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Rohingya — The forgotten genocide of our time

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11th-Jan-2019       
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Leila Yasmine Khan and Daud Khan :
The Rohingya are a minority community living in Rakhine State in Myanmar. The Muslim Rohingya are considered intruders into Buddhist Myanmar - illegal immigrants from bordering Bangladesh. They have been always discriminated against, looked down upon, ostracized, and denied any civil and judicial rights.
In August of 2017, a small group of Rohingya militants launched an attack against local police forces. This incident triggered the worst ever reaction against the Rohingya in which the local non-Rohingya population, Buddhist monks and the local police participated.
The official security forces then took over and undertook mass killings, abuses and abductions. Most of the Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh where about 900,000 refugees now live in camps where they receive essential assistance and basic medical care.  Efforts are being made to negotiate their return to Myanmar but these appear to have little chance of success.
The violence towards the Rohingya, and their displacement from their homes and villages, is likely to wipe out their traditions, culture and lifestyle as well as their mental and cultural constructs. This combination of physical and psychological violence is likely to lead to the elimination of the Rohingya's identity.
These acts against the Rohingya constitute genocide as set out in the Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide passed by the United Nations in 1948 - which define genocide as actions taken to "destroy, in whole and in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". The violence towards the Rohingya, and their displacement from their homes and villages, is likely to wipe out their traditions, culture and lifestyle as well as their mental and cultural constructs. This combination of physical and psychological violence is likely to lead to the elimination of the Rohingya's identity.
The Rohingya crisis has been subject to attention at international level; the international press has given the matter considerable coverage; and the UN Human Rights Council has recommended that the commanders responsible for the violence be brought to trial. However, much more needs to be done given the number of people affected, the fact that the Rohingya, always a poor and vulnerable group, are being pushed into inhuman suffering; and that the brunt of refugee burden is being borne by a single country (Bangladesh).
Logistic and financial help is needed to address immediate needs, and political and diplomatic pressure is needed to help the Rohingya to return to their homes and to bring to justice those responsible for criminal acts. This relative lack of attention reflects different factors in developed and developing countries. The rich countries, particularly the USA and European countries, are currently grappling with their own immigration and refugee crisis which largely emanates from problems in the Middle East, Africa and Central America.
Among the increasingly sovereignist governments in many countries, there is a limited appetite for addressing crisis that do not directly affect their economic or social interests. Another possible factor is that the Rohingya crisis, which involves Buddhists as oppressors and Muslims as victims, does not fit well with the current dominant narrative where Muslim fundamentalists are the root cause of terror and violence in the world and provide the political justification for repressive laws and large spending on security and on the military.
Given the lack of interest by the developed world, much responsibility falls on developing countries, especially large neighbors such as China, India, Pakistan and Thailand. These countries should be helping Bangladesh cope with the economic burden of dealing with the refugees and pressurizing Myanmar to take back the Rohingya, grant them civil rights and bring press charges against those that have committed crimes and atrocities. However, little is being done and this reflects a misguided sense of solidarity among developing countries which results in a reluctance to criticize each other on human rights matters. This is unfortunate.
Bangladesh and its neighbors have experienced rapid economic growth that has raised average incomes and reduced poverty.  However, development is about much more than just increased economic wellbeing. It is also about upholding values, allowing citizens to lead dignified lives free from arbitrary violence, and having access to speedy and reliable justice systems.  This needs to be done domestically and internationally. Some progress has been made on the domestic front. In India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the judiciary has taken the lead in establishing religious, personal or political rights. Recently high profile judgements by Supreme Courts in these countries include the case of Asia Bibi - a Christian lady accused of blasphemy in Pakistan where the Supreme Court threw out the baseless allegations against her; the ruling by the Supreme Court in India that stated that discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation was against the Constitution and those that felt discrimination could seek redress from a court of law; and the ruling by the Supreme Court in Sri Lanka against the recent constitutional coup and the dissolving of parliament.
In other countries, such as China and Viet Nam, social media activists are taking the lead on rights and justice issues addressing issues such as corruption, cronyism and human rights abuses. These steps are excellent and timely.  However, there is a moral void in the global system with the traditional upholders of the rule-based international order - particularly northern Europe and the USA- taking a less proactive role. The most glaring recent example relates to the limited political and economic fallout of the Kashoggi murder. As developing countries, especially in Asia, account for an increasing share of global GDP, they should also take up an increasing share of the task of creating a better and more just world.
Given the nature of what needs to be done, NGOs, social media or the national judicial systems which have played a critical role in the domestic sphere, cannot take the lead. The responsibility for this falls squarely on the shoulders of Governments - they must not fail.
(Leila Yasmine Khan is an intendent writer and writer based in the Netherlands.  Daud Khan has more than 30 years of experience on development issues with various national and international organizations).

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