Human rights activist and professor Chandra Muzaffar is the organiser of Permanent Peoples Tribunal in Kuala Lumpur. He is the writer of Alternative Politics for Asia: A Buddhist-Muslim Dialogue (1999). He spoke to Prothom Alo in an interview.
Prothom Alo: The Permanent Peoples Tribunal in its verdict on Friday said Myanmar is guilty of genocide. What sort of impact do you expect from the verdict?
Chandra Muzaffar: The verdict will have an impact on the international community. It will have an impact on the civil society across the world. People will now realise clearly that genocide is being carried out in Myanmar. ASEAN and the international community will also realise it. I hope the governments will be influenced more or less by the verdict. The verdict will especially move the democratic countries and societies. Japan, South Korea, India and the governments of West Europe will assess it. Above all the verdict will have an impact inside Myanmar. The people are not allowed to know what is happening there. Myanmar does not have a respected position in the world. The people of Myanmar will raise questions as to how their interests will be protected, about the atrocities being committed. The Myanmar government will have to act positively.
Prothom Alo: Will ASEAN accept the verdict that genocide is being committed in Myanmar?
Chandra Muzaffar: As per charter of ASEAN, member states will not interfere internal affairs. Even so, the member states will definitely count the incident as genocide. A response may come from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Prothom Alo: The Malaysian prime minister has taken to the streets regarding the Rohingya issue. Has the government called it genocide?
Chandra Muzaffar: It seems that the government considers it as genocide.
Prothom Alo: Is this mentioned in the statement issued by the government?
Chandra Muzaffar: No, the government and the politicians have used the term ‘ethnic cleansing’. But it this not legal terminology used in international law.
Prothom Alo: Why this word is being used as it was used by war criminal Slobodan Milosevic to dodge punishment? The UN secretary general recently asked , ‘What suitable word should I use rather than ethnic cleansing?’
Chandra Muzaffar: Out of ignorance, ethnic cleansing is used instead of genocide. They do not know the matter of Milosevic. Myanmar is not clearing land in Rakhine. The use of ethnic cleansing in the case of Rakhine is in no way appropriate.
Prothom Alo: Will you call upon the organisations including UN, ASEAN, CNN and BBC to use genocide?
Chandra Muzaffar: The President of the Permanent Peoples Tribunal Daniel Feierstein said the verdict with details will be sent to UN, ASEAN, political leaders and top news agencies. I will eagerly await the response. This time the world was shaken by the persecution of Rohingyas. In fact the persecution was going on for long. The world would not react in this way if Rohingyas were not persecuted widely.
Prothom Alo: The verdict apprehends larger genocide if Myanmar is not reined in.
Chandra Muzaffar: I do not know. But the current Myanmar government has indicated a sort of sagacity. In her speech, Aung San Suu Kyi has shifted from her earlier position. Earlier, her statement was close to the statement of the military government of Myanmar. In her latest address, Suu Kyi has endeavored to create a distance with the military. It is true the military was against her. She said, “We were under an authoritarian rule for long. In space of 18 months, a big change can’t take place.” So her statement has gone against the army. So I think she has tried to change her position to an extent, considering international pressure and criticism of the people.
Prothom Alo: The founder of the New York-based Genocide Watch Gregory Stanton said Suu Kyi has betrayed her father by devitating from the path of her father. What do you think?
Chandra Muzaffar: I agree with Stanton. Her father Aung San adopted a good strategy by accommodating all ethnic minorities. Moreover, his cabinet appointed a minister from the Muslims. But, Suu Kyi feels she can’t stay in power if the military does not want it. We should not make mistakes by focusing too much on Suu Kyi. The government is not run by Suu Kyi, but by the military. An election has taken place in Myanmar, but that does not mean it is free from the grasp of the military. All power lies with the military. We can’t make the military of Myanmar happy. I think the Myanmar army may feel happy as we have focused on Suu Kyi.
Prothom Alo: Stay in power or not. Which option will she follow? Will she step down?
Chandra Muzaffar: Suu Kyi will not step down. Very few people in the world could show it.
Prothom Alo: What is your recommendation for Bangladesh as an over populated country?
Chandra Muzaffar: Bangladesh is on the right track in handling the Rohingya influx into its territory.
Prothom Alo: Is there any differences of opinion in the Malaysian society about rehabilitating Rohingyas?
Chandra Muzaffar: There is some concern as to what is happening in the Rakhine state and how Rohingyas will be rehabilitated in the long term. Now there is a big question, is it possible to establish the rule of law for Rohingyas. There is a big consensus among the civil societies regarding providing humanitarian aid for Rohingyas.
Prothom Alo: How is the Malaysian opposition party viewing it?
Chandra Muzaffar: The Malaysian opposition party sympathises with Rohingyas and wants a solution.
Prothom Alo: What is the role of imprisoned Anwar Ibrahim’s party?
Chandra Muzaffar: They also stand by Rohingyas.
Prothom Alo: Did it support the role of the government?
Chandra Muzaffar: Not the government, but they have extended their support to the Rohingyas. The opposition party maintains an independent position. They have shown this in this case.
Prothom Alo: Thank you.
Chandra Muzaffar: Thanks.
*This interview originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.