Tyranny against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar has gone on and on for decades. They have been denied access to public education, health facilities, employment, property rights and even free movement and mobility within the country. Whatever rights and privileges they had under the British colonial rule have been systematically denied to the Rohingya. The authorities have converted their region into a concentration camp, making it deliberately hard for them to even meet their basic needs of food and shelter. Several reports prepared by rights groups confirm the worst possible conditions in which the Rohingya minority has been forced to endure. They also rightly warn that the conduct of the security forces borders on genocide and constitutes a crime against humanity. Even worse, the Myanmar state has allowed anti-Rohingya Buddhist extremists to raid villages, burn houses and lynch innocent men, women and even minor children. Some of the scenes captured on camera are just horrible and the stories of systematic violence heart-wrenching.
The world media and civil society have taken notice of what is going on in Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh. The world community is not going to accept either conduct of indiscriminate violence or the state policy of stripping of the Rohingya minority of its citizenship rights, terming millions of them outsiders — refugees from Bangladesh. This is an absurd claim which cannot be supported by history. The Rohingya are a native people, an ethnic as well as a religious minority, and as such, citizens of Myanmar with all the legal rights and privileges.
By denying citizenship and perpetrating terror against the Rohingya population Myanmar’s conduct not only be condemned but punished by the international community. Hiding behind ‘sovereignty’ of the state would allow this state of terror to perpetuate, and impunity may encourage the security forces to continue committing terrible acts of violence. The international community is already too late, and doing very little to save the millions of destitute within their own land, and hundreds of thousands starving on the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Equally condemnable is the ‘shameful’ silence and complicity of its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It is a justified call to strip her of her Nobel prize. She has not only allowed violence against the minority — for pragmatic reasons to maintain her popularity among the Buddhist population — but has justified it terming the most persecuted minority in the world “terrorist”. Sadly, this sense of justice and conduct is not worthy of Nobel laureate. Now she is conniving with same junta.
The plight of Rohingya is a humanitarian issue, and as such, it must be a concern of the international community beyond religion, race and ethnicity. Pope Francis, a leading and strident voice in the world, has expressed his ‘closeness’ to the persecuted minority and asked for recognising Rohingya rights. This issue, like many others in the past, shouldn’t be reduced to a Buddhist-Muslim problem, as it is not a religious issue, as some of the clerics here would like to reduce it to. It is essentially an ethnic, minority and citizenship issue on the agenda of the international community.
However, the world community must act fast to address the dire situation of suffering of the Rohingya refugees. Also, it must pressure the Myanmar government to stop violence against the civilian population, and eventually force it to accept the Kofi Annan report, and grant citizenship rights to the Rohingya.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2017.