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Rogue State?

Byline: SIRAJ M. SHAWA

Is Myanmar guilty of developing and using chemical weapons? If this is proven right, the country must immediately be taken to task by the world community.

Following the installation of a new quasi-civilian government in Myanmar in 2011, some significant reforms were set in motion. The country adhered to the Biological Weapons Convention in 2014, and though it was among the very first nations to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993, it did not ratify it until 2015. On July 8, 2015, it became the 191st member of the CWC, pledging to comply with its obligation and helping make the world completely free of chemical weapons. But its honouring of these commitments still remains distinctly dubious.

Under the CWC, its all members are banned to produce, develop, possess, stockpile, transfer or use chemical weapons. Having said that, senior State Department official of the United States recently testified in front of the annual meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which monitors CWC, that Myanmar may have breached the convention. It is alleged that the South East Asian nation is armed with chemical weapons since the 1980s against which the US emphatically voiced its concerns during 1980 to 2000. However, no effective legal or political action was taken against it in that period. After the ratification of the CWC, it was wrongly presumed that Myanmar's was seriously planning to disarm itself of chemical weapons. Because neither Myanmar declared these weapons of mass destruction nor destroyed its facilities which should have been done a long time ago. But this is not the only case which proves the lack of honesty and integrity in international dealings when it comes to Myanmar. The undeserved reputation enjoyed till recently by Aung San Suu Kyi, state counsellor (Prime Minister) of the country and Nobel laureate, has been tarnished because of the terrible state of human rights and racial and religious discrimination by the government and its machinery. Calls have even been made to strip her of the Nobel Prize.

In 2017 the United Nations human rights chief labelled the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, as a result of which more than 700,000 people had to flee their homes to escape extreme brutalities at the hands of the Burmese army. The encouraging thing is that in November 2019, Gambia brought a case of Rohingya genocide against this rogue state at International Court of Justice which was endorsed and supported by 57 members of the OIC.

Apart from this, a London-based rights group, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, incriminated Myanmar for using chemical weapons to annihilate rebels of the Karen community. It is also believed that in 2011 chemical weapons were used against ethnic armies as a consequence of which many citizens in the adjacent areas fainted and some suffered from nausea and vomiting. In November 2013, the state police used white phosphorus against protestors near a controversial copper mine in central Myanmar which was later proved beyond doubt a private laboratory on the basis of material collected from the protest site.

The government rejected reports about the use of chemical weapons on the Kachin minority in the north the same year. But there is no smoke without fire. In 2014, five journalists had to face 10 years of penal servitude as a punishment for reporting that the military was involved in the production of chemical weapons. They blamed the former military leadership of having a chemical weapons factory in the Pank Township, Magwe Division, which was built in 2009 on land seized from farmers. It was also discovered afterwards that the state security forces used chemical weapons in 2015 against the ethnic armies which made the residents of the local areas unable to speak or hear. The rebels claimed that they had sent ample evidence to the United Nations indicating the illegal use of chemical weapons by Myanmar though this is vehemently denied by the country's military.

The US State Department believes that Myanmar has hidden chemical weapons at a historic place where previously mustard gas was developed. Washington has already announced that it was ready to help in the destruction of these chemical weapons and that this should be done sooner than later. In case of refusal, the international community and, specifically, the Security Council must put considerable pressure on the rogue Myanmar state for doing so.

However, the question remains, what was Myanmar planning to do with these weapons? To what extent have they used these already? To what limit have they violated International Law?

These questions need to be answered. And if proven, Myanmar must be held accountable for its criminal actions. The country gets strong political backing from two permanent members of the UN - China and Russia. Instead of their own narrow interests, they should work for promoting international interests which warrants cutting their support from Myanmar. In order to make the world a safer place, no one must be allowed to make chemical weapons while all the existing ones should also be destroyed immediately.
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Author:SIRAJ M. SHAWA
Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9MYAN
Date:Jan 31, 2020
Words:899
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