In Person

There is a Problem with the Government’s Diplomacy

By The Irrawaddy 10 March 2018

Ye Ni: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we’ll discuss the talk of the town on social media—R2P (Responsibility to Protect) and ICC (International Criminal Court). U Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society, and U Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners join me for the discussion. I’m Irrawaddy Burmese editor Ye Ni.

As everyone knows, R2P is a global political commitment that was endorsed by member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit to prevent genocide, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing. France proposed, at the UN Security Council, applying R2P to intervene in Myanmar in the aftermath of Nargis in 2008. Now, R2P has become popular again as Myanmar came under the spotlight because of the Rohingya crisis. Ko Aung Moe Zaw, do you think R2P can pave the way for the UN Security Council to intervene in Myanmar’s issue?

Aung Moe Zaw: In my opinion, it depends greatly on the political will of big countries, for example, if the United States wants to take the decisive step to handle Myanmar. According to my study, I think those countries don’t have the will to conduct a military intervention. Though many countries apparently want to see improvements in human rights issues and [punishment for] war crimes in our country, I don’t think they will intervene to that extent.

YN: People speculate on social media that UN peacekeeping troops will come into the country. Why are they speculating this? Is there any hidden agenda?

AMZ: Leaders of the country, important politicians and military leaders know the magnitude of the issue. But at the same time, there is nationalist instigation that is taking advantage of this [the Rohingya issue]. We’ve seen provocative posts on social media that could create problems in the country. Some prominent personalities argue that we may lose Rakhine because of R2P. I believe that UN peacekeeping troops will not come into Myanmar. So, it is an unrealistic assumption that we may lose Rakhine or other parts of the country.

The most important thing is we must try to restore communication and peace between different communities in the country. The major concern of the international community is…hundreds of thousands of people have left Rakhine State, and if they are forcibly brought back into Myanmar, they may continue to face human rights violations. The international community is greatly concerned about this. But, I want to reiterate that military intervention is absolutely unlikely.

YN: Ko Bo Kyi, there have been concerns about the human rights situation in Myanmar.  How do you assess the diplomacy of the Myanmar government and the international community’s criticism about the human rights situation in Myanmar at present?

Bo Kyi: The international community still maintains the view that there are grave human rights violations in our country. We have to fix this within our country. When we think about protecting the sovereignty of the country, we must also try to protect the security of individuals living in the country. If there is no security for individuals living in the country, there will be no sovereignty. In other words, it is important that people are free from fear, that they should not be afraid when someone unfairly treats them. Also, individuals need personal development. The government has to take responsibility for that and give support, especially by creating jobs.

Law enforcement organizations like the Tatmadaw and police and ethnic armed organizations must take responsibility for the rule of law. As they fail to bear this responsibility, Myanmar has become the lowest-ranking country on the human rights index. And expected foreign investment inflow has stalled. Every year, countries made recommendations and resolutions at the UN to address human rights issues. We need to listen to them. In some cases, they provide technical support if necessary. If we cooperate that way, the human rights situation may improve gradually in our country. Then, we don’t need to be afraid of R2P and ICC.

People tend to grow up with irrational fear in our country. We tend to fear the unknown from childhood, which is proven by childhood stories about Dae Waw [the rain deity]. Now, the stability of the country is threatened with R2P and there are reasons for us to worry about hearing again “saving the country from the brink of the abyss” [an excuse given by the military regime to take over control of the country amid armed revolution by ethnic groups]. We feel that circumstances are now being created for that to happen. It is a cause for concern for the future of both the country and the people.

I feel that certain people are doing certain things although they know clearly the consequences of their actions. If even people like us know that, most of those who have assumed top positions of the country know clearly what to do, and what not to do. So, there is a need to fundamentally reform diplomatic relations. We can’t play a zero-sum game, and it is not a black and white issue. We need to open the door. Even if we can’t open the door 100 percent, we should open the door a certain percent, and if we solve the problem through cooperation, things will gradually go in a positive direction.

YN: Talking of [the prosecution of Myanmar Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing] at the ICC in the Hague in the Netherlands, most of those brought there are dictators, from Sudan, Libya and Congo. But recently, news reports said that Philippine President Duterte would be brought to ICC as tens of thousands of people were killed in his anti-drug campaign. Talking of Myanmar military leaders, international news reports said that thousands of people including children were killed [in counter-insurgency military operations]. Suppose R2P won’t happen. But what is the likelihood of prosecution at ICC, Ko Aung Moe Zaw?

AMZ: I think this also concerns neighboring countries. It will depend largely on the stance of Bangladesh. But international human rights activists, politicians and some countries might try for prosecution. It will depend mainly on neighboring countries, for example, it is directly concerned with Bangladesh. If Bangladesh wants to initiate prosecution, there are reasons for us to worry. Anyway, I think military intervention and prosecution at the ICC are fairly unlikely. It is quite unlikely to arrive at a broad consensus over prosecution.  Again, taking a look at geopolitics, both Bangladesh and Myanmar are under the influence of China. Under such circumstances, it will be difficult for Bangladesh to take an active part in initiating prosecution.

Anyway, the fact that such news spread around the world has a serious impact on our country. It negatively affects the economy, politics and image of the country. Even if R2P and ICC are not applied, at least renewed sanctions will be imposed for sure. It may further weaken the already fragile country. So, as Ko Bo Kyi has suggested, the government and authorities should change their tactics in international relations.

YN: Both R2P and ICC have to go through the UN Security Council. As China has veto power in the council, R2P and ICC are unlikely to be passed. I think the UN will not pass sanctions either, as China has veto power. Certain people may even think that they could endure a sanction period by relying on China, and that they will therefore be able to cope with targeted sanctions from the US and EU. Ko Bo Kyi, what do you think?

BK: The wealthy class that controls the country’s economy may think like that. But for [ordinary] people, there are many things to lose when a country imposes economic sanctions. We have to use the banking system for trade. If financial transactions are frozen, money has to be transferred through the black market. This will deter potential foreign investors, and also cause market problems. Then, some investors will leave the country. Unemployment will increase in that case; there will be financial instability and market instability. These will directly affect the people.

The ultimate responsibility lies with the rulers of the country and those who say they will protect the country to prevent this. The Tatmadaw leaders have experienced the consequences of sanctions. I would suggest that there are things they can do to prevent other countries from imposing similar sanctions. I don’t want to see one trouble after another. Civil society and every citizen in the country have citizenship duties. We should think about how we can cooperate to pull our country out of trouble. We have the responsibility as citizens, and we’ll think and make suggestions.

AMZ: There is a problem with the government’s diplomacy. I think the government is too rigid even to cooperate with the UN in Rakhine and on consequential issues. It needs to cooperate at least with the UN. We need to show clearly that we have transparency, and responsibility and accountability for things that happened on the ground. The [authorities] know that only then cooperation will be smoother, and the calls for ICC and R2P will become faint. It is not that the country’s leaders do not know this fact. They know it clearly. Taking an uncompromising attitude will invite more problems and it will be the people who bear the brunt. There will be a negative impact on the economy. Our country is quite poor now. The majority of people are in grinding poverty and sanctions will be a crushing blow to the people.

YN: Ko Aung Moe Zaw, Ko Bo Kyi, thank you for your contributions!