The Rohingyas, the UN … and our world

Enayetullah Khan
Wednesday, October 4th, 2017
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More than half a million of them have come to Bangladesh, not out of choice, not with ill motives, but from a very basic need to save their lives and the lives of their families. They are the Rohingyas, people who have been described as the world’s fastest growing community of global refugees by none other than UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. They have made their way to Bangladesh through the porous frontiers between this country and Myanmar, across the River Naf and across the turbulent sea.

 

A good number of them, many of them children, have died on the way. Others have breathed their last on reaching the land that gives them shelter. These are the Rohingyas, Muslims who have lived in Myanmar, formerly Burma, for generations as citizens. And yet today the authorities in Naypyitaw consider them as foreigners, illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Bengalis who have no place in Myanmar. That is a travesty of history and those who run Myanmar today know it. The rest of the world remains aware of this historical truth. The authorities in Myanmar look the other way. Or bury their heads, ostrich-like, in the sand.

 

The UN Security Council has just had a meeting on the issue. Much was expected from it, hugely anticipated was a positive outcome. In the end, nothing happened. China and Beijing would not countenance the idea of a reprimand to be served on Myanmar, to let it know that it was committing a grave wrong against its own people. The one refreshing point of departure out of these otherwise pointless deliberations was the strong stand taken by the United States, whose representative minced no words in drawing attention to the human rights violations Myanmar has been engaged in, without contrition and without regret, in its state of Rakhaine.

 

The Rohingyas, in the eyes of the Myanmar authorities and their fanatical Buddhist supporters, do not exist. But if they do, they are no more than stateless people who do not deserve fair and humane treatment. And therefore is it right, in the view of the generals who continue to dominate politics in a country they seized way back in 1962, to send soldiers and other men armed with guns to burn their homes, destroy their villages and ruin their crops. Men have been tortured and killed, women have been raped, children have been shot. It is ethnic cleansing that has been at work, a cruel reminder of what the Nazis did to Jews in the 1930s and 1940s, of what the Serbs did to Bosnian Muslims in the 1990s.

 

As all this murder and mayhem goes on, Aung San Suu Kyi, once the world’s great hope in the struggle for democracy and decency not only in Myanmar but around the globe, prefers to stay silent. But when she chooses to speak, she does so in the language of the soldiers in whose company she putatively rules Myanmar today. That language is one of denial, of subterfuge. The Nobel laureate, once acclaimed by the world for her dedication to peace, is today in the ignoble position of being an individual whose reputation slips by the minute to increasingly lower levels.

 

It is a shame, for Myanmar, that in these days of post-modern politics it commits crimes and gets away with it. It is a bigger shame for the global community that it has been rendered impotent through its manifest failure to pressure the Myanmar authorities into acknowledging their sins and taking a path back to sanity.

 

The Rohingyas are people who deserve their place and their space and their rights in this world. To deny them these will push all of us into a crisis we cannot easily crawl out of. It will not just be Bangladesh that will be in deep trouble. An entire region and then a whole world could get drawn into a new cauldron of conflict.

 

Enayetullah Khan, Editor-in-Chief, UNB & Dhaka Courier

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