No one should get too excited about the US announcing it will withdraw military assistance from Burma because of the Rohingya genocide. It’s a cynical stunt like the European Union pulled a few weeks ago when it announced it would sever military ties with the Burmese junta. The EU already had sanctions in place against such ties & still several countries were courting Burmese military officials. Drawing a false distinction between the Burmese junta & Aung San Suu Kyi’s quasi-civilian government (fully complicit in the genocide), the US says it will withdraw military assistance from Burmese officers involved in the Rohingya genocide & withdraw invitations to Burmese military officials to visit the US. The question is raised: since the US already is supposed to have some restrictions on military sales to Burma, exactly what kind of military assistance will it be withdrawing? Why censure just the generals leading operations in Arakan state? Why not censure the entire junta & Suu Kyi regime holding demonstrations & rallies to whip the population into genocide fever? Why were the generals coming to the US? To visit the Grand Canyon? Or strategize with the Pentagon?
The Burma sanctions program began in 1997 when then president Clinton signed an executive order imposing sanctions because of Burma’s military junta. Since the US has a long history of bankrolling repressive regimes it’s not clear why Burma provoked US sanctions. (That’s an issue which should be studied.) The sanctions were expanded in successive executive orders by Clinton & Bush & in laws passed by the US Congress. The most important from Congress is the Burmese Freedom & Democracy Act of 2003. The disputed issues laid out in the sanctions program were the Burmese junta’s use of forced labor & child soldiers, involvement in meth & heroin trafficking & in human trafficking, money laundering, religious persecution. At no place in these documents does the US call out the Rohingya genocide as a factor in its sanctions determinations. Of course the US was fully apprised through CIA operatives & surveillance systems of the persecution & eventual Rohingya genocide–long before the rest of the world became aware in 2012. US initiatives to end sanctions began in 2011 & went public with Hillary Clinton’s 2011 trip to Burma & Obama’s subsequent trips in 2012 & 2014. Obama’s 2012 trip took place only a month after the genocidal offensive ended with 90,000 Rohingya fleeing for their lives to Bangladesh.
Included in the labyrinth of sanctions were travel bans, restrictions on financial dealings with Burmese banks, a ban on Burmese imported goods (while US exports to Burma continued), a ban on investments in Burma, the end of direct military aid & the end of training military officers in the US. Also included in the sanctions were massive loopholes through which the US could move money to the junta under guises like human rights training or HIV programs. That would not be hard to do since the military regime controlled not only the government but the entire economy. As the Burmese freedom act of 2003 said, the junta “integrated the Burmese military & its surrogates into all facets of the economy, effectively destroying any free enterprise system.”
In October 2016, Obama signed an executive order terminating economic sanctions against the junta–though the US had begun ending them piecemeal as far back as 2011 in order to enter the bonanza opened up by neoliberal economics in Burma. Maybe not coincidentally, another genocidal onslaught against the Rohingya people began just two days after the termination of economic sanctions. Obama signed that order after nearly 120,000 Rohingya had already fled Burma in 2012 & in 2015 when thousands of fleeing Rohingya were left to drown in the Andaman Sea. The whole world knew a genocide was going on & the US ignored it. Between October 2016 & January 2017, another 95,000 fled a military offensive. Yet in June 2017 the US removed most military sanctions claiming Burma had stopped using child soldiers despite documentation to the contrary from the UN & Human Rights Watch & despite genocide.
US policy toward Burma is a labyrinth of lies. Despite wimpy protestations about the Rohingya genocide, the US has done nothing to end it. It would continue to play stupid except the educational work of Rohingya activists on social media & the current genocidal offensive have made the Rohingya people the center of politics to human rights supporters on social media. Our mission is to keep educating & extending support because the forces of reaction are mobilized to vilify & misrepresent the Rohingya people as terrorists to undermine solidarity. Our mission is to politically pressure these regimes to act to stop the slaughter so that the Rohingya people can win full human, democratic, civil, & refugee rights.
(Photo of Rohingya kids at Cox’s Bazar by Abir Abdullah/EPA)