By Rutvi Saxena
The misery of Rohingyas seems to have no end. Often called the “world’s most persecuted minority”, they are a minority Muslim group in the Buddhist-dominated state of Myanmar. Nearly all of them inhabit the western coastal state of Rakhine and are not recognised by the government as citizens. Although they insist on being native to Myanmar, they are seen as immigrant ‘Bengalis’ by many in the country.
A long-running battle of hatred
The first deadly clashes can be traced back to the 2012 riots, but the August 25 attacks have brought the enmity to a fever pitch between the two communities. The militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for the attacks on security posts in Northern Rakhine in August, which prompted counter-insurgency operations by the State. Since then, over 600,00 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh to avoid persecution, with many paying smugglers to reach Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia on boats. The state’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi garnered worldwide criticism, with her statues and paintings being removed from a number of colleges. The UN has called the crisis a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Suu Kyi on the crisis
Aung San Suu Kyi made her first visit to Rakhine, accompanied by about 20 military and state officials. It was a one-day trip to Sittwe (the capital of Rakhine), Maungdaw and Buthidaung, the three centres of intense violence in the state. Suu Kyi also visited the religious leaders and met the locals as well. A religious leader who was present, Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project monitoring group, said about Suu Kyi, “She only said three things to the people – they should live peacefully, the government is there to help them, and they should not quarrel among each other.”
On September 19, in a public address, Suu Kyi carefully condemned human rights violations without using the term ‘Rohingyas.’ “It is not the intention of the Myanmar government to apportion blame or to abnegate responsibility. We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” she said. “The security forces have been instructed to adhere strictly to the code of conduct in carrying out security operations, to exercise all due restraint, and to take full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians.” These
were received with scepticism by the international public, with reports of widespread destruction and violence continuing to make rounds. Referring to the mass exodus of Rohingyas, she also went on to say,“Why is this still happening?”. “Since 5 September, there have been no armed clashes and there have been no clearance operations,” she claimed, even as her own office reported on its Facebook page that clearance operations had been carried out since then. The 30-minute long speech, delivered in English in order to communicate to the international community, failed to quell criticism.
UN demands ‘unfettered access’
On Friday, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General in a press statement at the headquarters in New York, said, “We insist on the need to make sure, not only that all violence against this population stops, but also we need to insist on unhindered humanitarian access to all areas of Rakhine State, including the northern part of this region.” He also spoke about their right to return which was being threatened. “We insist on the need to reassert the right of return – safe and dignifying return, voluntary return – for all the population that fled to Bangladesh and to the areas of origin – not to be placed in camps, not having access to the places where they left.”
The UN has long condemned Myanmar for its humanitarian crisis and their refusal to allow journalist access for reporting. This statement is along the lines of the United Nations Security Council’s presidential statement demanding an end to this bloodshed. It echoed the concerns in Guterres’ speech, asking the state to focus on the underlying reasons for the conflict. While the UN continues to mount pressure, western countries have initiated their responses to the crisis. The UK announced it was cutting off 300,000 pounds in aid to the Myanmar military. US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, will be meeting with senior Myanmar officials and has mentioned imposing sanctions as a serious consideration. China, which has major economic ties with Myanmar, has maintained a non-interventionist statement, saying that interfering in the conflict would worsen the situation.
The Military continues to control key ministries in Myanmar and wields considerable power. A constitutional clause allows them to take the power back from the State Counsellor (Suu Kyi’s official post). Sean Turnell, an economic advisor to the state counsellor was quoted as saying, “Myanmar’s transition is much more fragile than people assume, and the government’s freedom to move much narrower than supposed as a consequence.” It is believed that the Democrats in Myanmar fear being overthrown by the army.
Perception of conflict within the country and outside it is drastically different Suu Kyi, who believes dialogue and negotiation is the way to the solution, is being pulled apart by pressure on both sides. She is being distanced from her former allies and the Rohingya Crisis is said to be pushing Suu Kyi and military generals closer. The countrymen who harboured democratic aspirations for so long fear authoritarian rule and international isolation once again. There are different forces at work that could shape the future of the Rohingyas and the Rakhnies, but the common goal is peace-it is only a question of whose common good will prevail.
Featured Image Source: DFID – UK Department for International Development via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA