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ASEAN Intervention Vital To Halt Oppressive Treatment Of Rohingya Minority, Say Analysts

Rohingya refugees eat breakfast inside a shelter in Lhoksukon, Indonesia's Aceh Province (Photo: Reuters)

By Erda Khursyiah Basir
July 19, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR -- In the face of the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar, ASEAN cannot continue to look the other way, according to political analysts.

They feel that the non-interference policy practised by the ASEAN member states should not be used as an excuse not to intervene in Myanmar's domestic affairs as the Rohingya issue involved a humanitarian crisis.

Head of the National Council of Professors' Governance, Law and Public Management Cluster Prof Dr Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmod said it was time ASEAN addressed the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims as some of its member nations have also been unwittingly drawn into the issue.

"Malaysia and Thailand are implicated in human trafficking rackets involving the Rohingyas. The two nations, as well as Indonesia, also have to contend with (large numbers of) Rohingya refugees who are fleeing to our shores. As such, ASEAN has the right to interfere in this issue, while, at the same time, taking into consideration the Myanmar government's sensitivities.

"ASEAN has to act en bloc when taking action against Myanmar as any move (by member nations) to take sides will result in a split in the regional grouping," he told Bernama.


Nik Ahmad Kamal said ASEAN must shed its non-interventionist policy with regard to the Rohingya issue purely on humanitarian grounds as the safety and welfare of this ethnic minority clan were at stake due to the discrimination they faced in their homeland.

The Myanmar government does not recognise the Rohingyas as citizens although their descendants have lived in Myanmar for hundreds of years. There are, reportedly, 1.5 million Rohingyas living in the Rakhine region of Myanmar, which has a total population of 55 million.

The ethnic minority continued to face discrimination even after Nobel prize winner and pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won the general election in Myanmar last November.

It has been reported that Suu Kyi, who is now State Counselor and Foreign Minister, did not recognise the Rohingyas as citizens and has even referred to them as "Benggalis".

Malaysia has been facing an influx of refugees from Myanmar since 2012; as of February this year, their numbers totalled 144,390, with most of them being ethnic Rohingyas.

Last Friday, about 200 members of PAS and some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) gathered at the Myanmar Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to submit a memorandum to protest the country's treatment of the Rohingya Muslim community.

Nik Ahmad Kamal said now that a more democratic government was ruling Myanmar, ASEAN should intensify its diplomatic engagement with Myanmar to give the grouping more leverage to discuss the Rohingya issue.

"ASEAN should focus on getting the government to recognise the Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmar so that they can live normally and contribute to the nation's growth. ASEAN should also ensure that other ethnic minorities are not subject to oppression and are able to live peacefully (in Myanmar)," he said.


Pointing out that ASEAN could draw up various initiatives to alleviate the plight of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, Nik Ahmad Kamal said it could, for a start, implement a short-term strategy to provide humanitarian aid to them.

He said a number of NGOS within and outside ASEAN were already offering them humanitarian aid.

"ASEAN can also urge the superpowers to put pressure on Myanmar. We hope that pressure from the United States (in particular) will compel the Myanmar government to review its policies and laws that impact the Rohingyas," he said, adding that ASEAN should not let up on its efforts to persuade Myanmar to improve the existing situation.


Dean of Universiti Utara Malaysia's College of Law, Government and International Studies Asso Prof Dr Ahmad Martadha Mohamed said there had been no end to the persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar, simply because there was no intervention by international bodies like the United Nations and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as well as ASEAN.

He said the ongoing conflict has resulted in the loss of lives while their mosques and homes have been burned down.

"There's a dire need for action to be taken... but as a regional grouping ASEAN has been silent on this problem. It has not taken any stern action or issued any warning or official statement to criticise Myanmar's action.

"By right, ASEAN should warn the Myanmar regime to stop the persecution and killing, and prevent what is being perceived as an ethnic cleansing, similar to what had happened in the past in Bosnia," he said.

Ahmad Martadha opined that ASEAN could be more proactive by having more diplomatic dialogues to resolve the issue and halt the oppression and brutal killing of the Rohingya minority clan.

"What the Malaysian government can do more immediately is summon the Myanmar Ambassador to Malaysia and submit an official protest note. It can also make use of the good ties among the ASEAN member nations to jointly compel the Myanmar government to put a stop to the persecution of the Rohingyas," he added.

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