NEW DELHI: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was widely criticised after he published several tweets earlier this month promoting Myanmar as a tourist destination despite the country coming under fire amid accusations of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims in recent months.
In one of his tweets, Dorsey said: “Myanmar is an absolutely beautiful country. The people are full of joy and the food is amazing.”
The CEO failed to use his visit to highlight the plight of the Rohingya community, hundreds of thousands of whom have been forced to flee the country since the outbreak of violence took place more than two years ago.
Defending his comments, Dorsey said: "I'm aware of the human rights atrocities and suffering in Myanmar. I don’t view visiting, practicing, or talking with the people, as endorsement … I didn't intend to diminish by not raising the issue, but could have acknowledged that I don't know enough and need to learn more."
Amid the worldwide criticism, there were people in Myanmar who supported Dorsey’s comments. In defence of the Twitter’s CEO, one internet user said: "We want to explain about ourselves to the world but we can't … Now the CEO of Twitter has explained it ... we feel proud.”
One other user said: “Many western people say they love democracy but they don’t respect someone’s inner peace.”
What was it about ethnic cleansing that leads to inner peace? And did one user really mean to say that countries ought to respect each other’s right to genocide?
WHOSE FAULT IS IT ANYWAY?
Putting aside the massive disagreement between individuals on how to interpret the string of developments since the Rohingya were driven out from their homes in Rakhine, such differing perceptions do not end at the individual level.
There are growing, deep-seated divisions among the international community which prevents and obstructs the Rohingya conundrum from finding a lasting resolution, leaving the plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in limbo.
The first disagreement is that despite the two countries reaching an agreement for repatriation, Bangladesh clearly doubts the seriousness and sincerity of Myanmar’s willingness to take back the Rohingya refugees.
On the other hand, Myanmar has blamed the Bangladeshi authorities for not following through with the bilateral agreement by not sending back the refugees to Myanmar. While Myanmar claims that it is ready to accept the refugees back, Bangladesh feels helpless when the refugees themselves are unwilling to voluntarily return.
The fierce allegations flying between Dhaka and Naypyitaw don’t help when the refugees still have lingering fears about returning to Myanmar. So it is illogical to blame either the refugees or the host nation.
Some in Myanmar accuse the Bangladesh government of opportunistically using the humanitarian crisis to attract foreign aid and assistance, to help the Bangladesh economy.
Some others accuse the refugee population of internationalising the issue for political bargaining ends, including fuelling a campaign for the official recognition of a Rohingya identity and the granting of Myanmar citizenship.
WHITHER A SAFE, DIGNIFIED RETURN?
The second disagreement is between UN agencies and Myanmar. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) signed a memorandum of understanding with Myanmar in June this year to support the creation of conditions for a voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of the refugees from Bangladesh.
While Myanmar wants to push through the repatriation, UN agencies have cautioned against a forceful return. UN agencies, which echo the concerns of the refugee population, hold the view that there are lingering security concerns about the safety of the refugees.
The fact is the Rohingya inside Myanmar remain vulnerable to threats, attacks and other acts of reprisal. They additionally face restrictions on their freedom of movement and limited access to essential services.
The third disagreement is in the UN Security Council. The Council has made attempts to engage on the Rohingya crisis, including the council’s delegation visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh in April to May this year to assess the ground situation.
In all its attempts, two veto-wielding powers - China and Russia - have either blocked or boycotted draft resolutions, most recently this week when the two big countries boycotted talks on a British-drafted resolution that would push Myanmar to work with the UN.
Among others, the draft resolution would warn that the Council will consider further steps, including sanctions, without significant progress made by Myanmar. It would also ask UN officials to report back regularly to the council.
ASEAN STANDS BY
The fourth disagreement is among members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in which Myanmar is also a member. Because of its founding principles of consensus and non-interference in the internal affairs of member states, ASEAN has been unable to take any concrete action on the Rohingya issue.
However, in recent months, the regional bloc has been able to hold discussions on the issue, especially under the chairmanship of Singapore. The incoming chair, Thailand, has also expressed the possibility of ASEAN playing a role to help Myanmar address the refugee crisis.
Among the 10-member ASEAN, Malaysia and Indonesia, the two Muslim-majority nations, have been most vocal on the issue. Just this week, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said:
We can appeal to the government of Myanmar, but if there is no response and the atrocities continue, ASEAN must support international moves to stop this abuse of authority and injustice in Myanmar.
While ASEAN under the chairmanship of Singapore and the incoming chair Thailand have expressed its desire to help Myanmar, it is still unclear whether Myanmar will welcome such moves and invite the bloc to play an active and tangible role on the issue.
THE PATH AHEAD IS PAVED WITH INACTION
Since the UN Security Council, which is the only powerful law enforcement arm of the UN, is unable to reach an agreement that can potentially make a real change, including a referral to the International Criminal Court, there appears to be few options for the international community.
The three readily feasible options are criticism and pressure, sanctions, and withdrawal of honorary titles.
The most notable actions taken so far on Aung San Suu Kyi are the stripping of her honorary Canadian citizenship and the Freedom of the City Honours by Paris, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Oxford, Sheffield, Dublin and Newcastle; as well as the withdrawal of the Ambassador of Conscience Award by Amnesty International, and the Elie Wiesel Award by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Even South Korea’s Memorial Foundation scrapped the conferment of the Gwangju Human Rights Award originally scheduled for this week.
READ: What does it matter if Canada strips Aung San Suu Kyi of her honorary citizenship? A commentary
While the US and EU have taken the lead in imposing sanctions on the Myanmar military, these have had limited impact, blunted by the fact that remaining members of the vast international community continue to trade and engage with them.
So it seems the international community has once again reached a situation similar to the years (from late 1980s to the 2000s) of sanctions on the military regime by Western democracies.
The recent criticism, pressure and isolation by the Western nations and their institutions have strengthened Myanmar-China relations through the Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.
HARSH REALITY AND A MIRROR
While the international community should continue to put pressure on Myanmar and extend all possible help to address the Rohingya conundrum, perhaps the reality is that the ultimate responsibility lies in Myanmar as to how the issue will take its final shape.
At the moment, it does not appear that Myanmar is fully prepared to address the long-term concerns of the refugees, which include security, identity and citizenship.
Perhaps in this context, much as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s tweets were reprehensible, they horrify us because they remind us of our inability to effectuate change to the plight of the Rohingya and reflect a reality we will all too readily embrace in a year or two for now – the normalisation of relations with Myanmar and the acceptance of ethnic cleansing against a minority.
So say what you will about Jack Dorsey – his tweet only served to hold up an uncomfortable mirror for us all.
Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen is associate professor and executive director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. He is the author of three books on Myanmar, including "Democratization of Myanmar".