August 6, 2012
COMMENT: In today’s world, we need champions whose reputation and personality, be that positive or negative, to bring a humanitarian crisis to the world’s attention. On Dafur, we had George Clooney and his friends from Hollywood. On Africa, we have Bono and his intellectual sidekick, Jeffrey Sachs. For Somalia, Malaysia’s UMNO Youth’s (Datuk) Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim was their champion and saviour. The fate of the Palestinians, on the other hand, has come under constant scrutiny of NAM and the Muslim World. Even in this case of Palestine, progress has been slow due to Israel’s hardline policies.
But the fate of the Rohingya, forgotten for 5 decades, may now receive our attention, thanks to the initiative of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi King, according to this article,”has invited Muslim leaders to Mecca for an Extraordinary OIC Summit, scheduled for mid-August and the Rohingya issue is expected to feature prominently”. Malaysia should take a firm stand on this matter.
Given political will, this OIC meeting can come up with concrete recommendations on how this silent genocide perpetrated by the military junta in Myanmar for 5 decades can be put to end. We cannot leave this issue to be resolved by ASEAN and states like India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar.
These stateless people need a place they can call home. To me that home is Myanmar, where they should enjoy equal rights and opportunities. End this state-sponsored genocide of the Rohingyas.
ASEAN is powerless to deal with this issue. ASEAN is all talk, golf and durian eating, preoccupied with the vision thing, while the nations more directly affected by the Rohingya conundrum are afraid to take a stand for fear of social and cultural problems associated with the influx of Rohinyas into their respective borders. For them, national self interest overrides humanitarian considerations.
Even the darling of the Western World and champion of freedom, democracy and justice for the people of Myanmar and Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Syu Kyi, who was recently on a speaking tour of European capitals, chose not to mention the plight of the Rohingya in her speeches. Her own political survival, it would seem, is more important than doing the humane and right thing.–Din Merican
The Plight of the Rohingya ignored by ASEAN and the West
FOR the past five decades, the Rohingya have suffered killings, rape and mass expulsion. Now, in her inaugural speech in Parliament on July 25, Aung San Suu Kyi supported a motion by a ruling-party lawmaker to uphold ethnic minority rights in Myanmar.
Could this lead to reconciliation across the ethnically divided country, including between the government, the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya?
Multi-religious Myanmar has some 60 million people who are predominantly Buddhist. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others comprise about 12 per cent.
Not all of the five million Muslims in Myanmar are Rohingya (as the Arakan/Rakhine Muslims are often called). The Rohingya have not been considered a fellow ethnic community by successive military regimes.
Rakhine is bounded by the Bay of Bengal in the west and the Chin hills in the northeast. It is separated from the other 15 states by the Arakan mountains. Of its population of 2.2 million, about a million are Rohingya.
The Muslims, especially in Rakhine, were mostly brought into Myanmar as indentured labourers from the Indian subcontinent during British rule, long before the partition of India in 1947.
Rohingya resemble Bengalis and speak a dialect close to the language spoken in certain parts of Bangladesh’s Chittagong region.The animosity between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya dates back to colonial times.
Arakan was an independent kingdom which was annexed by Burmese forces in 1784. And in 1824, Arakan and other territories were annexed by the British after the Anglo-Burmese war.
When Japanese forces invaded Myanmar, the Rohingya supported the British while the Rakhine Buddhists sided with the Japanese.
Muslims’ settlement in Myanmar dates back many centuries to when Arabs introduced Islam there. Arakan was ruled by Muslims from 1430 to 1784. Muslim rule there ended when the Burmese king Bodawpaya, and later the British, took over in Arakan. Since then, the Rohingya have faced endless persecution: half their population perished in a 1942 massacre.
In 1962 when General Ne Win seized power, the Rohingya were stripped of their rights as citizens, classified as stateless, and subjected to persecution by the state. For the second time, in 1978-79, Rohingya were expelled, with over 300,000 taking refuge in Bangladesh.
The controversial Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 further reduced them to “third class citizens”, classifying them as “foreigners who entered Burma as immigrants during the British colonial period”. In 1991-92 a third and bigger wave of refugees was forced across the border into Bangladesh.
The law specifies three types of citizenship — full, associate and naturalised. According to General Ne Win all communities who settled in Myanmar after 1823 are ineligible for full citizenship. In the absence of any citizenship records, the government decided arbitrarily who is to be considered a pre-1823 settler.
In mid-1983, riots broke out in several towns following intense anti-Muslim campaigns. Muslim living quarters and mosques were destroyed. Hundreds of Muslims fled, this time to shelter across the Thai border.
International organisations, in particular the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), have to date not taken any proactive and sustained efforts to stop the persecution and repression of this ethnic minority.
The Rohingya themselves brought their plight to the notice of the Fifth Islamic Summit in Kuwait in January 1987. However, a memorandum, which was submitted, was not officially acknowledged by the summit.
Discussion within ASEAN a couple of years ago on the issue was nothing more than a perfunctory exercise. It is indeed strange and sad that successive (the majority Burman) Buddhist leaders have sunk to the depths of chauvinism, creating not only socio-economic, but also law and order problems (human trafficking, smuggling and the narcotic trade).
This long-standing problem has lured extremists within and across in Bangladesh to take up the cause, posing a serious threat to the region’s peace and security.
The war between Muslim liberation groups and the Myanmar government has persisted for decades, but unlike most of their counterparts in the Philippines and Thailand, the Myanmar Muslim struggle is hardly noticed.
Rohingya began to organise themselves into various non-governmental organisation fora and guerilla groups to defend their basic rights. Muslim Mujahid was started in 1954 to seek autonomy for Arakan. In 1974 an Arakan Liberation Army was mobilised.
After General Ne Win’s repression increased against the Rohingya, the Kawthoolei Muslim Liberation Front (KMLF) was established, seeking a separate state as its goal. KMLF made an alliance with the Karen National Union. Muslim guerillas also obtained arms, medicine and other supplies through the support of the Karens.
On July 27, the Taliban issued a rare statement threatening an attack on Myanmar to avenge crimes against Rohingya.
President Thein Sein has taken positive steps to end the long-standing armed conflicts with the country’s armed ethnic minorities while remaining evasive about the citizenship status of the Rohingya. To date, Aung San Suu Kyi herself has been largely silent on the Rohingya issue.
It is interesting, too, that Britain and Japan have not come out to put the record straight with regard to what their archives show. And where are the United States and the European Union on this issue?
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has invited Muslim leaders to Mecca for an Extraordinary OIC Summit, scheduled for mid-August and the Rohingya issue is expected to feature prominently.