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More needs to be done

December 2, 2013

A few days ago, a delegation from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) visited Myanmar’s riot-hit western Rakhine state to investigate allegations of rampant human rights abuses against the minority Muslim Rohingyas. The OIC officials met Rohingya leaders, civil society leaders, legislators and others. They also met Buddhist leaders in a bid to seek ways to end the animosity between the two communities that had resulted from Buddhist violence, about two years ago, against the Rohingyas that left some 200 dead and 140,000 displaced. Rather significant were the protests against their visit, led by Buddhist monks. These protests underscored the Buddhists’ fear of any kind of international investigation into their dirty deeds. At the same time, the permission granted to the OIC team to visit Rakhine state was significant. This reflects the new tolerance of the government of President Thein Sein. But allowing the OIC team to visit the Rohingyas alone is not enough. Concrete action that will ensure the fair treatment of the Rohingyas is an urgent necessity. For example, Thein Sein could seriously consider making the stateless Rohingyas full citizens of Myanmar, which the United Nations had recently demanded, and at the same time abrogate all laws that deny them citizenship. It’s not only the Thein Sein regime but even Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy consider the Rohingyas as non-citizens whose rightful place is in Bangladesh. 

The persecution of the Rohingyas, which started long ago, has occurred at periodic intervals. During the mid-1990s, thousands fled to Bangladesh as they could not endure Buddhist attacks. An international outcry followed. Efforts to comfort them were then made and there was a temporary halt to their persecution. The latest attacks of the Rohingyas, which caused more than 200 deaths and destructions of homes and mosques in Rakhine state, resulted in thousands fleeing to Bangladesh. Scores drowned while trying to escape in rickety boats to neighbouring Thailand. The attacks against Muslims later spread to other parts of the country. In Meikhitila, more than 50 Muslims were killed. The tension is not over and could erupt once again. So, before that happens, international intervention is an urgent necessity. Until now that has not happened. Only the OIC has shown an interest in the suffering Rohingyas. Other nations are busy kowtowing to the quasi-military government and trying hard to get a piece of that country’s rich natural resources pie. Among them is the United States. The European Union is not far behind. India, another democracy, is also wooing Thein Sein. And this gives the government an upper hand and makes it look the other way while the Rohingyas are being brutalised.

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