Crime Against Humanity

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The Arab and Islamic world is engrossed with the sponsored civil war in Syria, Iraq and Palestine and is inconsiderate of the genocide of Muslims in Myanmar. Even when they have broken their silence and spoken in favor of Rohingyas, it has been more of a perfunctory appeal rather than rhetoric.

Sumera B. Reshi

A woman walks among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in the western Rakhine State near Sittwe, Photo: Agencies

They have been termed by the United Nations as the most victimized minority in the world. The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority who has been rendered homeless and stateless, deprived of basic amenities of life in Myanmar. Nearly 1, 40,000 Rohingyas have been confined in unclean and filthy camps (source??). They have no right to vote, have been driven out of schools and subjected to unabated violence, yet the Muslim world is silent about the plight of their brethren.  The Muslim world has not taken a stand, except for Turkey, who has openly and strongly condemned the killings of innocent Muslims in Buddhist majority country. This lull by the Muslim world is tragic and regretful.

World bodies: Dump Squib

The Arab and Islamic world is engrossed with the sponsored civil war in Syria, Iraq and Palestine and is inconsiderate of the genocide of Muslims in Myanmar. Even when they have broken their silence and spoken in favor of Rohingyas, it has been more of a perfunctory appeal rather than rhetoric. The UN, OIC & ASEAN have proved to be a damp squib; hollow and fragile who don’t carry much weight at all. Only Maldives has the distinction of winning the hearts of Muslims across the globe. Maldives heavily criticized oppressors and called off diplomatic ties with Myanmar. Besides issuing empty statements, the Muslim world hasn’t done anything concrete to help Rohingyas. Least the Muslim world has done is that they have issued statements full of rhetoric and summoned the ambassadors.  However, according to Çavuşoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, the country had donated more than $70 million in humanitarian aid for the Rohingya Muslims. He elaborated that this is not enough and much is needed to stop the victimization of this community.

“In two weeks, we need to hold a meeting in New York with the UN secretary-general, leaders of Muslim countries, international organizations head of the UN Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, Kofi Annan, and other leaders to solve this issue,” he added.

Soon after the response from Turkey, on September 4, the Independent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) strongly condemned human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, Myanmar. However, they didn’t announce any aid for the helpless people.

World’s top most non-violent leader, present day Mahatma and Nobel Prize winner Dalai Lama hasn’t uttered a word against the atrocities on the Rohingya community.  Usually, Dalai Lama is quick to voice his opinion on the brutalities inflicted by China on Tibetans.  It seems this time he forgot about the teachings of Gautam Buddha that being a mute spectator to atrocities is also a sin.

Besides, big media corporates have been selective in reporting Rohingya carnage, and why would they cover the world’s most persecuted people when Myanmar has much to offer to their countries. They don’t bother about the genocide; they are concerned about their economic interests since Myanmar is rich in minerals and natural resources.

Despite the atrocities being committed against the Muslims of Arakan, the international community has so far done nothing to protect these people. The world appears to be sitting on the fence, as these people are being systematically persecuted.

‘Non State Subjects’

This minority Muslim community in Myanmar has been turned into refugees in their own country. In 2014, the government of Myanmar proposed a plan to the United Nations in order to restore peace, ensure justice and create communal harmony. Several countries welcomed and approved the plan thinking that Myanmar was ready to roll back its policy of discrimination against the Muslim minority but it proved hoax and eyewash. 

Plot to destroy evidence of their roots in Myanmar

The Rohingya Muslims were given two options. The first one was that they should obtain the citizenship of neighbours Bangladesh in the first phase. Then only they would be eligible for the citizenship of Myanmar, provided they are in possession of various documents as required under the country’s 1982 citizenship law.

In the event of refusal to accept this option, the Rohingyas would have only one option left i.e. to live in camps as detainees under horrendous conditions and finally face expulsion from the country of their ancestors.

The first option appeared to have a silver lining making it possible for the Rohingya Muslims to obtain Myanmar nationality. However, that was not the case. The real purpose was to officially declare these Rohingyas migrants, who have already lost all their rights under the 1982 law.

Ironically, all the documents of these people were destroyed in the horrendous 2012 uprising. Thus, they can’t provide all the documents and will be stuck as Bangladeshi citizens in their own country and then Myanmar authorities will send them to camps with an excuse that they are aliens or can also expel them from the country. These people will not be recognized by Bangladesh either.

Further, those who refuse to get Bangladeshi citizenship will be sent to refugee camps as detainees and under the new plan, these people will be expelled from the country. Myanmar government has a failsafe plan. Authorities in Myanmar then may apply to the UN and ask the forum to send these people overseas as refugees but the problem with the UN is that it doesn’t recognize these people as refugees. If the plan succeeds, one million Rohingya Muslims will face a brutal end and suffer from identity crisis.

“This plan is profoundly troubling because it would strip the Rohingyas of their rights, systematically lock them down in closed camps in what amounts to arbitrary, indefinite detention,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.

The history of the Rohingyas is disputed. Their Buddhist neighbours in Myanmar’s Rakhine state consider them “illegal immigrants” or scorn them as “Bengalis” because, although Muslim Rohingyas have lived in the area for hundreds of years, their numbers increased during the colonial era, when the British rulers of what was then called Burma encouraged more to immigrate. Their lot grew worse, ironically, when Myanmar’s military regime started to lift autocratic controls in 2011. The army and police, who can crush unrest when they choose to, stood back  in 2012 when at least 200 people—most of them Rohingyas—were killed in communal violence involving Buddhist Rakhine thugs. Thus 2012 marked the official slaughter of Rohingyas and what Desmond Tutu called as a ‘slow genocide’.

Stigmatization, harassment, isolation and the systematic weakening of rights

Migrants, who were found at sea on a boat, collect rainwater during a heavy rain fall at a temporary refugee camp near Kanyin Chaung jetty, outside Maungdaw township, northern Rakhine state,Photo: Agencies

The Myanmar government has taken away identity cards from non-citizens, mainly Rohingyas, whose existence as a minority it clearly denies.

Nonetheless, Myanmar claims that the Rohingyas are not eligible for citizenship under the country’s military-drafted 1982 Citizenship Law. That document defines full citizens as members of ethnic groups that had permanently settled within the boundaries of modern-day Myanmar prior to 1823, the year before the first Anglo-Burman War. The dominant narrative within the country is that the term “Rohingya” is a recent invention, and those who claim to belong to the group are actually the descendants of these colonial-era, immigrants from Bangladesh and not real citizens.

Noticeably, this narrative is false. In 1799, Francis Buchanan, a surgeon with the British East India Company, travelled to Myanmar and met members of a Muslim ethnic group who had  long back settled in Arakan (Rakhine state), and  called themselves Rohingya, or natives of Arakan. This   indicates that there were self-identified Rohingyas living in Rakhine at least 25 years before the 1823 cut-off for citizenship.

Soon after independence from the United Kingdom, Myanmar’s 1948-1962 parliamentary government recognized the Rohingyas as citizens. Prime Minister U Nu referred to the group by the name “Rohingya,” challenging the current narrative that the term is a recent invention. Rohingyas were issued government identification cards and official documents, enjoyed all the benefits of citizenship, and the national public radio even broadcasted several segments a week in the Rohingya language.

The beginning of the worse

Undoubtedly life changed dramatically for the Rohingya under the military government of Ne Win. Benedict Rogers in Burma: A Nation at the Crossroads cites a former minister in Ne Win’s government saying that the dictator “had ‘an unwritten policy’ to get rid of Muslims, Christians, Karens and other ethnic peoples, in that order.” Ne Win’s government systematically stripped citizenship from the Rohingyas, starting with the 1974 Emergency Immigration Act and culminating with the 1982 Citizenship Law. The Rohingya-majority Mayu Frontier Administration was folded into Arakan State, and hundreds of thousands of them fled to Bangladesh during brutal crackdowns in 1978 and 1991.

Government policies, including restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education, religious choice and freedom of movement have institutionalized systemic discrimination against the ethnic group.

Rakhine state is also Myanmar’s least developed state, with more than 78 percent of households living below the poverty threshold, according to the World Bank estimates.

Widespread poverty, weak infrastructure, and a lack of employment opportunities worsened the fractionalization between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas. This tension is deepened by religious differences that have at times erupted into conflict.

Many Rohingyas have turned to smuggling, choosing to pay for transport out of Myanmar to escape harassment. “The fact that thousands of Rohingyas prefer a dangerous boat journey they may not survive to staying in Myanmar speaks volumes about the conditions they face there,” said Amnesty International’s Kate Schuetze.  

Some 88, 000 migrants fled Myanmar via sea from the Bay of Bengal between January 2014 and May 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). These people feared repression, poverty & prosecution in the hands of the ruling elite.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand—all ASEAN members are yet to ratify the UN Refugee Convention and its Protocol. ASEAN itself has been silent on the plight of the Rohingya and on the growing numbers of asylum-seekers in member countries largely because of the member state’s commitment to the fundamental principle of non-interference in the internal matters of member states. Regionally, no unified or coordinated ASEAN response has been proposed to address the deepening crisis. States in Southeast Asia lack established legal frameworks to provide for the protection of rights for refugees.

On the contrary, Bangladesh government argues that Bangladesh not being a party to the UN convention on refugees is not obliged to allow Rohingyas access and to provide education, shelter and healthcare to them. Nonetheless, Bangladesh have accepted a huge displaced population of Rohingyas in 1978, 1991 and then at last in 2016 (though small in number & informally).

 Bangladesh for the first time refused to accept the Rohingyas in 2012 keeping in mind the issue of national security and extra burden over the country as already many refugees are living here for 20 years with almost zero contribution to the nation’s economy. 

The Response of Muslim world

Meanwhile, protests erupted among Muslims in Asia, Australia and Russia over a military campaign in Myanmar and an ongoing brutal genocide of Muslim minority.

The demonstrations raised the pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who once symbolized her country’s fight for democracy and human rights.

In Chechnya, tens of thousands poured into the streets in a government-sanctioned protest against what the country’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, called Myanmar’s “genocide” against the persecuted Rohingya minority.  Kadyrov also criticized the Russian government, issuing vague threats if the Kremlin does nothing to stop the violence that he compared to the Holocaust. “If Russia were to support the devils who are perpetrating the crimes, I will go against Russia,” he said in a video released before the rally.

Demonstrations against the targeting of the Rohingya took place outside Australia’s Parliament in Canberra. In Jakarta, Indonesia, protesters burned photos of Aung San Suu Kyi and lobbed a gasoline bomb at the Myanmar Embassy.

The Pakistan Foreign Ministry and the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, deplored the violence against Rohingya refugees and called for an investigation of the reported massacres.

Amid the protests, a fellow peace prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, took to twitter to confront Aung San Suu Kyi, asking her to condemn the violence.

Some wondered whether the Nobel Committee, which conferred the honor on her in 1991, would publicly criticize her or even revoke the prize.

The response from the Muslim world has been delayed. Even the powerful Muslim grid, GCC, especially Saudi Arabia hasn’t been very vocal over the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar. They seem to be concerned about their economic interests rather than feeling the pain of fellow Muslims in a distant part of the world. If this isn’t criminal silence then what is it? 

The author is an Associate Editor of The Legitimate.

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