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Nobel Peace Prize Winners Call for U.N. Security Council to Protect Rohingya from Attacks in Burma

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In the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Burma, more than 400,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority have fled the country after hundreds of their villages were burned to the ground. The U.N. high commissioner for human rights has accused the Burmese government of waging a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. In recent days, Bangladeshi authorities have sharply restricted the movements of Rohingya refugees, telling them they can’t leave their makeshift camps, ordering drivers not to transport Rohingya and landlords not to rent to them. We get response from Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He and over a dozen other Nobel Peace laureates have signed a letter calling on the United Nations Security Council to intervene to protect the Rohingya and end the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine, Burma. Yunus’s new book is “A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We end today’s show looking at the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Burma, where more than 400,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority have fled Burma, after hundreds of their villages were burned to the ground. The U.N. high commissioner for human rights has accused the Burmese government of waging a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have crossed the border into neighboring Bangladesh, which is struggling to shelter and feed the influx of refugees as it recovers from the worst monsoon season in decades. Floodwaters submerged about a third of the entire country of Bangladesh. This is Rohingya refugee Chaman Bahar speaking from a makeshift shelter in Bangladesh.

CHAMAN BAHAR: [translated] The military torched our houses. My husband, along with my daughter and her husband, were killed in the clashes. I somehow was able to flee, taking my grandson, along with all these villagers.

AMY GOODMAN: Bangladesh says it’s now preparing to construct shelters for 6,000 Rohingya children who have entered Bangladesh alone to escape violence in Burma. At the United Nations General Assembly last week, Bangladesh’s leader laid out a plan to eventually repatriate Rohingya refugees—repatriate them back to Burma. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the U.N. should set up safe zones in Burma for returning refugees.

PRIME MINISTER SHEIKH HASINA: [translated] We are horrified to see that the Myanmar authorities are laying landmines along their stretch of the border to prevent the Rohingya from returning to Myanmar. These people must be able to return to their homeland in safety, security and dignity.

AMY GOODMAN: In recent days, Bangladeshi authorities have sharply restricted the movements of Rohingya refugees, telling them they can’t leave their makeshift camps, ordering drivers not to transport Rohingya and landlords not to rent to them. Most recently, the Bangladeshi government reportedly has banned its cellphone carriers from selling SIM cards to Rohingya refugees.

For more, we’re joined by Muhammad Yunus, the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He and over a dozen other Nobel Peace laureates have signed a letter calling on the United Nations Security Council to intervene to protect the Rohingya and end the humanitarian crisis in Burma. Muhammad Yunus has a new book; it’s called A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start with the crisis of the Rohingya, and then I want to talk with you about climate change, about Bangladesh—a third of the country flooded—and about poverty, the issues that you have taken on for so long. But what is happening with the Rohingya?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: It’s an unbelievable situation, as all this happening under the leadership of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. You can’t—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re referring to Aung San Suu Kyi—

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Aung San Suu Kyi.

AMY GOODMAN: —the de facto leader.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: She’s de facto leader of the nation.

AMY GOODMAN: So she’s a fellow, a sister Nobel Peace Prize winner.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Absolutely. We have been working together for many years. Suddenly, we see a completely different face for her.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a woman who was imprisoned, either house arrest or jail, for 15 years by the very military she’s now working with—

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Working. And the whole world supported her.

AMY GOODMAN: —that is responsible for the ethnic cleansing.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: She stood for democracy. She stood for human rights. She stood for all the human values you can think about. Her speeches are filled with all these values, upholding these values for her nation. And she suffered. She was in prison and house arrest—under house arrest for many, many years. Now she comes to power, and we see a completely different face from the peace Nobel laureate. And she defends this in saying that we don’t know why these Rohingyas are leaving this country. So there’s so many reports coming, and you have reports from international press, media and so on. And I have been inviting her to come to Bangladesh, see these people and tell them that Myanmar is as much as their country as hers, and “I come to take you back to your own country.”

AMY GOODMAN: Myanmar, the name that the military has renamed Burma.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Myanmar, Burma, military name, Burma, yeah, Burma. “I’m taking you back to Burma.” She doesn’t do that. And you mentioned about 400,000 already coming in, in a very drastic circumstance of dead bodies floating on the border river, and all the atrocities that go on behind the whole thing, that are coming. And U.N. estimate is, by the end of the year, it will exceed million refugees coming from Burma. The whole estimate that is given by the government of Burma, that there’s about a million Rohingyas in the country. So if you have a million coming to Bangladesh, what is left? So when people say it’s an ethnic cleansing, it’s a perfect example of ethnic cleansing. Many government leaders, like President Macron and others, who are saying this is genocide, a very clear case of genocide that is taking place. And the world has not taken a definitive step. They have condemned individually and so on. Still, the U.N. Security Council, to whom we have appealed: “Please step in. Do something so that people can go back to their own homes.” And if it is delayed, it will become more complicated, and terrorism and other things will flourish in this region, and the whole stability of the region will be at risk.

AMY GOODMAN: If Aung San Suu Kyi said, “Stop the ethnic cleansing,” could she stop it alone? Would the military listen to her?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: The role of the leadership is to be bold. Even if it’s not happening right now, you stand for something. You don’t just give in and say, “OK, what can I do?” Even that, she’s not saying. She doesn’t say, “What can I do?” She simply says, “I don’t know why they are leaving. I didn’t see anything wrong.” So that’s not a good kind of leadership. And then she’s stopping all the foreign visitors, all the foreign observers to come in. She has not allowed any foreign visitors to come in. Even the media cannot go. So, people have immediate reason to believe that something terribly wrong is happening inside of Myanmar, or Burma.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about Bangladesh’s response?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Bangladesh has opened the border. They’re coming in. Bangladesh don’t have immediate resources to settle all these people, so we need international help. It’s not a small number. It’s a huge number. To give them shelter, to give them food, you need a structure to make it happen. And diseases and all the terrible things they have come back with, medical problems that they have inside of them. So these are the things that we have to address.

AMY GOODMAN: What can the U.N. Security Council or the U.N. General Assembly—what can the U.N. do?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: You can do a lot of things. They have many, many ways to do that. They can give sanction. They can send commissions to study the situation and come back. And luckily, the Annan Commission, Kofi Annan Commission, which was appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, and most of the commission members are Burmese citizens—six of them are Burmese citizens, three of them are outsiders, including Kofi Annan—they made a recommendation, of the commission’s report [inaudible] elaborate recommendation. And all we are saying, now that he accepted those recommendations—officially, they have accepted—do go ahead and implement it, and have an international body to supervise and help you implement that. This is not something we are saying which is not accepted by them. They have accepted it, but they don’t do anything about it. They just say that we have created an implementation committee, which is their own people, the leadership positions in the government, which people are not very sure whether they will move in the direction of implementation of those recommendations that are there.

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Muhammad Yunus on Achieving a World with Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment & Zero Emissions

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