Do human rights only matter when there’s a price involved?
A former Russian spy and a double agent attacked on UK soil with a nerve agent has promptly united several nations to take up stringent measures.
There has been a vociferous cry in support of human rights. An outrage across the Western world, voicing unreserved disgust as to how blatantly this act was carried out in breach of the sovereignty of another nation.
Well, first of all, the attack has to be denounced. As for all the recriminations plus finger pointing, there isn’t concrete evidence in front of the rest of us to believe what we are fed day in and day out. The dodgy dossier memory along with an invasion carried out on a fallacy are not eroded.
And since this poisoning episode did not happen on our soil, it’s always best to refrain from speculating or taking a side, driven by emotion. However, one point that struck the mind is the unbridled eagerness and alacrity with which the balls of condemnation started to roll in this case, whereas in the suffering of hundreds of thousands of those being persecuted in Rakhine state the approach is still so scattered, tentative, and replete with prevarication.
The repeated calls for international pressure
When the Rohingya started to enter Bangladesh en masse in August 2017, it was clear that they were fleeing an army crackdown.
The Myanmar government, at that time, justified the military operation, stating that they were responding to an attack on one of their police outposts by militants.
However, soon, the enormity of the whole Myanmar army-led initiative became clear, with images of burned villages and satellite pictures of mass graves. The UN, plus many other humanitarian organizations, have categorically called this an ethnic cleansing, yet, so far, we have not seen any notable Western sanction against Myanmar.
The Indian PM visiting Myanmar days after the crisis simply sidelined the catastrophe. Some friend, indeed. In fact, even four or five months after the exodus of the people from Rakhine, Western dignitaries carefully refrained from criticizing Aung Sang Suu Kyi for her visibly inactive role plus the usage of misleading rhetoric while addressing the situation in Rakhine.
What was, and still is, ludicrous is the determination to attach some legitimacy to Suu Kyi’s farcical civil administration on the ground that if dialogue is carried out with the military, then it would appear that the army is being given recognition. But what is crystal clear is that this so-called “democracy” that everyone wants to highlight is actually a travesty.
Everyone understands this, though the common line being fed to us repeatedly is that unless talks are carried out with the civil administration, the feeble first layer of democracy would falter.
This proselytization goes on.
If the US, the UK, and all their allies had shown the same amount of resolve as they had displayed in responding to the spy poisoning case, then the Rohingya issue would not be in a stalemate today
Eight months later, the repatriation process is still caught in an impasse — UN observers have not been allowed to carry out full inspection of the ravaged state and, as we look forward to a UNHCR visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar on April 29, it is again unclear if this team will be permitted to visit Rakhine.
Harrowing images trigger immediate action in some cases
Let’s come to the recent missile attack on bases in Syria which the US and the UK are claiming to be chemical weapons plants. The world has seen images of little children experiencing horrible convulsions due to exposure to chemical weapons. Of course we are outraged and feel that firm steps need to be taken to stop the production of chemical weapons.
Then again, memories of the Iraq invasion with the concoction of lies presented with a polemicist’s vehemence is so fresh in our minds that no matter how sincere Theresa May or Donald Trump appear before the press, somehow, one fails to put complete trust in what they are saying.
The inevitable consequence of crying wolf too many times, I’m afraid. And, by the way, there is also the suffering of millions in Myanmar itself. These people were also driven out of their homes, killed, tortured, raped, and immolated.
No, we don’t want any military action against Myanmar because weapons can never solve a simmering racial division ensconced at the very soul of a nation.
Look at Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the Iraq invasion. Military intervention only opened further cans of worms, proliferating socio-political complexities and unleashing militancy onto the world.
But if the US, the UK, and all their allies had shown the same amount of resolve as they had displayed in responding to the spy poisoning case and the purported chemical weapons usage in Syria, then the Rohingya issue would not be in a stalemate today.
An attack on a “double agent” instigated swift expulsion of Russian diplomats, whereas a humanitarian crisis involving large number of people, simmering for ages, results in calls for dialogue plus relentless obscurantism.
Bangladesh’s repeated calls to major Western nations to unite and pressure Myanmar has been futile. No one even thought of some visibly rigorous move like expulsions as a sign of unequivocal displeasure.
We are reminded, once more, that human rights become an issue, justifying robust action, when, and only when, vested interests are at stake.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist, teaching at the University of Dhaka.