WHILE clashes between Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya population and its Buddhist majority have occurred off and on for the past several years, with the former community usually at the receiving end of the state’s brutality, this time the scale of violence and the world’s response to the situation have been unprecedented. Thousands of Rohingya refugees have been entering neighbouring Bangladesh since the latest crisis erupted after Rohingya militants reportedly killed a number of Myanmar security officials last month.
As per the UNHCR, around 270,000 members of the community have crossed the border after perilous journeys; a number of boats have capsized, killing scores. As the UN’s refugee agency puts it, those fleeing Myanmar are “exhausted, hungry and desperate for shelter”. There are reports of attacks on the Rohingya in Myanmar by the security forces as well as Buddhist mobs, with international media outlets reporting the torching of Muslim villages. Moreover, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights has said 1,000 people — mostly Rohingya — may have been killed in Myanmar. While many Rohingyas have fled the immediate threat of violence in Myanmar, their situation in Bangladeshi refugee camps is only slightly better. As reported, there is shortage of food and water in the camps, while the threat of epidemics looms large.
This upsurge of violence, and the Rohingyas’ miserable condition, has sparked protests across the world, including in this country.There has been widespread criticism of Myanmar State Counsellor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Her high-profile critics include fellow laureates Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai. Perhaps what is most disappointing for Ms Suu Kyi’s supporters across the world is the fact that while she struggled for democracy against Myanmar’s generals, her attitude towards the Rohingya is cold, almost indifferent. She has said there is a “huge iceberg of misinformation” about what is going on in Rakhine, the Myanmar state in which the Rohingya are concentrated. While it is true that social media is flooded with concocted items and disinformation, the fact that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been uprooted is undeniable. Ms Suu Kyi needs to clarify what is fuelling the exodus of Muslims.
While indeed the military establishment still pulls many of the strings in Myanmar, Ms Suu Kyi’s reputation as a human rights champion will suffer irreparably if she fails to raise a voice for the Rohingya.Muslim countries in Asia including Pakistan led a growing chorus of criticism on Monday aimed at Myanmar and its civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the plight of its Rohingya Muslim minority. Pakistan expressed deep concern over reports of growing number of deaths and forced displacement as nearly 90,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh in the past 10 days following an uptick in fighting between militants and Myanmar’s military in strife-torn western Rakhine state. Foreign Office spokesperson said such reports, if confirmed, are a source of serious concern and anguish. He said in a statement that Pakistan urges authorities in Myanmar to investigate reports of massacre, hold those involved accountable and take necessary measures to protect the rights of Rohingya Muslims In line with its consistent position on protecting the rights of Muslim minorities worldwide, Pakistan will work with the international community in particular the OIC to express solidarity with the Rohingya Muslims and to work towards safeguarding their rights, the statement added. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif also expressed “deep anguish at the ongoing violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar”, in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.”The plight of the Rohingya Muslims is a challenge to the conscience of the international community,” said Asif, expressing concern “over the spread of hate speech and incitement to violence, discrimination and prejudice against Muslims and members of national ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.” Asif expressed support for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) position “condemning the renewed violence” against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority. HeHe also said that he supports the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission’s call “for immediate and effective action to bring an end to all human-rights violations against innocent and unarmed Rohingya Muslim population” and recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission.
The Rohingya are a mainly Muslim stateless ethnic minority who according to rights groups have faced decades of persecution in mainly Buddhist Myanmar. The impoverished Rohingya have been forced to live under apartheid-like restrictions on movement and citizenship.
The recent violence, which kicked off last October when a small Rohingya militant group ambushed border posts, is the worst Rakhine has witnessed in years with the UN saying Myanmar’s army may have committed ethnic cleansing in its response. De facto leader Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner of Myanmar’s junta, has come under increasing fire over her perceived unwillingness to speak out against the treatment of the Rohingya or chastise the military. SheShe has made no public comment since the latest fighting broke out.
The growing crisis threatens Myanmar’s diplomatic relations, particularly with Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia where there is profound public anger over the treatment of the Rohingya The Maldives announced on Monday that it was severing all trade ties with the country “until the government of Myanmar takes measures to prevent the atrocities being committed against Rohingya Muslims “, the foreign ministry said in a statement.It did not say how much trade took place between the two countries but it could prompt other Muslim nations to follow suit.
Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi met Suu Kyi as well as Myanmar’s army chief General Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw on Monday in a bid to pressure the government to do more to alleviate the crisis.”Once again, violence, this humanitarian crisis has to stop immediately,” Indonesian president Joko Widodo told reporters on Sunday as he announced Retno’s mission. Hours before Widodo spoke, a petrol bomb was thrown at Myanmar’s embassy in Jakarta while police there have previously dismantled two attempts by Islamist militants to bomb the compound.