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‘Myanmar’s Killing Fields’ is a horrifying look at ethnic cleansing

“This is ISIS-like stuff,” says Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. He calls the various bizarre innocent explanations by Myanmar officials “utter rubbish.”

The phrase “man’s inhumanity to man” is oft traced to a Robert Burns poem, but, leaving the man/woman issue aside for the nonce, one of the leading current examples of inhumanity stems from Myanmar, which is led by not only a woman but a Nobel laureate. I refer to the persecution/ethnic cleansing/mass slaughter of the Rohingya of Myanmar, despite the fact that Myanmar is presided over by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who is implicated in the crime.

The latest revelations about this crime against humanity is the subject of a documentary, “Myanmar’s Killing Fields,” that premieres tonight at 9 on PBS (KTCA-Channel 2 in the Twin Cities) as part of the great “Frontline” series.

The details the emerge from the film, which I’ve previewed, certainly do nothing to restore Suu Kyi’s halo. It is a smart, tough overview of the Rohingya persecution and slaughter, so tough that I would not recommend watching it with small children or a soft heart.

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The Rohingya are a mostly Muslim ethnic/religious minority in mostly Buddhist Myanmar (which westerners used to call Burma). Apparently, according to the film, the fashionable position among apologists for this slaughter is the nonsensical claim that there is no such thing as the Rohingya.

This claim, made by several in the film, is a way of suggesting that Myanmar cannot have been slaughtering or ethnic cleansing the Rohingya people because there are no such people. According to the denialists, the dead bodies of women and children are the result of Myanmar’s struggle to fight terrorism.

Before the ethnic cleansing that occurred starting in 2016, an estimated 1 million Rohingya lived in Burma. Many have been slaughtered and many more have fled, mostly to Bangladesh. The U.N. estimates that more than 600,000 have fled Myanmar.

A “Frontline” film crew made it to the scene of some of the massacres and spoke to survivors. They heard of live children, ages 3-5, being torn from the arms of their parents or grandparents and thrown into burning buildings (that the attackers had set on fire).

The film contains many disturbing images of survivors, many very graphic descriptions of brutality meted out to Rohingya, a lot of testimony about soldiers raping Rohingya women.

“This is ISIS-like stuff,” says Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, who cites evidence of Rohingya children aged 5 or 6, found with their throats cut. He calls the overall operation a “classic case of ethnic cleansing.” He calls the various bizarre innocent explanations by Myanmar officials “utter rubbish.” On camera, he urges Aung San Suu Kyi to “let us in. What are you hiding?”

Yanghee Lee, who was appointed U.N. special rapporteur for Myanmar, directly demanded of President Aung San Suu Kyi access to the places in Myanmar where the slaughters occurred.  to which, Lee says, the Nobel peace laureate told her: “If you continue to take the U.N. line, you won’t get access.”

Bill Richardson, the former U.S. congressman who served as U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration, became friendly to Aung San Suu Kyi during her heroic rise as a human rights crusader. He visited his old friend and tried to discuss the Rohingya with her, and she simply repeated the party line, denying that anything bad was happening. After the visit, he told “Frontline,” of his old friend:

“She had gone from being a human rights heroine, a beacon of democracy, to a politician who wants to cater the military, wants the military to support her; she wants to be re-elected. She likes the seat of power. She is walling herself off from reality.”

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The documentary is a horrifying and heartbreaking testimony to man’s inhumanity to man.