Indian women over the age of 45 and traveling in groups of four will be able to go for the Islamic haj pilgrimage without a male guardian next year, if the government adopts proposed reforms.
Women meeting these criteria will no longer have to be accompanied by a mahram, or close male relative, such as a father, husband, brother or son, a government-appointment panel recommended in the country’s first haj policy review.
“The mahram rule was there from the very beginning for women — in case they face any difficulty while traveling, it can be taken care of,” said Maqsood Ahmed Khan of the Haj Committee of India, a government body which organises the pilgrimages. “This (dropping of male kin) is an important recommendation, the chief executive told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Nearly half of pilgrims are women
Nearly half of an estimated 170,000 pilgrims who went for the annual religious celebration in Saudi Arabia from India this year were women, officials said.
The panel of bureaucrats and intellectuals was appointed by the ministry of minority affairs to review India’s haj policy for the first time.
Officials from the ministry, which will decide whether to adopt the recommendations, were not available for comment.
The policy would cover the next five years from 2018 and is in line with Saudi Arabia’s haj requirements.
Changes are not enough
Women’s rights campaigners welcomed the proposal but said it did not go far enough.
“Muslim women are traveling across the world independently,” said Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which campaigns for Muslim women’s rights and won a ban on an instant divorce law in August. “While this is a good decision, the restrictions on age and group size should go.”
If the new rule is implemented, solo women will no longer have to pay private tour operators to provide them with a mahram for a fee of 10,000 Indian rupees ($153.29), campaigners said.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Leaders in Catalonia are facing increasing domestic and international pressure to abandon plans to declare independence from Spain, ahead of a planned speech by Catalonia’s regional president.
Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont is due to address the regional parliament on Tuesday, and Spain’s government is worried the legislature will vote for a unilateral declaration of independence. Puigdemont has not revealed what his message to lawmakers will be.
Political leaders, both domestically and internationally, urged Catalan leaders on Monday to back down to ease growing tensions in the country.
Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the city council in Barcelona, Spain, Sept. 28, 2017.
Major speaks out
Barcelona’s mayor was the latest to speak out against a declaration of independence, saying this would put “social cohesion” at risk. Ada Colau called on all sides to de-escalate tensions to solve “the most severe institutional crisis since the re-establishment of democracy in Spain.”
The head of Spain’s main opposition party, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, also called for Catalan leaders to drop an attempt to declare independence, saying “a universal declaration of independence doesn’t have a place in a state ruled by law.”
Germany and France also weighed in Monday against a split. German Chancellor Angela Merkel “affirmed her backing for the unity of Spain,” but also encouraged dialogue, according to her spokesman.
France said it would not recognize Catalonia if the region declared independence. “This crisis needs to be resolved through dialogue at all levels of Spanish politics,” France’s European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau said.
Tensions have grown in Spain since last week when Catalonia held a regional vote for independence, an election deemed illegal by Madrid. Police cracked down on the vote, firing rubber bullets and storming crowds to disrupt the voting, leading to hundreds of injuries.
A man, wearing a t-shirt reading in Spanish: “Please, talk” chats with a passer-by about the current political situation in Catalonia, in Barcelona, Oct. 6, 2017.
Huge support at the polls
Catalan leaders say 90 percent of those who went to the polls voted to break with Spain. However, opponents of the referendum say the vote did not show the true will of the region because those who want to stay in Spain mainly boycotted the polls.
Police say about 350,000 demonstrators attended an anti-independence protest on Sunday.
On Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered at rallies in Barcelona, Madrid and other Spanish cities to demand dialogue to end the dispute.
An “estelada”, or Catalonia independence flag, hangs from a street light in downtown Barcelona, Oct. 6, 2017.
Banks, businesses may move
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would not rule out using constitutional powers to take away Catalonia’s autonomous status if the region declares independence.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais published Sunday, Rajoy said that he will consider employing any measure “allowed by the law” to stop the region’s separatists.
The crisis has prompted several major banks and businesses to announce they will move their headquarters out of Catalonia to other parts of Spain so they can be sure they will remain in the European Union common market.
Catalonia, a northeastern region in Spain, has its own language and cultural traditions. It is home to 7.5 million people and accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economy.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Local affiliates of the so-called Islamic State militant group have shut down dozens of schools in a restive district of northern Afghanistan, provincial officials said.
Abdul Hai Yasheen, the director of education in northern Jawzjan province, told VOA that growing IS threats have scared thousands of students away from schools.
“The ongoing clashes in Qoshtepa and Darzab districts have scared the local people. They refrain from sending their children to school, including schools that are in areas under the government control,” Yasheen said.
Yasheen added that thousands of boys and girls in Darzab district have been deprived of a chance to get education.
“Our schools are closed, IS controls parts of the district, there is no education,” Abdul Murad, a Darzab resident told VOA. “IS kills and does not let us send children to school.”
“Twenty five schools are under IS militant’s control and our teachers are unable to go and teach there,” Baz Mohammad Dawar, Darzab district’s chief said. “Parents have been warned by IS not to send their children to school.”
“Over 18,500 students are unable to attend school and that’s a catastrophe,” Dawar added.
At least two schools remain closed in neighboring Khanqah district as well.
The terror group has destroyed much of the education infrastructure in parts of the Jawzjan province.
In July, IS militants destroyed more than a dozen schools in Darzab, including a girls’ high school. The militants warned that an educational curriculum acceptable to IS must be taught in areas that the group controls, according to provincial education officials.
The terror group had also warned girls not to attend school. They make up 40 percent of students in the district’s 47 government-run schools.
Reza Ghafoori, a provincial spokesperson, told VOA that authorities are seeking to resolve the issue through mediation by local leaders who are trying to talk to IS militants to allow children to attend school. The efforts, however, have not yielded a positive outcome yet.
Islamic State’s self-styled Khorasan Province branch (IS-K) emerged in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan more than two years ago. The terror group has recently attracted hundreds of local militants to its ranks in northern Jawzjan and Sar-e-Pul provinces. Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban commander who switched his allegiance to IS a year ago, is said to lead IS-affiliated groups in the region. A large number of Central Asian fighters affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), previously associated with al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, have joined the IS cause in the northern provinces.
IS and rival militants from the Taliban frequently fight for control of Darzab and Qoshtepa districts. Recent clashes between the two rival groups have resulted in the death of at least 30 militants from both sides, according to Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani, the provincial police chief in Jawzjan.
“Two days ago, the IS miitants set a school on fire in Qoshtepa and killed two local elders on charges of serving in the local police force,” Jouzjani told Radio Liberty.
The ongoing clashes have led hundreds of families to leave their homes. Most of the fleeing families have taken refuge in the provincial capital Sheberghan and live in dire conditions, according to Radio Liberty.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
A leading Iranian chess player, barred from her homeland’s team after she refused to wear a headscarf, will now compete as a player for the United States, the US Chess Federation said.
Dorsa Derakhshani, 19, who was born in Tehran, was forbidden from playing by the Iranian Chess Federation following the Gibraltar Chess Festival in January, US Chess said on its website. She did not wear a hijab during the event.
Since then, she has moved to the United States where she attends Saint Louis University and plays for the school’s team.
Derakhshani will now compete as an official United States chess player, US Chess posted on its website this week. US Chess is the national governing body for chess competition, sanctioning championships and overseeing player rankings.
FILE – Iranian chess player Dorsa Derakhshani speaks in an interview.
‘Welcomed and supported’
“It feels good and … peaceful to play for a federation where I am welcomed and supported,” the website quoted Derakhshani as saying.
On a U.S. radio broadcast last week, she said: “I’m looking forward to finally having a stable trainer and a team, and I really wish to become grandmaster.”
She also said she hopes to become a dentist.
Derakhshani holds the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster with the World Chess Federation (FIDE).
A few weeks after the Gibraltar competition, the Iranian Chess Federation announced it was banning Derakhshani for not wearing a hijab. It also banned her brother, who had played an Israeli player in Gibraltar, US Chess said.
Ban may be a distraction
Derakhshani said on the National Public Radio broadcast that she had competed before without a headscarf and thought the ban was issued for other reasons.
The announcement was made during the Women’s World Chess Championship in Tehran, and all three Iranian competitors had lost in the opening round.
“So in the middle of all this, they needed another distraction … which worked perfectly,” she said in the broadcast. “Everybody started talking about us.”
Several top players including the U.S. women’s champion Nazi Paikidze boycotted the Tehran competition because players were required to wear a headscarf, US Chess said.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Studies show mass killings have tripled in the past few years. A massacre Sunday night in Las Vegas left 59 people dead as a gunman in a hotel fired upon thousands of people below who were attending a music festival.
Until that tragedy, last year’s shooting at an Orlando nightclub was the deadliest in U.S. history. Forty-nine people died when a gunman opened fire on club-goers. In 2012, a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 years old, as well as six others, including the shooter’s mother and staff and teachers at the school.
Mass killers used trucks filled with fertilizer to create an explosion that left 168 people dead at the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The land is now filled with empty chairs, each etched with the name of one of the victims.
That was the worst mass killing until September 2001, when killers crashed airplanes into The World Trade Center’s twin towers in lower Manhattan. As in Oklahoma City, the ground where the towers once stood is now a memorial.
Profiling mass killers
J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist, said mass murderers “typically have more in common” with each other than not.
He said the killers tend to have a history of psychiatric problems, are mostly men, and have rocky intimate relationships.
Meloy said the killings are a quest for status and usually are not, despite killers’ claims, rooted in a cause.
“Oftentimes, the pathway to violence begins with a personal grievance,” Meloy said. “It typically has three components to it. One is there’s some kind of loss. Secondly, there’s the feeling of humiliation. Then thirdly, there’s anger toward and blaming of a person or a group of people who have caused them to have this problem.”
Access to weapons is one factor, but social media is another.
Meloy said social media makes killers notorious and, when an attack is shown online, those seeking notoriety decide to imitate the atrocity and gain notoriety for themselves.
It is an appeal that, unfortunately, Meloy predicts will spawn even more mass killings.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Our Lady of Angels Church has survived several major earthquakes, but Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 shake proved to be the final death knell for the Mexico City building’s historic cupola.
Violent cracks crisscrossed the dome, and stone from the roof continued to fall onto the church’s wooden pews. On Sunday evening, the cupola split and half crashed to the floor.
“Each earthquake has left its mark,” said Marco Antonio Fuentes, part of the church’s ministry. “This one seems to be the straw that will break the camel’s back.”
According to the Archdiocese of Mexico, more than 150 religious temples in this deeply Roman Catholic country were damaged by Tuesday’s deadly quake. Statues of saints have been left maimed, missing hands and feet. Once towering, celestial church naves now open to the sky. Dust from fallen stone and concrete cover altars.
Santiago Apostol church was destroyed during the recent 7.1-magnitude earthquake, in Atzala, Mexico, Sept. 23, 2017.
Many of the battered churches are in the state of Puebla, where the quake’s epicenter was located. There in the city of Atzala, a child’s baptism turned into tragedy when the roof of a church collapsed, killing 11 family members inside, including the 2-month-old girl being christened.
On the first Sunday since the earthquake, priests no longer able to say Mass inside collapsing churches instead held services outside paying homage to victims and survivors.
“Our religion is more than a building,” Colin Noguez, the priest at Our Lady of Angels, told parishioners inside a tent with a table holding a cross and candles from the building.
A crucifix, recovered from a collapsed church, is held up by ropes inside an auditorium during a Mass, in Tepeojuma, Mexico, Sept. 24, 2017.
Many of the collapsed buildings where rescuers have been searching for survivors held offices and apartments, places where people worked and lived. The damage to churches hit a different chord — striking places that in many Mexican cities serve as pillars of strength in times of distress.
“It’s our mother,” Azalia Ramirez, 60, said of Our Lady of Angels, which sits in a working class neighborhood. “We come here looking for communion, peace and tranquility.”
Our Lady of Angels is believed to be the most heavily damaged church in Mexico City, while the severity of destruction to religious structures is largely concentrated in Puebla.
In Atzala, a town of 1,200 people, little remains of the golden yellow church with a red roof where the 11 people died. The interior where worshippers once prayed from pews is now a mess of twisted metal and fallen stone leading to an altar where the word “merciful” now hangs at a slant.
“Everything happened in the blink of an eye,” said Sergio Montiel, the church’s sexton.
As the Santiago de Apostol church shifted to recovery mode, a planned wedding instead took place outside under a beige tent with mariachi players standing nearby. The bride and groom exchanged rings and a kiss before being showered with rice and confetti just feet from the destruction.
“I’m very sad for the church,” said Aremy Sanchez, the bride. “But we must go on.”
People kneel during a Mass held outside the Parish of Santiago Apostol, where church officials were waiting for inspectors to check damages following the recent earthquake, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, Sept. 24, 2017.
At Mass in Puebla and elsewhere, priests urged parishioners to use the painful moment as a time of reflection. Damaged churches held mass in plazas and auditoriums. In San Francisco Xochiteopan, clergy members moved broken statues of saints into a gym and proceeded with a service. At the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a national shrine in Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera asked God to deliver peace.
“It pains us to see our city hurt, so many hopes lost,” he said, speaking before a giant Mexican flag. “For that reason, we come to you, consoler of the afflicted.”
The origin of Our Lady of Angels dates back 433 years, when a painting of the Virgin Mary transported by a Spanish ship was found to have been damaged by water during the journey. A painter in the city’s then-predominantly indigenous community was commissioned to create a replica.
The replica, cracked and with progressively fading paint, has stood at the altar from the time the church was little more than a small hut to its present-day construction, built in the 19th century. The Virgin Mary painting has withstood seven floods and more earthquakes than parishioners can remember.
“I say Our Lady of Angels holds the miracle of perseverance,” said Adela Corona, a member of the ministry.
Engineers told the church’s leaders that the cupola has a 60 percent to 70 percent chance of collapsing. It contains stained glass brought from Germany depicting singing archangels. Projecting above the roof, the cupola is meant to symbolize how the church brings those inside closer to God.
“It is an important part of our historical heritage,” Fuentes said as the sound of small bits of the dome falling onto the floor echoed in the church. “Our idea is to save it.”
But just hours later, half the cupola came crashing down. No one was inside and the painting of the Virgin Mary, protected by a glass case, appeared unscathed.
“Hijole,” Fuentes said after the dome fell, using a popular Spanish word to express astonishment. “There’s sadness, surprise and fear for those who live here.”
But, he added, the Virgin Mary painting’s survival is what mattered: “She’s the boss here.”
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Mexican authorities have raised the death toll from Tuesday’s earthquake to 293, as rescue workers continue to search through the rubble, refusing to give up hope of finding survivors.
National Civil Protection Chief Luis Felipe Puente said more than half the fatalities — 155 people — died in the capital, Mexico City. In a tweet Friday, he said the death tolls remained unchanged in other areas, with 73 in the state of Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico state, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.
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Rescue teams in central Mexico have been working around the clock among the flattened buildings since Tuesday’s massive 7.1 magnitude earthquake in search of survivors.
Mexican rescue workers, supported by teams from around the world, including Israel, Japan and the United States, have rescued at least 60 people in Mexico City and surrounding towns.
More than three days after the quake, rescuers were now finding more dead bodies than living survivors, but officials said there were signs of life at some sites picked up by dogs and sensors. The Mexican military said 115 people had been pulled alive from the rubble.
Work continues at the site of a collapsed building in Mexico City, Mexico, Sept. 22, 2017. Mexican officials are promising to keep up the search for survivors as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day after Tuesday’s major earthquake.
President Enrique Pena Nieto has insisted rescue operations will continue. He praised Mexicans’ rapid response to the disaster, while stressing the priorities remain saving lives and getting medical attention to those in need.
“I need to recognize the volunteers who are unconditionally helping those who need it,” Pena Nieto said.
“Once again, Mexicans have demonstrated that the strength of solidarity is much greater,” the president’s office posted in a tweet that included a video showing thousands of people involved in relief efforts.
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But it was likely the death toll would rise.
In addition to the local response in Mexico City and the states of Morelos, Puebla, Mexico, Guerrero and Oaxaca, help was coming from other nations.
The U.S. Agency for International Development sent a team of more than 60 disaster responders and tools and medical equipment to Mexico City on Thursday.
“They’ll be working closely with Mexican disaster authorities to help rescue earthquake survivors and assess structures for earthquake damage,” USAID Administrator Mark Green said.
Mexican officials are promising to keep up the search for survivors as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day after Tuesday’s major earthquake that devastated Mexico City and nearby states.
While officials remained focused on searching for survivors and caring for those who were injured in the temblor, those whose lives were upended in the quake were wondering what would happen to them.
About 2,000 homes were damaged in the quake. Many are uninhabitable, rendering occupants homeless.
Mexico has set up 50 shelters to house quake survivors, but some people are choosing to sleep in the streets.
The quake hit less than two weeks after another temblor killed more than 90 people in the country’s south. The U.S. Geological Survey said the two quakes appeared to be unrelated.
The earthquake struck exactly 32 years after an 8.0 temblor killed nearly 10,000 people in and around Mexico City.
Celia Mendoza contributed to this report.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
Google is biting off a big piece of device manufacturer HTC for $1.1 billion to expand its efforts to build phones, speakers and other gadgets equipped with its arsenal of digital services.
The deal announced Thursday underscores how serious Google is becoming about designing its own family of devices to compete against Apple and Amazon in a high-stakes battle to become the technological hub of people’s lives.
Over the past decade, Google had focused on giving away its Android operating system to an array of device makers, including Taiwan’s HTC, to ensure people would keep using its ubiquitous search engine, email, maps, YouTube video service and other software on smartphones and other pieces of hardware.
But that changed last year when Google stamped its brand on a smartphone and internet-connected speaker. HTC manufactured the Pixel phones that Google designed last year, perhaps paving the way for this deal to unfold.
Although Android powers about four out of every five smartphones and other mobile devices in the world, the software can be altered in ways that result in Google’s services being de-emphasized or left out completely from the pre-installed set of apps.
That fragmentation threatens to undercut Google’s ability to increase the ad sales that bring in most of the revenue to its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., as people spend more and more time on smartphones and other devices instead of personal computers.
Apple’s iPhone and other hardware products are also particularly popular among affluent consumers prized by advertisers, giving Google another incentive to develop its own high-priced phone as a mobile platform for its products and ads.
Google also wants to build more internet-connected devices designed primarily for home usage, such as its voice-controlled speaker that’s trying to catch up with Amazon’s Echo. The Home speaker includes a digital concierge, called Google Assistant, that answers questions and helps manage people’s lives, much like the Alexa in Amazon’s Echo.
The purchase is a gamble on several fronts for Google and Alphabet.
Google’s previous forays into hardware haven’t panned out to be big winners so far. It paid $12.5 billion for smartphone maker Motorola Mobility five years ago only to sell it to Lenovo Group for less than $3 billion after struggling to make a dent in the market. And in 2014, Google paid more than $3 billion for home device maker Nest Labs, which is still struggling to make money under Alphabet’s ownership.
Expanding into hardware also threatens to alienate Samsung Electronics, Huawei and other device makers that Google relies on to distribute its Android software.
News Courtesy:VOA NEWS
Blasphemy is an emotive topic in Pakistan, where strong religious sentiments have led in the past to mob violence and worse.
For those accused of blasphemy – which can include anything seen as a deliberate insult to God, Islam or religious leaders – such an offense is literally a life-and-death matter. The relevant section of Pakistan’s penal code recommends either life imprisonment or death for any convicted blasphemer.
The issue has arisen again in Punjab, where a court last week condemned to death a Christian, Nadeem James, based on evidence police gathered from a friend who said James sent him a blasphemous poem via instant-messenger WhatsApp. A prosecutor confirmed the contention by James’s defense lawyer that he never sent any blasphemous material to anyone.
“The accused said … he never sent any blasphemous message through his cellphone,” prosecution lawyer Rana Naveed Anjum told VOA Urdu. “But once something has been alleged against you and there is enough evidence on record corroborating that assertion, then it is hard to deny or overlook such material.”
A fair trial is difficult
A prominent Pakistani human-rights activist, Mehdi Hassan, said the emotive nature of blasphemy makes it difficult to get a fair trial in cases involving religious beliefs.
“In Pakistan, religious might is very influential,” Hassan told VOA, “and that thinking has an impact on police and other departments in such cases.”
Nadeem James’s defense attorney, Anjum Wakeel, has said his client was “framed” by his so-called friend, “who was annoyed by [James’s] affair with a Muslim girl.”
Prosecutor Anjum agreed that James told investigators he had been framed.
Feelings ran high in the case, and the trial was held in secret, in a prison, because James and members of his family had been receiving threats, some of them by local clerics.
‘Blasphemy’ can mask personal disputes
Blasphemy remains one of Pakistan’s most controversial laws. Rights groups say accusations of blasphemy are subject to abuse, and are made to settle personal disputes or vendettas.
Activist Mehdi Hassan said the country’s political parties should play a more active role and press Pakistani society to curb the misuse of these laws.
“To address this problem as a long-term solution, political parties should play a role, because democracy gives a level playing field to everyone,” Hassan told VOA.
Referring to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the revered founder of modern-day Pakistan, Hassan added: “We have to remember what Mr. Jinnah said, ‘Religious beliefs are the personal matter of an individual.'”
Jinnah was a lawyer and political figure prior to the partition of the Indian subcontinent that broke up the British Raj and created India and Pakistan as separate states in 1947. He served as Pakistan’s first governor-general until his death a year later.
A history of violence
Past blasphemy cases have stirred public anger that spiraled into mob violence and killings.
In April of this year, Mashaal Khan, a journalism student at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardar, Pakistan, was beaten and shot dead by fellow students angered by accusations that he had posted blasphemous content online. In 2014, an angry mob in Punjab beat a Christian couple to death over blasphemy accusations, and in a high-profile case in 2011, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard after Taseer proposed reforms for the blasphemy laws.
Despite criticism, Pakistan’s government has been advocating strict enforcement of blasphemy laws. In April the government used newspaper advertising and text messages on mobile phones to warn millions of Pakistanis not to post, share or upload “blasphemous” material online. Anyone encountering such material was asked to report it to the authorities.
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report on Pakistan, ten Muslims and five non-Muslims were arrested in 2016 on blasphemy charges, and at least 19 people convicted of blasphemy were sentenced to death and are being held in prison.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS
For more than 20 years, Aung San Suu Kyi has stood as a human rights icon. Known as “The Lady,” she was admired and respected around the world as she endured house arrest and the repression of Myanmar’s military government.
Myanmar’s de facto leader has received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has been showered with honorary degrees and memberships.
Now there’s a petition to revoke her Nobel (the Nobel committee says that’s not possible) and a growing chorus of criticism. Even fellow Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, retired Bishop Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, have called on her to say something to condemn the violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group.
The United Nations has called the violence against the mostly Muslim Rohingya ethnic cleansing.
Others call it genocide.
Indian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, in New Delhi, India, Sept. 13, 2017. The protesters criticized Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, asking whether she was given a Nobel Peace Prize for promoting peace or for persecuting Rohingya Muslims.
But Aung San Suu Kyi has said little. Her first statements were to say that the world was being misled about the issue. Nearly two weeks after scores of Rohingya villages had been destroyed, she said her government would protect all the country’s residents and would implement a U.N.-backed plan for ending the discrimination and abuse the Rohingya endure.
But nothing more.
“Her silence in this case — that is increasingly recognized as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing or, by the scholars, genocide — silence is complicity,” Maung Zarni, a Myanmar rights activist said via Skype from Britain.
While other critics aren’t quite as harsh, the frustration at her silence is profound.
“I suppose the disappointment comes from that someone who knows how abusive the military is has failed to call them out,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
It’s not just that Aung San Suu Kyi hasn’t condemned the violence, said John Packer, director of the Human Rights Research and Education Center at the University of Ottawa in Canada. Packer, who has spent years researching rights in Myanmar, noted that she has also used the language the military has used to justify its actions in Rakhine.
That includes referring to the Rohingya, who have been denied citizenship since 1982, as Bengalis, which reinforces the government’s position that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Almost all of them, Packer said, are from families that have been in Myanmar for generations, going back hundreds of years.
Burmese residents living in Japan, who support Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, stage a rally against ethnic Rohingya, in front of United Nations University in Tokyo, Sept. 13, 2017.
New at governing
There are those, however, who urge patience with Aung San Suu Kyi.
They argue that her National League for Democracy has run Myanmar’s government for only a few years, and that the military, which ruled for more than 50 years, retains a great deal of power. The country, also known has Burma, has weak institutions and battles high levels of corruption.
Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, has been critical of Aung San Suu Kyi’s stance on the Rohingya but says much of the international criticism is misplaced.
“Constitutionally, she has no power to stop this. But she has moral authority,” he said. He thinks more pressure should be applied to Myanmar’s top general, Min Aung Hlaing. “He is literally calling the shots.”
But aside from the military, powerful nationalist Buddhist monks and many in the ethnic Bamar majority group favor the crackdown on the Rohingya.
Thus, pressuring Aung San Suu Kyi, some experts say, could undermine a fragile democracy.
“She is fighting alone and under great restraints,” global policy analyst Tej Parikh wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine in May.
Muslim women hold posters of Wirathu, the leader of Myanmar’s nationalist Buddhist monks, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and President Htin Kyaw, with writings that read “The waste of humanity” during a rally against persecution of Rohingya Muslims outside Myanmar’s Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 7, 2017.
Maung Zarni doesn’t buy that argument.
“You talked about how little power she has. Well, she controls five other ministries that are directly involved in the genocidal process. Because genocide isn’t just simply killing 100,000 people in two weeks,” he said. “She controls the religious affairs, she controls the immigration ministry, she is the de facto head of the government, and she is also foreign minister.”
Ganguly at Human Rights Watch said, “This is someone who stood up to the very same abusive army” for so many years as a political dissident. “For her to not call them out is shocking for everyone.”
Ultimately, Aung San Suu Kyi must speak, Packer at the Human Rights Research Center said.
“She has to come out and say this is not where we are going … we protect people’s lives, their homes.”
VOA’s William Gallo contributed to this report.