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Rohingya are not a ‘however’

Rohingya Muslim boys play sepak takraw at Thekkelpyin Internally Displaced Parsons (IDPs) camp near Sittwe of Rakhine State. Photo: Nyunt Win/EPA

By Tun Khin
November 21, 2015

It’s becoming something of a pattern. Rohingya people standing on the side-lines, watching celebrations of events which make our lives worse.

In 2011, at the same time as Thein Sein was being praised for launching his reforms, a fresh wave of anti-Rohingya hatred was being incited.

In 2012 when violent attacks took place which Human Rights Watch said met the definition of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, with state involvement, sanctions were being lifted and aid and support given to the government.

As Burma was being praised for increased openness and greater international humanitarian access, the government was placing strong restrictions on aid to more than 140,000 Rohingya in camps in Rakhine state, and to Rohingya villages.

When the census was being hailed as a success, the Rohingya were excluded.

And now the elections are being described as ‘landmark’, ‘historic’, ‘a turning point’ and ‘a step forward’, but for the first time most Rohingya were banned from voting, and there will not be a Rohingya MP in Parliament. That isn’t a step forward for us.

The international community must stop treating the situation of the Rohingya as somehow disconnected from the general situation in the country. We are tired of being tagged on as a sentence starting with ‘however’, after Presidents, Prime Ministers and others visit our country and generally praise reforms and the elections. We are not a ‘however’. We are human beings who are from Burma and who at the same time as the so-called reform process have faced dramatically escalating repression and are facing multiple violations of international law. To endorse the election as credible is to endorse our disenfranchisement and repression.

With not one mainstream political party taking a human rights based position on the Rohingya, including the National League for Democracy, how much can we hope for under a new NLD government? 

There may not be the same escalation of anti-Rohingya policies, but there is little hope that there will be much improvement on the current situation, which is so extreme that there is evidence of genocide. The NLD has not spoken out in defence of Rohingya human rights. The NLD has no policies to improve human rights for the Rohingya. Senior NLD leaders have spoken out against the Rohingya saying that we are not from Burma, that we are from Bangladesh, that we are illegal immigrants and that we should be put into camps to assess if we should be deported.

Under an NLD government, we do not expect any reform or repeal of laws which oppress the Rohingya and take away our rights and citizenship. 

We are now being told to wait and see what an NLD government does. The approach of trying to delay action by saying wait and see until after the election is not credible. Now we are being told to wait five months until the new government is formed. After the new government is formed, we will be told to wait until the government has had a chance to settle in. Years more will pass and our suffering will continue.
Despite her often repeated mantra of the rule of law, Aung San Suu Kyi herself has rejected clear evidence of multiple violations of international law against the Rohingya as exaggeration. 

The only way these most serious human rights violations will be addressed and those responsible held to account is if the international community act. A UN Commission of Inquiry must be formed to investigate these human rights violations.

As far as the humanitarian crisis is concerned, lives are being lost every day no action is taken. Sick children in camps can’t wait five months for an NLD government and then a year after that to hope the NLD has settled in and taken action. Action is needed now. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon should personally take the lead in negotiating unrestricted international humanitarian access in Arakan State. Only someone with his authority will be able to bring together the international community to jointly pressure whichever government is in power to ensure humanitarian access is granted.

The international organisations, governments, foundations and charities which helped fund the UEC and the election should review their decision to do so. The international community should not be funding any Burmese government bodies of any kind which apply discriminatory policies against the Rohingya. If they do, they are complicit in that discrimination. As such, they are also complicit in the government’s broader policy of driving the Rohingya out of Burma.

The international community must not use the prospect of an NLD government as yet another excuse to stand by and do nothing. Not only is action needed now to save lives, but a future NLD government is likely to be more responsive to international pressure. An NLD government might halt increased repression of the Rohingya, but it is up to the international community to ensure repression goes into reverse and that our rights are restored. It’s time to stop talking about us as a ‘however’.

Tun Khin is President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

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