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The UN has used the g-word, but will it tackle Israeli arms sales to the butchers of Myanmar?

September 1, 2018 at 12:32 pm

The UN has finally used the g-word in accusing the Myanmar regime of genocide against the ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims. Now it needs to go one step further, by aiming a few choice words — and sanctions, if necessary — at those states which supply arms to the military junta, including Israel.

The Zionist State has a long history of selling weapons to dodgy military regimes like the de facto government in Myanmar. In fact, from South America to parts of Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, it seems that Israel is more than happy to sell arms to anyone if the price is right, no matter what their human rights record is like. However, to date, no one in the international community has dared to accuse Israel publicly of being complicit in human rights abuses in other countries when its weapons are used to oppress civilians around the world.

While Israel does have the legislation in place for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, it is unlikely that the courts will charge it of being complicit in Myanmar’s genocide of the Rohingya. It is even less likely that the UN will act, given that it has taken a year for the international organisation to admit that a genocide has indeed taken place.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s army, has been named in the most recent UN report as one of those responsible for the slaughter. This is a man who works closely with Tel Aviv and was given the VIP treatment when he last visited Israel in September 2015.

During that trip the suspected war criminal held meetings with senior Israeli officers and President Reuven Rivlin while visiting sensitive military bases and the state-run arms manufacturers. Shortly after his red carpet treatment, he announced that Myanmar was spending tens of millions of dollars on weapons made by Israel.

The following year, senior members of Israel’s military defence team visited Myanmar, according to boastful reports on Hlaing’s Facebook page. Ironically, the only group to take action against the general so far is the social media giant, which banned Myanmar’s most senior military officer after accusing him of using it to promote hate and misinformation. In a MEMO article in 2016, I asked if Myanmar was taking genocide lessons from Israel; little did I or anyone else know what was in store for the Rohingya in 2017.

Israel is also normally boastful about its overseas trade, especially arms sales, but it is now rather silent on its delivery of weapons to the general’s regime. At the Israeli High Court of Justice last year a judge decided that such sensitive details should remain classified and upheld the Netanyahu government’s insistence that it would not publish details about arms going to Myanmar. Israel is so sensitive about this that even the court’s full ruling was classified. However, it is believed that Israeli weapons will continue to be delivered despite the UN finding that the Rohingya are the victims of genocide.

Meanwhile, the ongoing plight of more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees stuck in overcrowded camps in neighbouring Bangladesh since last August is still causing angst in UN circles. Now that the organisation has officially accepted that a large number of Myanmar’s Rohingya population fled to escape a ferocious campaign of mass killings, rapes and the burning of villages by Myanmar soldiers, the next step for the UN may involve legal action. Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who stepped down yesterday, has described the attack on the Rohingya as a textbook case of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

He launched a scathing attack on Myanmar’s attempts to whitewash the events which began last August. He also questioned the government’s sincerity about repatriation, since not a single refugee has returned to their former home. “Myanmar has a pattern of investigative whitewashing,” Al-Hussein told the Human Rights Council. “There is every reason to believe that another internal inquiry will again seek to whitewash the terrible crimes which have occurred, laying the ground for a new wave of violence in the future.”

In a parting shot before leaving the UN Al-Hussein called for the creation of an independent international unit to use evidence gathered by a United Nations fact-finding team to investigate the criminal liability of individuals involved in the security forces’ campaign. “Myanmar must grasp that the international community will not forget the outrages committed against the Rohingya,” he said, “nor will it absolve the politicians who seek to cover them up.”

Perhaps the UN would be better placed to investigate those who have supplied weapons to the regime in the first place, thereby cutting off Myanmar’s supply of arms and sending out a strong message to those who might contemplate selling weapons to regimes which use them to oppress their own people.

It is a sad state of affairs when a regime like Myanmar’s only issues denials and shows next to no concern about a UN accusation of genocide, while Israel places a gagging order on discussions of its sale of arms to the generals in the former Burma. It is in stark contrast with the Facebook ban, which unleashed an angry response from General Hlaing and his regime. “We have called Facebook to ask why they have done this,” said U Zaw Htay, a government spokesman.

The social media ban on 20 individuals and groups linked to the military responsible for committing or enabling “serious human rights abuses in the country” should be of far less consequence than a UN accusation of genocide. The fact that the military regime in Myanmar can ignore the latter while condemning the former suggests strongly that it knows that the UN accusation will go no further. That is the reality of the world today, especially wherever Israel is involved, in dodgy arms deals or anything else.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.