The European Union has historically taken a lead on issues related to Myanmar at the UN Human Rights Council. And yet now, at it’s most critical juncture when the Rohingya need external assistance more than ever as the various security agencies of the state in Myanmar are cracking down on the community with impunity, the EU has shied away from doing what needs to be done.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has been seeking an emergency UN investigation into the situation in Myanmar – an official Commission of Inquiry. The concern on his mind, and the minds of all the NGOs who monitor the country, is that the current wave of aggression by the state against the vulnerable group will eventually amount to a full-scale genocide.
Though the EU takes note in the draft resolution seen on Wednesday, of “the very serious nature of the allegations” and “current investigations conducted at the domestic level”, it stopped short mandating the investigation sought by Commissioner Ra’ad al-Hussein. EU diplomats justified the move by claiming they preferred using an existing mechanism that had received “good cooperation” and access from Myanmar’s government, rather than gamble on a new approach, and to give more time to the domestic process.
To be sure, there have not yet been hundreds of thousands of people executed with machetes like in Rwanda, or a uniquely symbolic massacre like Srebrenica in Bosnia, but the slow and steady diet of pressure and violence that has already driven more than half of the stateless Rohingya from the land of their birth in the last half a century is in a particularly acute period. Most of the agencies of the state have aligned against them, and there is no element of the state, either local or federal, nor indeed no element of Burmese society, that is on their side. There is, in other words, no reason to expect that things will ease off any time soon, or indeed that the Rohingya will be able to weather out the storm this time around.
At the very least, this is an ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing. A campaign that, if things remain as they are, is likely to succeed. At worst, it will descend into full genocide. Even BBC Newsnight’s Jonah Fisher has been driven to speculate that Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi will likely allow the military and security agencies to do what they will with the Rohingya in exchange for a softer approach towards the other minority groups in the country which may end the country’s longstanding ethnic disputes. There is thus no break on what the aggressors might to do the Rohingya from within Myanmar itself. As things stand, the UN and the international community are the only entities that stand between the Rohingya and potential annihilation.
For both historical reasons, and current geopolitical reasons, the most likely authority at the UN to intervene is the European Union. Neither Russian, nor China, nor Trump’s America have any concern for human rights in Myanmar – or anywhere else, for that matter. It is left to the EU to be the last defender of human rights and universal values on the world stage. And the EU also has a checkered history with genocides and ethnic cleansings to make up for.
The EU infamously failed to take any action in Bosnia when there was a genocide happening on their doorstep. Just as it failed to in Kosovo, and had waited until the US stepped in and provided 97% of all military assets in the action against the Serbs. Then, as now, the EU does in fact have the necessary assets, military and diplomatic, to intervene effectively on behalf of the Rohingya. What it lacks is any meaningful foreign policy direction.
This lack of direction from the EU is no longer something we, and indeed the world, can afford. In a world dominated by an unholy triumvirate of Putin, Jinping and Trump, the European Project is left as the last hope for civilised values and for the weakest peoples of the world. This UN Commission of Enquiry is the absolute minimum the EU and the international community should be calling for. It is time to step up to the plate. And in doing so, the EU must finally arrive, in a meaningful way, on the geopolitical scene as a force, and what is more, as a force for good.
Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Policy and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide” (Hurst Publishers & Oxford University Press).