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ASEAN must not remain aloof from Rohingya dilemma as it is a regional issue
by Rohingya Human Rights
2014-11-12 11:12:39
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ASEAN must not remain aloof from Rohingya dilemma as it is a regional issue
By Nurul Islam

It is moral obligation of ASEAN member states to find ways and means for a sustainable solution to long standing Rohingya political issue by ensuring agenda to this regards in the up coming ASEAN meeting.During the 2014 ASEAN Summit in Naypyidaw, the first one to be held in Myanmar, the plight of the Rohingya Muslims was left off the agenda. The failure to discuss the issue and the deliberate attempts by Myanmar to not recognise the Rohingyas in the recently held Census has once again brought the uncertain fate of the Rohingyas to the forefront.

 Formerly the perennial international pariah, the Myanmar government has received praise for new political and economic reforms. Yet it has utterly failed to protect the Rohingya, for whom conditions have only worsened since the government began its transition to democracy in 2012.Every day in Myanmar  Rohingya Muslims are denied their most basic human rights and face a risk of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.Myanmar is not just a member of the regional body, but heads ASEAN as its 2014 chair. The treatment of the Rohingya is a test of the degree to which ASEAN member states take seriously their commitment to regional cooperation on protecting human rights and their global pledge to the Responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes. So far, ASEAN states and the broader international community are failing in this commitment. For decades they have turned a blind eye to the persecution of the Rohingya, one of the world’s most vulnerable minorities. More than one million Muslim Rohingyas are denied by the government the right to citizenship, restricted from having more than two children, and many are forced to live in segregated, squalid ghettos. Rohingyas have repeatedly been attacked and killed on the basis of their identity.Increasing hate speech by political, cultural and religious figures has served to dehumanize the Rohingya in the eyes of Myanmar’s public by demonizing them as unwanted “Bengali” foreigners. Despite government assurances that it would allow ethnic self-identification in the first national census conducted since 1983, just days before data collection began the government announced that “Rohingya” would not be recognized.

rih01The widespread culture of impunity for state and non-state actors who perpetrate or incite attacks against Rohingyas fuels a growing cycle of anti-Muslim violence within the country. Meanwhile, neighboring states have made it abundantly clear that they will not open their borders nor offer protection to Rohingyas attempting desperately to flee persecution.This minority population is systematically dehumanized, deprived of their rights, forced to live in segregation, and denied asylum elsewhere. In the wake of the atrocities perpetrated against the Jews and Tutsis, the world vowed to prevent these crimes from being repeated. Yet today in Myanmar, the Rohingya face institutionalized persecution.With little international attention and a failure to hold the Myanmar government accountable for the safety and protection of the Rohingya, their plight is all the more dire.

Faced with unfolding crimes against humanity on their doorstep, will ASEAN states continue to shirk their responsibility? Myanmar seems to expect this. At this year’s first ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting on Jan. 16, only days after another round of anti-Rohingya violence in Rakhine state left over 40 men, women and children dead, Myanmar rejected the inclusion of talks on “the Bengali issue”, arguing that it was an “internal affair”.Atrocities are not internal affairs. Every government, including all ASEAN member states, affirmed this in 2005 when they endorsed the Responsibility to Protect at the UN World Summit. They committed to safeguard all populations, irrespective of their religion, ethnicity or citizenship, from crimes against humanity, genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes. ASEAN’s own Charter obliges its members “to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms”.ASEAN members must uphold their responsibility to protect and urge Myanmar’s government to take immediate action to halt the tide of hate speech, provide physical protection to vulnerable Rohingya communities, hold accountable all who incite or perpetrate crimes, and take concrete steps to foster a more inclusive society, foremost by granting Rohingya equal access to citizenship.

With atrocities unfolding, ASEAN members should provide a safe haven within their borders to Rohingyas seeking refuge. With Rohingyas facing the risk of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, it is simply unacceptable for ASEAN states to appeal to regional preferences for “non-interference” as a justification for silence and indifference.Resolving the Rohingya issue is political rather than humanitarian; however, regional groups and the international community have not been able to take a strong political stand against Myanmar. Although Myanmar is undergoing a change after the formation of a semi-democratic government, its attitude towards Rohingya Muslims has not changed at all. Even pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has not made her stance on the issue clear.

Only Myanmar can solve this longstanding crisis by either amending or repealing the 1982 Citizenship Law to recognise Rohingyas as an ethnic group of Myanmar. A recent report by Fortify Rights states that the policies of the Myanmarese government restrict the Rohingyas’ "movement, marriage, childbirth, home repairs and construction of houses of worship." Such discriminatory laws should be immediately withdrawn to stop the further persecution of this minority group.

There is an urgent need for the international and regional communities to remain firm in exerting pressure on the government of Myanmar to meet its obligations under the R2P principle.The leadership of the Association of South-East Asian States (ASEAN) must reconsider the predicament of the Rohingya in Burma (Myanmar), as it is rapidly becoming a regional issue. ASEAN is aware that the issue endangers the group’s stability, but has not developed a joint position.

 The violence in Burma between Buddhists, particularly the members of the nationalist Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), and the Muslim minority Rohingya community has engendered a regional refugee crisis. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been directly affected by the influx of Rohingya refugees, but only Indonesia has called upon Burma to address the issue. it is now becoming one of significance to ASEAN as a whole. While the Burmese Government shows no desire to escalate the issue to one of regional. However, ASEAN member states must not remain aloof from Rohingya dilemma, but to create atmosphere  to pressurize  Myanmar to address on Rohingya political issue in the up coming ASEAN submit and exert until achieved a a sustainable solution to long standing Rohingya political issue.


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