More From Alder's Ledge

January 8, 2014

Against All Odds

The Strength To Endure
(part of The Darkness Visible series)

Nowhere Left To Run.

Imagine for a moment that you have lost everything you have, everything you value, everything you cherish in this life. Imagine for a moment that the place you call home has been burned by your neighbors and all that remains is rubble and ash. Imagine that you have been driven from your house by people you once knew from what now seems like a previous life. Listen to their screams as they threaten you and your family. Listen to the malicious hatred they spew as they rip apart the life you at least felt comfortable living. Watch as they set your house to the torch and carry off any of your possessions they wish. Watch as they brutalize your family and friends as you run for safety. Watch as they turn into animals, engulfed in this barbaric orgy of violence, consumed by absolute hate. 

In pogroms this is how the hate needed for genocide manifest itself. It is a flash point where every last grudge, every vile word spoken beneath one's breath, every vengeful thought that has ever passed through their minds comes to fruition. In that moment the gates of hell itself fling open as the worse part of mankind is realized. It is in that moment that the savage side of our existence triumphs over our otherwise pacifist side. Love dies, if only for a moment, as hate replaces anything that once resembled civility.

In Bosnia the outbreak of war brought the opportunity for long held resentments to flourish as neighbor was pitted against neighbor. In Rwanda the machete felt it's first taste of blood as the long ignored warning signs faded beneath a crimson tide. In Burma... in the Arakan... this flash point was the exploitation of one tragedy so as to plunge an entire people into a far worse one. Yet in every case the reason for this spirally collapse of society was predictable. 

But this post isn't about pointing the blame... 

Today we look at what has happened since those flood gates were opened. 

Every year a tidal wave leaves the shores of the Arakan. Like clockwork, this human migration takes place without fail. Raggedy vessels that are barely seaworthy at all take to the waves as desperate souls hedge their bets upon uncertain means of escape. Each one of these Rohingya add to a collective that comprises a wave of refugees that risk their lives to run. But run to where?

Poseidon And The Dmōs

In the past the Rohingya had fished the very waters they now set out upon. Yet we should not fantasize that the Rohingya people now voyaging out onto the seas are seafaring individuals. These are people from all walks of life and with varying knowledge of what it takes to stay alive at sea. This act of bribing a vessel to carry them away from the Arakan is one of desperation. It is not one they seem to wish for or yearn for in any manner. This journey is a last resort for a broken people. 

Actual war, classically romanticized by the imagery of two sides battling it out, would be preferable to the hell that the Rohingya boat people are fleeing. Mass starvation and the constant threat of pogroms sends these people to the waves. Without the ability to find security back home they are forced to sacrifice everything for one last glimmer of hope. But what hope does the god of this ocean offer?

To first make it aboard a vessel the Rohingya refugees must pay their way. It is a heavy toll for a refugee that has either lost everything or sold everything in hopes of making this journey. They are either promised safe passage or a little light at the end of their tunnel. But any way about it they are taken for every last valuable possession they have just to leave their homeland.

Then the journey begins. 

Food, water, and fuel are not guaranteed. The owner of the vessel maximizes profits by offering nothing in the way of safety or comfort. The analogy between these vessels and slave ships of day past is not far from reality. Refugees on these boats are simply made to wait and see just how their luck will turn out. If the food or water disappears before a safe landing place is found... well, that is where prayers and a fading sense of hope fill the gap. 

For some the journey will end with the wrath of Poseidon himself. The seas upon which they travel can become treacherous for even the most experience sailors. And with the reality of their ship's limited seaworthiness made blatantly clear, hope for salvation must surely fade fast. For the sea is the least forgiving place on earth. It bears no mercy for mankind; it never has and never will. 

In 2012 there were an estimated 13,000 Rohingya who fled their homeland by sea. That year the UN High Commissioner for Refugees admitted to knowing at least 485 of these refugees had died at sea. Their deaths, no matter how unrecognized they might be, remain a testament to the harrowing journey their comrades had taken in fleeing Burma's grinding genocide in the Arakan. There is no justifiable reason why they had to die. 

As for those who live... for these hell may have just begun to open up.

If the vessel the refugees are aboard makes it's way to Thailand there are differing ways the journey could end. The devil beneath the waves gives way to the cruelty of man as the refugees watch their hope slip away. Either they will make it ashore and risk being sent back to Myanmar by Thai officials or something far more sinister awaits. 

Thai Navy ships in 2013 were reported to have opened fire on Rohingya refugees as their vessels raced toward the shore. These boats attempted to make their way to the beaches in hopes of slipping through the Thai defenses. When caught they were towed out to sea where they were left with little or no fuel. The intent on the part of the Thai Navy was clear... allow starvation and thirst to kill the refugees rather than let them make it back to the Thai coast. 

This strategy of "dealing with the boat people" has however given way to even more savage exercises by Thai officials and the Navy. In recent months the dirty secrets of Thai officials' involvement in the illegal trade of human flesh has come to light. Their open trafficking of Rohingya refugees was released to the world by brave journalist who risked their own freedoms on behalf of the beleaguered Rohingya people. The response to the boldness of their actions in this war against injustice was met immediately with retaliation by the Thai government. But the facts are already out there and the bell has already rang for all to hear. 

Where the Thai Navy had once dragged Rohingya back out to sea to die they are now handing them over to traffickers, for a fee of course. Where they had been shooting at Rohingya who dared to abandon ship and swim to shore they are now capturing them and selling them. The Thai officials had clearly discovered that there was a profit to be had if they only sold their own souls first. 

And then there are the Rohingya who make it ashore.

Hope must be a wonderful thing for those who can manage to obtain it and/or keep it through all of this. But I would be far to cynical to imagine that there isn't at least a few Rohingya who manage to hold onto that last glimmer of hope. Even after having survived more than most people could ever bare, I have to imagine that at least some Rohingya keep that hope alive. 

For those who come ashore there must be a moment where they feel relief. In that moment before the Thai military comes rushing toward them, that moment where the whole world lay stretched out before them... that must be the moment where hope still lives. 

If taken into custody by police in Thailand the Rohingya refugees are offered no sense of dignity. In cramp quarters with no access to toilets or a place to sleep, hundreds of Rohingya refugees are kept caged like animals by Thai police. They are considered illegal by the government of Thailand. They are given no opportunity to apply for asylum in Thailand. They are given no access to resources that other refugees would be granted. In Thailand the genocide that the Rohingya had risked everything to escape is alive and well. 

For many of these Rohingya the time in prison is a sort of limbo. They know that they are destined to be returned to Myanmar. They know that starvation and every form of indignity awaits them once they are taken back over the border. There really is no end the depravity that exist within the hearts and soul of the two nations actively participating in this genocide. 

In The Hand's Of Thanatos

Then there are those who cannot run. Those who are left to starve in camps, those who are left to wait for death at the hands of soldiers and mobs, those who are left to watch the world crumble around them. These are the masses of Rohingya who dare to simply exist upon the land of their ancestors. These are the Rohingya that take each breath with the hope that it wont be their last. 

Those who live in the camps wake up each day with the thought of where their next meal is coming from. They are left in a hellish condition of endless hunger. Mothers watch their children slowly dwindle before their eyes. Food, such a precious commodity, is not guaranteed from one day to the next. It is a resource that must be guarded and protected at all cost in a place where so little of it can be obtained. 

From the outbreak of the this latest wave of genocidal "ethnic violence" thousands of Rohingya have been forced into these ghettos. Burma has worsened their plight by labeling these refugee camps as illegal and therefore attempting rationalize the military's blockades of Rohingya camps and villages. Putting up barriers and posting guards, Myanmar almost immediately transformed refugee camps into concentration camps. The places where Rohingya had taken refuge from the violence became prisons.

In 2012 CNN reported upon the starvation that was (and still is) running rampant in Rohingya camps within the Arakan. In a report that consisted of kissing President Barack Obama's boots, CNN managed to at least point out that Rohingya citizens had been made homeless through pogroms (though CNN calls it "communal violence"). They managed to show the world that once placed in camps the Rohingya were being denied access to basic needs. And yet that is where the world community left off. 

In the months that followed the world ignored the plight of starving Rohingya as Burma continued to flirt with the Western powers. The promise of economic gains by appeasing Myanmar's rabid appetite for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya has stunted any response by outside governments. Agencies that are supposed to record and report such atrocities appeared to turn their eyes away as the world community gawked at figures like Aung San Suu Kyi. The desire to recognize genocide where and when it is occurring once again failed as we forgot those two words... "never again".

Once the camps were quarantined off by Burmese military and police the conditions for starvation were established. Having killed countless Rohingya in often staged pogroms, the state forces had permitted themselves an excuse to sell the world. This method of siege warfare was now "justified" in the eyes of the Burmese government due to the "threat of communal unrest". Death by starvation and disease was somehow preferable to actually reinstating the rule of law.

In many ghettos the blockades have not lifted. What little aid makes it to the Rohingya behind the barricades is not secure and can be taken away at any given time. Those living behind these barriers are subjected to every indignity the Burmese security forces wish to cast upon them. Organized rape of Rohingya women and girls is apparently permissible within the ranks of Myanmar's police and military. Forced labor is a common method of deteriorating the health and well-being of Rohingya men and boys. The goal here is the same as it was in Warsaw... a slow grinding death that lingers at the gates as those trapped inside pray for relief.

And then there is the threat of liquidation.

Warsaw had the option of resisting. It was an enigma in the ghetto system the Germans had established across Europe. But it did take that option. And for what little time those brave souls could... the fought like hell to survive the inevitable.

Places like Aung Mingalar had no such option. The ability to fight, the ability to resist, had been stripped away the moment the Burmese police established Aung Mingalar ghetto. Barbed wire and armed checkpoints were put in place and the residents of the ghetto searched for any weapons. Total totalitarian rule was put in place as Myanmar allowed conditions within the ghetto to rapidly deteriorate.

In August of 2013 Aung Mingalar's ghetto took the first steps toward liquidation. There may not have been and Auschwitz to which the Rohingya could be sent, but there were larger concentration camps away from the Buddhists inhabitants of Sittwe. Thus the hundreds of Rohingya forcibly moved from one hellish confine to the next could do little to stop the abuses they would endure.

Myanmar has received no real international condemnation or sanctions for it's abuses against Rohingya citizens. If a ghetto is to be liquidated in the same way the Nazi's did with Jewish ghettos, it is hard to believe at this point that the UN, EU, or United States would even bother to speak out. The behavior of treating the Rohingya like cattle has already been rewarded by the resounding sound of silence that has wafted across the globe in response to Burma's excesses. Since the events at Aung Mingalar were not punished it is likely that in the near future Myanmar's government could escalate it's offenses and move closer to the 1940's definition of liquidation.

As for now, those Rohingya still living under the oppressing weight of Myanmar's blockades must cling to life in any way they can manage. Water, food, medicine, and the basic needs of daily life must be scavenged or gone without. Children who should be in school will now grow up without any knowledge of what life should be like. Parents who should be providing for their families must now watch as what is left of them falls apart before their very eyes.

This isn't living...

It's simply existing from one day to the next.

Astraea's Death

In cases of ethnic cleansing during the 21st century the use of sexualized violence is often overlooked yet remains a hallmark of this barbaric crime. Bosnia and Rwanda showed the world that during acts of genocide women and children are particularly vulnerable. They not only suffer from outright killing but also from acts meant to leave permanent scars upon the targeted community as whole. And this is what rape, especially when used as a weapon, does to a community already fractured by genocide. 

Myanmar's use of rape has spread across every state where the military has engaged in what it calls war. In the Kachin the use of rape was implemented as a method of pushing the Kachin people off their homeland and thus giving access to the government to the resources upon which the Kachin sat. When used against the Shan it was unmistakeably utilized as a method of ethnic cleansing. And when put into practice in the Arakan state, this method of dehumanization was intended to allow troops to fragment what little sense of community the Rohingya people had left. 

Rape leaves the community vulnerable. This is especially true when the victims' families and community have no means of defense or access to legal reprisals against the assailants. When committed in this manner it violates the sense of security that both the woman and her family feel. This insecurity often manifest in distrust amongst members of the targeted community. And thus the fractures left by the initial crime begin to multiply.

For the Rohingya rape has been utilized in multiple ways. In many incidents it is used spontaneously as security forces come in contact with Rohingya trapped behind blockades or in camps. At other times it is used against Rohingya women who are already being used as forced labor. While in more sinister cases, becoming more frequently reported, it is used by the Burmese military in "rape camps" where Rohingya girls are abducted and forced into sexual slavery by the Burmese government. 

Rape camps were nearly perfected by the Serbian forces during the Bosnian Genocide. The use of these camps was meant to kill women through both physical and sexual abuse. Those who survived were intended to be rejected by their community. The potential offspring would be outright killed or allowed to live as a reminder to the Bosnian community of the crimes committed against them. It was in it's essence an absolute manifestation of the perverse nature of genocide and the complete lack of humanity it embodies. 

Burmese use of this crime once again highlights the world community's lack of teeth when dealing with violence committed against women and children. Our countless resolutions come up short when we never bother to put muscle behind the vague words we so often apply to worthless paper. And in the end it is the women of victimized communities that pay the highest price for our indifference to their suffering. 

"A man from NaSaKa [Burma’s border security force] came to my house. He kicked the door and told me I had to go and work as a sentry instead of my husband. I had to go immediately with my young child and without food. Later in the evening while I was at my post someone else from NaSaKa came. He told me "your husband is not there, I will stay with you; I want to live with you." That night the man raped me in the shed in front of my boy.

We [women] feel at peace in Bangladesh. There is no food and some problems, but there is no rape, we have peace."
~ 26 Year-old Rohingya Female Refugee In Bangladesh

These accounts are sadly the normal tales that come out of the Arakan. Rapist within the government's forces are not punished. Their crimes are encouraged by a country that wants to devalue the worth of an entire ethnic group. Their abuses are rewarded by a military that promotes excessive violence as a means of progress for Myanmar's future as a country. 

For those left to pick up the pieces after these attacks there are lasting affects of rape (no matter what the context). 

Rohingya women and girls who have been victimized will often remain silent in fear of the stigma that comes with the crime itself. Their willingness to speak up would bring direct condemnation from others in the community at large. In many cases the victim is blamed for the crime as the community itself seeks an answer why an unjustifiable crime was committed in the first place. And thus more motivation is created on the victims part to remain silent. 

Depression, anxiety, and withdrawing from others are all symptoms that hamper the victim's ability to help their community survive the stress of the overall genocide itself. If by chance these reactions to the rape culminate in the death of the victim the end goal of genocide is also achieved. 

For those who survive to carry on there is the question of why? Why did they have to suffer this wretched offense? Why they were left to carry on in silence? Why nobody cares and why nobody will help?

The Strength To Endure

When we set down to write up this piece we knew that this post would only be able to touch upon a portion of what the Rohingya people are suffering in Myanmar. We picked these three portions of the story so as to help those reading realize just what genocide looks like in Burma. You wont get the complete picture from us, we would never dream of being able to tell it all... it is just too vast a subject for any one post. But we did set down with one thing in mind; and that was to create a scream that the world will not be able to ignore. 

The Rohingya people are suffering a tragedy in slow motion as the world watches somewhat blindly and with a muted sense of outrage. We want to change that. We want to restore the hope that Myanmar is stripping from each and every Rohingya trapped under it's crushing weight. We seek to bring our voice like swords, cutting to the bone without remorse, so that those left defenseless have at least one ally on their side. 

Alder's Ledge is seeking to motivate our readers to get involved. For the past year this has been a struggle on our own part. We took some time away from this subject because we felt it was gaining traction amongst those who could help. Sadly, this hasn't happened yet. The Rohingya's plight is still worsening and our so called "activists" are losing the strength to keep up the fight. 

Our hope comes from individuals we have met along the way. 

In Thailand we have friends who live in just as much poverty as anyone here in the states could ever imagine. They struggle to keep their phones turned on as they work any given job to pay the next bill. Yet they give every spare bit of cash to the cause. And more importantly, they give every spare moment to the fight. 

In China, where the subject is barely ever spoken about, we have team members that take material we provide them into their communities and literally scream. They risk their own reputations in a country where that is almost 90% of their personal value within society. In their schools, in their work places, and in their neighborhoods they take our motto of screaming to it's most direct extent... making sure nobody can say they didn't know. And all this because the genocide which we speak of is happening just across their border and yet nobody around them bothers to wake-up and recognize it. 

Then there is twitter... 

For those reading this twitter may be the only way you feel you can reach out to the world and scream. It may be the last refuge for you to feel like somebody is listening. And if that is the case then we encourage you to scream... scream till your energy is gone, and then scream even longer. Your voice counts. Your effort will not go unnoticed. 

On twitter we have watched as people like Jamila Hanan (@JamilaHanan) toil away on behalf of the Rohingya people. Within the network that encircles great people like Jamila are others who take their voices and apply them to actions on and off the Internet. We have seen over the past year beautiful souls that have purchased food and other necessities that otherwise would had never made it to the Rohingya. We have watched dedicated warriors for the cause organize efforts to petition governments and agencies around the world on behalf of the Rohingya.  And all this because it's simply the right thing to do. 

So if you are reading this we aren't asking you to do these things because nobody else is. We are asking you to get involved because those already on the field are more than ready for reinforcements. We are asking that you contact us on twitter (@alders_ledge and @AL_Staff) so that we can point you toward people who are actively engaged in this struggle. We are asking that you lend yourself to the cause along with us.

Ready to do more than tweet or email?

Money is the root of all evil.

Or so that is what they say... In Myanmar it has been the driving force behind the silence of the world community at large. It keeps the Burmese military in the field as foreign investors pour cash into the genocidal government's back pocket. And yet it is the one thing that can make the difference between whether a Rohingya family eats or starves.

Chances are if you are reading this you have some of that said cash available after all your bills are paid each month. Chances are you spend some of that on things you really don't need. For example: name brand coffee, movie tickets, music downloads, or maybe even fast food. None of this really has to be purchased. And if you could spare any of your "wants" for some of what the Rohingya need... well why wouldn't you?

We here at Alder's Ledge make monthly donations to organizations that directly help the Rohingya people of Myanmar. Our team members are asked to provide whatever they can in our effort to put our money where our mouths are. We know that our words have power, but we also recognize that at times... this being one of them... cold hard cash speaks louder than good intended words.

One of our favorite organizations to provide our support to is Partners Relief and Development. You can learn more about Partners and how they help the Rohingya by clicking: here.

Once you have researched what organization you want to provide your financial support to we ask that you make this a habit. However often you can donate, please do so. Whatever you can give, please do so. Make it a part of your day to day life.

"A screamer is somebody who witnesses genocide and refuses to remain silent. 
How wonderful it would be if there were more screamers in the world today."

Want To Learn More?

Contact Alder's Ledge on Twitter: @AL_Staff

Source Documents
(note: not all listed)

Press TV

Radio Australia 


Phuket Wan Tourists News

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment, just keep it on topic.