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Myanmar Leader’s Silence on Rohingya Disappoints, Angers


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Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Minimal response

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.

Substantial control

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.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

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Angelina Jolie ‘Upset’ Over Backlash to Cambodia Film Casting Process


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Photo Courtesy: Flickr

Angelina Jolie responded to growing backlash over the casting process for her latest film, saying she was “upset” that an improvised scene during auditions had been misconstrued as taking real money away from impoverished children.

In a Vanity Fair interview published last week about her film “First They Killed My Father,” Jolie described a game played by the casting directors with the young Cambodian children auditioning for the lead role of Loung Ung.

Jolie, a special envoy for the United Nations refugee agency, told Vanity Fair she looked for her lead star in orphanages, circuses and slum schools.

Jolie defends casting process

In the casting, a child was placed in front of money on a table, asked to think of what they needed it for and to snatch it away. Jolie would then pretend to catch them, and the child would have to lie about why they stole the money.

“I am upset that a pretend exercise in an improvisation, from an actual scene in the film, has been written about as if it was a real scenario,” Jolie, who directed the film, said in a statement on Sunday.

“The suggestion that real money was taken from a child during an audition is false and upsetting. I would be outraged myself if this had happened.”

Users on social media slammed Jolie’s casting game as cruel and exploiting impoverished children. Vanity Fair reporter Evgenia Peretz called the casting game “disturbing in its realism” in the profile, while Kayla Cobb at pop culture website Decider.com compared the game to a psychological thriller.

“Everyone should know better than to literally dangle money in front of impoverished children … no movie is worth psychologically traumatizing multiple children,” Cobb wrote.

Movie set during Khmer Rouge regime

“First They Killed My Father” is about the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime under which more than 1 million people died. It is due to be released globally and on Netflix in September.

Jolie said the young girl who won the part, Srey Moch, was chosen after “she became overwhelmed with emotion” when forced to give the money back, saying she needed the money to pay for her grandfather’s funeral.

“The children were not tricked or entrapped, as some have suggested,” Rithy Panh, a Cambodian producer on the film, said in a statement. “They understood very well that this was acting, and make believe.”

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

 

UNESCO Adds to List of World Heritage Sites


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Yazd, Iran World Heritage Site Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

A remote Iranian desert city, Ice Age-era caves in Germany and a stone wharf in Brazil built for arriving African slave ships are three new additions to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.

The World Heritage Committee spent a week meeting in Kraków, Poland, to consider 34 significant historical and cultural sites to add to the list.

This year’s selections include the Iranian city of Yazd, which UNESCO describes as a “living testimony to the use of limited resources for survival in the desert.”

The city has managed to avoid so-called modernization that destroyed many similar Iranian towns, and has preserved its traditional homes, bazaars, mosques and synagogues.

Another site UNESCO added to the list is in the Swabian Jura in southern Germany, one of the areas in Europe where humans first arrived more than 40,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age. They settled in caves, first discovered in the 1860s, and where they created some of the oldest known figurative art.

The U.N. cultural organization said the ancient musical instruments and prehistoric carved figures of animals and humans found in the caves help shed light on the origins of human artistic development

UNESCO also placed the Valongo Wharf in central Rio de Janeiro on the World Heritage List. The stone wharves were built in the early 1800s for slave ships sailing from Africa to Brazil. UNESCO called the wharves “the most important physical trace of the arrival of African slaves on the American continent.”

UNESCO added the World Heritage designation to more than 22 sites during its weeklong meeting in Poland, including choices that were controversial.

They include the Hoh Xil area in the China’s Qinghai province, a traditionally Tibetan area. By designating this a World Heritage site, the International Camnpaign for Tibet, an advocacy group critical of China’s administration there, said UNESCO endorses the forced relocation of Tibetan nomads by Chinese authorities.

China has promised to preserve the traditions and cultural heritage of the Tibetan region.

UNESCO also designated the Old City and Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron as a Palestinian World Heritage Site, angering Israel.

The city is split between Israeli and Palestinian control with the Old City and tomb in the Israeli sector. The tomb is sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Israel accuses UNESCO of trying to hide Jewish ties to Hebron, while Palestinians contend Israel is seeking to undermine their history.
News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

 

Timeline: A Chemical Attack, a Shift in US Syrian Policy


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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/File

The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base Friday morning came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war.

Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict, with the U.N. blaming three attacks on the Syrian government and a fourth on the Islamic State group.

Here’s a timeline of this week’s events:

April 4, 2017

One of the worst chemical attacks came Tuesday in rebel-held northern Idlib where dozens were killed in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Witnesses said the attack was carried out by either Russian or Syrian Sukhoi jets. Moscow and Damascus denied responsibility.

That attack prompted President Donald Trump, on day 77 of his presidency, to dramatically shift U.S. policy on Syria. Trump issued a statement saying that the “heinous” actions of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government are the direct result of Obama administration’s “weakness and irresolution.”

After the attack, hospitals around Khan Sheikhoun were overwhelmed, and paramedics sent victims to medical facilities across rebel-held areas in northern Syria, as well as to Turkey.

President Donald Trump and Jordan’s King Abdullah II hold a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, April 5, 2017.

April 5, 2017

Trump says Assad’s government had “crossed a lot of lines” with the chemical attack in Syria. At a joint Rose Garden news conference alongside Jordanian King Abdullah II, Trump said the attack “cannot be tolerated.”

U.S. forces are said to have targeted Shayrat Airfield in western Syria, in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack that American officials believe Syrian government aircraft launched on a rebel-held town with a nerve gas, possibly sarin.

April 6, 2017 

The U.S. fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Friday morning in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack against civilians. Trump said strike on Syria in the “vital national security interest” of the United States.
U.S. officials had said they hoped for a vote Thursday night on a U.N. Security Council resolution that would condemn the chemical attack, but the vote did not take place.

April 7, 2017

Syria decried a U.S. missile attack on a government-controlled air base where U.S. officials say the Syrian military launched a deadly chemical attack earlier this week, calling it an “aggression” that led to “losses.”

A Syrian opposition group, the Syrian Coalition, welcomed the U.S. attack, saying it puts an end to an age of “impunity” and should be just the beginning.

Major Jamil al-Saleh, a U.S-backed rebel commander whose Hama district in the country’s center was struck by a suspected chemical weapons attack, said he hoped the U.S. attack on a government air base would be a “turning point” in the six-year war.

Text Credit: VOA

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