Human Right Watch HA HA I’m not laughing

Tom Malinowski’s April fool’s fletter of resignation from Human Rights Watch is making its rounds and appearing too often on my Facebook page, so I decided to read it.  It’s very clever.

Disclosure: I was a consultant to Human Rights Watch from the mid-1990s until 2003, and love everything about the organization: its unique energy and messianic charge, its scrupulous adherence to the facts, its eclectic composition.

What I remember most about Malinowski, who assumed the mantle of director of Human Rights Watch’s fledgling Washington office upon leaving the Clinton administration, was his smile.  It is one of those patent Washington looks, one that is intended to be like all other Washington smiles, that is, one that hides – even substitutes for – real felicitation or emotion.  Tom’s smile isn’t unique, he hardly invented it, but when I saw it arrive, I thought two things: how strange for HRW, how … clean cut, and then I thought, it’s finally happened: Washington has triumphed over New York, what it relevant in Congress or the administration or in establishing “relationships” with Washington decision-makers and opinion-shapers now reigns supreme.  This is not to say that the Manhattan culture and its sense of superiority in all matters of intellect or style or being the true elite is superior, only that the tides were shifting.

Human Rights Watch is a non-profit organization, a powerful one no doubt, but it is neither a republic nor an elected representative.  It is a pressure group, pure and simple, and like it or not, it survives and thrives on two realities: one, that it’s definition of, indeed appropriation of, human rights, provides an infinite mandate; and two, that it’s global reach supplies unlimited fodder.  There is always more to be done, and in a world of humans, a never-ending abundance to be corrected.

Malinowski’s April fool’s conceit is that without “genocide, torture, and repression,” and [the lack of] “respect for the dignity of all men and women,” human rights challenges might disappear.  In other words, without war, repression, or injustice, “everything that gives meaning and richness to our lives” might be destroyed: We might be all content and happy, corporate and resigned.  Ha, ha.  Nice joke.

I guess one can joke about the mission, even needs to joke given the life-and-death pressures, in that same way that those various Correspondent’s Dinners and roasts bring together political enemies who back slap and drink and yuck it up, putting aside whatever for an evening, put it aside to show that they are not extremists, an act necessary to participate in the ruling class, which in the political world is mostly invisible but is one that also confers membership based upon the maintenance of that smile and the adherence to the rules of decorum no matter which side of the aisle one sits or how fervently one takes ones cause.

The system works perfectly, and attendance at some dinner usually ensures an exchange of mental if not physical business cards and appointment later on just as long as one sticks to the script.  There are the exceptions like when Dick Cheney called Patrick Leahy a fucker.  And there are occasional true violations, such as when comedian Gilbert Gottfried got his ass kicked just days after 9/11 when he appeared at a Friars Club roast and made a terrorism joke:  “I have to leave early tonight, I have to fly out to L.A.  I couldn’t get a direct flight, I have to make a stop at the Empire State Building.”

But seriously folks, I’ll be here all week: Human rights, the business of human rights, seems awfully similar to, in fact symbiotic with, the forever war on terrorism and the permanent national security establishment; they are the gifts that keeps on giving.  Progress is measured with hinky metrics, one down, one up, this year better than last, lawyers and apparatchiks who understand exactly how to operate, all protected by a never-surrender perseverance and a sense of mission conferred by higher beings.  April Fools indeed.


2 responses to “Human Right Watch HA HA I’m not laughing

  1. What does Bill Arkin thinks needs to change – at any level, from the manager of the Nationals to human nature – so that year 2100 finds a desirabel human society on planet earth? Since the world won’t support more than a few hundred million people in hunter/gatherec societies, humans get to live off each other to a large degree – so what needs to change so that can work for 7 billion or so people on planet earth?

    I see your point, “endless war” begets “endless reform” – yin/yang, etc, but “reality bats last” and we, as a species, as a result of our spectacular success as a species, are now facing some collective and dismal realities.

  2. Your Exllencecy ,
    We are happily waiting to see a democratic government in Myanmar. Unfortunately, our own people are trying to stop democratic process. We are proud of our national hero Aung San and his daughter, Daw Aung San Su kyi. In Rakhine State, there are many types of people, among them original Rakhine, Muslims and Awakyunetha are very important. We call Awakyunetha those Rakhines who recently came into Rakhine state from Bangladesh like Dr.Aye Maung. These Awakyunetha do not have any human mentality even they got Phd degree like Dr.Aye Chan and Dr. Aye Kyaw. When I was studying in Sittwe Degree College, some of the students tried to start a reform movement in Myanmar, some of them were arrested before they could start , everyone’s target was to protest against dictator but Awakyunethas’ target was different. In mid academic year of 1984-85, Awakyunetha students organized a plan to drive all Muslims out of our College, at mid night when Muslims students were sleeping in their rooms of Hostel, the Awakyunetha broke their rooms’ door and beat severely . Saya Tha Zan Maung informed rector and he called police but police said Muslims shouldn’t stay in hostel. Next day morning, no Muslims could attend the school. Saya Tha Zan Maung and Saya Saw Aung gave lectures regarding about human value. Both teachers were Buddhists but they didn’t like Awakyunethas’ attitude toward Muslims. From that day I became a good Rakhine and hate Awakyunethas’ idea. Nowadays, everyone in Myanmar is waiting to see the fruit of democracy but Awakyunetha want to destroy democratic process and insult our National pride, Daw Aung San Su Kyi. If we can’t stop increasing Awakyunethas’ power in Rakhine State, nobody can do peace and democracy in our country . Many Awakyunetha refuge in the monasteries in order to deviate from reality and to do bad things. Awankyunethas population increase up to 40% in Rakhine State.They are enemy of Buddhism and Democracy. Dictators and Awakyunethas have been systematically killing Muslims of Arakan since 1974.
    Most of the people don’t know the reality that happening in Rakhine State, Rakhine and Muslims have been living since many centuries, there was no problem between us . When Awakyunethas’ population increased in Rakhine State, and some of them became head of the society, they started racism, hatred, malice, like Dr.Aye Chan, Dr.Aye Maung, and Dr.Aye Kyaw. U Thein Sein opened up their program in his appeal to UNHCR High Commissioner ,Mr. Antonio Guterres that UNHCR should better take those Muslims and send somewhere else in the world, it means Military Regime has been killing for many years still some of them remain, they are too tired to kill anymore, they want to throw them somewhere else. As Professor Nicholas de Genova from Columbia University said , the Rohingyas’ situation should be understood as the legal production of Rohingya illegality. It is easy to clean if Muslims are labeled non-existence in the ground, the regime has been broadcasting Muslims of Arakan State as illegal or non-existence ,if it is not genocide then what can be the meaning of genocide. Could you please help .?

    Jun 1, 1991 – Jun 30, 1990 Thousands of Burmese Muslims known as Rohingya are entering Bangladesh illegally each month to escape alleged persecution by the Rangoon authorities (Reuters, 06/14/91). Bangladeshi intelligence sources said 200,000 Muslims had been forced from their homes by Burmese soldiers in the past six months.

    Jul 1991 Burmese Buddhists of massacring 200,000 Muslims in the last 50 years. Anti-Muslim activities have increased under the current military regime led by Awakyunethas.

    Dec 1991 Relations between Bangladesh and Burma cooled recently after the influx of about 50,000 Muslim refugees into Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Foreign Office summoned the Burmese Ambassador for the second time in less than a week to protest troop buildups along the border

    Mar 1992 Bangladeshi military sources state that Burma is reinforcing its border to stop more than 170,000 Muslims driven into Bangladesh by the army from returning home (Washington Times, 03/10/92). Muslim women [have been] raped…”. According to Amnesty International, more than 200,000 Muslims have fled Burma to Bangladesh since 1991 when the anti-Muslim campaign began (The Associated Press, 03/19/92).
    Apr 1, 1992 – Apr 30, 2004 200 people were killed when government troops opened fire at a mosque in Arakan on April 5
    Jul 1992 . Bangladeshi officials state that the return of 270,000 Muslim refugees to Burma has stalled again after Burmese authorities refused to allow the UNHCR to monitor the process (07/24/92).
    Oct 1992 A second group of refugees — 63 members of 12 families — was sent to Burma.
    Nov 1993 About 30,000 refugees are reported to have fled Bangladeshi camps to avoid repatriation to Burma. “We are worried by the sudden spate in slipping out, especially after Rangoon signed an agreement on Friday allowing the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to supervise repatriation of the Rohingya Muslims on their side”, one Bangladeshi official said (Reuters, 11/08/93). Some 46,000 refugees have returned home since the repatriation began in September, 1992.

    Mar 1994 More than 100 Burmese Muslims crossed into Bangladesh, jeopardizing efforts to repatriate more than 200,000 refugees. New arrivals are likely to make it difficult to convince the remaining refugees to return to Myanmar (Reuters, 03/08/94).

    Feb 1995 The repatriation of some 250,000 Burmese refugees has been gaining momentum and is expected to end shortly, the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh said. (Agence France Presse, 02/02/95). Since last year, about 150,000 refugees have returned.
    Feb 21, 1995 Another 543 Myanmar Muslims returned home from Bangladesh. Since, September of 1992, 162,440 Muslims have returned to Burma (Xinhua News Agency, 02/21/95).
    Mar 1995 Muslims at Three-Pagoda pass and nearby villages at the Thai-Burmese border have been banned from staging gatherings of more than five people for religious purposes. This is the first time that such a small number of Muslims have been banned from meeting for religious purposes (Reuter Textline: Bangkok Post, 03/31/95).
    Apr 1995 Another 1470 Rohingya Muslims have left Bangladesh to return home (Xinhua News Agency, 04/01/95).

    Apr 26, 1995 Almost 800 Myanmar Muslims who fled Rakhine (Arakan) state into Bangladesh in 1991 have returned to Burma under a 1992 agreement between the Burmese and Bangladeshi governments (Xinhua News Agency, 04/26/95).

    Jun 1995 Bangladesh fears that up to 10,000 Rohingya Muslims may have slipped out of refugee camps and spread out across the country. Of the more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees that fled to Bangladesh in 1991, only about 58,000 remain in nine UN-run refugee camps. Recent efforts to repatriate the remaining refugees have stalled due to Burmese government claims that Bangladeshis are also being infiltrated into Burma with the refugees (UPI, 06/26/95; Asiaweek, 07/21/95).

    Oct 1995 Around 200 Rohingya Muslims returned home from Bangladesh, bringing the total to 193,000 out of an estimated 250,000 (Xinhua News Agency, 10/14/95).

    Dec 1995 205 Muslims have returned home from Bangladesh. So far, more than 195,000 of the estimated 250,000 Muslims that fled Burma in 1991 have returned home (Xinhua News Agency, 12/13/95).
    Apr 1996 Over 300 Rohingyas have tried to flee Burma in the past week. Some 30 Muslims caught at the Bangladesh border will be sent back. Seventeen others who were also trying to flee died during their attempts (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Reuters, 04/21/96).
    May 1996 Myanmar and Bangladesh hold their 20th high-level coordination meeting on the repatriation of Burmese Muslim refugees. Since 1992, some 197,000 refugees have been repatriated from Bangladesh to Burma (Xinhua News Agency, 05/20/96).
    Jun 1996 An influx of Burmese Rohingyas into Bangladesh has been underway since March. The UNHCR says some 5500 Muslims have entered Bangladesh; other estimates put the figure as high as 10,000. The Rohingyas assert that they are subject to forced labor and torture in Burma. Some 700 have been deported (Reuters, 06/02/96).

    Jan 1997 Bangladesh and Burma agree to complete the repatriation of the remaining 26,000 Rohingya refugees by March 31. The agreement was reached after a senior-level meeting in Bangladesh in early January (BBC, 01/10/97).

    Feb 1997 Seventeen ethnic rebel factions including Rohingya Muslim groups meet in Karen-controlled territory under the banner of the newly-revived National Democratic Front (NDF). The NDF fought against the military in the 1970s and 1980s until the KIA signed a cease-fire agreement with the government in 1992 . A spokesman says that several rebel groups are set to renege on their cease-fire deals and resume fighting. Reports indicate that the government has launched a military offensive in Karen areas to stop the groups from reuniting (Inter Press Service, 02/12/97; Reuters, 02/06/97).

    Apr 18, 1997 A Thai Member of Parliament expresses concern over the recent large influx of Burmese Muslims into Thailand. He believes the Foreign Ministry should try to solve the problem of Muslim migrants from Burma by requesting assistance from Thailand’s Muslim neighbors (The Nation, 04/18/97).
    Apr 30, 1997 Human Rights Watch contends that in several cases the UNHCR has failed to provide information on the SLORC’s abuses against returning Muslim refugees. The HRW says that while the UN body had evidence that some Rohingya from Burma were arrested by Burmese authorities or “disappeared” when they returned from Bangladesh in 1992 and 1996, it did not provide exiles in Bangladesh with that information (Inter Press Service, 04/30/97).
    May 1997 The Malaysian MuslimYouth Movement protests against what it says is the SLORC’s actions to suppress the Burmese Muslim community and it urges the Malaysian government to defer its entry into ASEAN (Asia Pulse, 05/2897).
    May 27, 1997 Reports indicate that since March at least 30 mosques and Muslim properties have been attacked in Burma (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 05/27/97).
    Jun 1997 More than 3,000 Burmese Muslims have crossed the border into Bangladesh, alleging that Burmese authorities are engaging in a fresh wave of atrocities against minority groups. The new arrivals are from the border towns of Maungdaw and Buthiadong (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 06/28/97).
    Jul 1997 Bangladesh forcibly returns some 212 Rohingyas housed in its Kutupalong refugee camp to Burma. The group is the latest of some 7500 people who have been singled out to be sent back. According to the UNHCR, only two of the families agreed to return home . Bangladeshi anti-riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to stop the refugees’ protests against being forcibly repatriated. One Muslim refugee told a UNHCR official that he preferred to die rather than return to Burma (Inter Press Service, 07/2297).
    Jul 24, 1997 Bangladeshi officials have postponed a scheduled repatriation of some 200 Rohingyas amid growing unrest in two frontier camps over claims that refugees were being returned against their will. The current repatriation resumed amid reports of fresh attempts by Burmese Muslims to enter Bangladesh. Bangladesh has stepped up surveillance along the frontier to prevent a fresh influx. The US Committee for Refugees says that some 15,000 Muslims have reportedly entered the country in the past year despite efforts to keep them out, and Bangladesh has barred UNHCR officials and non-governmental organizations from assisting them (Agence France Presse, 07/24/97).
    Jul 26, 1997 Malaysia says that Burma’s government should take action to stop the alleged harassment of the country’s Muslim minority in an effort to reassure its Islamic partners in ASEAN (e.g. Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia) (Japan Economic Newswire, 07/26/97).
    Jul 31, 1997 Bangladesh will ask Burma to extend a deadline for repatriating 7000 Burmese Muslim refugees due to unrest and a wave of hunger strikes by refugees who oppose their repatriation. The government had earlier said that 7000 of the 20,000 refugees cleared for repatriation in the Kutupalong and Noapara camps would be sent home by the August 15 deadline set by Burma. Dhaka also rejected a UNHCR request to settle the refugees in Bangladesh (Agence France Presse, 07/30-31/97).
    Aug 1997 A group representing Burmese Muslims who fled alleged persecution in Burma contends that more refugees will flow into Bangladesh unless their security could be guaranteed. The Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) claims that up to 14,000 new Burmese Muslims had already crossed the border into Bangladesh since June because of persecution from the security forces and for “economic” reasons. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) puts the number of Rohingyas at 7000, while the Bangladesh government officially puts their numbers at “several thousand.” The UNHCR describes the new Rohingya arrivals as both “economic and political” migrants (Agence France Presse, 08/03/97).

    Aug 16, 1997 The repatriation of some 7000 of the 21,000 Burmese Muslim refugees still in Bangladesh is uncertain after the expiry of yesterday’s deadline set by Rangoon. The repatriation, which started July 20, was stalled by violent protests by the refugees after a few hundred were forcibly deported (Agence France Presse, 08/16/97).
    Aug 26, 1997 Canada and the US have imposed economic sanctions against Burma due to its human rights record (British Broadcasting Corporation, 08/26/97).
    Oct 1997 Amnesty International calls for fresh international support for Bangladesh to help look after the Burmese Rohingya refugees (Agence France Presse, 10/09/97).

    Jan 26, 1998 Three people are killed in a clash between the RSO and Burmese security forces near the border with Bangladesh (AAP Newsfeed, 01/26/98).
    Mar 1998 Some 64 Rohingyas are jailed after clashing with police and setting fire to part of the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. The police raided the camp and arrested the militants who had seized control of the camp several days ago (Agence France Presse, 03/07/98).
    Apr 1998 Myanmar and Bangladesh agree to set up a joint commission to bolster political and economic ties between the two neighboring countries (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 04/17/98).
    Jun 1998 Germany provides $350,000 in aid for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh (Agence France Presse, 06/15/98).
    Jun 19, 1998 Amnesty International claims that the SLORC is responsible for extrajudicial killings, forcible relocations, and torture against ethnic minorities (M2 Presswire, 06/19/98).
    Jul 1998 The Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) will continue to render humanitarian aid and services at the international level despite the country’s economic downturn. The ABIM aid has been giving aid to Cambodia and Vietnam but the organization has been having difficulty in trying to help the Rohingyas in Myanmar (Malaysia General News, 07/03/98).

    Dec 22, 1998 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees staying in Bangladesh has been stalled again less than one month after it was resumed in late November. Burma recently conveyed to Bangladesh that it could not take back the refugees during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims across the world. Bangladesh insisted that it would continue the repatriation process in accordance with the agreement reached earlier between the two sides (Xinhua News Agency, 12/22/98).
    Mar 1999 Jane’s Intelligence Review states that India’s intelligence organization, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), aided Burmese rebel groups in acquiring arms from Khmer Rouge members in Thailand for nearly two years. The groups include the Chin National Army, the Karen National Union, and the Arakan Army (03/01/99).
    Apr 1999 The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) proposes that the Bangladesh government launch some income-generating projects for the over 22,000 Rohingyas rather than keeping them in refugee camps. It says that these camps will receive less aid as it is being diverted to help refugees in Kosovo, Yugoslavia (The Independent, 04/22/99).

    Jul 1999 Burma’s Foreign Minister U Win Aung ends a three-day official visit to Bangladesh during which both countries agreed to build a bridge over a river to facilitate border trade. The two neighbors also decided to establish a joint commission to speed up the settlement of disputes, including the repatriation of all Myanmar Muslim refugees who had fled to Bangladesh alleging persecution at home (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 07/19/99).
    Jul 30, 1999 The repatriation of the Rohingya refugees appears uncertain again after Burma’s Foreign Minister refuses to give Bangladesh concrete assurances that they will return home. Bangladesh expects all the refugees to be repatriated by the end of the year. Since November of last year, Burma has only been accepting 50 refugees a week (Inter Press Service, 07/30/99).

    Burma [Myanmar]: Information on Rohingya refugees
    Information on Rohingya refugees in Burma
    The Rohingya people are of Muslim descent and are native to the northern Arakan region of Burma, which borders Bangledesh. The name Rohingya originates from the name “Rohang” or “Rohan” given to the Arakan region during the ninth and tenth centuries. Another group, the Rakhine people, reside in the same area of Burma and are the ethnic majority, with a Hindu and Mongol background. (Human Rights Watch, 1996)
    The First Exodus
    By May 1978, over 200,000 Rohingyas fled over the border to Bangladesh. However, because of difficult conditions in Bangledesh, nearly all Rohingya refugees returned to Burma by 1979. (Burma Issues, 1998)
    The 1991-92 Exodus
    In 1991 and 1992, the Rohingyas experienced widespread repression and abuse from security forces posted in northern Arakan. Once again, Rohingya refugees began flooding over the border to Bangladesh to escape human rights abuse, and by March 1992, 260,000 Burmese Muslims were living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar. (Carey, 1997) The refugees claimed that many ethnic minorities in the Rakhine State had been subjected to extrajudicial executions, rape, religious persecution and torture by the military. In addition, the Rohingyas were forced to work, unpaid, for security forces, building bridges, roads and barracks, digging fish and prawn ponds, and laboring as porters. (Amnesty International, 1997)
    On April 28, 1992, the governments of Burma and Bangladesh signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and the SLORC agreed to accept the return of all refugees that could establish a “bona fide residence” in Burma and that the repatriation would be safe and voluntary. However, during the 1992-93 period in particular, the government of Bangladesh used force, withheld rations, imprisoned and often beat or threatened to beat refugees who did not agree to return. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) withdrew from all camps in protest of the abuse. In 1993 Bangladesh and Burma both signed an agreement with UNHCR, but, by that time, nearly 50,000 refugees had been forcibly repatriated. (Human Rights Watch, 1996)
    The repatriation program was scheduled to end in December 1995, but natural disasters, political unrest and strikes, in conjunction with many refugees’ reluctance to return home and delays by Burma in clearing refugees for return, slowed the process considerably, leaving more than 35,000 refugees still in camps. In addition, reports began to circulate that conditions in the Arakan State had not changed, and ethnic minorities still faced discrimination and persecution by the government because of their ethnicity. (Burma Issues, 1998)
    Current Situation for Rohingyas in Burma
    As of 1999, more than 21,000 Burmese Muslims remain in refugee camps in Bangladesh and new refugees continue to arrive every day. Lionel Rosenblatt, President of Refugees International, testified in March before the House International Relations Committee that the situation in Burma has worsened; political repression and practices such as forced relocations, forced labor and arbitrary arrests have intensified, and nearly one million people are internally displaced. Rosenblatt also discussed the Rohingya situation specifically, stating, “Although Bangladesh wants to close the camps where 21,000 Rohingyas remain, [Refugees International] recommends that the camps remain open because these refugees fear persecution if they return to Burma.” (FNS, 9 March 1999)
    This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC, including the World Wide Web.
    Amnesty International. Myanmar/Bangladesh: Rohingyas – The Search for Safety (London: AMR 13/07/97, September 1997).
    “The Rohingyas: Repatriated Without Safety or Dignity,” Burma Issues (March 1998).
    Carey, Peter, ed. Burma: The Challenge of Change in a Divided Society (New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1997).
    Human Rights Watch/Asia. The Rohingya Muslims – Ending a Cycle of Exodus (New York: Vol. 8, No.9, September 1996).
    Islam, Tabibul. “Burma: Bangladesh Fails to Force Rohingyas Year-End Return,” Inter Press Service (30 July, 1999)
    “Prepared Testimony of Lionel Rosenblatt, President, Refugees International,” Federal News Service (9 March 1999) – as reported on Lexis-Nexis.
    Smith, Martin. Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity (London: Penguin Books, 1993).

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