Sick­en­ing treat­ment of the Ro­hingya still con­tin­u­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

A coun­try long as­so­ci­ated with gross hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, Myan­mar, also known as Burma, is now try­ing to reg­u­late pri­vate faith. But judg­ing the at­mos­phere and con­di­tions lead­ing up to the pass­ing of two laws in Nay Pyi Taw re­cently, moral­ity was not high on the mind of Myan­mar’s par­lia­men­tar­i­ans. The bills reg­u­late re­li­gious con­ver­sion and polygamy.

Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ists with strong anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment were the peo­ple who came up with the idea be­hind these bills. They be­lieve the coun­try’s Mus­lims are a threat to Myan­mar. It wasn’t clear how Mus­lims, one of the many mi­nor­ity groups in the coun­try, con­sti­tute such a threat. But the main tar­get ap­peared to be the Ro­hingya Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, a per­se­cuted mi­nor­ity who are not even rec­og­nized as cit­i­zens de­spite many hav­ing lived in the coun­try for gen­er­a­tions. “These dis­crim­i­na­tory draft laws risk fan­ning the flames of anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment,” Phil Robert­son, deputy Asia di­rec­tor at Hu­man Rights Watch, said af­ter the bills were passed.

The fact that these bills were passed just ahead of a gen­eral elec­tion, which is ex­pected to take place in Novem­ber, should not be over­looked. This is not to say that elec­tion, an im­por­tant com­po­nent of de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion, should not be per­mit­ted. But the pass­ing of these bills as the politi­cians went on the cam­paign trail says some­thing about the kind of pol­i­tics and politi­cians that Myan­mar pos­sesses.

“Par­lia­ment has not only shown dis­re­gard for ba­sic hu­man rights norms, but turned up the heat on Burma’s tense in­ter­com­mu­nal re­la­tions and po­ten­tially put an al­ready frag­ile tran­si­tion at risk, with land­mark elec­tions right around the cor­ner,” Robert­son said. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, win­ner of the No­bel Peace Prize and cham­pion of democ­racy, has been largely silent about the plight of the Ro­hingya.

Speak Now

Suu Kyi, leader of the Na­tional League for Democ­racy, who lived un­der house ar­rest for about 15 years, is ex­pected to win the elec­tion. Fel­low No­bel lau­re­ates, like the Dalai Lama, have urged her to take a stand on the Ro­hingya’s plight. And if she hasn’t spo­ken now, it is hard to imag­ine she will change her mind af­ter the elec­tion, as it would be seen as a be­trayal of her party sup­port­ers.

Although the coun­try has opened up to out­siders and com­mit­ted it­self to the path of de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion, as well as a peace process with armed eth­nic rebel armies, the coun­try’s law­mak­ers, backed by rad­i­cal monks, gov­ern­ment lead­ers and an an­gry Bud­dhist pop­u­la­tion, con­tinue to per­se­cute the Ro­hingya via a se­ries of dis­crim­i­na­tory reg­u­la­tions and laws. The gov­ern­ment even tried to limit the num­ber of chil­dren that Ro­hingya can have.

And if fel­low ASEAN mem­bers think this is not their prob­lem, they need to think again.The aparthei­d­like con­di­tions that many Ro­hingya live in have forced tens of thou­sands to flee on over­crowded boats and headed for live else­where. Many have died on these crowded boats, while oth­ers be­came vic­tims of slave la­bor in var­i­ous in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing Thai fish­ing ves­sels. Myan­mar’s ap­palling treat­ment of the Ro­hingya con­sti­tutes an early warn­ing sign of geno­cide. The sec­ond-class sta­tus, gov­ern­ment­built camps, plans to curb move­ment, plus so­cial mo­bil­ity and the ba­sic well-be­ing of the Ro­hingya are al­ready in the pipeline. More­over, in­ter­na­tional media and hu­man rights groups have shown that many of the vi­o­lent at­tacks against the Ro­hingya were not just car­ried out by an­gry mobs but also fa­cil­i­tated by gov­ern­ment se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

Given what the Ro­hingya and the Mus­lims in gen­eral face, it is pretty much left to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly the coun­try’s main donors, to con­demn these acts and pres­sure the coun­try to change its course. Is­su­ing state­ment af­ter state­ment to crit­i­cize the mil­i­tary-dom­i­nated gov­ern­ment can only do so much. Thai­land is a per­fect ex­am­ple of how so-called con­cerns ex­pressed on pa­per do not change any­thing. They need to take away the money. Per­haps that will get these na­tion­al­ists to pay at­ten­tion to things such as in­ter­na­tional norms and hu­man de­cency. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Na­tion on Aug. 23.

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