The plight of the Rohingya
By Rustam Shah Mohmand
March 2, 2014
|The writer has served as ambassador to Afghanistan and chief secretary of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. He is a nominee of the Government of Pakistan in talks with the TTP|
It is pathetic how the world and the regional countries have shown such inexplicable indifference to the unending suffering of the Rohingya — the Muslim minority of Myanmar and according to the UN, the ‘most persecuted ethnic community in the world’.
The ruthless and systematic policy of oppression practised by the military junta in Myanmar (formerly Burma) for the last nearly half a century against an ethnic minority of more than 1.4 million Muslims has been one of the darkest episodes of ethnic discrimination in contemporary times. Concealing this crime was easy because the regime, one of the most totalitarian and brutal, has been isolated from the world. It not only resorted to a carefully orchestrated campaign of oppression against the Rohingyas but also went a step further — it questioned the Rohingya’s right of community citizenship and denied their right to be called nationals of Myanmar because it asserted, without any documented evidence, that all Rohingya have entered the country illegally. That is a bizarre rationale which does not rest on any plausible foundation because the minority Muslims have been living in the country since ages. Their ancestors converted to Islam when Muslim traders came to the region in the 7thand 8th century and continued to interact with the indigenous Burmese population.
The military junta have no grounds to unleash a reign of terror upon a helpless and peaceful community. The state repression has taken many forms. Employment is denied to the Rohingya community in a country where the government happens to be the main employer. Restrictions are in place on the movement of the community not only internally but also on their travels abroad. Systematic and consistent attacks on their villages continue.
What is most distressing is that the police and the army, quite unashamedly, take part in the brutal attacks on the poor Rohingya Muslims. There are no state institutions like schools or hospitals in the areas inhabited by the Rohingya. They are forced either not to seek education for their children or beg Buddhist teachers to secretly allow their children to enter schools. Even the monks — otherwise peace-loving and peaceful religious leaders have been spearheading attacks against Muslims. Hundreds of Rohingyas have been killed in the last five years as the genocide campaign picked momentum, while thousands have been made to escape to the unwelcoming lands of Bangladesh. Dozens have perished and drowned in the rivers while trying to escape to Bangladesh as they were pursued by relentless gangs of attackers including military personnel.
The peace icon and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi disappointed many of her admirersbeyond Myanmar when she failed to raise her voice in defence of citizens of her country who were being massacred and whose properties, villages and markets were being systematically burnt and destroyed via state sponsored acts of terrorism. Few voices have been raised either in the neighbourhood of Myanmar or in the wider international community against the regime’s policy of pursuing a genocidal campaign against Rohingya Muslims. Perhaps, this attitude of the Islamic or regional countries have emboldened the military junta to inflict more pain and misery on the poor ethnic Muslims.
Indeed, the issue is not of ethnic discrimination alone. It is fundamentally an issue of suppression of human rights; it is an issue of crimes against humanity.
At a time when the world is keen to embrace Myanmar after half a century of isolation because of the brutal record of oppression by the military junta, it will be tragic for a country of 60 million to be universally condemned for the continuance of the genocidal policies that have, in the last four years, forced more than 150,000 ethnic Rohingyas to flee the country of their ancestors. The world should wait and see whether the advent of a new era of liberalisation and guided democracy will also deliver some relief to the long persecuted Rohingya or whether the military junta will continue to call the shots and drive the country into an unending spiral of ethnic strife.