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Yunus, 22 global leaders write to UNSC to end Rohingya crisis

Nobel laureates Muhammad Yunus, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi and Malala Yousafzai. Photo: AFP and Reuters

December 29, 2016

Fifteen Nobel laureates including Muhammad Yunus and eight other global leaders on Thursday wrote an open letter to the United Nations Security Council to immediately intervene to stop “persecution of Rohingyas in Myanmar”.

They noted that a human tragedy “amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity is unfolding in Myanmar”, according to a press release of Yunus Centre.

The global leaders insisted that it is time for the international community as a whole to speak out much more strongly.

They were also very critical of the inaction of Myanmarese leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Despite repeated appeals to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi we are frustrated that she has not taken any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas. Daw Suu Kyi is the leader and is the one with the primary responsibility to lead, and lead with courage, humanity and compassion,” read the open letter.

The signatories included 13 Nobel peace laureates, two Nobel medicine laureates, a journalist, philanthropists and rights activists, said the Yunus Centre press release.

The Nobel peace laureates are Muhammad Yunus (2006), José Ramos-Horta (1996), Máiread Maguire (1976), Betty Williams (1976), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984), Oscar Arias (1987), Jody Williams (1997), Shirin Ebadi (2003), Tawakkol Karman (2011), Leymah Gbowee (2011) and Malala Yousafzai (2014).

The two Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine are Sir Richard J Roberts (1993) and Elizabeth Blackburn (2009).

The other signatories are former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, former Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino, founder and editor of The Huffington Post Arianna Huffington, business leader Paul Polman, SDG advocate and film director Richard Curtis, business leader and philanthropist Jochen Zeitz, business leader and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson, entrepreneur and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, SDG advocate (Voice of Libyan Women) Alaa Murabit and human rights activist Kerry Kennedy.

“Over the past two months, a military offensive by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State has led to the killing of hundreds of Rohingya people. Over 30,000 people have been displaced. Houses have been burned, women raped, many civilians arbitrarily arrested, and children killed. Crucially, access for humanitarian aid organisations has been almost completely denied, creating an appalling humanitarian crisis in an area already extremely poor. Thousands have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, only to be sent back,” the open letter gave a gloomy picture of the persecution.

It added some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide. “It has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies - Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo.”

The letter referred to the head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the Bangladesh side of the border, John McKissick, and said he accused Myanmar’s government of ethnic cleansing.

It also mentioned the condemnation of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, for restricting access to Rakhine State.

“The Rohingyas are among the world’s most persecuted minorities, who for decades have been subjected to a campaign of marginalisation and dehumanisation. In 1982, their rights to citizenship were removed, and they were rendered stateless, despite living in the country for generations. They have endured severe restrictions on movement, marriage, education and religious freedom,” the letter shed light on Rohingya persecution.

“Yet despite the claims by government and military, and many in society, that they are in fact illegal Bengali immigrants who have crossed the border, Bangladesh does not recognise them either,” it added.

Dwelling on the chronology of the persecution, the letter said, “Their plight intensified dramatically in 2012 when two severe outbreaks of violence resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands and a new apartheid between Rohingya Muslims and their Rakhine Buddhist neighbours. Since then they have existed in ever more dire conditions.”

About the latest crisis sparked by an attack on Myanmar border police posts on 9 October, in which nine Myanmar police officers were killed, the letter pointed, “The truth about who carried out the attack, how and why, is yet to be established, but the Myanmar military accuse a group of Rohingyas.”

It further said, “Even if that is true, the military’s response has been grossly disproportionate. It would be one thing to round up suspects, interrogate them and put them on trial. It is quite another to unleash helicopter gunships on thousands of ordinary civilians and to rape women and throw babies into a fire.”

Urging the United Nations to do everything possible to encourage the government of Myanmar to lift all restrictions on humanitarian aid so that people receive emergency assistance, the global leaders said, “Access for journalists and human rights monitors should also be permitted, and an independent, international inquiry to establish the truth about the current situation should be established.”

“Furthermore,” the letter said, “we urge the members of UN Security Council to put this crisis on the Security Council’s agenda as a matter of urgency, and to call upon the Secretary-General to visit Myanmar in the coming weeks as a priority. If the current Secretary-General is able to do so, we would urge him to go; if not, we encourage the new Secretary-General to make it one of his first tasks after he takes office in January.”

Calling on the international community to rise to the occasion, the leaders said, “After Rwanda, world leaders [had] said “never again”. If we fail to take action [to end Rohingya crisis], people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets and we may end up being the passive observers of crimes against humanity which will lead us once again to wring our hands belatedly and say “never again” all over again.”

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