The world we live in was supposed to be civilised with no space for barbarianism. We thought ethics and respect for humanity would reign supreme in the 21st century. Alas! The fate of the majority of the world’s population, in particular minorities, still hangs in oblivion. They are treated like slaves, killed without any evidence and annihilated for nothing. From South Africa and the Middle East to East Europe and Indonesia, minorities of all sorts have been abysmally subjected to sheer hatred, socio-economic oppression, mental torture, physical abuse and ultimately genocidal annihilation. The most recent case, in this respect, which has been appearing on social media, is of Myanmar (Burma) where the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have witnessed the worst kind of genocidal operation at the hands of extremist Buddhists.
This massacre movement for the eradication of the Rohingya has been taking pace in Myanmar since 2011. The former is a Muslim racial minority living in the Arakan state of western Burma. They have been facing severe maltreatment and oppression by the state and national regimes for decades. There are around 1.33 million Rohingya living in Burma but the Burmese state’s 1982 Citizenship Law refutes their basic right of citizenship in spite of the fact that the Rohingya people have been living in Burma for ages. More importantly, the president of Burma, Thein Sein, clearly denies the presence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group of Burma, labelling them Bengalis, which is historically incorrect since the Rohingya community has been residing in the northerwestern part of today’s Myanmar since pre-colonial times. The British consolidated their residential status as farm labourers in the 16th century. Hence, to argue that the Rohingyas are illegal migrants from Bangladesh is a conscious distortion of historical facts.
Having sensed the gravity of the humanitarian situation, a non-Muslim state, Norway, took a much-needed initiative the other day by holding a two-day day session that called for an end to the ongoing oppression of Rohingya Muslims in Burma. The participants, who included seven Nobel laureates, termed the Muslims massacre in Myanmar as being no less than genocide. For example, Desmond Tutu, the frontrunner of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, requested for a stop to the gradual genocide of the Muslims in that country. Tutu’s appeal was enlarged by six more fellow Nobel peace laureates that included Jody Williams from the US, Shirin Ibadi from Iran, Tawakkol Karman from Yeman, Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel from Argentina and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia. These noble voices concluded that “what Rohingyas are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous community is being systematically wiped out by the Burmese government”.
By and large, the two-day discussion at the said conference concluded that the pattern of systematic human rights abuses against the ethnic Rohingya people entails crimes — genocide included — against humanity, the Myanmar government’s denial of the existence of the Rohingya as a people violates the right of the Rohingya to self-identify and the international community is giving privilege to economic interests in Myanmar and failing to prioritise the need to end its systematic persecution and destruction of the Rohingya as an ethnic group. Moreover, the Oslo session, called upon the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other related international players to take required measures to stress upon the government of Myanmar to immediately end its policies and practices of genocide, restore full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingya Muslims, institute the right of return for the displaced Rohingyas, provide the Rohingyas with necessary protection, and promote and support reconciliation between communities in the Rakhine region.
Pakistan, though belatedly, has also expressed grave concern over the genocidal persecution of the Muslims in Myanmar. To what extent the Muslim world, including our own country, can help the Rohingyas is still to be seen. Besides, the US’s assistant secretary for population, refugees, and migration affairs, Anne Richard, expressed grave concern over this Muslims genocide in Burma. Anne, during a press session held in Putrajaya a few days ago, argued that relocation of Rohingyas in a third country is not the right response to the swelling tide of fleeing people in Southeast Asia and urged the Burmese state to grant citizenship rights to the Rohingya Muslim community. However, it has been terribly shocking to see the silence on part of Aung San Suu Kyi, the liberal Burmese politician, Nobel laureate and human rights activist. “San Kyi is probably silent on the genocide done to the Rohingya Muslims in order not to antagonise her powerful Buddhist electoral community on whom she is relying for the upcoming elections,” commented BBC Urdu the other day.
In reaction to the abovementioned humanitarian call to end the Rohingya genocide, the foreign ministry of Myanmar stated in the aftermath of the Oslo conference that such remarks turned a visionless eye to the efforts of Burma on reconstructing trust between Muslims and Buddhists in the western Rakhine state and “granting citizenship through the national verification process to those Bengalis living in Burma for many years”.
However, the fact of the matter is that the Burmese state does not identify the Rohingyas as an ethnic community and terms them as immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. They are being denied citizenship and other fundamental human rights. Circa 100,000 are restricted to internal displacement camps. Owing to the latest acts of brutality that include the rape of both male and female Muslims irrespective of age, slaughtering them alive and later mutilating the corpses, the plight of Rohingyas became a regional crunch when thousands of people landed on the seashores of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, with many others still supposed to be stuck at sea.
To conclude, the ongoing genocidal movement against the Rohingya Muslims is not the first but second planned genocide against the Muslims in Myanmar. The international community was silent over the issue the last time and is behaving likewise with the mentioned minor exceptions. However, it is the need of the hour on the part of world powers to come forth by not only terming the Muslim genocide as immoral, inhuman and illegal but also taking immediate, practical measures to put a permanent end to it. The Muslim world, including Pakistan, should do the same. Remember, it is not a question of one religious community targeting the other; it is a question of unarmed and innocent human beings being brutally killed in a genocidal fashion. Lest it should become a norm, we must be vigilant and mobilised to preserve and protect human rights.
Dr Ejaz Hussain is an independent political scientist and author of Military Agency, Politics and the State in Pakistan. He tweets @ejazbhatty. Muhammad Jahanzaib is pursuing an MPhil in International Relations from Iqra University, Islamabad