Burma’s Rohingya Need International Help Now More Than Ever
By Tun Khin
August 10, 2016
August 10, 2016
Earlier this year the United Nations published a report ‘Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar’, which concluded that human rights violations against us could amount to crimes against humanity.
The report also stated that the government of Burma needed to take urgent action to end the anti-Rohingya policies of past governments. The response of the NLD led government and rest of the international community was silence. Once again, evidence of violations of international law have been provided, and once again no action has been taken. Our suffering goes on.
Worse, the day after the UN report was published, European Union diplomats based in Burma announced that in response to a demand by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to avoid using the word Rohingya, they would also not use the word Rohingya when talking about Rohingya people.
The denial of our ethnic identity is an integral part of the discrimination that we face. Nationalists and the government administration under former President Thein Sein have deliberately and tactically escalated controversy over the use of the name Rohingya as part of their campaign to say we are not an ethnic group in Burma and don’t belong there. They called us Bengali instead, claiming we are immigrants from Bangladesh. Instead of standing up to these people and their lies, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said because the name is controversial, diplomats should call us ‘Muslims from Rakhine state’.
This is seen as a victory by nationalists. Rather than being pacified by this so-called compromise, they are now demanding the Burmese government officially call us Bengali. Not calling us Rohingya has encouraged them. In effect, the government of Burma and European Union have sided with racists and nationalists rather than with the oppressed and vulnerable.
My people are dying in the camps where they fled to four years ago after they fled mobs burning their homes and villagers. They are dying in part because the new government has kept in place severe restrictions on delivery of aid. In towns and villages my people live in poverty and fear, afraid of attack or arrest at any time. My people are denied the right to travel around the country, are denied citizenship, and denied the right to vote. We are denied access to healthcare. Our children are denied access to higher and university education. We had so much hope in an NLD government, but so far, since they came to power, things have continued to get worse, not better.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi says her government needs time and space to deal with this issue. As Rohingya we understand that there is much hatred against us in Burma. Fully addressing this will take time. But in the short term restrictions on aid can be lifted, action taken against those inciting hatred and violence, and the process of reforming the 1982 citizenship law which is at the root of depriving us of so many of our rights, could be started. My people are dying and suffering so much, we don’t have time. We need action now.
At the same time, violations of law don’t get much more serious than crimes against humanity. Yet having concluded that these crimes might be happening, no action is being taken by the UN or government of Burma. Imagine if a police force said a murder had been committed, but we are not going to investigate it. That’s the equivalent of what the United Nations are doing now.
At a time when there is so much hope for so many others in Burma, this is our most desperate hour. Pressure needs to be placed on the NLD led government to lift government restrictions on humanitarian aid to the Rohingya still living in squalid camps four years after being forced to flee their homes. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi must be made to live up to her previous statement that the discriminatory 1982 citizenship law should be reviewed. And the United Nations must establish an international investigation into human rights violations against my people. Next month’s UN General Assembly sessions are the opportunity to do this.
Report after report have concluded that multiple violations of international law are being committed against the Rohingya. No government can say they don’t know what is going on. It is to their shame that they allowed it to carry on.
Tun Khin is President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK and Leading voice of the Rohingya in Exile.