THE ASEAN People Forum urged leaders of the regional grouping, who will meet in a summit next week, to put more efforts to help end the Rakhine crisis and called for “rehumanising” the Muslim Rohingya after the genocide in Myanmar.
The Rohingya issue was discussed by a panel of the Asean People Forum and Asean Civil Society Conference (APF/ACSC) this week prior to the Asean Summit in Singapore. Usually, representatives of the people’s forum meet and submit their inputs to the group when the leaders meet, but it was unclear whether they could meet the leaders during the summit next week. Edmund Bon Tai Soon, Malaysian representative from the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), said the challenge was how to make the leaders of Asean more active on the issue. More than 700,000 refugees have fled violence in Rakhine state since August last year when militants attacked Myanmar security outposts, prompting a clearance operation enforced by the military.
The international community, notably the United Nations, regarded the atrocities that included arson, gang rape and massacre, as genocide and wanted to refer the case to International Criminal Court or a kind of ad hoc tribunal. Asean limited its engagement to humanitarian issues, refrained from addressing its root cause while maintaining a silence on allegations of crimes against humanity. There have been attempts by individual AICHR members from Indonesia and Malaysia to tackle the issue seriously but their recommendations were stalled by Myanmar, said Edmund. However, Asean’s soft, humanitarian approach, offering mobile medical service, education and infrastructure support was fine, he said. As for Civil Society, Edmund recommended that they could work their way to give Asean models on how to respond to the needs should a special task force on the Rohingya issue be established. Another social activist, who did not want to be named, said the root cause was the long hatred for the Rohingya, which was later reinforced by the discriminating 1982 citizenship law that denied them Myanmar citizenship. The Myanmar people justified the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military)’s clearance operation as a response to the violence on August 25, 2017 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed Muslim group. They said it was a reasonable self-defence measure against global level threats from Muslim extremists, she said. ‘Sanctions hurt common man’ The first step to address the problem is to rehumanise the Rohingya by using the mutual suffering which other ethnic minorities are also facing and later create a wider understanding about the long-time discrimination, she said. Economic sanctions imposed by the European Union might not work to solve the problem but would only make ordinary people lose their jobs, she said, suggesting that the EU should take action against the perpetrators who had created the discriminating system and benefited from the violence. Also, she reminded that there were still 500,000 Rohingya in Myanmar along with other Muslims struggling with discrimination and living in fear. The important thing is to create a condition where they can live safely in Myanmar and recognise themselves as part of the nation