Myanmar should stop the eth­nic cleans­ing of Ro­hingya


AMID a geno­ci­dal cam­paign against Ro­hingya Mus­lims, of­fi­cials in Myanmar have the gall to claim that the Ro­hingya are burn­ing their own vil­lages, at­tack­ing se­cu­rity forces and com­mit­ting ex­trem­ist acts. These claims are ve­he­mently de­nied by the Ro­hingya and squarely con­tested by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, with ev­i­dence of sys­tem­atic per­se­cu­tion by Myanmar’s se­cu­rity forces and vig­i­lante groups.

The UN says more than 300,000 Ro­hingya have fled to Bangladesh, amid re­ports of Myanmar lay­ing mines along the bor­der be­tween the two coun­tries, se­ri­ously ham­per­ing their abil­ity to re­turn to their home­land. Myanmar re­fuses to ac­cept them, and has taken nu­mer­ous steps since 1962 to de­prive Ro­hingya of their civil and po­lit­i­cal rights, in­clud­ing cit­i­zen­ship rights.

Malala Yousafzai, Des­mond Tutu and the Dalai Lama have joined the grow­ing up­roar against this sys­tem­atic per­se­cu­tion. They have called on Aung San Suu Kyi, fel­low No­bel lau­re­ate and Myanmar’s state coun­sel­lor, to take de­ci­sive ac­tion to curb the un­re­lent­ing vi­o­lence and peace­fully re­solve the cri­sis. Let us hope such calls will find re­cep­tive ears.

Myanmar’s gov­ern­ment is us­ing in­dis­crim­i­nate mil­i­tary force. Re­cent op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing at­tacks on Ro­hingya vil­lages and ill treat­ment of civil­ians — in­clud­ing tor­ture, rape and ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings — are a matter of grave con­cern for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, in par­tic­u­lar Mus­lims world­wide.

Far less threat­en­ing prob­lems have been dis­cussed at the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, so what is stop­ping it from ad­dress­ing what the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights (UNHCR) terms a “text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing”? May good sense pre­vail soon. The Se­cu­rity Coun­cil should shoul­der its pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity of main­tain­ing global peace and se­cu­rity.

What is par­tic­u­larly wor­ry­ing is that some coun­tries are shield­ing Myanmar in UN fo­rums. In­dia has gone to the ex­tent of sup­port­ing the vi­o­lent crack­down and de­port­ing Ro­hingya refugees. This has been widely crit­i­cized by In­dian and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions. Based on its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions, “In­dia can­not carry out col­lec­tive ex­pul­sions, or re­turn peo­ple to a place where they risk tor­ture or other se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions,” said the UNHCR.

De­spite this, there has been world­wide con­dem­na­tion of Myanmar. Re­li­gious, po­lit­i­cal and civil so­ci­ety lead­ers have called for im­me­di­ate in­ter­na­tional ac­tion to al­le­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of Ro­hingya refugees, and have stressed the need to pres­sure Myanmar to up­hold its obli­ga­tion to en­sure the rights and se­cu­rity of all its peo­ple, in­clud­ing the Ro­hingya.

Mem­ber states of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion (OIC) have also taken a firm stand. Dur­ing their re­cent sum­mit in As­tana, OIC lead­ers urged Myanmar to honor its obli­ga­tions un­der in­ter­na­tional law and hu­man rights covenants; to stop dis­crim­i­na­tion against and dis­place­ment of Ro­hingya; and to fa­cil­i­tate their re­turn.

They also urged Myanmar to al­low the OIC to open an of­fice in Yan­gon to pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to all vic­tims of vi­o­lence. This could open chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that could help re­solve the cri­sis peace­fully.

The OIC joined UN calls for Myanmar to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions of the In­ter­na­tional Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion on Rakhine State re­gard­ing cit­i­zen­ship, free­dom of move­ment, hu­man­i­tar­ian and me­dia ac­cess, ed­u­ca­tion, health care, devel­op­ment and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, among other things.

Myanmar must un­der­stand that re­solv­ing this cri­sis is in its own best in­ter­est. Vi­o­lence begets vi­o­lence. Only a com­pre­hen­sive di­a­logue and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process based on uni­ver­sal hu­man rights val­ues, in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment and com­mu­nity en­gage­ment will bring last­ing peace, which we all want to see in a coun­try headed by a No­bel lau­re­ate.

Marghoob Saleem Butt is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Jed­dah­based In­de­pen­dent Per­ma­nent Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (IPHRC), an ad­vi­sory body on hu­man rights is­sues es­tab­lished by the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion (OIC). He is a diplo­mat by pro­fes­sion. He holds a masters in po­lit­i­cal science from the Univer­sity of Pun­jab (Pak­istan), and a post­grad­u­ate diploma in diplo­matic stud­ies from Ox­ford Univer­sity (UK).


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