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Asean has failed the Rohingyas

(Photo: Reuters)

By Ahmad A Talib
New Straits Times
June 14, 2015

THE plight of the Rohingyas has gone into the inside pages of newspapers everywhere. It is as if the issue has been dealt with once and for all. Out of sight and therefore out of mind — this is what it seems to many people.

But last Friday, a group of international speakers from diverse backgrounds made their way to the Islamic Museum auditorium to air their views and make bold suggestions on resolving the issue.

Organised by the Perdana Global Peace Foundation, the conference had speakers who articulated their views about the plight of the Rohingyas, tagged as a “crime against humanity”.

Thai academician Dr Sriprapha Petcharmesree said it for everyone when she admonished Asean for not doing enough to save the Rohingyas.

She spoke about two conferences involving several Asean governments in trying to seek a solution to the problem. 

These governments described the fleeing Rohingyas (and Bangladeshis) as an “irregular migration” of people via land and sea, thus, reducing the gravity of the crisis of those affected.

And she questioned these governments as to how could they cap attempts to help these fleeing people to only 7,000! 

Thousands more could perish at sea without food, shelter and protection.

Almost everyone at the conference were in agreement about the urgent need to help the Rohingyas, a minority group being bullied in their own territory.

Lawyer Jason Kay Kit Leon, who heads the Defence Division of the Legal Team, Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, said the Rohingya issue was not a religious issue. 

It’s a clear case of the strong bullying the weak; of the majority bullying the minority. How could there be a civil discussion involving all parties when Myanmar won’t even recognise the word “Rohingya”.

The plight of the Rohingyas is not even recognised at the world stage, referring to a draft resolution in 2007 by the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Draft resolution S/2007/14 read: “Calls on the government of Myanmar to cease military attacks against civilians in ethnic minority regions”. 

China and Russia exercised their veto powers and the watered-down draft resolution didn’t even get to see the light of day. 

In rejecting the draft, China said: “The Myanmar issue is mainly the internal affair of a sovereign state. The current domestic situation in Myanmar does not constitute a threat to international or regional peace and security.”

Russia echoed similar sentiments.

This is where Asean comes in. A careful revisit of its policy of non-interference must be done urgently. Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad summed it up best when he called on the regional association to review its non-interference policy.

“The Rohingya issue is no longer a Myanmar issue. It is now an international issue,” Dr Mahathir said.

Reverand Alan Rey Sarte from the Philippines, another speaker, said: “Clearly, we can’t play deaf and mute on this issue. If Asean is serious in wanting to promote and protect human rights, the Rohingya issue should be on Asean’s roadmap.” 

Backing this call was Datuk Dr Ismail Noor, a local activist who was recently made international peace ambassador by the Universal Peace Foundation. 

He said: “Let’s not point the finger at others in trying to resolve the issue. All of us should come forward to help find an enduring solution.”

Talk is cheap. The onus is on all stakeholders to join forces to save lives and avert what could be another human tragedy, if it is not one already.

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