The issue of the suffering and persecution of the Rohingya in particular and the Muslims of Myanmar (Burma) in general has been a very long one.
In fact discrimination and persecution against Muslims in that country began in earnest ever since the military takeover in 1962. Over the past decade or so, it has become worse. We remember in the late 1980s even that violence against Muslims, the Rohingya included, became more and more pronounced.
There apparently is a hatred for Muslims in Myanmar and this seems to be also state-sanctioned. That is why extremist Buddhist mobs that have been ravaging the Rohingya especially the past four years have not been curtailed. In fact monks have been in the forefront of the violence against the Rohingya.
As religion is a very sensitive matter, any government worth its salt must as policy ensure that it is not misused, manipulated or utilized to further any religious, political or economic agenda. In fact the success of an administration is in large part measured by the ability and capability of the government to manage all ethnicities and religious communities under its watch in a successful manner – where every ethnic community and religious group can live side by side with another without unnecessary friction. The Myanmar regime and its predecessor Burma failed in the former and now are failing in the latter. We surely remember the years of conflict against the minority ethnic people in Burma among them the Karen and the Kachin. Since “reform” in the 2000s, and the ascendance of the “freedom and democracy” movement under the leadership of democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, the campaign against these ethnic minorities has drastically reduced and to a certain level democracy has been somewhat restored though a lot more needs to be done for Myanmar to return to full democracy.
So against the backdrop of the nature of the Myanmar regime, it is not surprising that persecution and oppression continues in that country. But the scale of the violence perpetrated against the Rohingya has been so extensive that even young children below the age of five have been hacked to death as documented by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Now what can the hapless Rohingya do except flee their own country, where even their citizenship rights have been snatched away.
And herein lies the root cause of the problem. Yes, neighbouring ASEAN countries must assist the waves of refugees landing at their shores – and not chase them away to sure death as was done just earlier this month by Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Thankfully Malaysia and Indonesia have started to accept them.
What is really the solution is to aim all “guns” against the Myanmar regime. It is this regime that is solely and fully responsible for the problem. Any nation that wants to be a part of the international and regional community – as in ASEAN – must be compelled to behave as one worthy of such membership. How could it be possible in this time and age where civil society is becoming more articulate, democracy flourishing everywhere and more so in ASEAN, and ethnic and religious divides being removed - despite some occasional extremist tendencies among some sections of society – that there could be a regime going against the clock?
Malaysia is the current chairman of ASEAN, and is also receiving the largest number refugees from Myanmar, and based on what we mentioned above, is in a position to resolve this issue with the other member nations.
Despite the fact that both the Myanmar regime and its Opposition under Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi are on the same side as far as the Rohingya are concerned, that is to see the forcible removal of this group from Myanmar, this should not deter concrete action on the part of the regional grouping.
Myanmar must be sanctioned for its non-cooperative and uncivilized behaviour. ASEAN should also move a motion at the UNSC to force this regime that has had a long record of human rights abuse to restore full citizenship to the Rohingya and immediately stop all forms of persecution of this minority failing which international sanctions be imposed upon the regime.
Will the chairman of ASEAN please stand up then?