Stop the violence against Rohingyas

It is a great disappointment to the supporters of the on-going democracy process in Myanmar that the Nobel Laureate Ang San SuuKyi has refused to criticise the ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas in the Rakhine state. She told BBC recently that she would not use her moral leadership "to promote a particular cause without really looking at the sources of the problems."

Her statement is nothing but a lame excuse for shutting her eyes to the atrocities being committed by Rakhinese terrorists and Myanmar security forces against innocent unarmed Rohingyas - children, women and old men. Hundreds have been murdered, 100,000 people displaced and living in refugee centres without adequate food and medicines.

Doctors Without Borders reported that radical Buddhist groups are preventing doctors from delivering assistance to areas of western Myanmar affected by intense sectarian violence. Joe Belliveau, the operations manager, said that posters and pamphlets threatening aid workers who treat Muslims were being distributed in Sittwe, the largest city in Rakhine. The aid workers have been reduced from 300 to a few dozen because they are simply scared and unwilling to work..."I've never experienced this degree of intolerance," he said.

The UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many countries have condemned the violence perpetrated against the Rohingyas and the inaction by the Myanmar government. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has called on the Myanmar authorities to take urgent and effective action to bring under control the lawlessness currently affecting Rakhine state. Yet, Suu Kyi, who has been hailed as an icon of human rights defenders, has refused to answer the cries of the Rohingya children and women in her own country for protection and justice.

The cause she has been asked to promote is the ending of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas and the recognition of their citizenship rights like all other communities who have been living in Burma (now Myanmar) for generations. Can one remain neutral in the face of the serious crimes and violations of human rights committed against the Rohingyas and treat the victims and the criminals equally? Will not her silence be perceived by people as complicity in the crimes?

Suu Kyi cannot claim not to know the causes for the persecution of the Rohingyas. It is common knowledge that the problem is rooted in the racist and discriminatory policies which the current government inherited from the previous military regime. Rohingyas are denied citizenship rights, rendering them stateless without any protection. They are demonised by the state media, and restrictions have been placed on their marriage, domestic travel, employment, property rights and religious rights in violation of law and morality.

After independence from the British, Rohingyas were recognized as citizens. Her father, General Aung San, had assured full rights and privileges to the Rohingyas. The first president of Burma, Sao Shwe Theik had stated: "Muslims of Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma. If they do not belong to the indigenous races, we also cannot be taken as indigenous races." It is the Ne Win military government that deprived them of their citizenship in the 1982 and began their persecution. Thus, it strains credibility for her, now, to say that she cannot take sides "without really looking at the sources of the problems".  Suu Kyi should listen to her conscience and take urgent action to pressure her government to stop the violence in Rakhine state and restore citizenship rights to the Rohingyas.

S.M. Mohamed Idris  Chairman, Citizens International, Penang

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2012 on page no. 17

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