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Myanmar Sanctions Lifted Despite Ongoing Ethnic Cleansing

Updated on May 28, 2013

Despite the escalation of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, international sanctions are being lifted - most recently by the European Union.

Hundreds of thousands displaced, thousands of homes burnt, thousands thrown in interment camps, and scores of murders.

How could this be? It's simple - and it comes down to the money.


The CIA estimates Myanmar is sitting on 50 million barrels of oil & 283 billion cubic meters of natural gas. State run Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE) puts those estimates at 226 million barrels of oil and 457 billion cubic meters of natural gas. This oil is worth an estimated $29b over three decades for Burma.

In 2011, Myanmar granted approval for deep-water oil exploration covering nine ocean blocks in the Bay of Bengal. In April 2013, Myanmar accepted bids on 30 offshore blocks for exploration from (but not limited to) Chevron, Total (France), PPTEP (Thailand), EPI Holdings (Hong Kong), Geopetrol International (Malasia).

All of this crude needs some place to go. Thus, MOGE and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) began the Shwe Gas Project to construct a pipeline. This 500 mile pipeline transects 21 Burmese townships between the Arakan state port of Sittwe and the Shan State northern border to the Yunnan Province in China. The Shwe Gas Project is going forward despite there being no environmental impact or social impact studies.


As result, the Rohingya feel the brunt of progress. Daily "fighting" occurs along the Shwe pipeline. Mass killings have been levied upon the Rohingya in June 2012, October 2012, and most recently in March 2013. Mass graves have been uncovered. Rohingya are subject to curfews and land seizures.

While multinational corporations stand to profit the most, are they culpable?


Ethnic tension has been felt in Myanmar (formerly Burma) dating at least to World War II, when Rohingya Muslims sided with Allied forces and served as spies - many Rohingya were killed in the aftermath.

A 1982 law Citizenship Law identified eight "national races" of Burma (not include the Rohingya) in the wake of the 1978 cleansing of 200,000 Rohingya. Another 250,000 Rohingya fled in 1991-92. As result of the Citizenship Law, Rohingya (who once accounted for one third of the population) are not legally permitted to open a business or even to marry - 800,000 Rohingya have no rights as citizens of Myanmar, and account for only two percent of the population.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina | Source

These are a people without a country; without a home. Neither neighboring Bangladesh, Thailand, nor India seem willing to accept any more refugees.

"Well, why we should allow to enter our country?" - Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh

While numbers are hard to pin down - at least 125,000 Rohingya have been displaced (as of July 2012), at least 500 have drowned.

The Rohingya are forced to choose between starving in internment camps, and taking their chances at sea. 1800 Rohingya "boat people" washed up on Thailand beaches in January 2013 alone.


Why is the world - and the media - casting a blind eye toward the Rohingya? Why are international sanctions being lifted in spite of an ongoing campaign of human rights violations?

Perhaps the money is the cause. Certainly oil money is behind the vanishing sanctions and the absence of President Thein Sein.

Obama with President Thein Sein
Obama with President Thein Sein | Source

But why is the plight of the Rohingya largely ignored by the media?

Perhaps it is because the Rohingya are Muslim. Perhaps the western world has accepted the narrative that all Muslims are guilty of terrorism simply by association.

Surely this cannot be the case. Surely we would not view all world issues through a lens of religious-based bias. Surely we would not condemn 1.5 billion people as terrorists - simply because of who they pray to.


Perhaps it seems strange to us that Buddhists would display such violence. Burmese Hindu have taken to sporting the bindi so as to not be mistaken for Muslims - as the violence has spread to non-Rohingya Burmese Muslims as well.

The Dalai Lama has expressed that he is "deeply saddened."

One very big question remains; where is that great bastion of hope and democracy - Aung San Suu Kyi?


President Obama & Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar in November, 2012 and Obama specifically lauded Suu Kyi's "courage and determination."

He added - "I believe deeply that this country can transcend its differences, and that every human being within these borders is a part of your nation's story."



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