Myanmar, undoubtedly the country with the worst record of human rights in Southeast Asia, witnessed a development that aroused excitement and hope across the entire world about a year ago. After half a century of military junta government, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won the November 2015 general elections. One of the election promises of that party’s leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was “real change”. However, the year that has passed since clearly showed that nothing has ever changed for the Rohingya Muslims: They are still the helpless victims of a horrific ethnic cleansing.
The project of purging Rakhine state of the Rohingyas continues at full steam. Hundreds of innocent Rohingyas have been massacred, hundreds of women have been raped, hundreds have lost their lives while trying to escape persecution and thousands of Muslim houses have been plundered and burned in the ongoing operations of Myanmar’s army and security forces since October.
In images published in the press and the media, the innocence and helplessness of the Rohingya people are written all over their faces; the miserable state they are in that is fraught with hunger, poverty and destitution is extremely shocking. In the words of an expert from the United Nations, they are “probably the most friendless people in the world”.
Under the leadership of Suu Kyi, the new government is surprisingly in total concurrence with the military. The new administration rejects outright the reports of the UN and human rights organisations. On top of that, it makes the unbelievable claim that the Rohingyas have burned their own houses in order to draw the attention of the international public.
According to government officials, the news about ethnic cleansing is nothing but a “smear campaign” and those killed are merely “Bengali terrorists.” Foreign journalists, independent researchers and relief organisations are banned from entering Rakhine state. The insults, threats, attacks and hate crimes committed by racist and radical Buddhist organisations against Rohingya Muslims do not receive the necessary response.
Before the election, Suu Kyi was already drawing attention with her evasive attitude towards the Rohingya issue; after becoming the de facto ruler of the country, she adopted a wholly negative attitude towards the Rohingyas, in other words, her own people. So much so that some of her recent statements and dubious actions have reached a level that cannot even be explained by terms such as “political manoeuvring” or “maintaining balance”.
Having earned a reputation in the past as “an advocate for peace, democracy and human rights”, Suu Kyi currently rejects any documents or reports regarding the ethnic slaughter the Rohingyas are faced with. Moreover, she is even against the use of the term ‘Rohingya’; she also labels the accusations as “fabrications”. This being the case, it would not be realistic to expect the government to take any meaningful steps towards a solution.
The government officials hold Rohingya Muslims accountable for the October 9 attacks on the border posts in the Rakhine State but the facts are far from verifying this claim. First of all, the Rohingyas are a non-violent, peace-loving, downtrodden and benign people. There is no evidence suggesting any armed resistance or rebellion in the region. Besides, they do not even have the freedom to travel within their own state; they are suffering the most terrible oppression and extreme poverty and the refugees in the concentration camps right on the other side of the border in Bangladesh are living in unimaginably difficult conditions. The claim that people living in such miserable conditions can carry out simultaneous, comprehensive and organised attacks is surely against reason.
Moreover, looking at developments in the last two months, it becomes painfully obvious that the Rohingya people have derived no benefit from the October 9 attacks but rather, they were the side who suffered the worst. On the contrary, those who have reaped the benefits of the attacks are radical Buddhist groups trying to legitimise their hateful actions against the Muslims, the drug traffickers who seek an unstable region so that they can conduct their operations more easily, and Myanmar’s Army and the state itself, who try to justify with these attacks their violent and lawless practices. All these facts give rise to the thought that the said attacks were not perpetrated by the Rohingyas, but by certain shady powers.
On the other hand, they are not “Bengali illegal immigrants”, but people that have lived in Rakhine for generations. They are people whose civic rights as well as fundamental rights and freedom have been taken away and who suffer all kinds of inhumane treatment. These oppressed and downtrodden innocent people do not pose any threat to Myanmar; they have no intention of seceding from or dividing the country. They are not second-class; they are “full citizens” of the country, and they simply want to enjoy the same rights with all other ethnic groups and live in harmony with the Buddhists in mutual trust, peace and respect.
Until now, the efforts of the UN and human rights organisations have fallen far short in solving the Rohingya issue; as for the Western states, they mostly adopt an apathetic approach. Although the recent mediation attempts of the committee chaired by the former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, are a well-intentioned effort, it seems that it will not come to fruition. A historical responsibility falls on the Islamic countries for supporting and helping these poor people. If all these countries can stand up and act in unison for the oppressed, downtrodden and aggrieved Rohingya Muslims, they can dissuade the Myanmar government from its unjust practices. Undoubtedly, this struggle must be carried out within the scope of the international rule of law, and by pursuing fair and peaceful methods.
In the past few days, thousands of people gathered in the public squares of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, and most particularly Malaysia; they joined hands in the name of the Rohingyas. Indonesia and Malaysia have decided to give them temporary refuge. We hope that this will be a good start; that the entire Islamic community comes together and demonstrates that the Rohingya Muslims are not without friends. Otherwise, if the Islamic countries remain silent while poor, innocent Rohingyas are being massacred it would mean, in a sense, we would be supporting the evil and the oppressors, which is a mistake all Muslims should avoid.
Adnan Oktar's piece in Gulf Times & Burma Times: