US State Dept Senior Officials meet Rohingya lobbyists and INGOs

By Moe Myint 11 October 2017

YANGON — US Department of State officials, representatives of Rohingya organizations, and US-based international groups have discussed the need for an indiscriminate UN-administered safe zone in northern Rakhine State as well as the cessation of violence and solutions to the region’s humanitarian crisis.

One of the meeting’s attendees, Wakar Uddin, posted two pictures and a summary of the meeting on Facebook. Wakar Uddin is chairman and director general of the Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU), an umbrella organization representing dozens of self-identifying Rohingya groups.

International Campaign for the Rohingya (ICR), also one of the participants, posted on Facebook its representatives had met with US officials, including Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia W. Patrick Murphy, and discussed “sanctioning Burmese army leaders and business interests.”

ICR stated that Murphy, who visited northern Rakhine in late September, was working with other agencies to address the Rakhine crisis and that he said in terms of sanctions “everything is under consideration.”

According to Wakar Uddin’s post, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Scott Busby, also attended the one and a half hour meeting at the state department in Washington, along with Simon Billenness of International Campaign for the Rohingya, John Knaus of National Endowment for Democracy, Khedidja Ouheb of Zakat Foundation, Kathryn Striffolino of Save the Children, and Ronnate Asirwatham of American Jewish World Service.

Based on Wakar Uddin’s list of attendees, there was no representation from organizations in other parts of Myanmar society.

The meeting covered a range of issues, including the repatriation process of more than 500,000 Muslims and a smaller number of Hindus who fled an army crackdown in northern Rakhine State after militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked 30 police outposts on Aug. 25.

Ways in which the US government is encouraging its Myanmar counterpart to stop the violence from security forces and locals in Rakhine against Muslims were shared during the meeting, wrote Wakar Uddin. The implementation of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s recommendations in Rakhine and public security issues were also discussed.

Wakar Uddin previously met with Murphy and other US officials following militant attacks on police outposts in the region on Oct. 25.

Born in Rakhine’s troubled Maungdaw Township, Wakar Uddin graduated from Ye Zin Agricultural University (YAU) based in what became Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw and left Myanmar for the United States in 1970, where he earned a PhD and currently works as a professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Wakar Uddin is also chairman and founder of the Burmese Rohingya Association of North America (BRANA). His other organization, the ARU, was established after a conference for the self-identifying Rohingya at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) headquarters in Saudi Arabia in May, 2011 in order to achieve rights for the community in Rakhine. Communal riots between Arakanese Buddhists and self-identifying Rohingya Muslims rocked the state the following year.

ARU’s mission statement notes it was “formed on the agreed principles of an indivisible Arakan State within the territorial integrity of the Union of Myanmar, through seeking peaceful co-existence, democracy and human rights, and federalism.”

ARU seeks a political solution to the issues faced by the “Rohingya ethnic minority,” according to its statement, using a term for the community strongly opposed by most in Myanmar. It does this, the statement reads, in order to reclaim citizenships and restore political, social, economic, cultural, educational and human rights.

Wakar Uddin has been close to international organizations over the past years, as well as high-profile western bureaucrats and diplomats. He has posted photos online posing with former Secretary of State John Kerry, former US ambassador Derek Mitchell, W. Patrick Murphy, the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) leaders, UN human rights special rapporteur Yanghee Lee, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the State Department of Norway. He has posted descriptions of his activities on Twitter and Facebook, and also attended the UN General Assembly held earlier this year.

Whenever Wakar Uddin speaks to the media, he never hesitates to use controversial words such as “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” to describe the actions of the Myanmar Army in Rakhine. He uses the terms “ethnic minority Rohingya” and even sometimes “indigenous people” in an attempt to shape the Rohingya as an ethnic minority of Myanmar on the international stage.

He urged the UN, OIC and other super-power countries to intervene when it came to the self-identifying Rohingya crisis.

During an interview with Al Jazeera on Sep 10, two weeks after militant attacks in northern Rakhine, Wakar Uddin said the Muslim world should come forward, with strength, to speak out about the self-identifying Rohingya crisis and urged the establishment of a strong coalition from the international community, including western countries.

“The Security Council should be a force to consider demilitarization in northern Rakhine State and send a UN peacekeeping force like Lebanon, like Africa. And OIC countries just like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and they should ask China and Russia not to block [the vote to intervene in Myanmar at UN security council].”

Wakar Uddin was unavailable for comment at the time of this report.