Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Today by Sean Kelly


Disappointment
The Australian government’s response to the crisis in Myanmar seems contradictory

Source

More than 400,000 are on the run. They are running from rape, and from murder. They are fleeing a military that has burned their villages to the ground. This is the verdict of independent observers – the government denies it – and has been reported all over the world.

The United Nations human rights chief has called this a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

The people under attack are Rohingya Muslims, and the country they are leaving is Myanmar, formerly Burma. In case you were wondering, those 400,000 people come from a population of a little over a million.

You may have seen some reporting on the relative silence of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi. Her status, internationally, has shrunk since the attacks began, as she has refused to say anything that might be interpreted as criticism of the military.

Today, she said a few words, but they were not what her critics would have hoped. She did not criticise the military, which says it is defending the country from terrorism. She played down the crisis. She said, of the Muslims fleeing Myanmar, “We want to find out why this exodus is happening”. “There have been allegations and counter-allegations,” she said.

In an unfolding crisis the precise facts are always slippery, but to rely on that as a defence of inaction is typical of those committed to doing nothing. Four hundred thousand of a million-odd people don’t run away for no reason. When the United Nations is as clear as it has been in this case, we should take its words seriously.

In Australia, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the situation “a tragedy of enormous proportions”. Before Aung San Suu Kyi spoke, she said, “There is a considerable level of expectation as to what Aung San Suu Kyi will say.” One imagines she was disappointed.

Meanwhile, the Australian government in which Bishop is a minister is – according to a report in the Guardian today – offering to pay Rohingya refugees to go back to Myanmar. Up to $25,000 can be theirs if they agree to leave Manus Island and return to the country where their villages have been burned.

The Guardian quotes 32-year-old Yahya Tabani: “I don’t want to stay in PNG. I don’t want to die in PNG. I prefer to die in Myanmar. Probably Buddhist people are going to kill me as soon as I arrive in Myanmar… Australia doesn’t care if we live or we die.”

 


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Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

@mrseankelly

 

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