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Myanmar’s moment

(Photo: AFP)

October 8, 2014

The news from the politically desolate South-east Asian country is encouraging from the perspective of human rights. Myanmar’s civilian-military junta has decided to release more than 3,000 prisoners of conscience to further its agenda of what it calls peace and stability. 

It is a promising development and should be lauded. Some of the people to be released are former military intelligence officers, who were close to former prime minister Khin Nyunt who was shown the door a decade ago, and others who were convicted of minor crimes. It is not known how many of them are from the political opposition, especially that of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Buddhist-populated state has seen many ups and down during the last few years, especially after the return of civilian rule. The prime among them is the speed with which the society was segregated on communal lines, and the callous manner in which riots against the minorities were allowed to go ahead. Even today hundreds and thousands of Rohingya Muslims are in a state of despair and the tragic tribulations that they faced in the recent past is almost a forgotten affair.

President Thein Sein can serve the purpose of reconciliation much better if he looks at the broader picture, and dispenses justice at the grass root level. What is instantly required is to knit together the diverse mosaic of Myanmar and broker a new social contract between the Buddhists and minorities, including Muslims in the Rakhine state. As a remedial measure — and one that would also be politically correct, the regime in Yangon should impartially investigate into the mayhem and massacre of Rohingya Muslims and take lawful measures to heal their wounds.

United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay had already demanded a “full, prompt and impartial” investigation to fulfil the requirement of justice and fair play. Since 2011, the Rohingya people have suffered clashes that led to death and destruction that were seldom reported. The government also has to look into this despicable affair.

The bizarre talk in the corridors of power that the Muslim minority in Myanmar is not entitled to citizenship and is in a state of unlawful diaspora is contemptuous to say the least. The fate of more than 800,000 Rohingyas, who are now stateless, is a case in point. This is essentially important as Myanmar evolves into a democratic and pluralistic nation-state. What is surprising is the fact that the champions of democracy, especially Suu Kyi, had maintained discreet silence, and that has to end in the larger interests of the people and the state.

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