The Global Community Must Save The Rohingyas From Extinction

The largely Muslim ethnic group is being decimated in Myanmar. When will the world respond appropriately?
09/09/2017 12:11 pm ET Updated Sep 09, 2017
Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

If the last few years are any indication, the “global community” can’t prevent genocides. It can only mitigate their intensity and that, too, by largely addressing the attendant refugee crisis. Syria is a prime example of this trend. The civil war situation and the rise of the Islamic State helped mask the grave oversight of the international community. In Myanmar, however, there’s no specter of Islamist terror. Unlike Syria, where the minority regime is out killing the majority population, the Myanmar junta is targeting a specific minority. The Rohingyas, a largely Muslim ethnic group of nearly a million people, have been beaten, and bruised, and displaced from their homes. The global community is even lagging behind in addressing the growing refugee problem. It is about time to extend a helping hand.

The military junta of Myanmar has long persecuted the Rohingyas, living in the Rakhine state in the northwest. The advent of democracy and the ascension of Nobel-laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as the top leader hasn’t changed the calculus. The Rohingyas have rather seen a surge in state persecution. Suu Kyi has remained silent on the issue, towing the line of the security forces by branding the dead as “terrorists.” The euphemism is a surefire way of deflecting criticism. Reports from the region suggest otherwise, indicating a dedicated plan to purge the region of the besieged ethnic group. Buddhist monks are at the forefront of the pogrom, invoking religious drivel to charge up the attackers.

The recent crisis is a continuation of the earlier events, where the Buddhist monks ― working in tandem with the security forces ― drum up charges against the Muslims. Earlier, the accusation of a Muslim boy eloping with a Buddhist girl was enough to fan a riot. Now the junta is using the fool-proof pretext of terrorism to purge Rakhine of the remaining Muslims. Hundreds have been killed and up to 270,000 people have crossed over to Bangladesh.

The global response has been dismal. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi visited Myanmar during the height of the crisis and condoned the Myanmar leadership’s stance. Perhaps, its dismal human rights record at home was a hurdle. India is also planning to deport Rohingya refugees from its territory. Bangladesh, already swamped with many refugees, is seeing a constant flow of emaciated, bruised people streaming into its territory. Turkey has provided some help and there were street protests in Indonesia and Pakistan condemning the violence.

Perhaps, the most ridiculous response came from Iran. A former chief of the notorious Revolutionary Guards Corps suggested Iran teaming up with Iraq, Turkey and Syria to seek a military solution to the problem. That the Iranian regime, directly responsible for killing hundreds of thousands in Syria and Iraq, has the gall to advance a humanitarian agenda is the height of bigotry. Irony apparently killed itself ages ago.

The best solution would have been to set up safe zones inside Myanmar to house the displaced and protect them from violence. After the global inaction on Syria, the proposal seems inapplicable. The junta has long enjoyed support from China and India has emerged as a recent backer. Russia might also jump in the bandwagon, given its storied history of abetting and committing genocides.

Sanctions remain a viable option and should be used judiciously against the pseudo-democratic regime. Some have even called for revoking of the Nobel Peace Prize from Suu Kyi, but the committee has rejected the proposal. Fellow peace laureate Malala Yousafzai asked Suu Kyi to condemn the violence, which apparently fell on deaf ears. Another laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu made the same plea. Some Canadians are asking their government to strip her of the honorary citizenship.

In her feeble defense, Suu Kyi apparently setup an advisory commission on Rakhine in 2016, in collaboration with the Kofi Annan Foundation and headed by the former UN secretary general himself. The commission has recently presented its final report, which acknowledges wide-scale persecution of the Rohingyas and other Muslim communities. Up to 120,000 of these people were internally displaced (before the current rioting and pogroms) and others also faced severe restrictions on movement. That Annan was the only non-Burmese in the commission but the advisory body still acknowledged the atrocities is something encouraging.

The commission recommended granting citizenship to those who qualify under the controversial 1982 law and making amendments in the same to accommodate more people. Still, the non-binding nature of this endeavor means the State Counselor can ignore its recommendations.

As of now, the stated policy favors cleansing the region of the remnants of Muslim population. Bangladesh, having one of the densest populations in the world, can’t accommodate the million Rohingyas that might eventually cross the border. The global community needs to shoulder the responsibility. Citizen activism, exposing the atrocities perpetuated by the regime; and helping out the refugees are some of the ways to mitigate the crisis. Boycotting those aiding and abetting the regime is also an option. Something needs to be done about the situation as this could very well be the end of Rohingyas in Myanmar.

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