M.ZARNI | 27 SEPTEMBER, 2018
Rwanda to Rohingyas: The US Genocide Whitewash
US State Department report confirms terrible rape of Rohingya women
Samantha Power who served as US Ambassador to the United Nations wrote a tomb “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”, and deservedly won a Pulitzer for it. Ms Power knew that Myanmar’s actions were that ‘problem from hell’ that is genocide, months before the news broke of the two bouts of categorically state-coordinated direct killings, mass rape and mass destruction of Rohingyas first in October 2016 and most infamously in August 2017.
She inscribed the acknowledgement of the fact: it was genocide – no less - that Myanmar has commissioned against the Rohingya, formerly recognized officially as a national minority group. Ambassador Power autographed a paperback copy of her book at the request of a young Rohingya activist she met in New York several years ago.
Notwithstanding the quiet acknowledgment by the serving senior most American diplomat at the United Nations, (a lawyer who worked as a journalist in the Balkans in the midst of its disintegration ), the United States’ culture of denial and dismissal of such crimes remains un-dented. If an official with Power’s stature did not make a dent in America’s bleaching of genocides,what chance do lesser mortals in the White House and State Department have? Even if they wish to act out of conscience and compassion?
To be specific, the US has 70 years of ignoble history in sharking its moral and political obligation. The United States is not simply one of the 200 UN member-states. It is the most crucial co-founder of this world body, which helped craft the architecture of the post-Holocaust world, and ushered in crucial inter-state treaties and international criminal and humanitarian laws. And yet the US, which has from its very inception perceived itself as the beacon of freedom and equality, and accordingly marketed itself as the “the city upon the hill”, has typically betrayed its self-professed mission to be a force for good.
In cases of full-blown genocides, be it Rwanda, Srebrenica or the unfinished Rohingya genocide, the United States has pussyfooted around, if not looked the other way outrightly. Irrespective of party affiliations and ideological orientations, American leaders and officials have displayed a consistent pattern of not calling such intense crimes genocide if doing so does not serve their strategic interests.
Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the 20-page genocide report in the dark of the night on September 24, with neither a press release nor the expectated legal determination. This is in itself deeply disturbing as it is cowardly, unbefitting what is still the world’s most important moral, economic, political, intellectual and military power.
The report was the result of hard professional labour conducted by an international team of 18 legal and forensic experts undertaking a methodical survey of genocidal acts as recounted by 1,000 representative samples of Rohingya eyewitnesses, for several months.
Pompei’s boss – US President Donald Trump – gave a 30-minute speech at the UN General Assembly on September 26 during which he extolled – rather shamelessly - the American power and accomplishments, without even a slight acknowledgment that Myanmar may be – just may be – wrecking havoc in the UN system. And doing so by openly breaking the interstate Treaty called the Genocide Convention and blatantly denying any credible research findings of its crimes, described as the “gravest” in international criminal law by the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent Fact Finding Mission.
The message from Washington is loud and clear: we will not call any international state crime – however grave – genocide unless doing so serves America’s commercial and strategic interests.
That is bad news both for the vast majority of We the People – and the World Order where the veto-wielders are expected to uphold the UN Charter and provide peace and security for all human communities, East and West, and everywhere else in between.
Those of us Burmese who grew up in the Cold War era – particularly next to Maoist China and who called the Burmese military-run prisons of torture chambers, dog cells and executions “Moscow” – are pained by this American betrayal of human causes.
Our undyingly rosy view of USA as a better moral force – than ex-colonial France and Britain – aside, the ugly reality of this pattern of the American failure to live up to its own marketed image to “act” has time and again proven false.
Examples abound. The Republic presidency of Ronald Reagan kept Khmer Rouge in its UN seat – as the sole representative of the post-genocidal country for nearly a decade after the facts of the “killing fields” – nearly 200 across Cambodia --had been unearthed. Because Khmer Rouge was overthrown by the Soviet-aligned Vietnam.
US State Department run by the first Secretary of State Warren Christopher in the Democratic Clinton Administration was known to have issued a directive to all US missions abroad along the lines of “do not say genocide is being committed in Rwanda, but say ‘certain acts of genocide’ may have occurred”. This even as the estimated 800,000 corpses of Tutsi and Tutsi-Hutu mixed individuals piled up all over the African country.
Christopher’s successor at Foggy Bottom, as the US State Department is known in Washington, Professor Madeline Albright later externalized her failure to act responsibly when she told Harvard’s Daniel Gohagen, the famed author of Hilter’s Willing Executioners, “well, we were busy with other things”.
When a post-WWII genocide apparently did not warrant a serious consideration for an effective policy response from the first-ever Jewish woman to occupy #3 position in the American hierarchy of power something deeply amoral and irresponsible was at play. In light of the fact that Madam Albright escaped Nazi-occupied Hungary wrapped in the false identity of a “Catholic girl” her refusal to act and to take responsibility subsequently in Rwanda genocide was morally repugnant.
In fact, the absence of appetite in the Clinton White House had a domino effect in the UN System which the Americans helped establish. The then head of Peace Keeping Operations at the UN Headquarters, the late Kofi Annan, decided to conceal the cable from Rwanda – the infamous Genocide Cable – sent to him by Brigadier General Romeo Dallaire, who was in charge of UN Peacekeeping in Rwanda.
Incidentally, international diplomats fawned over “Kofi Annan’s (great) legacy” at a recent Security Council briefing on the Rohingya genocide. Despite the fact that the Chief Peacekeeper apparently did not have the intellectual integrity or moral courage to push for international preventive acts, when fellow Africans were about to be slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands. The world order we have promoted reward these immoral officials and leaders. Kofi Annan went on to climb the UN ladder as Secretary General, even picking up a Nobel Peace Prize and chairing Richard Bronson’s “The Elders”.
On his part, Democratic President Barack Obama, mocked as “Black Messiah” at home, demanded “dignity and respect for the Rohingyas” in his historic Rangoon University speech in November 2013, invited a token Rohingya to the White House halal dinner and proceeded to reward the genocidal Myanmar administration of President Thein Sein, ex-general, with lifting of sanctions and a full embrace as the Great Reformer.
The days of the American diplomats, (for instance, Hans Morgenthau in Constantinople in the midst of what is widely recognized as the Armenian Genocide) screaming foul at genocidal regimes are now of the past. The lights on the City upon the Hill have gone out. Humankind is worse off when the sole global power that at least pays lip service to human well being, freedom and equality no longer takes its own self-perception as the Good Guy seriously.
Rohingyas, still sitting ducks for the next round of slaughter in Myanmar, are not the first victims of the failure of American leadership – and for that matter, moral and political failure of the entire post-Holocaust Human Civilization. Nor will they be the last.
(Dr Maung Zarni is the Burmese co-author of "The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar's Rohingyas" (Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, 2014) and coordinator of the Free Rohingya Coalition).