Genocide expert Gregory H Stanton was born in the United States in 1946. He was political affairs officer on genocide at the US state department during the Clinton era. Stanton as an expert gave statements at the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal in Kuala Lumpur. He spoke to Prothom Alo’s Mizanur Rahman Khan in an interview.
Prothom Alo: How acceptable is Aung San Suu Kyi's excuse of Myanmar’s nascent democracy in perspective of the genocide on Rohingyas?
Gregory Stanton: This is a common excuse, a strategy of refute allegations. They say it is important to maintain peace, rather than stop genocide. Suu Kyi has done so. She is in denial. She also wants to show that Myanmar is threatened by terrorism and so tackling terrorism is the government’s priority. It is true that Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army is a derailed organisation. Suu Kyi uses the ARSA issue to justify the genocide. But the military force, police and Arakan militia has been carrying out genocide since long. We, on behalf of Genocide Watch, first used the word genocide in 2012 to describe the atrocities on Rohingyas in Arakan. Following the killing of a Buddhist woman in Arakan, 1,000 Muslims were killed in Myanmar. Suu Kyi compromised her credibility as a Nobel laureate and an advocate of democracy. Her speech is another instance of failure.
Prothom Alo: Suu Kyi does not use the word Rohingya as an ethnic group. CNN says she has used Rohingya once while talking on ARSA in her entire address. But the witnesses at the Peoples' Tribunal said the number of ARSA members is less than 50.
Gregory Stanton: Genocide was going on in Arakan before the birth of ARSA. I think persecution on Rohingya began in 1962. Rohingyas were further humiliated by the Citizenship Act in 1982.
Prothom Alo: Do you believe that Myanmar started the process of genocide in the sixties? Can't it be defined as genocide regarding the number of people killed?
Gregory Stanton: Yes, they started it in the sixties. In fact the process of genocide starts as soon as the process is launched to eliminate an ethnic group. If you undertake a project of ethnic cleansing and kill some people, it is genocide. A number of people were killed before the claim of tackling terrorism. Some 277,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar and took shelter in Bangladesh in 1978. The world then did not see Suu Kyi in the political arena of the then Burma.
Prothom Alo: What is the basis of the anti-Rohingya stand that Suu Kyi explained to the world in her address?
Gregory Stanton: I think she has taken side with her government's racist policy. In fact she has betrayed her father. All ethnic groups including Rohingyas were recognised as citizens in the basic constitution of Burma. Rohingyas had been living there many years before the independence of Burma in 1948. She deviated from the path of her father's ideology. So, General Aung San is a victim of his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi’s treachery.
Prothom Alo: Where have things gone wrong? Did the west evaluate Suu Kyi wrongly? When did her morality begin to erode? Do you think she has joined the power-hungry politicians of the developing world?
Gregory Stanton: I think she has compromised her ethics to stay in power. She has become a power-hungry politician. She has started to think that she is the saviour of her homeland. She does not realise a person can't be the sole saviour of a country. A leader can become an enemy to the country moral responsibility is lost. The main duty of the government is to protect its citizens. If any government can't protect its citizens, it loses its right to stay in power. Sovereignty will come from the people, it will not go to the people from the government. Sovereignty is controlled by the people not by the government.
Prothom Alo: What role did you play in the US state department?
Gregory Stanton: I prepared the draft proposals-955 and 978 at UNSC for forming Rwanda Tribunal. On basis of my two drafts at UNSC, Burundi Investigation Commission (proposal no 1012) and Investation Commission on Central African Arms Flow (proposal no 1013) were formed. I made the rule for Khemer Rouge Tribunal. I established Cambodia Genocide Project at Yale University in 1991. In my retirement, I established Genocide Watch.
Prothom Alo: How would you compare the genocides of Rwanda and Cambodia with Rakhine? How do you view the ineffective role of Security Council regarding Rohingya?
Gregory Stanton: Arakan is facing a situation similar to that in Rwanda and Cambodia. The difference is only international environment. Cold war ended when we formed Rwanda Tribunal. USA and Russia were not pursuing the policy of opposing one another. China also did not interfere. However, China is now in favour of protecting the Myanmar military. China has been doing this for many years. Russia is now indicating that the UN should not interfere in any country. These two super powers have taken up these roles. This does not mean I am advocating military measures against Myanmar. I think strong economic sanctions have to be imposed on Myanmar. Economic sanctions were withdrawn following the release of Suu Kyi and the election there. But unfortunately now we see that the Myanmar army did not change its policy. They are continuing genocide against Rohingyas. They are burning down villages and brutally killing children.
Prothom Alo: Is there any logic behind the stand of China and Russia?
Gregory Stanton: China has no record of preserving human rights. It has no headache if genocide goes on in any other country. China opposed when UNSC wanted to take steps on Darfur. I believe they are carrying out genocide in Tibet although they do not admit it. The Chinese government forces are carrying out atrocities in the Muslim majority Xinjiang province. So in no way China is an anti-genocide state.
Prothom Alo: What about Russia?
Gregory Stanton: It is unfortunate that the same goes for Russia. It has no time to bother about genocide in other countries. I have noticed it has supported Rwanda and Khmer Rouge Tribunals. The UN General Assembly formed the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. Russia stood beside the UN. The Russian policy included the trial of Khemer Rouge. The matter is very complex. International relations are very complex.
Prothom Alo: Can you specify what the international community including the US can do?
Gregory Stanton: The international community can impose targeted sanctions on Myanmar, not causing sufferings to common people. The international community will clearly tell top generals and Suu Kyi that such mass killings will not be tolerated.
Prothom Alo: You know the strength and weaknesses of Bangladesh. What can Bangladesh do to create international pressure on Myanmar?
Gregory Stanton: Although Bangladesh is not a member of the UN refugee convention, the country receives all Rohingyas. The country has set a better example this time than many other countries. The country protected the rights of the Rohingyas. I will call this an ethnic generosity of Bangladesh. It will tell the world that it has done its duty. Now you do your duty. We will not be able to bear the burden for long. Bangladesh will tell the international community to help it. It is time for the UN to stand up. I think the US can play a major role here. It can recall 1971 when it supported Pakistan when genocide was being carried out in Bangladesh. I think US citizens have a debt to Bangladesh. They could not stand by us and they have an obligation, the people may feel. Nixon and Kissinger termed the mass killing at the time as ‘internal affairs’. That was a mistake. The US failed to take an anti-genocide stance in many areas including Rwanda. As Bangladesh is in crisis over Rohingya, the US can stand by Bangladesh and make up for its past mistakes.
Prothom Alo: Thank You.
Gregory Stanton: Thanks.
*This interview originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.