How should Muslims respond to the Rohingya crisis?

Similar to the Rohingya crisis, the legitimate struggle of people of Kashmir and Palestine has been termed as militancy. Muslims need to see these crises from humanitarian lens rather a religio-theological framework

How should Muslims respond to the Rohingya crisis?

Rohingya are an ethnic group in Myanmar who have been stripped off their citizenship by a military government in 1982 when a law was passed revoking their right to travel, marry and acquire land. Out of 134 ethnic groups only the Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar. In 2014, they were excluded from the population census conducted after thirty years. 50 percent of Rohingya’s have been forced to leave Myanmar making them the world’s most persecuted minority. This stateless and impoverished community has been raped, murdered and abandoned and more than 270,000 Rohingya have crossed the border and entered Bangladesh. They have been victims of human rights violations, while the world has displayed criminal negligence.

Some Muslim states like Turkey have condemned the issue, but many are just offering lip service. Citizens in most Muslim countries are protesting against Myanmar and pressurising their governments to cut diplomatic ties with Myanmar. However, the only way to bring about change on the issue is by taking the case to the international community or an international tribunal.

Unfortunately, Muslims themselves do not have a good track records with human rights violations particularly with minority groups. Muslims have kept silent about human rights abuses in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and many other countries. But what needs to be highlighted is how the international institutional framework could be of value to raise this crisis and why Muslims have not availed this opportunity.

Underscoring the Rohingya’s pleas of support are militant groups like the militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) which is damaging the law and order situation.

Unfortunately, Muslims countries themselves do not have a good track record with human rights, particularly with regards to minority groups. Muslims have kept silent about human rights abuses in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and many other countries

Previously, the legitimate struggle of people of Kashmir and Palestine has been termed as militancy. Muslims need to see this crisis from humanitarian lens rather religio-theological framework.

All Muslim states are members of the United Nations so they have signed the UN charter. There are 111 articles which protect and respect sovereignty and integrity of all members and communities. It is the United Nations job to uphold international peace and security through its institutions like General Assembly and Security Council. But UN Secretary General Antonio Gutters claimed the organisation lacks resources to deal with the Rohingya crises. In this situation, Muslim states should call a special session of the UN General Assembly to deal with this crisis.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was signed in 1948 has been a milestone document for protecting human rights under the shadow of UN and Myanmar as members of it. While the UN accepts the failure to deal with this crisis its time Muslim states hold the International community and UN responsible of weaknesses of this institutional framework for not respecting Muslim lives in Myanmar. The UN accepts this state sponsored ethnic cleaning of Rohingya and the onus to protect them lies on the UN and its members. The international community invoked the universal declaration of human rights in 1948 when Muammar Gaddafi violated the basic rights of Libyans by using state force. Why cannot same international community and Muslim states in particular make Myanmar accountable for its human rights violations by speaking on the same forum.

The Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have a huge advantage for bringing change in this humanitarian crisis. So far, the response from both organisations has been mere condemnations. These multilateral forums need to use their influence for helping the people of Myanmar. The Arab League requested the Security Council to intervene in Syria when President Assad was violating human rights in his own country, and they should do so now as well. Perhaps there cannot be a moment better than this to pressurise the Security Council and international humanitarian bodies to influence the Myanmar government to grant Rohingya people their right to citizenship.

While writing this piece from Pakistan, it’s important to mention those who are raising Rohingya crises in Pakistan have been largely far right parties and groups. They have been engaged in Jihad directly or indirectly and if Rohingya humanitarian crises will be propagated by them it may get politicised because of their reputations. Jamat-ud-Dawa (JUD) is a banned organisation as government has banned it from collecting funds for social welfare from the society. Despite this it has been collecting 50,000 rupees for supporting each Rohingya family. Millions will be collected but no one knows how transparent the distribution of this money will be.

The Muslim world must know how international structures operate in this anarchic environment. So only by using institutional structures, the Muslim world can find remedies for its miseries. It must be clear to the masses because most of the time leadership and the masses find different solutions to issues. It is necessary to inform both the leaders and the public about international politics.


The writer is a strategic and political analyst. He teaches international politics in NUML Islamabad



Published in Daily Times, September 13th 2017.