Friday, 2 December 2016

Deafening silence on Rohingya

Being the recipient of the Nobel peace prize doesn't automatically confer great humanitarian status on an individual - after all a certain Henry Kissinger received the award shortly after overseeing the carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos over Christmas 1972. But bizarre aberrations like Kissinger aside recent winners of this prestigious award make a pretty impressive roll call. In the last quarter of a century winners have included the teenager Malala Yousafzi, the East Timorese independence campaigner Jose Manuel Horta, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

Another winner in that time was the Burmese democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi. Subject to house arrest by the Myanmar (Burma) authorities for 15 years Suu Kyi became an international symbol for non violent struggle against a dictatorial regime. And in recent years the democracy movement she led has swept to power with Suu Kyi herself elected to the countries parliament, and she is now the countries de facto prime minister.

As well as the emergence of Suu Kyi Myanmar has also been in the news in recent years for less positive reasons however - namely frequent murderous attacks on Myanmar's Muslim population by the Myanmar police, army and Buddhist gangs.There are around one million Rohingya in Myanmar and they have lived there for generations. However Myanmar's largely buddhist population still views the Rohingyas as 'foreigners' from Bangladesh - but Bangladesh doesnt recognise the Rohingya as its people either! And alas their terrible plight has generally goes unnoticed by the world at large.

It means that - like the Kurds, the Tamils and until recently the Palestinians - the Rohingya have fallen into that grim category known as 'stateless people'. People who's identity isn't recognised where they live and who arent recognised internationally either and for whom violent persecution is the norm.

In recent years Buddhist attacks on Rohingya villages have become frequent. Tens of thousands of have been murdered, raped and driven from their homes prompting a UN representative to accuse the Myanmar authorities of ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Rohngya have drowned in capsized makeshift boats desperately trying to flee these attacks.Indeed so dire has life in Myanmar become for the Rohingya that some have accused its government of perpetrating genocide.

You would have thought then that a prominent human rights campaigner like Suu Kyi would have been quick to call a halt to the atrocities taking place in her country and condemned those carrying them out? Not a bit of it! Aside from a vague statement calling for 'dialogue on all sides' she has remained silent on the issue and repeatedly refused to condemn the attacks - even ignoring a plea from the Dalai Lama to do so. She even appeared to give encouragement to anti rohingya feeling by questioning whether they are Burmese at all.

Suu Kyi's supporters have tried to justify her refusal to condemn the persecution of the Rohingya on the grounds that she fears reprisals from Myanmar's military if she does so. But is that explanation credible? This is someone who after all openly defied the countries dictators for years no doubt putting her life in danger in the process. So it simply doesnt wash that she is now afraid to speak out on human rights abuses in her country.That wise old adage about some heroes having 'feet of clay' seems very apposite in Suu Kyi's case

I'd urge everyone reading this to raise the matter of the Rohingya's persecution with Myanmar's UK Ambassador

This website shows other ways we can help the Rohingya

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