same-s-e-x marriage bill before Congress,” noted the New York Times. It added that the result also “marks the latest shift to the right in a region that until recently was largely governed by leftist leaders who rose to power promising to build more egalitarian societies.”

• Paris, the capital of svelte, is cracking down on body-shaming. Obesity is far less visible in the City of Light than it is in much of the United States or Britain. Now a formal campaign — including a plus-size fashion show — has been launched to fight bias against people who do not fit an unrealistic ideal of thinness: “Fat phobia is a reality lived by so many citizens,” said Anne Hidalgo, the city’s mayor, in a statement. My colleague James McAuley has more:

“That may very well be the case, but this is still a city where the reigning power breakfast is an espresso and a cigarette. If you’re feeling indulgent, you can maybe allow yourself a drop of milk in your coffee. Come nighttime, the cocktail hour of ‘apéro’ — where you might have some nice red wine, and possibly some nuts or a little nibble of cheese — can absolutely count as a meal. And, of course, many Parisians walk everywhere they go, and climb steep flights of stairs back to tiny apartments that cost the arms and the legs they otherwise exhaust… The predominant view in Paris is that you are born thin, and if you do your job right, nothing will ever change."

"I think we have a problem with minorities in general in France," a prominent critic of French "fat phobia" said in an interview. "We say we are politically correct, but in fact we are not at all. The biggest problem is that people generally do not consider fat phobia to be on the same level as other discriminations because they think that if someone is fat, it’s their fault and that they should change."

People push a cart carrying cabbage in Hamhung, North Korea, on Nov. 22. (Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse)</p>
People push a cart carrying cabbage in Hamhung, North Korea, on Nov. 22. (Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse)

Hunger games

As the world focuses its attention on North Korea's nuclear weapons, aid groups are warning that sanctions aimed at punishing Kim Jong Un's regime are hurting their relief efforts and harming ordinary North Koreans.

“U.S. and international humanitarian NGOs working in North Korea are experiencing death by a thousand cuts,” said Keith Luse, executive director of the Washington-based National Committee on North Korea.

The U.N. World Food Program, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the U.N. Development Program all have operations in North Korea, where about 70 percent of the population is already categorized as “food insecure" — meaning constantly struggling against hunger. A small number of humanitarian agencies based in the United States and elsewhere provide food, medicines and agricultural assistance from abroad.

But the waves of multilateral and direct U.S. sanctions that have been imposed on Kim Jong Un’s regime have now made operations so difficult that some agencies are pulling out. Save the Children has shut down its operations in Pyongyang, billing the move as a “temporary suspension.”

The crackdown has formally broadened from “smart sanctions” designed to cut off parts and funding for the nuclear weapons program to more general measures that are starting to look like a trade embargo. But there have also been knock-on effects that make humanitarian relief even harder.

Tapan Mishra, the U.N. resident coordinator in Pyongyang, wrote in letters to U.N. officials at the end of October that "crucial relief items, including medical equipment and drugs, have been held up for months despite being equipped with the required paperwork affirming that they are not on the list of sanctions items." The letters were first reported by NK News, a specialist website.

Supplies from China are also drying up. The government has reportedly ramped up inspections and blocked needed supplies; banks will not deal with money tied to North Korea; and Chinese companies are engaging in what one Pyongyang-based humanitarian worker called “self-imposed sanctions."

At a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday, however, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that it was the responsibility of the North Korean regime to care for its own people.

“It can reverse course, give up its unlawful nuclear weapons program, and join the community of nations," Tillerson said, "or it can continue to condemn its people to poverty and isolation." — Anna Fifield

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