Yvonne Ridley: Myanmar will become another Rwanda or Srebrenica if we don't act now

CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley says Myanmar's generals should be held to account in the International Criminal Court

SUFFERING Rohingya Muslims must be wondering what the point of the International Criminal Court is as the Myanmar military goes about slaughtering its people in the most barbaric way.

Instead of protesting about the disgraced Aung San Suu Kyi, who has moved overnight from hero to zero for her silence over the ethnic cleansing of this minority group, campaigners should, perhaps, be more focused on demanding justice for the Rohingya.

Calls to strip Suu Kyi of the honours bestowed on her in Scotland, including the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh, are insignificant when you consider there are much bigger villains to be held to account than the diminutive saint turned sinner who has been vilified - and rightly so - by the international community.

Calls to strip Suu Kyi of the honours bestowed on her in Scotland, including the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh, are insignificant when you consider there are much bigger villains to be held to account.

Her spectacular fall from grace has delighted the faceless military leaders who have for years resented her iconic status as a heroic fighter of democracy.

However, while many feel, understandably, angry at her denial of what the United Nations describes as "ethnic cleansing", the real villains who have masterminded the brutal scorched-earth campaign against the Rohingya Muslims are in the military, led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Which brings me round to the big question: What is the point of the ICC? While Myanmar has not signed or ratified the ICC, the court could still issue warrants for the arrest of General Hlaing and the monsters under his command if the United Nations Security Council refers the case to the court.

The number of refugees fleeing the violence for neighbouring Bangladesh is now around 410,000, but there is still little sign the 61-year-old general is considering a cessation of hostilities. Human rights groups, charities and NGOs on the ground say there are "no go" areas in Rakhine State and you have to wonder why.

The United Nations has already branded the government offensive a "cruel military operation" which "seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" and yet the UN is most reluctant to use the G-word. For that the faceless mandarins in the UN are even more despicable in their silence than the likes of the impotent pro-democracy leader and de facto prime minister, Suu Kyi.

The real villains who have masterminded the brutal scorched-earth campaign against the Rohingya Muslims are in the military, led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Right now, as I write, some of the worst human rights violations in the world are still taking place against the Royhingha Muslims. And not for the first time. This is nothing new. Cries of "never again" when it comes to genocide obviously do not apply to people of colour or those of the Muslim faith.

Several hard-hitting reports in content and gravitas have emerged from subsequent upheavals and atrocities carried out on the Rohingya people including 2012 when thousands took to the seas in rickety boats to escape persecution from the military. 

Since the political and economic reforms of 2010 Myanmar’s relations with the West improved and sanctions were lifted, however the US and European Union, in particular, seem more preoccupied with securing trade deals than pressurising the regime to implement human rights reforms. Myanmar’s government has in the past made promises to roll out reforms but has not followed through with those pledges.

After reading previous witness accounts over the last decade, what is happening against the Rohingya today creates a feeling of deja vu - harrowing accounts of soldiers forcibly removing and relocating civilians from conflict zones, firing mortars on villages, shooting at fleeing villagers, destroying homes, crops and food stores, laying landmines in civilian areas, enslaving villagers to work as porters, and capturing and executing civilians.

So we have to ask the question: If these military leaders had been hauled before the ICC as early as 2006 would the military of today have dared carried out the genocidal actions in Rakhine State? The answer is no. While Suu Kyi might not have blood on her hands her silence has served to protect those who do which makes her a rather despicable individual.

The United Nations has already branded the government offensive a "cruel military operation" which "seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing" and yet the UN is most reluctant to use the G-word.

As it is, she is now facing a backlash for her vile behaviour by being catapulted to the swampy boondocks inhabited by other social outcasts. I have a feeling that honorary degrees and international platforms in the West will no longer be offered to her in the future. She will not have time to reflect on how she can ever regain her rock star status in the world again.

However, thanks to others we are now getting to know the faces and identities of those responsible for carrying out war crimes in Myanmar today, so why is the UN so reluctant to act and use the word "genocide"? Of course once it does it other nation states will have to act and issue arrest warrants for those suspected of war crimes against the Rohingya people.

The UN's silence is reprehensible and more unforgivable than Suu Kyi's silence. There are already harrowing eye witness accounts of beheadings and the killing of babies and children. This isn't a tragedy, this is another Rwanda, Srebrenica or Kosovo. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says it is "catastrophic" and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeijd Ra'ad Al Hussein went one step further by calling it "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing".

However, their reluctance to go one step further and call it out for what it is - genocide - renders their words meaningless. If the powers that be continue to turn a blind eye we can only conclude that the International Criminal Court (ICC), established in 2002 by the Rome Statute, is no longer fit for purpose.

There are already harrowing eye witness accounts of beheadings and the killing of babies and children. This isn't a tragedy, this is another Rwanda, Srebrenica or Kosovo. 

The court is already mired in accusations of racism, blatant double standards, hypocrisy, corruption and serious judicial irregularities, so you can't help wondering what has to be done to get the 'world's court' to swing into action for the Rohingya people.

Are the Rohingya the wrong colour? The wrong faith? Why will the international community not act and get the war criminals before the ICC? The institution has special prosecutorial rights of referral and deferral to the UN Security Council – by default its five permanent members (three of which are not even ICC members China, Russia and the US) could act. It all begs another question and that is: Is the UN a force for good for everyone or is it just selective?

Sadly, unless the international community takes swift action against the monsters in Myanmar by putting these people before the ICC, the names of the Rohingya people will only be remembered alongside the genocide victims of Rwanda, Srebrenica and Kosovo.

According to a 2015 briefing report on the Rohingya published by the Equal Rights Trust the majority of Rohingya live in "unofficial camps or ghettos where they receive no help. The Rohingya situation is strikingly reminiscent of Jews in Nazi Germany or apartheid-era South Africa".

Surely the plight of the Rohingya people has gone on long enough? It is clearly futile to demand the already disgraced Aung San Suu Kyi hands back her Nobel Peace prize, but if the ICC has any credibility left immediate arrest warrants for alleged war crimes should be issued today starting with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

And that is what we should be campaigning for today - justice for the Rohingya.

Picture courtesy of European Commission DG ECHO

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