By Saeed Qureshi
The international apathy and silence on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh is like a slap on the face of humanity. Can there be a more miserable and hapless situation of any segment of the inhabitants of earth than the semi-nude Rohingya Muslims strolling aimlessly and desperately along the coasts while the world watches them with folded hands and in complete disregard of the disaster these people are exposed to? The state sponsored carnage of the tiny Muslim minority, is hurling up a colossal humanitarian disaster.
Would the conscience of the international Humanitarian relief agencies including UNHCR, the Islamic world and NGOs awaken on the most tragic plight of the Rohingya Muslims who deserve to be treated at least as human beings?
Rohingya Muslims are known to be the most persecuted minorities on earth and victims of apartheid, violence and extermination, not only in Burma but also in Bangladesh. Since the imposition of military dictatorship in Burma in 1978( now it is a presidential democratic government backed by military), while several thousand Rohingya wander in the sea in ramshackle boats, about 140,000 are confined in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in most humiliating conditions within both the countries. They are denied access to medical assistance, food and educational facilities.
The Muslim population in Burma is estimated to be 4 per cent of the entire population of around 60 million. It comes to roughly 2.4 million. The Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar or Burma are residing in the northernmost townships of Arakan state bordering Bangladesh. About one million live overseas. In the 2014 Burma Census, they have been classified as “stateless Bengali Muslims” from Bangladesh since 1982.
The Muslims have been living in Myanmar along with other communities for ages and it is in recent years that they are being treated as outsiders or aliens. They look like Burmese in features and speak the same language. Briefly they are native Burmese except that they profess a different faith in a country whose predominant population believes in Buddhism.
While Buddhists preach peace, tolerance and compassion, in the case of Muslims there seems to be an unholy alliance between the Burmese establishment and the Buddhists monks for brutalizing the defenseless Muslims. It is suspected that the Burma’s large and much feared military intelligence service, the ‘Directorate of Defense Security Intelligence’ may have agents planted within the monk-hood.
In 2015 alone, in order to escape unrelenting violence and persecution by both the Burmese and Bangladesh governments, some 25,000 Rohingya Muslims have tried to to escape to Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in rickety boats through the waters of the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea . But most of these rootless people could not get entry and thus remain in the boats.
In the backdrop of the Rohingya Muslims misery, one is reminded of the East Timor’s ethnic crisis when the Indonesian Islamic regime was accused of maltreating and suppressing the Christian population there. The entire Christian world with Australia in the lead, under the aegis of the United Nations truncated Indonesia. On May 20, 2002, East Timor separated from Indonesia and became an independent Christian state.
Likewise the western countries and particularly the United States pressurized and isolated president Omar al-Bashir of the Republic of Sudan (North Sudan) to such an extent that he finally gave in and agreed to the cessation of South Sudan as an independent country. South Sudan became an independent state on 9 July 2011. The population of Christians in the south is 80 percent while that of Muslim is 18 per cent. Understandably the division of Sudan was maneuvered to create a separate independent state for the Christians so as to live in peace and to save them from the civil war.
In former Yugoslavia, the NATO saved Muslim population from a brutal spree of ethnic cleansing by the Serbian army and that was one of the most marked human relief and rescue by the Christian west for the sake of the oppressed Muslims.
The Bosnian Serb army committed atrocious and most heinous genocide against the Muslims and Bosnian Croats in 1995. Besides, a bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing of Muslims was also carried out throughout the areas controlled by the Bosnian Serb Army during the 1992–1995 Bosnian War. The United Nations and NATO”s role (April 1933-December 1995) in ending genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Bosnians Muslims by the Serbian military is a golden chapter of history. Otherwise the Muslims would have been reduced to a tiny minority in their own territories.
Hopefully among the comity of nations, two countries can play a vital and decisive role in rescuing besieged and distressed Muslims of Burma. One is Saudi Arabia that can exert her influence and persuade other Muslim countries to approach the United Nations for an urgent action on the miserable plight of the Burmese Muslims and the grave existential threat to them. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and other Muslim states can also approach the Burmese regime urging it to stop the persecution and intimidation of the Burmese Muslims that are entitled to equal rights as citizens including that of religious freedom under the constitution.
Secondly, it is China that is in the strongest position to exert her clout to ask the Burmese leaders to desist from their bestiality against the Muslim population. If the Burmese incumbent government continues its brutal extermination of Muslims, then it would lose its good image as a democratic regime established after long spell of military dictatorship.
The stated official policy of the government of Burma is that “all ethnic, religious, and language groups in Burma are equal”. The Burmese Supreme Court observed in a verdict that “in various parts of Burma, there are people who, because of the origin and the isolated way of life, are totally unlike the Burmese in appearance or speak of events which had occurred outside the limits of their habitation. They are nevertheless statutory citizens under the Union (of Burma) Citizenship Act”
In case of Burmese Muslims’ nightmare, the NATO’s role is not at all needed. This grave humanitarian calamity is in need of diplomatic efforts to prevail upon the Burmese government to stop aggression against a community living there for ages and is essentially Burmese. It is not a question of a separate independent land for them. It is essentially to guarantee their survival, security and equality within the Republic of the Union of Myanmar against the burgeoning ethnic and religious challenges to them.
It would be a colossal catastrophe and tantamount to a slap on the face of humanity if Rohingya Muslims are allowed to perish on the high seas or die in Burma or Bangladesh because of inhuman conditions, starvation, hunger and lack of basic facilities to survive. On 7 May 2014, the United States House of Representatives passed the United States House resolution on persecution of the Rohingya people in Burma that called on the government of Burma to end the discrimination and persecution.
During his May 21-22 visit to Burma although the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken emphasized the importance of continued political, economic, and social reforms it is imperative that United States puts her pressure on the Burmese government to treat the Rohingya Muslims like other minorities and stop their persecution and brutalization.
The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.This and other articles by the writer can also be read at his blog, Upright Opinion.