If you’re a murderous dictator, this is a joyous time to be alive.
No one will make much of a fuss if your opposition leader is jailed, if an annoying journalist goes missing or if, as happened in Congo, a judge who displeases the dictatorial president suffers a home invasion in which goons rape his wife and daughter.
.. The U.S. has abandoned a bipartisan consensus on human rights that goes back decades.
.. I’m back from Myanmar, where leaders are finding that this is also the optimal time to commit genocide.
The army conducted a scorched-earth campaign against the Rohingya ethnic minority, with soldiers throwing babies onto bonfires as they raped the mothers.
.. In the past, human rights was at least one thread of our foreign policy.
.. Trump defended Vladimir Putin for killing critics (“What? You think our country’s so innocent?”), and praised Egypt’s brutal president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for “a fantastic job.” Trump hailed the Philippines’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, whose dirty war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives, for an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.”
.. when Trump visited Manila, he laughed as Duterte called reporters “spies” — in a country where aggressive journalism has landed people in the morgue.
.. A record number of journalists are in prison worldwide
.. Trump has met with the leaders of each of the three top jailers of journalists — China, Russia and Turkey — and as far as we know, has never raised the issue of press freedom with them.
.. “What’s completely gone is the bipartisan consensus that was a cornerstone of our foreign policy, that if you imprison journalists and restrict the media, there will be consequences,”
.. In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen approvingly cited Trump’s attacks on fake news as a precedent for closing down radio stations and the much admired newspaper Cambodia Daily. After the crackdown, in November, Trump posed for a photograph with Hun Sen, flashing a thumbs-up — and Hun Sen praised the American president for his lack of interest in human rights.
.. “Your policy is being changed,” Hun Sen declared gratefully, and he lauded Trump for being “most respectful.”
.. Trump told the king of repressive Bahrain, “there won’t be strain with this administration.”
.. the government responded a few days later by killing five protesters
.. sentencing Rajab himself to five years in prison for his tweets.
.. Trump’s soft spot for authoritarianism goes way back. He has spoken sympathetically of the Chinese government’s massacres of pro-democracy protesters in 1989, and of Saddam Hussein’s approach to counterterrorism.
.. Periodically, Trump does raise human rights issues, but only to bludgeon enemies like North Korea or Venezuela. This is so ham-handed and hypocritical that it simply diminishes American standing further.
.. approval of the United States has collapsed to a record low of 30 percent. Indeed, more people now approve of China than of the United States. Russia is just behind us.
.. “Trump has been a disaster for U.S. soft power,”
.. “He’s so hated around the world that he’s radioactive. So on those rare occasions when he does something about human rights, it only tarnishes the cause.”
.. In Myanmar, a young Rohingya man pleaded with me: “Please don’t let us be treated as animals.
.. The United Nations report also said that the crackdown in Rakhine had “targeted teachers, the cultural and religious leadership, and other people of influence in the Rohingya community in an effort to diminish Rohingya history, culture and knowledge.”
.. Five years ago, Sittwe, nestled in an estuary in the Bay of Bengal, was a mixed city, divided between an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist majority and the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Walking Sittwe’s crowded bazaar in 2009, I saw Rohingya fishermen selling seafood to Rakhine women. Rohingya professionals practiced law and medicine. The main street in town was dominated by the Jama mosque, an Arabesque confection built in the mid-19th century. The imam spoke proudly of Sittwe’s multicultural heritage.
.. every Rakhine resident I talked to claimed, falsely, that no Muslims had ever owned shops there.
.. Mr. Kyaw Min used to teach in Sittwe, where most of his students were Rakhine Buddhists. Now, he said, even Buddhist acquaintances in Yangon are embarrassed to talk with him.
“They want the conversation to end quickly because they don’t want to think about who I am or where I came from,” he said.
.. their Bengali dialect and South Asian features often distinguishing them from Rakhine Buddhists.
.. Later attempts by a Rohingya insurgent group to exit Burma and attach northern Rakhine to East Pakistan, as Bangladesh was then known, further strained relations.
.. By the 1980s, the military junta had stripped most Rohingya of citizenship.
.. Today, far more Rohingya live outside of Myanmar — mostly in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia — than remain in what they consider their homeland.
.. Even under Ne Win, the general, Burmese national radio aired broadcasts in the Rohingya language. Rohingya, women among them, were represented in Parliament.
.. “They want every Rohingya to be considered a terrorist or an illegal immigrant,” he said. “We are much more than that.”
For years China helped prop up Myanmar’s economy when it was ruled by a military junta. But ties between the two countries soured when Myanmar’s generals began introducing democratic overhauls in 2011, ultimately leading to the election of Ms. Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner ..
.. Chinese hydropower project was put on hold, and Japanese and Western investment began trickling into the country to displace Beijing from its role as Myanmar’s sole benefactor.
Now, China is regaining some of its lost influence. It is trying to revive stalled projects, including the hydroplant, and get access to Myanmar’s Indian Ocean coast through a $7.3 billion port and pipeline project.
.. China’s diplomatic and commercial moves are a part of President Xi’s trillion-dollar “Belt and Road” plan to build infrastructure and deepen trade ties across Eurasia. It will also lessen China’s dependence on oil shipped through the narrow and easily blocked Strait of Malacca.
.. The cost for the Rohingya, though, is that under the China-brokered repatriation deal, there might be little international supervision of how they are treated should they choose to return to Myanmar.
Among other things, Myanmar plans to bar Rohingya from the lands they farmed before the purges. It instead intends to settle them in “model villages,” which the U.N. has described as little better than internment camps.
.. Her reticence is a tactical decision, according to people in her inner circle. Ms. Suu Kyi worries that speaking more forcefully would antagonize the military, which once ran the country and still wields considerable authority, and jeopardize her goal of achieving a full democracy after years of struggle... When a visiting diplomat raised the issue of the Rohingya with Ms. Suu Kyi in 2013, she admonished: “Please don’t call them Rohingya. They are Bengali. They are foreigners,” according to a person with knowledge of the conversation. The term “Bengali” is often used in Myanmar to describe illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The person also recalled that Ms. Suu Kyi complained the international community underestimated the threat Buddhists faced from Muslims in Rakhine State... She has repeatedly stopped short of criticizing soldiers for setting fire to Rohingya settlements... Antipathy to the Rohingya, who live in Myanmar without citizenship or the right to vote, goes back decades. Some Rohingya say they were the original inhabitants of the coastal strip along western Myanmar, before Buddhist ethnic-Rakhines settled there... During World War II, Rohingya sided with retreating British forces while many local Buddhists took up arms with the Japanese in hopes of gaining independence, inflaming tensions between the two communities that have lingered to this day... what Myanmar military strategists call the “Four Cuts.” Developed in the 1970s against the country’s rebel armies, it involves sweeping through civilian areas to deny insurgents food, funds, recruits and information. The general later described the operations as “unfinished business” dating back to World War II... The crisis is raising questions about whether the push among Western nations to restore ties with Myanmar, a resource-rich nation in a strategically important region bordering China, was justified... The constitution which Myanmar’s army drafted in 2008 grants it control of the defense and interior ministries, the administrative backbone of the country. Soldiers are guaranteed a quarter of the seats in the parliament, enough to veto constitutional changes... Ms. Suu Kyi is barred from being president because she has foreign-born children... Many human rights activists and some diplomats now believe Ms. Suu Kyi may have been better suited as an icon of the opposition than a mainstream politician.
.. “What was described as strength and steadfastness is now being called inflexibility. But it’s really the same person if you look at her closely over years,” said one diplomat who knows Ms. Suu Kyi well... “A parody of democracy is infinitely worse than dictatorship,” she told one diplomat, according to a person familiar with the discussion... She has struggled to build trust with the insurgent armies, many of which regard the Myanmar military as the real power... Ms. Suu Kyi seized on an analogy used by an audience member comparing the government to a parent, with ethnic armed groups as its children. A person with knowledge of the exchange said she urged camp-dwellers to tell the armed groups: “Listen to your parents.”.. Ms. Suu Kyi has also expressed reluctance to provide the Rohingya with citizenship, saying it would only encourage more Muslims to come from Bangladesh... “She is binding herself to the military because both sides understand they have to hang together,” he said. “For all her rhetoric past and present, her leverage on the military is nil.”