The ignored plight of the Rohingyas

Kazi Anwarul Masud | Published: September 05, 2017 18:48:39 | Updated: October 24, 2017 16:15:54

Image credit: New York Times

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and world leaders praised Senior General Than Shwe in 2011 for "his vision, leadership, and courage to put Myanmar on the path to change." In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named him Thinker of the Year. Being a military man it was a great feat for him to try to do away with the brutal army rule imposed by General Ne Win in 1962 that reduced a promising country of potential wealth to poverty.



Direct military rule finally ended in Myanmar when the victory of Aung San Su Kyi and her party National Democratic League in the 2015 general election ushered in pseudo-democratic rule in the country. But Ethnic Persecution remains a State Policy of Myanmar. The most persecuted minority in the world are the Rohingyas. Though they have been living in Rakhine State for centuries, the Myanmar government categorises them as 'settlers' from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.



The Rohingyas are predominantly Muslims while their persecutors are Buddhists. Of the more than 1.33 million Rohingyas in Myanmar, all but 40,000 are forced to be stateless because of the country's 1982 Citizenship Law, which provides full citizenship only to certain groups that can demonstrate that they lived in the country before the beginning of British colonial rule in 1823.



At all levels of the administration, the Myanmar government routinely refer to the Rohingyas as "illegal" intruders from Bangladesh, even though they have been born and brought up in Myanmar and their forefathers lived in the country for hundreds of years - long before the 1823 deadline for citizenship.



The Rohingyas are denied the basic rights enjoyed by the people all over the world. For example, a 2005 order from local Rakhine State authorities requires Rohingyas "who have permission to marry" to "limit the number of children, in order to control the birth rate so that there is enough food and shelter." This order is imposed as a strict two-child limit that also prohibits Rohingya from having children out of wedlock. 



A few years earlier Michael Green wrote "Burma has gone from being an anti-democratic embarrassment and humanitarian disaster to being a serious threat to its neighbours. The international community must change its approach to the country's junta". Even among the most detestable authoritarian regimes remaining in the world today-North Korea, Zimbabwe and a few others where the ruling party or the leader gets regularly elected by huge margin of votes in the "elections" until their death or senility---the military leaders of Myanmar had been repressing the people since 1962 when they first seized power. The UN Security Council's earlier sanctions on Myanmar had little effect as the ASEAN and neighbouring countries maintained normal diplomatic and trade relations with that country. Persecution by the military forced thousands to flee to Bangladesh, Thailand and China.



The incessant flow of newspaper and Human Rights Organisations' reports  on organised murder, rapes and shooting of unarmed Rohingyas  by Government troops has given rise to the possibility of Genocide being committed by the Myanmar government.



The Malaysian government and activists accuse Myanmar of committing genocide against Rohingya Muslims. Myanmar, of course, rejects these claims. 



KOFI ANNAN COMMISSION: Members of Kofi Annan Commission held talks most recently with some 1,100 politicians, village leaders, monks, Muslim imams, businessmen and the internally displaced persons, despite  opposition from some key players in the country. The commission also met with high-level representatives from Bangladesh, Indonesia, China, Malaysia and Thailand. In its report, the commission concluded that Rakhine was experiencing a threefold crisis related to development, human rights and security. Referring to the majority Arakanese Buddhist group and the minority Rohingya, the report says that if these challenges are not addressed immediately, there is a danger of further radicalisation among both groups. The commission recommended improvement in areas of economic and social development, citizenship, health care and cultural cooperation.



Referring to over a million Rohingyas living in Rakhine, the Commission stressed that their "stateless" status excludes them from political and social participation. The commission specifically recommends the revision of the 1982 citizens' rights law, because the classification of a citizen in it is complicated and often tied to ethnicity.



OVERBURDENED BANGLADESH: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has requested US President Donald Trump to put pressure on Myanmar to stop the exodus of Rohingyas into Bangladesh.


Bangladesh has been hosting three hundred thousand Rohingya refugees for several decades.


GLOBAL SCENARIO: United Nations Secretary General has already expressed concern. Given the continuous exodus of refugees fleeing to Europe the barbarism of the Islamic radicals, refugees fleeing violence from South Sudan has reached four million, according the Guardian (May 06, 2017). The threat of violence from new and ongoing conflicts displaced 11 million people inside their own countries in 2014, bringing the total number of internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide to 38 million. Conflicts in Iraq, South Sudan and Syria forced more than 4.5 million people from their homes last year, fuelling an estimated 15 per cent surge in the total number of IDPs by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC),



It is, thus, uncertain how much attention the international community will give to the Rohingya refugees. Our endeavour should be to ensure that they do not become a forgotten people and Bangladesh is compelled to carry a burden it can ill afford.



The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary, Government of Bangladesh.


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