By Ne Myo Win
The International Crisis Group (ICG) released a report on the situation in northern Arakan State on December 15, 2016, what has been called a detailed assessment of the violent situation unfolding in northern Maungdaw and some parts of Rathedaung. The report is worth a reading but with utmost cares for each and every terminology used (in) and how the research works have been conducted for the report. The report is titled ‘Myanmar: A New Muslim Insurgency in Rakhine State’ talks about the emergence of a Muslim Insurgency named Harakah al Yaqin (HaY) or the Faith Movement. The ICG claims that the Group doesn’t intend to be transnational jihadists or terrorism which can be perceived from its modus operandi and hasn’t attacked any civilians or religious structures but only the security forces. The report does condemn atrocities by the Burmese military and address the Myanmar government’s policy failures to tackle the Rohingya issue adequately as the root causes of the emergence of the insurgency.
The ICG Report Appears Underminig Rohingya Genocide
At a historic juncture when every media, research group and human rights activist should focus more on the Rohingya people who are at the last stage of a state-sponsored Genocide, the ICG report emphasizes more on the raids on the raids on the three Border Guard Police (BGP) Posts — two in Maungdaw and one in Rathedaung — by the reported Insurgent Group on October 9, its subsequent skirmishes with the Burmese military and its apparent foreign links. The report also undermines heavy military assaults on the civilians in northern Maungdaw as the aftermaths of the October 9 raids calling as just disproportionate military responses.
Stressing that the Insurgent Group is well-organized, well-funded and well-trained in modern guerrilla warfare, which is factually incorrect based on our daily exchange of information with the people in northern Maungdaw, creates an illusion that it is too big a threat for the sovereignty and stability of Myanmar to be ignored. This illusion purposely created also shows an intention to divert the attention from the genocide of the Rohingya to the emergence of a new Muslim Insurgency.
The report emphasizes on the Insurgent Group’s possible solidarity links to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which could be exploited by the International Jihadists — for their own agendas in Myanmar — if the crisis is not solved in time. The Crisis Group has never bothered to emphasize on the links of the rebel groups in Libya, Syria and in other regions to USA and Saudi when reporting on the crises. Has it ever bothered to mention whom other ethnic armed groups in Myanmar — such as the Rakhine armed Groups, ‘ALA (Arakan Liberation Army) and AA (Arakan Army)’, KIA (Kachin Independence Army) and KNU (Karen National Union) – are linked to? Why so much stress on the APPARENT SOLIDARITY links of ‘Harakah al Yakin or the Faith Movement’ to Pakistan or Saudi?
These claims by the ICG, thereby, strangle the Rohingya, who are on the last stage of Genocide, in the complex Global War on Terror and make them a Global Security Concern, and thus alienating them from the International Community, who are otherwise very sympathetic towards their plight. These claims by the ICG could also be viewed as attempts to suppress the voice being raised by the governments and communities in the ASEAN region to stop the Rohingya Genocide.
It also suggests Myanmar for moderate military response to tackle the insurgency. But how moderate? Who will be overseeing how moderate the actions/responses will be taken by the Myanmar (Burmese) military known to be barbaric to the ethnic minorities including Rohingya? Arming the Burmese military with an apparent reason for military responses means that they will use it as pretext to suppress/assault more civilians and commit more crimes against humanity.
This group of Muslim insurgents is well-organized, well-funded and well-trained in modern guerrilla warfare according to ICG. However, despite being so well-funded and well trained, they are seen in T-shirts, Short-Pants and Sarongs (Lungyis) instead of Uniforms and mostly armed with swords, spears and sticks but only with a couple of assault rifles. (In the picture below, in the centre is identified as Ata Ullah (the commander) and to his left is Mufti Ziaur Rahman, the main men in the ICG report. This goes on to show that ICG’s research work is partly based on these unverified videos. Photos: screenshots from a video of the reported insurgent group that has surfaced on social media.)
Applying Religious Angle to Rohingya Uprising
What’s more potentially dangerous of the very existence of the Rohingya community in Arakan State is the implication of a double-standard measure by the ICG in the report. The ICG has given the Rohingya Insurgency a RELIGIOUS angle indirectly framing it as a religiously motivated insurgency. The ICG is titled ‘Myanmar: A New Muslim Insurgency in Rakhine State.’ Why a Muslim Insurgency? Why not a Rohingya Insurgency?
However, in the same report, the ICG termed the Rakhine insurgent group ‘Arakan Liberation Army (ALA)’ as a ‘Rakhine’ armed group only. Why a Rakhine armed group? Why not a Buddhist armed group? Has anyone termed the (more advanced rebel) armed groups like KNU and KIA as Christian armed groups?
The choices of an ethnic diction for the Rakhine insurgent group and a religious diction for the Rohingya group as the Muslim Insurgency in the same report can’t be regarded as accidental or unintentional. It is a carefully chosen word to lead a smear campaign against the uprising of some Rohingyas with some powerful parties (i.e. governments and corporations with vested-interests) pulling the strings behind for geopolitical leverages in Myanmar. It’s harmful to the existence of Rohingya in the future.
How Credible is the ICG Report?
The Belgium based the International Crisis Group (ICG) was established in 1995 in order to, that is at least what its motto says, Prevent War and Shape Peace. It’s widely regarded a high-level government and corporate policy lobby more than a group concerned to promoting human rights. It hasn’t, at least as far as I am concerned, hasn’t done anything concrete to promote human rights around the globe. It is the same group which honoured the Myanmarex-President Thein Sein — ex-General and member of the former Burmese junta, complicit in the serious crimes against the civilians including the multiple rounds of violence on the Muslim minorities in Arakan State in June and October 2012 and subsequent rounds of violence in other parts of the Burma — with In Pursuit of Peace Award Dinner in New York on 22nd April, 2013.
Therefore, it does come with little surprise when the ICG comes up with an absurd representation of the vulnerable situation in northern Arakan and converting the situation in favour of the Burmese government for more military responses.
However, problems will arise when the International Community and the International media biblically follow the report as a credible work on the FACE VALUE of the ICG. The ICG claims that it has interviewed several members of the Harakah al Yakin (HaY) including four in northern Maungdaw, which (it seems) would be the major parts of the ICG’s groundworks used in the report to identify the strength and operation capacity of the insurgent group.
Thereby, questions arise how one would verify if these four interviewees are actual members of the reported insurgency. Anybody could come up and claim to be a member of the HaY. Or given the history of the Burmese military staging fake events, the military could have used some of their Rohingya collaborators and present them to the ICG research team as the HaY members had the military got the information of the ICG’s field-works in advance. Who knows?
Above all, how did any ICG research team members conduct substantial field-researches when the whole northern Maungdaw has been sealed off from the International humanitarian groups and international media since October 9? How did they get to meet the four people claimed to members of the HaY? Who issued them special travel permissions to the northern Maungdaw? How did they get there without the collaboration of the military or the authorities as we know none can visit the region unaccompanied by the military officials? In case of any collaboration with the military or the interviews with the four HaY members done by telephones, it will significantly decrease the credibility of the ICG report.
Commenting on the videos of some armed Rohingya men talking that have surfaced on social media, the sources, time and locations of the videos have still remained unverified. Therefore, the International media and journalists have, so far, rightfully regarded them unverified and unreliable right from the moments they appeared on the social media.
Nevertheless, the ICG report seems to have derived many of its points including the identification of the armed group name as ‘the Harakah al Yakin or the Faith Movement’ based on these videos and with the voice records received through Whatsapp or Viber Social Media Apps. There are no sources except for these videos where one can find the words ‘Harakah al Yakin’ overlaid on a few videos or some armed men claiming to be the members of the Harakah al Yakin (or the Faith Movement).
Therefore, an ICG report identifying the name of an armed group reportedly operating in northern Maungdaw which has been sealed off by the military since October 9, 2016 and concluding that this is a well-funded, well-organized and well-trained Muslim Insurgency — merely based on the interviews with four people apparently claiming to be the armed group members in the region (i.e. northern Maungdaw) and few others elsewhere; and the videos of the armed group that appeared on the social media – could well make one raise doubts on its credibility, primary sources, research methodology and above all, its intention/target.
The international media, journalists and human rights activists should question the credibility the ICG report.
Worse is Yet to Come
The International Crisis Group that claims to be ‘an independent organisation working to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world’ have remained largely ignorant when multiple rounds of the state-sponsored deadly violence were carried out against the Rohingya population in Arakan state and against Muslims in other parts of Myanmar (Burma) and have rather honoured the Burmese President Thein Sein.
However, it has suddenly popped up with a report such a misleading title to alarm to prevent a deadly conflict and build in the region when some Rohingya members in northern Maungdaw have begun to revolt against the decades-long oppressions. In essence, the Crisis Group sticks to building a peaceful environment in Myanmar, but for the ruling elites and the military, not for the oppressed and persecuted.
The Crisis Group seems it well knew what the end results of its report would be. The ICG report was written in way to make international headlines on the Rohingya plight but in a grossly misleading way highlighting the Insurgent Group’s apparent solidarity links to Saudi and Pakistan more than the mass atrocities committed by the Burmese. It knew it would divert the attention from an on-going Genocide in northern Arakan to a Global Security Concern.
Therefore, the report by the Crisis Group is a result of a research work (it has) carefully conducted to reach to a predetermined conclusion. The exaggerated report on the insurgency will now serve the following purposes.
1) The Burmese military will exploit it.
- to justify their large-scale atrocities in northern Maungdaw since October 9, 2016 and
- as the pretext to launch more brutal assaults on the Rohingya population, who are at the last stage Genocide, in the name of the crackdown on the insurgents.
2) It will strangle the Rohingya in the complex global war on terror hence making their plight a Global Security Concern.
3) It will alienate the Rohingya community from the international community and human rights activists rendering them with little support or without any support from the International Community.
4) It will suppress the voices being raised by the regional and international governments against the Rohingya genocide and reduce the pressures on the Burmese government and military.
In the name of solving Crisis and building a more peaceful world, the International Crisis Group has just created a worse crisis , a crisis which may send an ethnic minority group to extinction. Its report is a travesty of the ongoing Genocide of the Rohingya population in Myanmar.
Ne Myo Win is an activist and analyst based in Yangon and contributor to Rohingya Vision TV. Views expressed here are his. He can be reached at: email@example.com