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Rohingyas are not outsiders: Suu Kyi must fight barbarism

By Editorial Desk
22nd-Nov-2016       
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Rohingya crisis has sparked form an intense crackdown by the Burmese military in which dozens of people have been killed and at least 230 arrested. Rights Groups estimate the total death toll could be in the hundreds.

Rakhine State is home to a large population of Rohingya Muslims, a stateless ethnic minority that has faced discrimination and persecution for years. The Myanmar government's official position denies recognition of the term "Rohingya" and regards them as illegal Bengali migrants.

Throughout, many have looked to Myanmar's civilian government, and particularly Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to act as a check on the military.  The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory in elections late last year, ending two decades of brutal military rule

While analysts did not dispute that the military is leading operations in Rakhine, they expressed disappointment with the government's lack of action. While he was skeptical over how much power the civilian government had to influence military activity in Rakhine State, Anthony Ware, a Myanmar specialist at Australia's Deakin University, said Suu Kyi's silence was a "long term consistent trend."

There is also strong support among the country's Buddhist majority for anti-Rohingya actions and angry anti-Muslim rhetoric has become part of mainstream discourse in Myanmar, led by ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks. Muslims are perceived nationally, even by most of the ethnic minorities, as a threat to Buddhism and threat to national security.

Before and after the country's transition to democracy, the Burmese military has been accused of torture, rape, and the systematic abuse of child soldiers. Rights Groups have documented continued widespread abuses against ethnic minorities, particularly in Rakhine and Kachin States.

Essentially the military is carrying out a "clearance operation" against Muslims in the region, and international crimes may occur, as per statements of Human Rights Groups.  Rakhine State authorities were talking about a plan to demolish Muslim-owned properties prior to the October attacks. It would appear that strategy is in some ways being carried out in another context.

Whatever the situation on the ground, the world, and especially the hapless Rohingya, deserve more action from a Nobel Peace Laureate like Suu Kyi -- who is herself a victim of military action.

Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi  said previously that it will "take time" to address her country's ongoing humanitarian crisis and deflected charges that she has not done enough to speak out on behalf of Burma's persecuted Rohingya Muslims community. Ms Suu Kyi spoke to The Washington Post after six months in office last October, as fresh violence threatened to derail the country's peace process.

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and dedicated critic of the former military government came to power at a time when she must deal with a worsening humanitarian conflict that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. But her civilian government must find ways to work with the still powerful military and take steps to rejuvenate an economy that faltered during decades of brutal military rule. Burma remains one of the poorest countries in Asia.

In August, Ms Suu Kyi appointed former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to look into the situation with the Rohingya. More than 1 million Rohingya Muslims live in Burma, but they are considered stateless and have long been denied basic rights. More than 120,000 are still living in fetid camps in Rakhine State after violent clashes with their Buddhist neighbours in 2012. They have little access to health care and 30,000 of their children do not have proper schools, according to a UN report in June.

The report cited a "pattern of gross human rights violations" against the Rohingya, acts that it said could rise to the level of "crimes against humanity" in a court of law. The government restarted a process of citizenship verification for the Rohingya in June but many of the Rohingya refused to participate, Ms Suu Kyi said. Human Rights Activists say they were suspicious that some kind of new card would mean a further erosion of their rights.

While it is true that the situation in Rakhine State is due to a decades old legacy of problems and thus no one can expect it to be solved overnight, it is equally true that Suu Kyi is not taking a strong position to address the issue. She must not forget that she won the Nobel Prize for Peace and she got it for her own suffering for the cause of the people's rights that did not exclude Rohingyas of Myanmar. Besides, killing innocent people just because a legal issue needs to be solved is barbarism. There is no denying the fact that Muslims were living in Myanmar for ages. They were born there. They cannot be considered outsiders. The world cannot tolerate barbarism, just because Muslims are butchered. 

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