Tens of thousands of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims desperate to escape death and destruction in their country continue to attempt to make their way to Bangladesh, dozens drowning in the Naf River whilst thousands of others remain stranded on a mountain without food and water. This latest campaign of violence against the Muslims by Myanmar’s military and Buddhist extremists started in August last, but for decades, they have been subjected to systematic persecution and violation of human rights. Back in 1982, they were stripped of their citizenship right under the pretext that they were illegal migrants from Bangladesh, although the Rohingya Muslims arrived in Myanmar in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when it was a province of British-ruled India, entitling them to citizenship right in their adopted country.
Mostly Muslim countries and international rights organisations have strongly condemned the ongoing violence and expulsions. Denouncing the atrocities Pakistan also issued a statement on Thursday, saying the brutal and barbaric acts perpetrated against unarmed civilian population not only constitute state terrorism, but also question the collective human conscience across nations and societies. Sadly, the plight of Rohingya people has failed to prick the conscience of Western countries who lose no opportunity to berate China or Russia on human rights. So far, neither US President Trump – famous for making unnecessary Twitter comments on all sorts of issues – nor the State Department has made a formal statement on the situation. The State Department spokesperson only expressed “concern” in response to a question. A significant voice of support for the suffering Rohingyas has come from Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Reminding Myanmar’s State Counsellor and its de facto ruler, Aung San Suu Kyi, that when she was under house arrest his party had launched a campaign for her release and supported her struggle for human rights, he advised her to take care of Rohingya Muslims’ human rights, making sure “they are given all due rights, including citizenship of Myanmar. They should not be thrown out of their homes.” Considering that most of these people were brought there by the British as labourers for various purposes, that country should be playing a lead role in stopping their persecution.
Participating in a civil society move, 365,000 people have signed, and more are expected to sign on, a petition calling for Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize to be withdrawn. Important as such expressions of dismay are at what her government is doing to its minority community, they are unlikely to change its policy of bloody repression. The countries that have spoken out against the policy need to raise their concern at international forums. They should also consider taking a joint action such as diplomatic/trade ties cutoff until Myanmar behaves properly, allows the refugees to return home and live in safety, and restores their due citizenship right.