The Rohingya crisis is one of the worst humanitarian crises witnessed in our time. It is estimated that over 800,000 Rohingya Muslims, as well as a few hundred Hindus have fled to Bangladesh, to escape the brutality unleashed on them by the Myanmar army. What is happening in Myanmar has been described by the United Nation’s as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.Satellite imagery shows near total destruction of 214 villages in the Rakhine state since the army’s operation began against the community. There are chilling stories of elderly people, children and women being burnt alive when their houses were torched. The advocacy groups have documentary evidence of rapes, looting and other inhuman treatment meted out against the Rohingya.
Muslims have been living peacefully along with the Buddhist majority in Arakan (now Rakhine) since the 12th century. This disproves the Myanmar’s contention that Rohingya people in Myanmar is a recent phenomenon. During the military regime, they were denied even basic fundamental rights and were deprived of citizenship even though they have been living in Arakan for centuries. They still are today.
The Rohingya-Buddhist conflict actually started during the First World War, when the Rohingya Muslims supported the British army in the hope that the British would declare Arakan as an independent Muslim state. The Rohingya fought against the local Buddhists, who had allied with Japan. This was the starting point of the conflict between the two communities.
Rohingya insurgents have been fighting the Burmese army for over 14 years in the hope that the Arakan region would secede from Burma and merge the state with East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The present day insurgency is an off shoot of the armed struggle with the Burmese army, which was crushed by the army.
Following Burmese independence in 1948, the newly formed union government of the predominantly-Buddhist country did not include Rohingya as one of the ethnic groups, alleging they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. In 2105 census report, Rohingya were not included in the 135 ethnic groups. In one stroke the community became stateless.
The insurgents in a surprise attack on an army battalion stationed in Rakhine killed over 71 personnel. In a swift reprisal, the army burnt their houses, and killed hundreds of Rohingya forcing them to flee to Bangladesh.
However, there was a glimmer of hope, when Aung San Suu Kyi, became the de facto leader of Myanmar. She has been fighting for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar, in spite of facing great hardships at the hands of the army. She was awarded a Nobel Peace prize for her relentless fight against the army.
The Rohingya hoped that once elected, she would take up their cause and end one of the worst forms of racial discrimination against their community. Sadly, she looked the other way when the army unleashed brutal repression against them. Her deafening silence against the army’s brutal atrocities, has invited international condemnation. The peace and human rights advocacy groups have approached the Nobel committee to revoke the peace award granted to her.
During the rule of Military Junta, they amended the constitution so that even if a civilian government is elected, defence, interior (home) and border affairs would be handled only by serving military officers. Further, another amendment debarred any citizen from becoming the President if they were married to a foreigner. Aung San Suu Kyi, even after a resounding win in the elections, is a mere puppet in the hands of the army.
However, as a defender of human rights of her citizens, she could have brought pressure on the army against cold blooded murder of Rohingya and untold misery inflicted on them. If the army had refused to act on her counsel, she should have stepped down from the government as a mark of protest. This would have brought a lot of goodwill from the international community. One of the reasons for her deafening silence is that the army enjoys the support of influential Buddhist monks, who had voted her to power.
Under a sustained International pressure, the army had ordered an inquiry against alleged brutalities. As expected, the sham enquiry absolved the army from any human rights violations. This was one of the worst cases of travesty of justice.
The role of the United States, China, India and Russia in refraining from condemning the army for persecuting the Muslims is unconscionable. On the part of India, as it feared any condemnation would result in Myanmar going into the laps of China.
However, in a welcome development, the Trump administration has accused the Myanmar government for the brutal crackdown on Rohingya as an attempt of ethnic cleansing. It is hoped that these developments would lead to sanctions against the military and the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing will be tried for their crimes. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who in his open letter to Daw had said that “if the political price of your ascension to the highest office is silence, then the price is surely too steep.” We pray for you to intervene in the escalating crisis and guide your people back towards the path of righteousness.”
Rohingya Muslims should not fall prey to the propaganda unleashed by extremists to exact revenge against the army. There are several cases where the situation got exacerbated
On the heels of the US condemnation, now comes the Chinese offer to mediate between the Myanmar army and the Bangladesh government to end the crisis, and clear the way for the return of the 600,000 refugees to their homeland.
In a 3 phase proposal, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had asked the army to restore order by declaring a ceasefire to prevent more refugees escaping from Myanmar. In the second stage of the proposal, he suggested that both Myanmar and Bangladesh should engage in a dialogue on the matter of repatriation of refugees living in Bangladesh camps. In the third stage, he has called upon the international community to help rebuild Rakhine.
The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi must be credited from garnering support from Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Htin Kyaw and the military chief Min Aung Hlaing and the Government of Bangladesh, before unveiling the plan. The Chinese proposal, if implemented, would pave the way of restoring peace in the region and rehabilitate all the refugees who had fled to Bangladesh and other countries.
Although China’s proposal is laudable, however, there is an apprehension whether the Myanmar army would stick to its side of the agreement or whether they would further encourage a fresh cycle of violence on the returning refugees. As China has steadfastly refused to condemn the Burmese army’s brutality, one is not sure what their reaction would be should the army unleashes a fresh cycle of violence. However, as China has a firm handle over Myanmar, because of the economic support, it is expected that the government would put pressurise on the army to stop further atrocities.
On their part, Rohingya Muslims should not fall prey to the propaganda unleashed by the Islamic fundamentalists to exact revenge against the army. There are several cases where the situation got exacerbated, as some of the members of the community have links with terror groups like Al Qaeda, have been involved in launching terror strikes on the army, further exacerbating the already fragile situation.
One hopes that a better sense would prevail this time, and both the army and Rohingya would work towards restoring peace and order in the region. As the Myanmar government would require billions of dollars to resettle the returning refugees, the international community should generously contribute towards their rehabilitation.
It is in this context, the Chinese proposal needs to be followed through by the army, the civilian government, and Bangladesh for restoring peace and stability in the region.