Recent satellite imagery recorded at the end of last month paints a terrifying picture. Seven hundred buildings burned in just one village. We now know that this happened in Rakhine State, Myanmar. We also know that the name of the village is Chein Khar Li in Rathedaung Township. And that this was one of 17 sites razed. The combined devastation left at least 400 people dead across a five-day span. A gross human rights violation by any count.
Yet the regime in Rangoon is admitting nothing. It has accused Rohingya militants belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), along with Rohingya villagers, of setting their homes ablaze. These accusations followed a series of coordinated attacks launched by ARSA against dozens of government offices, police stations, checkpoints as well as an army base. It was the same story back last October when the regime made similar allegations about the burning down of Rohingya villages during a two-month spree of violence. However, it was unable to bring forward any evidence to support these claims, leading Human Rights Watch (HRW), along with other humanitarian organisations, determining that it was Myanmar security forces that had deliberately started those fires.
The OIC must shoulder the primary responsibility of finding a way out of this humanitarian catastrophe. And Pakistan, being in a position of relative influence at the Islamic Military Alliance, must ensure that the matter of Myanmar’s state-sponsored terrorism rests at the top of its agenda
The Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are the most persecuted Muslim minority group in the world. For centuries Rakhine State has been their home. Yet this community of some 1.1 million has never been recognised by the majority Buddhist Southeast Asian nation as one of its 135 official ethnic groups. The move or lack thereof, has meant that the Rohingya have never been granted nationality under the Citizenship Law 1982, which has long been viewed by the international community as discriminatory legislation.
Thus have the Rohingya been systematically rendered a stateless people. Despite Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) stipulating that everyone has the right to nationality. In addition, those without statehood are protected by the following: the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons as well as the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The latter proscribes that the stateless be treated in same the way as nationals of any given country. Meaning the right to education, housing, access to justice and healthcare, among other fundamental rights.
Yet the Rangoon regime has flouted all such humanitarian norms.
Indeed, the Rohingya have witnessed the deadliest outbreak of violence in the last five decades. This has left 120,000 internally displaced while hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries. According to UN estimates Southeast Asia is now home to some 420,000 Rohingya refugees, with a reported 270,000 making it out of Myanmar in two weeks alone at the end of August. Bangladesh is said to have taken in 87,000, with 10,000 stranded between the two countries. Malaysia has taken in 150,000.
Following the killing of nine border policeman back in October, the violence has escalated at an alarming and disproportionate rate, following a retributive military crackdown. In February of this year, the UN published a detailed report into the atrocities. It found that the regime’s troops most likely were behind the aforementioned human rights violations in Rakhine State that included extra judicial killing, rape and torture, including of those of women and children. Today, Rangoon has barred all international humanitarian organisations from delivering essential food, water and medicinal supplies to the thousands of Rohingya who are still trapped there. This has led to HRW, Amnesty International and others slamming the Myanmar government. Yet this hasn’t changed the latter’s mind about refusing the UN fact-finding mission access to the country. HRW has warned that unless and until this changes — the regime risks being bracketed alongside North Korea and Syria a pariah state.
Pakistan, for its part, has seen both political and religious parties holding solidarity rallies nationwide. Ordinary citizens have taken to social media to protest what is being called ethnic cleansing. Islamabad has strongly condemned Rangoon, while pledging humanitarian relief. Yet this is not enough. We must look towards the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in close coordination with the UN and other international bodies, to shoulder the primary responsibility of finding a way out of this humanitarian catastrophe. And Pakistan, being in a position of relative influence at the Islamic Military Alliance, must ensure that the matter of Myanmar’s state-sponsored terrorism rests at the top of its agenda. And if Rangoon fails to cooperate with the world community — the latter should not think twice about having it declared a pariah state.
The writer is an academic, and can be reached on Twitter @ARShykh
Published in Daily Times, September 13th 2017.