We Have Failed The Rohingya

A family of displaced Rohingya people
A family of displaced Rohingya people. Credit to United to End Genocide under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Not since the atrocities of Rwanda has the world seen widespread ethnic cleansing equal to that of the Rohingya in Burma. And just like Rwanda, the international community has failed to intervene as a widespread genocide continues.

The persecution of the Rohingya has been ongoing since the military takeover of Burma in 1962. While not on the current scale of violence, the Rohingya have always been subjugated in Burma whether through their assets and homes being seized by the Burmese government or their lack of political recognition by the Burmese government. Due to their Bengali heritage and Muslim faith, the Rohingya have long remained on the outskirts of Burmese society, alienated.

Only recently has this structural violence evolved into the current ethnic cleansing of Rohingya. Attacks on Burmese border guards in October of 2016 by unidentified insurgents were blamed on the Rohingya, despite the insurgents being unknown. These border attacks were utilised by the Burmese government to portray the stateless Rohingya as being “violent Muslim terrorists” that have no right to reside in Burma. The border attacks helped the Burmese military establishment consolidate its power by rallying the majority Buddhist population against Muslim Rohingya.

The genocide of the Rohingya by Burmese nationalists is on a scale unlike any in modern history. Encouraged by the government, local police in the Rakhine region have jailed hundreds of Rohingya, some as young as ten years old, accused of “terrorism.” According to Médecins Sans Frontières, over 6,700 Rohingya have been killed in August alone (730 of which were children). Hundreds of homes have been burned down by the Burmese military. The government recently admitted to using helicopters to attack Rohingya villages accused of being armed. Hundreds of women have been reportedly raped by Burmese soldiers. Over 3,000 children are currently suffering from malnutrition. In total, more than 640,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee Burma.

What is most concerning is that the mistreatment of the Rohingya has been known by the international community for years. The first indications of mass ethnic cleansing began in 2012 when fears of the Rohingya developing into a demographic majority triggered mass rapes and killings of Rohingya by Buddhist extremists, with government endorsement. A suppressed internal UN report revealed that the UN had failed to adequately respond to the violence against the Rohingya beginning in 2012. Another BBC report revealed that the head of the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in Burma, Renata Lok-Dessallien, had reprimanded and isolated staff who warned of mass ethnic cleansing. The damning BBC report also exposed the UNCT for blocking human rights activists from investigating the claims of the Rohingya.

It increasingly appears that in the case of the Rohingya, just like that of the Rwandan massacre, the UN failed to properly warn of and condemn the persecution of the Rohingya. While the UN is now openly defending the Rohingya, it is too little too late. The responsibility to intervene has now shifted from the UN to the international community. Despite the UN publicising the Burmese government’s direct involvement in the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya, no governments have actively implemented economic sanctions against Burma.

If we want to end to the abuse of the Rohingya, the international community must act against the Burmese government. With no economic sanctions, and the US State Department refusing to classify the persecution as genocide, the Burmese government continues to face no consequences for its actions. The international community has a moral responsibility to not only condemn instances of ethnic cleansing but to actively punish state actors that participate in such atrocities.

We, the international community, have failed the Rohingya. We failed the Rohingya by not acting following the 2012 riots against the Rohingya. We failed by not acting when numerous human rights activists warned of a possible genocide. And we continue to fail the Rohingya every day that the Burmese government and those responsible face absolutely no consequences for their horrific actions.


The Forgotten Histories of the Afghan Cameleers

In 2016 Artist Peter Drew traveled across Australia pasting pictures of Afghan cameleers with the title “AUSSIE.”
In 2016 Artist Peter Drew traveled across Australia painting pictures of Afghan cameleers with the title “AUSSIE.” Credit to Peter Drew.

Until now there has not been a book published in this country that records the contribution of the “Afghan camelmen” to the opening up, growth and development of the Australian colonies. Pamela Rajkowski, author of In The Tracks of The Camelmen

30 years have past since historian Pamela Rajkowski first published her book In the Tracks of the Camelmen and the lack of attention that has been paid to the Afghan cameleers by Australian historians is still a serious concern.

The Afghan cameleers, despite their unfortunate obscurity, played an extremely significant role in the foundations of the Australian state and nation. They left a lasting legacy within the infrastructure and society of Australia. Immigrants from colonial India and Afghanistan that created a wide-spanning network of “camel strings” that allowed for the quick trade of goods across Australia also played an important role in “opening up” the Australian outback. Without the Afghans much of Australia might’ve never been explored and discovered. Their transport network from the 1860s to the 1930s allowed for the building of railroads across Australia and facilitated the building of towns across Australia once called the “Ghantowns.” From Farina and Marree in South Australia to Bourke and Broken Hill in New South Wales, the Afghan cameleers left a legacy of tin shacks, interracial families and mosques. In fact, many cities and towns such as Alice Springs and Marree may have never been developed without the help of the cameleers.

In Marree, the cameleers built the first mosque in Australia, creating a community of Indigenous-Afghan Muslims that would precede later Muslims immigrants from the Middle East. This community of mixed Indigenous-Afghans is perhaps the greatest artifact of the presence of the Afghans. Descendants such as Raymond Satour and Azeem Johnny Khan have allowed the Afghans’ legacy to live on by cooking the foods of their ancestors, regularly meeting with other descendants and attempting to maintain the property of their fathers and grandfathers. In some indigenous communities the words nathuwa and chapatti are still used to mean tobacco and flat bread. The Afghans’ interactions with the Indigenous peoples of Australia helped them share aspects of their culture and in many cases granted the Indigenous peoples with sources of employment with many learning how to take care of and ride camels.

The primary reason why the cameleers are no longer know is due to “White Australia policy” of 1901. This policy led to the forced removal of the cameleers from Australia. Fathers were forced to leave behind the Australian families and the camel string business was replaced with railways which they helped build. Over 70 years of history was eventually forgotten and the important place that the Afghans once held in the Australian nation was replaced.

The impact of the Afghans on Australia should not be understated. Their work played a crucial role in the foundation of Australia. Despite this much of the work of the Afghans has been ignored by mainstream Australian society. The average Australian can you tell more about the life of iconic Australian criminal Mark Read than they can tell about the lives of the Afghan cameleers that founded Australia.

These histories are not just important because they teach us about the foundation of Australia but because they challenge the stereotypical image of what an Australian should look like. The cameleers teach us that the Australian nation is much more than what faux-nationalists such as Pauline Hanson and Alan Jones would like us to believe, the Australian nation is and has always been multicultural.

These histories must not be forgotten but instead hailed as proof of the successful, rich and expansive history of multiculturalism in Australia.

An Evaluation of Western Sanctions on Iran

The effectiveness of Western sanctions on Iran can be evaluated by three key criteria: Whether they have had a significant impact on Iran’s economy, whether they have a set and achievable end-goal and whether the sanctions have been supported and upheld by allying states. These three criteria are crucial to the effectiveness of sanctions, as outlined in a previous essay,[1] and can therefore be used to judge if Western sanctions of Iran have been effective in achieving their desired goal. These criteria can also be used to assess exactly why Western sanctions of Iran have been effective, in comparison to numerous other failed sanctions.

The current impact of the Iranian sanctions on Iran’s economy has been significant. Since 2011 the Iranian Rial has been continuously depreciating. Iranian oil exports have also decreased because of EU sanctions and as such the main consumers of Iranian oil are now China, India and Russia. This dependency on trade with China, India and Russia represents a weakness in their trading power. It has led to increase inflation and the banning of Iranian banks by the EU and US has prevented Iran’s ability to deal with Western based multinational corporations (MNCs). According to a report by the World Bank Group: “the imposition of sanctions on Iran’s oil exports had a serious negative effect on the Iranian government budget.”[2] Public welfare has also decreased with the government removing food, electricity, water and gas subsidies in 2010 and an estimated unemployment rate of 35% due to low export demand.[3] The Iranian economy has lost approximately $17.1 billion USD in export revenue.[4] Such statistics highlight the significant impact that Western sanctions on Iran have had on the Iranian economy, largely due to the Iranian economy’s reliance upon oil exports to the EU and services from American MNCs. Despite economic relief being provided by China and Russia, the Iranian national economy has failed to recover from the impact of such sanctions. These findings give credence to argument that Western sanctions have been extremely effective in halting the Iranian economy.

In assessing the goals of Western states in sanctioning Iran, the West has used their sanctions to halt the Iranian nuclear program. This goal, unlike most goals of sanctioning states, is a practical and achievable goal that attempts to restrict Iranian military and political power in exchange for economic power. This fact combined with Iran’s heavy reliance upon trade with the West highlights the fact that Western sanctions on Iran have been extremely effective and that their outlined goal was achievable. The recent Iran nuclear framework agreement to end Western sanctions in exchange for the ceasing of Iran’s nuclear program highlights the efficacy of sanctions as a method of conflict resolution. The willingness of Iran to give up their sovereignty in exchange for economic power emphasis the effect that such sanctions have had and can have on a state by efficiently targeting its economy and setting realistic and practical goals.

Another important factor in the effectiveness of the Iran sanctions is the fact that they were multilateral and supported by numerous Western states. The sanctions involved restrictions imposed by the UN on arms trade with Iran, Iranian assets and Iranian banking. American sanctions when further by completely banning any American firms from dealing with Iran which greatly restricted Iran’s access to Western markets and services. EU sanctions also supported American sanctions by restricting Iran’s access to European markets and arms trade. European sanctions had the greatest impact on Iran by completely preventing their access to any Western markets, greatly devaluing their trading power. The involvement of Western states, other than the US, such as the EU and Australia played a large role in having an impact on Iran, by completely restricting Iran’s dealing to economically developing states such as India, China and Russia. It is as such that a major aspect of the efficacy of the Iranian sanctions was the fact they involved multiple economically developed states that the Iranian economy was reliant upon.

The effectiveness of Western sanctions on Iran, as an exercise of coercive state power, cannot be understated. Because of the multilateral nature of the sanctions, the significance of Western markets to the Iranian economy and a set and achievable end-goal for the sanctions, Western sanctions have been extremely effective in coercing Iran into ending their nuclear program. The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signified the end of the Iranian nuclear “issue” with Iran dismantling their nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. This case study demonstrates the coercive power of sanctions as method of conflict resolution and the requirements for such sanctions to have an impact upon a state.

[1] Butler, Umar. 2017. The Efficacy of Sanctions as a Method of Conflict Resolution. February 8. Accessed February 11, 2017. http://umarbutler.com/index.php/2017/02/08/efficacy-sanctions-method-conflict-resolution/.

[2] Ianchovichina, Elena, Shantayanan Devarajan, and Csilla Lakatos. 2016. Lifting Economic Sanctions on Iran: Global Effects and Strategic Responses. Policy Research Working Paper, World Bank Group.

[3] Peterson, Sabrina M. n.d. Iran’s Deteriorating Economy: An Analysis of the Economic Impact of Western Sanctions. Accessed February 12, 2017. http://www.iar-gwu.org/node/428.

[4] Mufson, Steven. 2015. What ending sanctions on Iran will mean for the country’s economy. August 12. Accessed February 12, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/what-ending-sanctions-on-iran-will-mean-for-the-countrys-economy/2015/08/12/2c3a9942-3d17-11e5-b3ac-8a79bc44e5e2_story.html.