Where are the sanctions against Myanmar?

Source: Aijaz Zaka Syed | By I.G. Bhatkali | Published on 26th September 2017, 9:10 PM | Global News | Special Report |

BY announcing a token aid of $32 million to the Rohingya refugees, the US has at last acknowledged the deepening humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar. Given the overwhelming nature of the crisis, this is like a drop in the ocean. Yet something is better than nothing.

The US is not alone. Some other countries have also come forward to share some of the economic burden, especially of hosting nearly half a million Rohingya refugees who have flooded into Bangladesh from Myanmar. Welcome as these gestures are, they are hardly enough. The Rohingya do not just need our pity and money. Facing genocide and wrath of the Burmese state, they need full support of the international community.

As the UN and rights agencies have repeatedly warned in recent weeks with irrefutable photographic evidence, the Rohingya have been the victims of war crimes, genocide and “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” at the hands of the military and Buddhist extremists, not to mention the callous indifference of the government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Thousands have perished in the military offensive unleashed against an impoverished and defenseless civilian population. Satellite images released by rights groups establish beyond doubt that half of the Rohingya villages have already been wiped off Myanmar’s map. Literally!

This blood is on our hands. The world community has the blood of innocents on its hands. We are all guilty. It is our indifference and apathy that has killed thousands of defenseless men, women and children in Myanmar. Over the past few years, much of the civilized world has just stood around, allowing the Myanmar security forces and Buddhist extremists to brazenly carry out this silent genocide of the world’s most persecuted religious minority in full view of the world.

Myanmar’s predominantly Muslim Rakhine province has been simmering for the past many years, especially since 2012. The recurring Buddhist violence forced thousands of Rohingyas into temporary shelters where they have been cooped up for years. Rights groups and activists working in the region have been warning of the coming catastrophe. Yet the world community with its fine institutions paid no attention and did little to prevent the extermination of a whole community.

The world learned no lessons from the years of carnage and ethnic cleansing of Balkan Muslims in Europe in the 1990s nor from the catastrophe of the Rwandan genocide in Africa that killed more than a million people.

All our solemn “never again” promises to not let the past repeat itself have turned out to be empty rhetoric, again and again.

In the case of Myanmar, the world powers began issuing their perfunctory, toothless denunciations after those horrific, searing images of human suffering and utter helplessness began increasingly crowding their television screens and newspaper front pages. But nothing more.

There is no talk of international sanctions against Myanmar. No threat of use of force by the ever watchful world powers salivating over the massive economic and investment potential offered by the country. Not even a two-line UN resolution condemning the junta and its coldblooded, icy queen of democracy.

And why should there be? When was the last time the world powers acted on their own to save a people facing extinction? Global powers act only when their geopolitical interests or those of their lackeys are threatened.

Besides, why should the world care when the issue does not seem to figure high on the agenda of the Islamic world either. How many countries have demanded action against Myanmar in the UN or even registered a diplomatic protest against the country? Except for some notable exceptions, much of the Ummah seems blissfully unaware of even the existence of the Rohingya Muslims.

Fewer still know that the Rohingya Muslims are not only the indigenous people with centuries of history in the region, the predominantly Muslim Rakhine region had indeed been part of the erstwhile Muslim Kingdom of Arakan.

As distinguished scholar and author Prof Akbar S. Ahmed writes this week, at the heart of every genocide lies a great theft. The Burmese kingdom attacked and acceded the Kingdom of Arakan by force in 1785, forcing the Rohingya Muslims, its original inhabitants, into slave labor and worst kind of tyranny: “Following the rise and fall of British colonialism in the region and the establishment of military rule following a 1962 coup, the politics of "Burmanization" was put into practice. The Rohingya were officially excluded from Myanmar upon the ratification of the 1974 constitution, which named 135 indigenous ethnic groups, but not the Rohingya. The military launched campaigns against them based on what they called the "four cuts" strategy, which denied them land, food, shelter, and security. Their mosques were destroyed, lands seized, women raped, and torture was common. The aim was to terrorize the Rohingya into fleeing the land. As many as 250,000 fled into Bangladesh as a result of that early campaign, a stark example of planned and coordinated ethnic cleansing.

“The Rohingya were officially banned from ever becoming citizens in 1982. In the early 1990s, the NaSaKa border security force formed and subjugated the Rohingya of Rakhine State to slave labor to build villages and infrastructure for Buddhist settlers on Rohingya land. The Rohingya were barred from military and civil service, business ownership, the obtaining of loans, or building or repairing mosques or madrassas. They are even required to obtain travel permits to visit neighboring villages, let alone leave Rakhine State.”

Today, the Rohingya have not only been declared ‘stateless’ and ‘illegal’ in their own land — just like the Palestinians — they are being driven out of existence. Given this history, it is highly unlikely that the Myanmar military and its puppet regime would allow the Rohingya to peacefully exist in the land of their ancestors.

Under the circumstances, the world community has no option but to intervene in Myanmar and push for an East Timor like solution under the watch of the UN and international observers, so the Rohingya can live in their own land and country with dignity and full rights as citizens. Of course, it is easier said than done and calls for a long and arduous struggle. But that may be the only way to return the Rohingya refugees to their land and their homes.

What is urgently needed right now though is for the Muslim countries to speak in one voice and use all their clout and resources to immediately stop the carnage in the Rakhine province. They must demand the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces on the lines of the Balkans to prevent the total elimination of the Rohingya population.

It is past time the world started piling pressure on Myanmar’s generals and its politicians with democratic pretentions. Each one of us needs to speak out more forcefully and do everything possible to stop the carnage in the Buddhist paradise. Mass slaughter of innocents in this age and day is not only shameful and unacceptable, it must be made unthinkable for its perpetrators. They must be made to pay for their crimes against humanity.

— Writer of this article, Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and former Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times

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