Published On: Fri, Sep 8th, 2017

World leaders must act now to halt this ethnic cleansing

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By Maha Akeel

The world watches as tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya flee persecution in Myanmar. For decades, this group has suffered systematic discrimination by the Myanmar government, which doesn’t recognize them as citizens. They have been denied basic human rights and prevented from practicing their religion, and have had their homes and mosques destroyed.

As I write this, thousands of Rohingya are crossing by land into Bangladesh, while others take to the sea to reach Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. They are escaping the violence that broke out in northern Rakhine state last month when militants attacked government forces; that resulted in security forces — supported by Buddhist militia — launching a “clearance operation,” as one Myanmar military leader described it.

 If no immediate action is taken, the current crisis in Rakhine state has the potential to destabilize the entire region. This is why core issues of inequality, justice and citizenship must be resolved once and for all.

 A closer look at the latest developments paints an alarming picture: There were already 400,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and 140,000 inside Myanmar in camps. Now, as of Sept. 5, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said a total of 123,000 refugees have fled western Myanmar since Aug. 25. An unknown number are still stranded at the border and their plight is desperate, as Arab News reported in a harrowing dispatch this week. The agency has pleaded for assistance, and says it needs more land so it can set up new camps to accommodate refugees who are arriving hungry, traumatized and in need of medical assistance.

 The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has rightly called for action and has condemned the renewed outbreak of violence, which has manifested itself in the organized destruction of villages and homes by vigilante groups under the cover of army and police forces. It has also called upon the Myanmar government to immediately restore the displaced persons to their homes and allow humanitarian aid agencies to assist the affected people.

Making the crisis worse, the Myanmar government has blocked all UN aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of desperate civilians, which is driving more Rohingya from their homes.

These acts violate the basic rights of the Rohingya and they also represent a grave violation of Myanmar government’s international commitments to protect civilians. Such incidents of violence only serve to exacerbate tensions and fuel instability, as stated by the OIC. Dr. Yousef Al- Othaimeen, secretary general of the OIC, and several member states have reached out to Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counselor of Myanmar and the country’s de facto leader, demanding that the government stop the campaign of violence and allow humanitarian aid to the affected people. Sadly, Suu Kyi has done very little despite her widely held reputation as a human rights activist and Nobel peace laureate. Western countries had been protecting Sun Kyi from criticism, arguing she needed time to adjust to power.  But it is clear she has done nothing to help the Rohingya, which is why there are calls for her Nobel Prize to be revoked.

What is happening is systematic ethnic cleansing and an attempt to permanently remove the Rohingya people from their homeland. And it is done with impunity.

This process started long before the current outbreak of violence. For decades, the Myanmar government has been slowly withdrawing national identity cards from the Rohingya under the pretense that they will be renewed; in fact, these cards are confiscated and not replaced. This was followed by campaigns of violence and intimidation by extremist Buddhist groups backed by the military regime.

As the OIC warned in 2014, a continuation of such discriminatory policies will create a breeding ground for recruitment by extremist elements. Dr Al-Othaimeen has called for a special meeting at the UN in New York next week to address the issue. Moreover, Turkey, which chairs the current OIC summit, is also calling for a special summit on the Rohingya issue.

 The Rohingya people simply want to be treated like any other citizens of Myanmar. Now more than ever, the international community, particularly the UN Security Council, must act to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya.

–(Courtesy–Arab News)


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