The Rohingya people of Burma are being murdered, their women raped, and their homes destroyed by a Burmese military emboldened by an unconscionable diplomatic pass from the Obama Administration.
Help has at once arrived, and been delayed, from unlikely sources.
Providing aid to this persecuted Muslim ethnic minority is a Yazidi General and a former Iraqi soldier. Hesitating so far to designate one of the most blatant human atrocities of this century as genocide is the United States Department of State.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to address this wholesale slaughter by the Burmese military junta soon, and human rights watchers expect him to use all measures necessary — both in word and action — to reverse the deadly leniency provided to Burma by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
So where is Burma, what is an Iraqi odd couple doing there, and why?
Burma (also called “Myanmar” after a 1960s military coup) is in Southeast Asia, wedged between Bangladesh, China and Thailand. The Yazidi and Iraqi aid workers are there through a Christian human aid organization called the Free Burma Rangers (FBR) to save the lives of people from a culture entirely different from their own.
For over 50 years, the Burmese military has carried out systematic ethnic cleansing against many of the county’s 135 minorities, and the Buddhist nationalism they promote has led to the suffering of the Muslim Rohingya “on a scale we couldn’t imagine” according to Doctors Without Borders. The junta that essentially controls the 90% Buddhist nation does not look kindly on Christian relief organizations either, so the few operating in Burma do so in secret.
Free Burma Rangers was started 20 years ago by former U.S. Special Forces operator Dave Eubank. Eubank was called to the mission field after his Army retirement, then guided to Burma by his father, a long-time mission pastor in Thailand. Also serving in Iraq and Sudan, FBR pulls talent from wherever Eubank finds it to serve the suffering. Although rooted in Christian service, FBR creates multi-ethnic, multi-faith teams to train young people in oppressed minorities to help their communities by learning U.S. Army-style emergency medicine and survival skills through its “Jungle School of Medicine.”
In Burma, it also teaches persecuted people how to hide from the military.
Leaders and trainees with FBR show astounding courage in the most dangerous places on earth. Its mission to serve the Rohingya was made more perilous by changes in American policy toward Burma during the Obama years.
As a result of its abysmal human rights abuses after the takeover by its military ruling class, Burma experienced heavy sanctions from the world community—led by the U.S—beginning in 2003. In addition to financial restrictions, it was condemned by the State Department for its use of child soldiers.
In 2009, Secretary Clinton opened a Pandora’s Box by initiating a dialogue with the junta. In the following seven years, each relaxation of sanctions by the U.S. was followed directly, and immediately, with an increase in atrocities.
After Clinton announced the 2009 discussions with Burma, the first roundup of Rohingya occurred in their capital city when over 100,000 were sent to government concentration camps where they linger still, dying of starvation. When President Obama removed U.S./Burma investment restrictions in July of 2012, the junta immediately closed all Rohingya mosques. Two weeks after the Obama State Department reinstated financial aid to Burma, new satellite images showed full-scale destruction of Rohingya towns.
Full scale murder and ethnic cleansing has been ongoing since August 2017, shortly after Obama freed up Burmese imports and did the unthinkable —gave Burma a waiver negating its child soldier abuse designation.
In providing the Burmese government a genocide gift card with unlimited spending, the previous administration contributed to a humanitarian crisis that the Trump administration is now left to “fix” as best it can. There are over a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and about 600K more hiding inside Burma. They are homeless, hungry and without clean water or medical care. There are 40K orphans.
There are people like the FBR with the courage to help the Rohingya whether they are hiding in the Burmese jungle or wasting away in refugee camps. These heroes have limited resources and lack the power of government.
It would take different kind of courage for the United States to classify Burma as a government practicing institutional genocide. And President Trump and Secretary Pompeo have no lack of courage when it comes to making hard decisions or standing up to oppressive foreign regimes.
The reality of global politics is that the lives of the innocent, peaceful people that are the Rohingya rests in great measure in their hands, and ours, because that’s who we are.