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The Rohingya and the OIC: A voice against the ethnic cleansing?

By Aysenur Goksen
World Bulletin
November 16, 2013 

The issue of Rohingya Muslims is certainly an important platform that brings the OIC together

A delegation composed of the members from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) led by Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and seven foreign ministers from member states, including Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday and travelled to Arakan State the following day. During the visit, which was due to start on Thursday, the OIC delegation is expected to visit the camps where the Rohingya Muslims live, meet representatives from humanitarian aid organizations and community leaders of both religious groups, and hold meetings with local and national authorities, including the country's vice president, Nyan Tun and foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin. The purpose of the visit was mainly to discuss the torture and repression faced by the Rohingya Muslims in the Arakan State.


Rohingya Muslims have faced torture, neglect, and repression in Myanmar for many years. Hundreds of them are believed to have been killed and thousands displaced in recent attacks by an extremists fractions of Buddhists. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have been in camps for more than a year, after they escaped from the incidents of violence between Buddhists and Muslims. Tensions in the area remain high, and human rights groups say the stateless Rohingya continue to face abuses and restrictions. At least 192 people were killed and an estimated 140,000 displaced, the majority of them Rohingya, when violence erupted in June and October 2012.

The most recent events have taken place in September and October 2013. Seven people were killed and many houses were burned to the ground when Buddhists attacked ethnic Muslim villages in Thandwe Township, Arakan State. Myanmar’s government has received criticism from NGOs accusing the state of ignoring the unfolding of the mass killing and failing to protect the Muslim minority. The attempts to send aid to Rohingya Muslims by various international organizations have been challenged with resistance from the Arakan state.

While the conflict may be characterized as a deepening of sectarian violence, the reality remains that there is a clear ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority supported by the state. Many countries in the world are keeping a blind eye the mass murdering of Muslims in Myanmar. Why would the world powers and international community remain silent in the face of an alarming Human Right Crisis?

A possible answer lies in the strategic and economic calculations of major regional and global powers. Indeed, Myanmar has become a destination for capital investment now that the United States, the European Union and Canada have accepted the government's narrative of democratic transition. In fact, they have largely lifted the economic sanctions they began applying after 1988. In fact, these were the measures that had never prevented China, India, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore and multinational oil companies from doing business with the Burmese.1


The visit of OIC delegation has caused large-scale protests in Myanmar. The organization was accused of intervening in Myanmar’s internal politics by the Burmese Buddhist nationalists. These reactions stand unreasonable because the OIC’s interest in Rohingya Muslims is not different from the way other similar international organizations act in similar circumstances. It is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations which has membership of 57 states spread over four continents. And its structure is quite similar to that of United Nations. It stands out with its claim to be the collective voice of the Muslim world ensuring to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim minorities. The religious and ethnic tensions have been increasing in Myanmar three years after the military rule ended. The OIC, which has significant programs on Muslim minorities, have been involved in the region since the violence began.

Muslim Minorities from non-OIC Member States have been a main priority for the OIC (formerly Organization of the Islamic Conference) in the past five to six years. This certainly stems from one of the objectives of the OIC, which is to strengthen the struggle of all Muslim peoples with a view to safeguard their dignity, independence and national rights. In addition to that, one of the principles the organization holds is engagement in settling of any conflict that may arise by peaceful means such as negotiation, mediation, reconciliation or arbitration.

In the past, OIC has been engaged in peace building missions in various countries such as the Philippines and Thailand. It has facilitated the efforts to a peaceful solution for the Rohingya refugee problems for those who were driven out from their homeland of Arakan, Myanmar. One of the ways they conduct this mediation is by organizing informal meetings and conferences with scholars, experts and representatives of Muslim and non-Muslim NGOs to discuss challenges faces by the Muslims communities and explore the most convenient ways to assist them.

And certainly this is not the first time OIC engaged in the Rohingya Muslim issue. In May 2011, the organization facilitated a meeting of senior leaders and eminent persons of Rohingya refugee communities located in different countries to unite their efforts and address the problems of displaced refugees and their needs for return to their homeland of Arakan, Myanmar which led to the creation of the Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU).

OIC's engagement with the Muslim minorities is part of the post 2005 reforms underwent by the organization. Prior to this, the OIC had been criticized for its weakness and lack of pro-activeness. While in the past, the OIC was observed as a platform, today, the way it is regarded has been closer to a global actor. OIC’s lack of activeness in the past lies in the nature of its 57 member states. Certainly the OIC members have played a significant role by supplying the majority of the energy, oil to the global market. However, the disputes amongst the member states of the OIC have prevented the OIC from being accepted as a respective and credible international actor. Lack of common institutions, ideology and interests has caused structural constraints in pro-activeness of the OIC in terms of reaching its economic and political goals.

However Palestine, Islamophobia and Muslim minorities issues have remained the top agenda items in all the OIC meetings. It is safe to argue that these issues were vaguely the only platform that brought all 57 members together in one goal.

Thus the issue of Rohingya Muslims is certainly an important platform that brings the OIC together. It is also very crucial as the issue does not receive enough international support and media coverage. Moreover, the OIC realizes that Rohingya Muslims need a direct connection with the organization and an office in Myanmar could provide them with that. That is why the OIC is pressing Myanmar to allow it to set up an office in the country to channel humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya Muslim minority.

The OIC is an ineffective organization to solve fundamentally vital issues concerning the entire Muslim World and far away from being a common ground to form a unified front to tackle the challenges the Muslims as a whole confronted. However, related to issues such as the repression of the Rohingya Muslims, the OIC can/should play a role and it intended to so to show that it is an institution with some relevance to the world in which we live.

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