Rohingya issue ‘inhuman’

Ayesha Zee Khan, Pakistan Observer, july 18, 2012

The Rohingya are a community of 800,000 living in the Arakan region of Burma. According to the United Nations, they are amongst the most persecuted minorities; and aside from occasional reporting, their plight, particularly in current days, remains poorly reported. The Arakan land which is inhibited by Rohingya Muslims was separated from British rule in 1948. Prior to this year, it was under Indian British Raj which started in 1824. Various portions of Burmese territories, including Arakan, Tenasserim were annexed by the British after their victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War; Lower Burma was annexed in 1852 after the Second Anglo-Burmese War.

The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma citizenship. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction; and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced laborers on roads and at military camps, although the amount of forced labor in northern Rakhine State has decreased over the last decade. Burma’s constitution closes all options for Rohingyas to be citizens, on grounds that their ancestors didn’t live there when the land, once called Burma, came under British rule in the 19th century (a contention the Rohingyas dispute). It is reported unofficially that 20,000 Rohingyas have been murdered uptill now and an estimated 500 settlements of these unfortunate people have been torched with thousands of young men still missing. Rohingyas are not allowed to use mobile phones by the Government. Instead, the Burmese are trying to cast them out.

In 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Myanmar army. Officially this campaign aimed at “scrutinizing each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actionsagainst foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally.” This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution. During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled toBangladesh. They reported widespread forced labor, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. Rohingyas were forced to work without pay by the Burmese army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labor of Rohingya civilians by the security forces.

As of 2005, the UNHCR had been assisting with the repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps have threatened this effort. The current violence can be traced to the rape and killing in late May when a Buddhist woman was raped and murdered, suspicion and rumor was directed to the Rohingya community prompting hundreds of Buddhists to drag 10 Rohingya from a bus, murdering them: another cycle of violence erupted. That was followed by mob attacks on Rohingyas and other Muslims that killed dozens of people. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, state security forces have now conducted mass arrests of Muslims; they destroyed thousands of homes, with the impact falling most heavily on the Rohingyas. Displaced Rohingyas have tried to flee across the Naf River to neighboringBangladesh; some have died in the effort.

It is a plight that needs immediate attention worldwide. Governments of all the countries are requested to intervene into this inhuman genocide that has been happening. Pakistani Government should also play its part. It’s time our political parties come on one platform, to come out of that pettypolitics inland and voice their concern over these Barbaric acts against humanity. Pakistani visual media is also requested to make this appeal viral. After all, This is not sectarian violence; it is state-supported ethnic cleansing, and the nations of the world aren’t pressing Myanmar’s leaders to stop it. Even Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has not spoken out.

Aung San Suu Kyi hasn’t done or said anything for them, yet the Rohingyas actually campaigned for her in the 1990 elections. Like most other Burmese people, she is silent about the rights of Rohingya. In her first visit outside Myanmar in 24 years, Suu Kyi in the month of May met thousands of Myanmar refugees now living in a Thai border camp. She promised to try as much as she could to help them return home, vowing not to forget them.

Interestingly, while she had highlighted the plight of other Myanmar refugees, mostly Karen people, there had been no words of hope by her for the Rohingya. On July 5th, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, appealed to her to speak up to help end the violence. On the other hand US has voiced concern that Bangladesh was turning away Muslims fleeing religious violence in Myanmar and urged the Dhaka government not to send them back.

The Dalai Lama is Globe Trotting at the moment at some exotic location, without mentioning a single word of the dangerously growing Buddhist intolerance in Burma. That artificial humbleness out of him is quite evident now. Those leaders who do not voice their concerns for persecuted people become accomplices or complicit in their persecution. While Aung San Suu Kyi desires to lead the people of Burma, wonder how this position of her quietness or uncertainty about a deprived minority will fulfill her dreams to deliver, ‘better lives, greater opportunities,’ to the people of Burma? There can be no worse head of state than one who dismisses and ignores the plight of 800,000 of her countries residents. And I fear His Holiness Dalai Lama’s words, when meeting Suu Kyi, “I have real admiration for your courage,” no longer reflects the woman I once read of and admired, who in her silence on Rohingya persecution is a heroine no more. Now I believe; despite her accolades of peace, and her rapturous reception in Europe, as she now travels freely, she remains, mentally, a prisoner under house arrest!!

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