- Myanmar’s Rohingyas: Friendless and imperilled
- What we know, and still don’t, on Malaysian plane
- The Pilots Tried to Save MH370
- The need for a royal probe into MH370’s mysterious disappearance
Posted: 24 Mar 2014 06:17 PM PDT
The Myanmar government denies the latest report on violence against the Rohingya minority.
When news broke in mid-January this year of an alleged massacre of ethnic Rohingya Muslims near the town of Maungdaw in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state, it elicited widespread international concern.
Shortly after the story made headlines in international media, spokesmen for the government of Myanmar, by contrast, issued a different account of the events denying that anyone had been killed.
Questions remain as to why or how they arrived at such a conclusion so quickly.
Following this, a number of NGOs and monitor groups released statements on the incident: The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights augmented earlier press pieces on the reported slaughter, all of which strongly indicated that dozens had been killed, while the local police did not attempt to prevent the attack.
Around this time, the medical aid charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) independently corroborated claims of violence by publicly stating that they had treated people from the affected village of Du Chee Yar Tan.
These concurring reports from respected NGOs and media outlets stood sharply at odds with Myanmar’s hastily-issued and persisting living in denial rhetoric.
Shortly after this incident, MSF were expelled from the country; a suspension that was later revised to include Rakhine state only.
A farcical inquiry
In March, the final and most complete of three inquiries ordered by the Myanmar government in the wake of the alleged attack was released. Many had hoped that it would provide a balanced assessment of the available evidence, prefiguring a modification of Naypyidaw’s standpoint.
This, however, was not the case: In a manner reminiscent of the findings of Sri Lanka’s self-commissioned and heavily criticised“Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” report, the paper’s conclusions conveniently all but endorsed the position maintained from the beginning by the government.
While the investigators firmly denied doing the government’s bidding, however, when one reads the commission’s report, it appears to be so permeated with anti-Rohingya bias and methodological flaws.
In the report, which was distributed among NGOs and was not made available online, de facto opinion polls were cited as evidence and Rohingya testimony was used selectively . For example, the report’s authors refer to Rohingya statements approvingly when assessing the veracity of the claims related to the killing of the Rakhine policeman, but dismiss them when dealing with allegations of the slaughter of their brethren.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the report, beyond what some may consider its almost confessional symmetry with the stance of the government, are some of its recommendations. They read more like an attempt to license authoritarian practices than advance transparency or human rights.
One of the suggestions made is that the media and NGOs be unilaterally made to abide by “operational procedures” set by the government – by implication including how they report on such incidents – and that “firm and effective action” be taken against those that violate such impositions.
There are reasonable grounds to fear that if implemented, such measures could be used as a pretext to expel NGOs that speak out in similar circumstances in the future, or even grant the government effective veto power on statements by international groups.
Another striking recommendation was the security forces in Rakhine State be provided with training and equipment in order to better deploy “psychological warfare” in similar situations – evidently not for the benefit of any putative victims in such circumstances.
Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights, an organisation which also investigated the incident, described the report in scathing terms. He contended that the inquiry’s paper represented a “surprisingly crude cover up” of the events near Maungdaw, noting also that “following the violence, the village was cordoned off for an extended period of time and important questions remain about the location of bodies”.
“The commission’s self-imposed methodology required physical evidence of dead bodies to even suggest killings may have taken place. That’s a conveniently high evidentiary threshold, basically allowing the government to call into question the UN report… Entire firsthand testimonies from Rohingya were discounted for lack of evidence or because alleged victims names weren’t on the household registries,” he added.
Given the above, for anyone to suggest that the issues related to Du Chee Yar Tan have been “dealt with” by the government, would be intellectually dishonest in the extreme.
But this should surprise no one: In order to judge Naypyidaw’s interest in the human rights of the Rohingya, one has to simply review its response to damning evidence of such crimes over the past 12 months.
When Human Rights Watch accused state agencies of complicity in crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at the Rohingya in 2013, the president simply dismissed the accusations against security forces and the military as a “smear campaign”. When protesters against the Letpadaung copper mine were burnt with white phosphorous by the police in Northern Myanmar in 2012, impunity reigned in the aftermath.
Most recently, when careful analysis of leaked government documents by Fortify Rights proved beyond doubt that Naypyidaw is backing the persecution of the minority as part of long-standing government policy, a spokesman for the president contemptuously responded ”we never pay attention to organisations such as Fortify Rights, which openly lobby for the Bengalis”.
The government of Myanmar refers to Rohingya as “Bengalis”, in accordance with its official depiction of the group as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who entered the country during the British colonial era. Such a stance is at variance with evidence that strongly indicates that the group have a far longer history in the country.
Meanwhile, for the Rohingya, life is only getting worse. Now that MSF has gone, according to sources in the press and reliable contacts on the ground with whom I have spoken, so have all emergency services. This is no small matter, and its consequences are being felt already. According to the New York Times, 150 people have already died, including 20 women in childbirth – and more will inevitably die, as MSF torturously negotiates some way to return.
As the plight of the minority continues to worsen, moving with a trajectory that appears deeply ominous, it remains an issue that those ultimately responsible – the government of Myanmar – have hardly been taken to task about by politicians from Muslim nations. Turkey, perhaps the best respondent to the crisis, has been rather mild in its criticism of the government.
Members of ASEAN, with influence over the country, are perhaps the most culpable of neglect in this regard.
As a consequence, this friendless and highly imperilled minority are made even more hopeless, to the shame of those who can and should be doing more. This begs the question: How much worse do things have to get before appropriate pressure is placed on Myanmar by the Muslim world?
It is a question that may yet be answered in the grimmest fashion.
Posted: 24 Mar 2014 06:00 PM PDT
A summary of the questions answered, and still pending, about the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Monday announcement:
WHAT WE KNOW
THE PLANE CRASHED: Najib said satellite data showed the flight “ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” confirming that the Boeing 777 that disappeared more than two weeks ago went down in a remote corner of the ocean, “far from any possible landing sites.”
ITS LAST POSITION: A British company calculated satellite data obtained from the remote area of the ocean, using analysis never before used in an aviation investigation of this kind, and pinpointed the last spot the flight was seen in the air was in the middle of the ocean west of Perth, Australia.
NO SURVIVORS: Najib left little doubt that all 239 crew and passengers had perished in the crash; the father of an aviation engineer on the flight said, “we accept the news of the tragedy. It is fate.”
WHO AND HOW: Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet, but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next. Authorities are considering the possibilities including terrorism, sabotage, catastrophic mechanical failure or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.
WHAT’S FLOATING IN THE OCEAN: The prime minister didn’t address whether investigators had confirmed floating objects in the ocean and images captured by several countries’ search parties, including that of France and China, were debris from the plane.
Posted: 24 Mar 2014 05:58 PM PDT
Have the Malaysians finally stopped trashing the pilots?
After 16 days of trying to give their own spin to the few facts available about the pilots of Flight MH370, the authorities in Kuala Lumpur have changed the narrative in a significant way.
First came the statement by officials Sunday that the Boeing 777's change of course was programmed into its computers after, and not before, the last voice message from the cockpit was received. Now a later development, first reported by CNN, indicates that after the course change the airplane descended to 12,000 feet.
The sourcing of these statements remains obscure, but the fact that they were made public suggests an acknowledgement that the timeline no longer supports the implied complicity of the pilots in some kind of criminal act. On the contrary, a picture is emerging of the pilots not only struggling to save the 777 but going through precisely the steps they should in an emergency….
First, change to a heading that would take them to the nearest available runway in Vietnam and Malaysia able to handle the airplane;
Second, precipitate fall in altitude from the cruise height of 36,000 feet that would be consistent with the pilots responding to the effects of either a loss of cabin pressure or the consequences of smoke or toxic fumes in the cabin—in those circumstances it would be essential to get down to below 10,000 feet. In the case of cabin pressure, it would be done to stabilize the cabin atmosphere and in the case of smoke, it would be urgent to get on the ground as fast as possible.
Let us recall the original picture carefully assembled by a series of statements by the Malaysian authorities:
It began with assertions that the two systems the airplane depended on to maintain its contact with the ground—the transponder that received and transmitted its position and the system called ACARS that sent bursts of data every 30 minutes about its vital functions—had been switched off.
Suggesting that there was something sinister about disabling the ACARS made no sense. It was not a surveillance device that could betray intrusion or malpractice on the flight deck. Disabling the transponder, on the other hand, would be consistent with deliberately wanting to render the 777 untraceable, but it would not have made it invisible to the radar coverage of the area, civilian and military.
Something more than semantics was involved in the way the Malaysians set up this picture—"switched off" unambiguously implies direct action, "disabled"—another term used—is more of a weasel word that can leave you wondering whether the action was accidental or by design.
Then came stories about the 777 taking a bizarre and erratic course—beginning with a sudden ascent to 45,000 feet and then a rapid descent—no matter that because the 777 was still heavy with fuel it would have struggled to reach even 38,000 feet and that at 45,000 feet, well outside its safe flight envelope, it would have been uncontrollable. All of this was part of planting the idea that such a bizarre trajectory was designed to evade radar—as if the 777 had suddenly gained the agility of a fighter rather than an airliner weighing 330 tons. Even a rapid descent has been painted, absurdly, as a "low and quiet" run under the radar.
Then there were the more personal inferences. The captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was an active supporter of the Malaysian political opposition. True. So you make a convincing political statement on behalf of more liberal causes by disappearing an airplane full of people? Sinister, right?
The captain had a home-built flight simulator. True. Home simulators vary from being basically a video game to replay great air battles of World War II to far more sophisticated equipment able to give a fairly realistic test of flying skills (the simulators used for airline pilot training and refresher courses are far more formidable and include motion and aural emergencies). Captain Shah, like other dedicated professionals, was known as a guy who liked to promote the skills of his craft.
The Malaysians staged very public raids on Captain Shah's home and took away the simulator, sustaining their narrative that something damning had been hidden. Then it turned out that some items had been deleted from the hard drive and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been called in to investigate. Even fishier was the implication. Reaching a risible height of paranoia, one commentator actually suggested that, given the 777's erratic course, Captain Shah—with more than 18,000 hours flying airliners—had been practicing left turns on his simulator.
What has come of all of this? Zilch.
Here's another perspective—the story of what happened on the flight deck of Air France 447 before it disappeared into the ocean in 2009.
French air crash investigators were able to reconstruct the final minutes in the cockpit of the Airbus A330. There were three pilots on that flight: Captain Marc Dubois, First Officer David Robert, and a far less experienced pilot, Pierre-Cedric Bonin. Bonin was flying the airplane at the time when its flight control computers suddenly quit, requiring him to take over.
Captain Dubois was in the cabin, not on the flight deck, even though he knew that the A330 was flying through a band of severe thunder storms generating a great deal of turbulence. Nonetheless, first officer Robert had the most hours flying an A330, 4,479 (Captain Dubois had 1,700 hours) and Robert was sitting alongside the rookie Bonin who had only 807 hours on A330s.
By the time Dubois got back into the cockpit it was too late to save the airplane—neither Robert nor Bonin had taken the steps necessary to avoid a high-speed stall. They could have saved the airplane but they didn't.
Imagine where the speculation could have taken this scenario—a captain not in the cockpit at the time of an emergency, French no less! Back in first class! Champagne! Flight attendants!
Yet there is an important difference here—Malaysia Flight MH370 was less than an hour out of Kuala Lumpur and just beginning its cruise when whatever happened caused it to change course. Air France Flight 447 was already three hours out over the Atlantic and it was perfectly normal for a captain to have left the cockpit by that time, greet some VIP passengers and to trust his very experienced first officer to handle the airplane. (First officers do most of the flying anyway).
Captain Shah and his much younger and far less experienced first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid, will never be able personally to answer for the fate of their airplane. Dead men cannot defend themselves. But right now none of the scant facts (frequently contradictory, sometimes withdrawn, often suspect) released justify the way they have been traduced.
Posted: 24 Mar 2014 05:54 PM PDT
Malaysia mourned flight MH370 last night when it was proved that the Malaysia Airlines jet with 239 people on board ended up in the Indian Ocean after it went missing on the way to Beijing on March 8.
As Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak put it succinctly, it had been a heart-breaking few weeks after the Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO) vanished.
Perhaps this is the time for grieving and reflection on what has been dubbed as an “unprecedented aviation mystery” that has transfixed the world the past 17 days.
Where the confusion and lack of information had made so many clutch to rumour, innuendo, speculation and far-fetched theories and dreams about the fate of the 11-year-old jet, its 227 passengers and 12 crew members.
Was it a rogue crew? Was it a fire? Was it hijack? Was it slow decompression? What was it actually that turned a routine red-eye flight into a modern-day mystery equalling Amelia Earhart’s missing Pacific Ocean adventure?
We might know when the plane’s black box is found and analysed.
But make no mistake, there will be a time when Malaysians and the world community must demand for a thorough and honest appraisal on the circumstances surrounding flight MH370.
And we Malaysians will be derelict in our duty to the passengers and crew and their loved ones if we allow the Najib government to close the book on this sad episode without a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) or public inquiry.
For more than two weeks, we have hoped and prayed for a miracle. And in some small way, we have become family members of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, the Gomes clan, the Nari household, the 154 Chinese passengers, the Iranian immigrant and others on board the plane.
All religious and racial divisions – put in place by politicians and emphasised by politicians –have been forgotten since MH370 went missing on March 8.
For more than two weeks, we have witnessed the best and worst of Malaysia.
The best: the empathy, outpouring of love towards those who lost their lives and those they left behind.
The worst: the mediocrity of Malaysia’s government agencies; the abysmal decline of competence and the command of English at the highest levels of government.
We have also become Malaysia Airlines, our loss-making flag carrier that went all the way to take care of the families and loved ones of MH370′s passengers and crew members.
Military personnel and experts from nearly 30 countries have become a part of us in the search for the missing plane since March 8.
So, if the government truly respects the lives lost and the help given to Malaysia, then Putrajaya must convene an RCI on the crash that has become the world’s focus.
After all, Najib last night said that two factors under pinned the investigation into MH370: commitment to openness and respect for the families of the passengers.
The families need to know. The government needs to know. And we need to know all the circumstances surrounding flight MH370 from the moment it left Kuala Lumpur until it ended up in the Indian Ocean.
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