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Tragic plight of Rohingya Muslims

Last updated: Wednesday, April 03, 2013 2:17 AM

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

A report recently published by the British newspaper The Independent said about 100 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar died slowly of hunger after spending 25 days at sea on their way to find a new home. The report said this might be shocking to those who do not know what is going on in what is alleged to be the latest democracy in Asia. It added that news about the rape and torture of Rohingyas in the western state of Rakhine may also seem shocking to those who are not aware of what is happening to Muslims in Myanmar.

However, for those who closely follow the seemingly endless waves of threats, violence and torture of Rohingya Muslims, such news is not at all surprising. The Rohingyas are the weakest minority in Asia. They have been deprived of their citizenship rights in the country in which they have lived since birth. They have no right to education, health care or employment and are not allowed to own land. They have very few options. They do not want to leave their homes and the communities where they live for fear of the violence and intimidation by organized criminal gangs and also by border guards.

The report said that the world media has ignored the plight of the Rohingya Muslims except in very rare cases. It said that Western politicians have made a lot of noise about the Rohingya issue but have not done anything to put an end to their misery. It added that Western politicians have sent trade and economic delegations to Myanmar to conclude commercial deals with businessmen who have close links to the former military rulers of the country.

The British newspaper report said that international media and the world community have not done anything to help the Rohingyas who, according to many analysts, will face hunger and more violence and disease in the coming days, resulting in a terrible human catastrophe which could easily have been avoided. The report said the besieging of a number of cities in the Rohingya region including, among others, Maungdaw, Min Pya and Mrauk, could result in famine and mass starvation.

The Independent quoted local sources as saying that whoever tries to leave these besieged cities is killed or apprehended. The sources also said the boats used by the Rohingyas to smuggle food to their besieged compatriots have been sunk by hostile groups from the state of Rakhine. It said massacres were committed at sea in which entire families were slaughtered.

According to the newspaper, those who succeeded in escaping the massacres were killed by Buddhist gangs coming from Rakhine on large fishing boats, and 97 Rohingya Muslims were killed in one day. The UN special rapporteur on Myanmar human rights Tomas Ojea Quintana issued a strongly-worded statement denouncing the violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar. He urged the government of President Thein Sein to adopt stern measures to end this violence which might adversely affect the process of reforms in the country. Quintana also asked the government to take drastic steps to put an end to the religious persecution of Muslims.

The rapporteur was referring to the appearance of extremist Buddhist groups led by Buddhist monks who orchestrate violence against Muslims and advocate the boycott of Muslim merchants.

He said that the government was warned about the dangerous activities of extremist Buddhists at the outbreak of violence last summer but that it has done little to stop the persecution of Muslims.

Quintana accused some government officials of openly encouraging hatred against Muslims and called for them to be brought to trial. He asked the government not to turn a blind eye to the violence against Muslims and to prevent its employees from doing the same.

The rapporteur also accused the police and the military of watching Muslims being physically abused without doing anything to protect them. He called for these military and police personnel to be tried in court and warned that the violence against Muslims might spread from the state of Rakhine to other areas.

The killing, rape, and torture of Muslims, along with the destruction and burning of houses and mosques are a shame on the face of the world especially of Muslim countries.

The strong warning to the Myanmar government issued by Muslim leaders during their extraordinary summit conference in Makkah last August has not led to political or diplomatic initiatives. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has not carried out the duties assigned to it by the summit. The OIC secretary general did not respond to the invitation extended to him by the Myanmar president to visit the turbulent areas. He only wrote a letter to US President Obama urging him on his visit to the country to ask the Myanmar government to grant the Rohingya Muslims their legitimate rights. It was as if Obama was going to Myanmar to discuss the issue of human rights with the country’s leaders and not to discuss trade cooperation and finding markets for US products.

The OIC recently opened a center for Rohingyas in Jeddah. The role of the center in rescuing Rohingyas from death at sea or at the hands of Buddhist gangs is still unclear. The OIC has moral, religious and humanitarian obligations to Rohingya Muslims. The organization should save them from the killing and rape. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has not said a word to protest what is happening to Muslims in her country. She must fulfill her duty as an advocate of peace to the human rights organizations who stood by her during her years of captivity.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com

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