Sunday, July 22, 2012

Who will speak for Rohingyas?

The military junta in Myanmar has been courted by the West in its quest to encourage the democratization process in this bastion of tyranny. However, it is primordial that respect of human rights, especially the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority should remain high on the international agenda.

The Rohingyas are the most defenseless religious minority in the world. However, their fate draws very little attention from the international community. They live in an impoverished enclave between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Since Myanmar’s independence from the British in 1948, thousands of Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to escape racial and religious prosecution by the Buddhist Rakhines and the Burmese military junta.

The Rohingyas have lived in the Arakan region for hundreds of years. However, the annexation of this independent province in 1784 by the Burmese government forced the Rohingyas to endure discriminatory policies, persecution through their marginalization and the restriction of their movement, their marriage, and constantly confiscating their land and driving them to annihilation.

In 1977, almost the Burmese junta launched Nagar Min (Dragon King) ― a military operation that drove thousands of Rohingyas to a camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh as a form of ethnic cleansing as hundreds died and thousands were left without food or shelter.
In the past decade, the Bangladeshi government has tightened its borders with Burma, as it has already more than 25,000 Rohingya refugees. Faced with a scarcity of land, lack of financial resources and inability to cope with this deluge of refugees, the government turned its back on this helpless minority.

The “dark-skinned” Rohingyas, who have some physical traits similar to Bangladeshis have always suffered abuse. The junta passed a law in 1982 that stripped them of their citizenship and made them unwelcome people with no place they can call home. They became the Roma of East Asia. The junta calls them “dogs, thieves, terrorists, and mulattos.” The official state newspaper, The Myanmar Alin, refers to the persecuted Muslims with derogatory names, such as “Kalar,” which means black. Recently, when Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in her European tour, was asked about the recent attacks on the Rohingyas that left dozens killed and thousands displaced, her answer was, “I don’t know.” Not a reassuring statement for the Rohingyas’ future.

The Muslim world bears a historic moral responsibility in choosing to ignore the continuous ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas. I am sure that the Arab states can afford a meager portion of the billions of dollars in their coffers to ease some of the hunger and thirst of these forgotten people.

Zerougui Abdelkader
Adjunct professor, Ph.D.
American University 

Source: Korean Times

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