Twitter chief Jack Dorsey faces backlash after promoting tourism to Myanmar despite Rohingya crisis

Tech chief's comments praising meditation retreat failed to mention ongoing allegations of abuse towards Muslims

Michael Brice-Saddler
Monday 10 December 2018 11:22
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Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim crisis explained

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is under fire after posting tweets encouraging followers to visit Myanmar, without mentioning allegations of genocide and gang rape by its military against Rohingya Muslims – nearly a million of whom have been forced out the country.

The backlash began on Saturday evening, when Mr Dorsey posted about his 10-day trip to the Myanmar town of Pyin Oo Lwin for a meditation retreat.

In the thread, Mr Dorsey wrote about how he had isolated himself from technology to "hack at the deepest layer of the mind and reprogram it" using an intense form of Buddhist meditation called Vipassana.

He went on to call the country beautiful, writing "the people are full of joy and the food is amazing".

Towards the end of the thread, Mr Dorsey encouraged his 4.12 million followers to try Vipassana for themselves, and even go to the country in the south-east Asian nation: "If you're willing to travel a bit, go to Myanmar."

Many of his critics, however, noticed that in promoting the country, Mr Dorsey failed to speak about the accusations of mass killings and war crimes reportedly carried out by the country's military last year.

In August, a report from the United Nations called for Myanmar's military leaders – including its commander in chief – to be investigated and prosecuted on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The military is accused of atrocities such as raping women and killing children – driving out nearly a million Rohingya to the neighbouring country Bangladesh, creating a large refugee camp.

The report found "patterns of gross human rights violations and abuses committed in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan state" that "undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law", a statement announcing the report's findings said.

The Myanmar military has denied reports of the atrocities, stating instead it is responding to security challenges.

"Military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages," the report said. "The Tatmadaw's tactics are consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats, especially in Rakhine State, but also in northern Myanmar," the report added, using the official name for the armed forces in Myanmar.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the Myanmar military's actions as "abhorrent ethnic cleansing," adding that the US would "continue to hold those responsible accountable".

The US also imposed sanctions on three Myanmar military commanders for their roles in the "ethnic cleansing".

In response to one tweet in which Mr Dorsey wrote that the people of Myanmar "are full of joy", a user replied: "The people are so full of joy! I suppose you didn't visit any of the hundreds of villages burnt by government forces or talk to any of the more than half million Rohingya forced to flee the country who are now living in overwhelmed refugee camps in Bangladesh? Meditate on THAT."

Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director for Human Rights Watch, wrote: "I'm no expert on meditation, but is it supposed to make you so self-obsessed that you forget to mention you're in a country where the military has committed mass killings & mass rape, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee, in one of today's biggest humanitarian disasters?"

Another user quoted Mr Dorsey's tweet that encouraged people to travel to Myanmar, writing: "@Jack is recommending Myanmar as a hip cool tourist destination at the same time as hundreds of thousands of members of the Rohingya Muslim minority have been forced to flee the country (to Bangladesh & elsewhere) due to persecution, violence, rape, murder, & attempted genocide."

Mr Dorsey did not publicly comment on the criticism as of Sunday. A person who said they were familiar with Mr Dorsey's intentions said in an interview with The Washington Post that Mr Dorsey travelled to Myanmar because Vipassana – which has numerous adaptations – is practised in its most traditional form only within the country.

"It's the only place he could do this," the person said. "No one else follows the traditional tenants of this particular practice. That's why he went to this particular location."

The person said they could not comment directly on the criticism but highlighted Mr Dorsey's final tweet in the thread, in which he wrote he was "happy to answer any questions about [his] experience" and "will track responses to this thread".

The Washington Post

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