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Time is running out for Myanmar's Rohingya

(Photo: Getty Images)

By Joseph K. Grieboski
March 31, 2017

Gang rape and mass slaughter: That is the appalling reality of the Rohingya of Myanmar. To categorize the ruthless campaign against this Muslim minority as anything less than genocidal would be false. Even so, the persecuted remain on the periphery of any major humanitarian initiatives or international outcry.

Every day, the brutality worsens, yet every day, the Rohingya are forsaken.

The Rohingya have been dubbed "boat people" and have had their boats full of women and children pushed back into the sea by government officials of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. In addition to being a blatant violation of international law, shoving these boats back out to sea leave the Rohingya at the mercy of the elements, exposed, with no alternative haven within safe reach.

Joining the ranks of peoples displaying a gross indifference to the plight of the Rohingya is the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, where some Rohingya have settled. In the predominantly Hindu district of Jammu, a resurgence of nationalist sentiment has incited the same ultra-nationalist rhetoric used by the Buddhists of Myanmar. The Rohingya are painted as potential terrorists in Jammu and the call for their relocation is fervent.

Yet again, nations seek to shift their responsibilities elsewhere.

This growing hostility toward refugees holds dire repercussions. Despite its absence from the Trump administration's travel ban, the consequences of halting America's refugee program will affect Myanmar the most. With 160,000 refugees settled in the United States, Myanmar accounts for over 25 percent of the United States' new refugees. With the current restrictions in place, the Rohingya's capacity to enter the United States is effectively eliminated.

Bangladesh's proposed resettlement of Rohingya refugees takes the minority group from sordid, makeshift camps to the remote island of Thengar Char. At first glance, what manifests itself as a solution to the refugee crisis in Bangladesh is, in reality, a far grimmer method of addressing the problem.

Monsoons and heavy rainfall reduce Thengar Char to an uninhabitable island as it is subjected to flooding and swamp-like conditions nearly year-round. To worsen matters, pirates occupy and swarm the island, increasing the possibility of vulnerable Rohingya becoming trafficked or tangled in criminal activity.

Bangladesh's readiness to transfer the Rohingya to a squalid island raises numerous concerns and questions the motive behind the resettlement. The island contains no freshwater and lacks any basic infrastructure needed to sustain life. While donor money put into vitalizing the island will assist the Rohingya for the time being, aid officials believe this to be a ploy by the Bangladeshi government to reap the benefits of having a newly developed island once the Rohingya return to Myanmar.

Additionally, the towns in Bangladesh with Rohingya settlements are now poised to undergo redevelopment in an attempt to boost tourism to the areas.

All signs point to exploitation, not progress.

In January, Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar embarked on a 12-day trip to investigate human rights conditions in the country. During her time in Myanmar, Lee was barred access to certain areas in Rakhine State, the Rohingya's ancestral home, due to "security concerns." The disobliging nature of the government only served to strengthen the allegations of corruption and human rights violations rampant in the country.

Lee ultimately offered an ominous warning following her visit: The systemic oppression of the Rohingya is culminating in a permanent expulsion.

Numerous ineffectual commissions investigating the crimes against the Rohingya have been established, but have thus far offered inconsistent findings. Now, after surmounting pressure and the risk of complicity, the European Union has finally put forth a resolution calling for an international inquiry into the abuses. The United Nations agreed to adopt the resolution and will send a high-level probe to investigate, but did not call for the highest level of investigation.

The body's decision comes after months of standing by idly in hopes that Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi herself would take corrective measures to address the injustices.

Still, she remains uncooperative and unresponsive.

Suu Kyi must be held accountable for her crimes and stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize. As an accomplice to the crimes against humanity occurring in Myanmar, Suu Kyi is unworthy of possessing an award dedicated to individuals upholding the very principle she has failed to achieve: peace.

Her inability to end the violence against the Rohingya signifies her ineptitude as both a leader and a human rights activist. The integrity of the Nobel Prize can only be maintained through its revocation. We cannot allow an abuser to be regarded as a protector.

The shameful inaction of the international community will go down as a stain in our shared history of safeguarding human rights and religious freedom. Indifference to one's plight is akin to complicity.

Time is running out for the Rohingya; action must be taken, and it must be taken now.

Joseph K. Grieboski is the chairman and CEO of Grieboski Global Strategies, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, and founder and secretary-general of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.

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