Rohingya genocide: Where is the world’s conscience?

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We have a right to ask about the so-called world conscience. Is there a real world conscience or is it one moves and aches in accordance with the instructions it receives from its masters?

If a world conscience does exist, it has proved that it is not fixed and that it handles issues, individuals and nations with different racial yardsticks. Anyone who observes the stances of various countries, especially world powers, exercising a strong influence in international politics will be aware of this fact. The best example is Myanmar, which has become a hotbed of human rights violations, ethnic cleansing and genocide, as well as the killing of men, raping of women and racial discrimination against the minority Rohingya Muslims. All these atrocities have more than enough potential to stir up even a dead conscience.

All the reports of the United Nations, the Human Rights Council, international human rights organizations as well as of renowned international figures are unanimous in their opinion that what is happening in Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims is ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The persecution perpetrated against this minority has not been limited to Buddhist extremists but has also been practiced by the army and security forces with the full support of the state and all its machinery. The persecution of the Myanmar authorities against the Muslim minority is not restricted to northern Rakhine state alone but also to all other regions of the country.

The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly have not explicitly condemned these human rights violations and crimes nor have they imposed sanctions against those who planned and carried out these crimes against humanity. The Security Council has only called for holding talks to resolve the issue without adopting any resolution or even a statement condemning the crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims, which has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people who survived the killing spree at the hands of Buddhist extremists and the security forces. The neighboring country of Bangladesh does not have the capability to accommodate such large numbers of refugees and provide them with the necessary food, drink and shelter.

The suffering of Rohingya Muslims is not a new issue. It appeared with the promulgation of the Nationality Law that deprived the Rohingya of their citizenship and treated them as illegal immigrants who came from neighboring Bangladesh to Rakhine state.

The Myanmar authorities began obliterating Islamic symbols and landmarks through the demolition of historical mosques and traditional homes and everything that proved that Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state or Arakan had lived in this region in the past. These people have been deprived of their identity and have had an apartheid system imposed upon them that denies them all of their legitimate rights, restricts their movement and levies on them arbitrary taxes. They are prevented from marrying without the permission of the authorities. They are also barred from having more than two children. These people have been so oppressed that some of them have tried to flee the country. Human traffickers seized this opportunity to offer to smuggle them to neighboring countries. Among these boat people, some reached their destination while others perished in the sea and others reached Thailand and other countries.

The large exodus came after the attack on police stations, which was attributed to groups of Rohingya, but which may have been an act on the part of the authorities so as to justify driving the remaining Rohingya Muslims out of the country. In Myanmar, the army and the security forces have carried out a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign, killing many Rohingya in cold blood, burning some to death, raping their women, burning entire villages, demolishing mosques and flattening them so as not to leave any remnants of their existence. As a result of this fierce attack by the army and the security forces, all the Rohingya people who had the ability to travel fled the country and large numbers of them reached Bangladesh.

This led to intensifying the global outcry and demand for action by the UN and the international community against the Myanmar government. There have also been calls for taking away the Nobel Peace Prize awarded earlier to Myanamr’s de facto ruler, Aung San Suu Kyi, since crimes against Rohingya Muslims have been committed under her leadership. These developments forced her to break her silence on the issue, as she blamed the international community for blowing the Rohingya issue out of proportion. She also denied that there has been any ethnic cleansing. However, she did not explain why hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been forced to leave their homes and property and flee to Bangladesh, but she expressed her willingness to entertain those who wished to return.

But the question is: Who would agree to return to death? Rohingya Muslims have refused to go back to Myanmar under the present circumstances even though they have the right to do so. Their return must be under the auspices of the United Nations, which must ensure their adequate protection and guarantee that they can return to their villages and homes and be treated as citizens who enjoy the full rights of citizenship.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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