Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have been fleeing the attacks on their villages and the burning of their homes, crossing mountains and jungles in the rain on foot to escape the slaughter of their kind by the Myanmar armed forces. As many as 3,000 Rohingya people have been killed, according to some reports. When survivors – now numbering 370,000 men, children and women, some pregnant and all hungry and thirsty – reach the border of Bangladesh, they often step on landmines and their legs are blown off, eyes gouged out and arms mangled. Video footages from the hospitals in Bangladesh show shocking evidence of cruel atrocities committed against innocent women, children and civilians.
Those who make it across the border have nowhere to go. They clear a patch of ground on a hillside and with hundreds of others they stake it out, spreading a plastic sheet that turns into a resting place. Those who have money may have bought more plastic sheets to use as a tent to shelter them from the rain. It’s all a picture of human misery; these people don’t even have food or water except what the generous local Bangladeshis give them. Thankfully, some international aid organizations come to help, their visits welcomed with wide-eyed delight by children peeking out of their plastic shelters as they are lashed down by the rain.
The Burmese, the vast majority of whom are Buddhist, do not recognize these Muslim ethnic people as citizens of Myanmar and have persecuted them for many years. Killings and burning of houses and villages are nothing unusual for them. Video footages released in recent months show them being beaten, tortured and abused by the Myanmar police. Their abuse and persecution have given rise to a resistance movement by some of the Rohingya who have lost everything and whose families have been killed. Poorly armed, they have staged attacks on police outposts and the military, sparking savage retribution by the Buddhist youth on the Rohingya villages to drive them out and force them to flee or be killed.
The United Nations representative dealing with refugees said it is a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. The UN Security Council is set to discuss the issue this week and will issue a resolution that is likely to criticize Myanmar.
The Myanmar government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was persecuted herself and held under house arrest for 15 years by the military government as she stood for human rights and democracy in Myanmar, has remained silent amid this military action against the Rohingya. As a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, she has been admired and praised by millions for her stand against the military government that had ruled Myanmar for decades until her party was elected. But she has been severely criticized for her inability to speak out for the Rohingya and help them. She was once a great defender of the oppressed. In her acceptance speech receiving the peace prize after 20 years, she said in part:
“To be parted from those one loves and to be forced to live in propinquity with those one does not love,” she continued: “I thought of prisoners and refugees, of migrant workers and victims of human trafficking, of that great mass of the uprooted of the Earth who have been torn away from their homes, parted from families and friends, forced to live out their lives among strangers who are not always welcoming.”
We can understand her fragile hold on power where the military still have huge influence. For her to go against them and against the popular national and religions sentiment that is dead and racially set against the Rohingya would be political suicide for her and her party. An angry resentment from the nationalist majority against her would surely rise up and demand she resign. Then the military would find that as a good excuse to sweep away all the democratic gains made and resume totalitarian power. This is possibly the reason for her silence. All the gains won over 30 years would be swept away if she stood on the side of the Rohingya.
The loss would be too great and what change would her voice make when there is fanatical hatred of the Rohingya among the extremist Buddhists to expel them? This extremely embarrassing and difficult situation is likely to be the reason she will not attend the United Nations meeting. She is internally hurting and suffering from having to ride along with this nationalist sentiment. And sadly, she will be rethinking her own words she wrote in a famous book Freedom From Fear, where she said: “It is not power that corrupts but fear, fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it.” Has she become morally corrupt by ignoring the grave injustices suffered by the Rohingya? I don’t think so. She has to survive the military and going against them will be her total downfall.
What we can all do is share this article with your representatives in Parliament or Congress and demand that they stand with the Rohingya and send aid and support for them. The politicians must be persuaded to raise their voices and work out a political solution through the UN, whereby the Rohingya will be recognized as citizens and they be given their full human rights and repatriation in peace with compensation.