Fight for Ro­hingya’s rights

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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SA has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­fend the op­pressed wher­ever they might be in the world. Af­ter all, most of us were once them

Shan­non Ebrahim is the For­eign Editor for In­de­pen­dent Me­dia

NO BIG power is go­ing to take mil­i­tary ac­tion to save the Ro­hingya from what the UN Hu­man Rights chief called this week a “text­book case of eth­nic cleans­ing” in Myan­mar. It will be the Srebenica mas­sacre all over again, just with­out the mi­rage of UN havens.

Chap­ter 7 of the UN Char­ter will not be in­voked to stop the car­nage, nor will any coali­tion of the will­ing be as­sem­bled. The mas­sacres of Ro­hingya will con­tinue as they flee Myan­mar’s scorched-earth pol­icy. Even eco­nomic sanc­tions against Myan­mar are un­likely to al­ter the gov­ern­ment’s course of rid­ding its ter­ri­tory of what it con­sid­ers “Ben­gali” un­de­sir­ables.

Over the past three weeks 300 000 Ro­hingyas have fled to Bangladesh, 8 000 peo­ple have been burnt while 40 vil­lages were razed and 2 000 to 3 000 have been killed. It seems the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity al­ways waits for the sit­u­a­tion to be­come so grave that every ac­tion it con­tem­plates be­comes too late.

As Africans, we know only too well what in­ac­tion by the big pow­ers in the face of geno­cide means in terms of hu­man lives and de­struc­tion. In the case of Rwanda the cost was 800 000 lives in 100 days. It was for this rea­son that the AU was de­ter­mined to es­tab­lish a rapid re­ac­tion standby force that would in­ter­vene in cases of gross hu­man rights abuses, par­tic­u­larly geno­cide, on the con­ti­nent.

Just be­cause the vic­tims of geno­cide this time are dark-coloured Mus­lims in Asia, who are largely con­sid­ered state­less, doesn’t ab­solve us from the re­spon­si­bil­ity of rais­ing our voices in their de­fence.

For 40 years the Ro­hingya have been go­ing through some of the same forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion black South Africans were sub­jected to un­der apartheid. They are not al­lowed to travel, get mar­ried, or re­ceive health care with­out spe­cial per­mis­sion, are sub­jected to forced labour and ster­il­i­sa­tion, and are not al­lowed to own land. They have en­dured mas­sacres and rape in a never-end­ing cy­cle of eth­nic ha­tred per­pe­trated by the Myan­mar se­cu­rity forces and right-wing Bud­dhists.

When South Africans were suf­fer­ing un­der apartheid, we ex­pected the rest of the world to raise the in­jus­tice of our sit­u­a­tion ro­bustly at every in­ter­na­tional fo­rum pos­si­ble. We ex­pected pro­gres­sive govern­ments around the world to fight for our rights in po­lit­i­cal fo­rums.

Given our ex­pe­ri­ence with op­pres­sion, South Africa as a mid­dle power that main­tains a cer­tain amount of moral author­ity in the world, should speak out force­fully against what is hap­pen­ing to the Ro­hingya.

We can­not leave it to our re­tired cler­gy­men like Arch­bishop Emer­i­tus Des­mond Tutu, along­side the other for­eign No­bel lau­re­ates, to con­demn the “slow-burn­ing geno­cide” of the Ro­hingya. It is time for us to find our moral con­science again and show lead­er­ship on the world stage when it comes to hu­man rights. It is what Madiba would have ex­pected of us.

We have noth­ing to lose by tak­ing a stand, but ev­ery­thing to gain. We don’t de­pend on Myan­mar as a mar­ket for our goods nor do we rely on the gas pipe­line that passes through Rakhine state. We hold no flame for Aung San Suu Kyi who has com­pro­mised her prin­ci­ples since be­com­ing state coun­sel­lor, and failed to raise her voice to pro­tect the rights of her own peo­ple. If any­thing she has ex­posed her moral bank­ruptcy by call­ing crit­i­cism of mas­sacres against Ro­hingya “an ice­berg of mis­in­for­ma­tion”.

Just as we have said “Never again” to another geno­cide in Africa, we need to con­demn the per­pe­tra­tors who re­fer to the Ro­hingya as ver­min, dis­ease and ra­bid dogs.

The Bud­dhist mili­tia and se­cu­rity forces who gang rape women and be­head chil­dren have to be held ac­count­able. The same crimes took place in 2012 and last year. They are re­cur­ring largely be­cause they were car­ried out with im­punity. Myan­mar is not a sig­na­tory to the Rome Statute, so pros­e­cu­tions can take place only if the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil refers the crimes to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court.

While jus­tice needs to be done, the long-last­ing so­lu­tion lies in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions of for­mer UN chief Kofi An­nan’s re­port on the Ro­hingya ear­lier this year. It ad­dresses the root of the prob­lem and puts for­ward a clear roadmap on how to re­verse decades of op­pres­sion and in­jus­tice.

The re­port calls for unim­peded ac­cess for hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tors and jour­nal­ists to Rakhine state, an in­de­pen­dent and im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion into crimes com­mit­ted and the per­pe­tra­tors to be held to ac­count. It calls for the pro­tec­tion of the Ro­hingya’s rights in terms of free­dom of move­ment, so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, cit­i­zen­ship, ac­cess to health and ed­u­ca­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion in pub­lic life.

These are the rights we ex­pect all Africans to en­joy and if hu­man se­cu­rity is in­di­vis­i­ble, we need to fight for the Ro­hingya’s as gov­ern­ment, civil so­ci­ety and the Fourth Es­tate, and call for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of these rec­om­men­da­tions.

PER­SE­CUTED: Ro­hingya wait­ing to col­lect build­ing ma­te­rial for shel­ter in Bangladesh on Wed­nes­day. With their refugees flooding in from Myan­mar to Bangladesh, hunger and ill­ness are soar­ing in the camps.

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