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Remember the Rohingya

Publication Date : 19-06-2012


Now that information travels more freely in and out of the country, news coming out of Myanmar about the violent treatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group living in the Rakhine state on the border with Bangladesh, should disturb the conscience of those who love peace and freedom. Even more disturbing however is the silence of most of the world, including Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbors, in the face of clear human rights violations perpetrated by the state and its people against the ethnic group.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), through years of constructive engagements with the Myanmar junta, can take some credit for pushing the regime to take the path of democracy, albeit slowly. The release of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her election to parliament earlier this year have raised hopes that Myanmar is well on its way to ending its status as Southeast Asia’s pariah state.

But the gradual opening up of Myanmar also means that many challenges facing the ethnically-diverse nation are coming to the surface. One of these is the long-standing issue of the Rohingya. The conflict between the Muslims and the Buddhists in Rakhine is probably the most complex of all ethnic tensions, precisely because it involves the emotionally explosive issue of religion.

ASEAN should not stand idle in the face of the violence being perpetrated against the Rohingya people. Although the ASEAN Charter states that no neighbor has the right to meddle in another’s domestic affairs, ASEAN should nevertheless press the regime in the same way it has these past few years, to live up to the humanitarian values and principles enshrined in the Charter. Given her stature, Aung San Suu Kyi should take the lead.

As ASEAN governments take their time in responding to news about the Rohingya, Islamic civil society organizations in ASEAN, including Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, should break their silence and put pressure on their own governments. Indonesia has previously brokered peace between Muslim minorities in trouble with their governments in the Philippines and in Thailand. It should now add Myanmar to the list.


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