People shout slogans in support of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma during a demonstration outside the United Nations’ offices in Sanaa, Yemen on Aug. 13, 2012. (PHOTO: Reuters)
The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) has appealed to world leaders at the UN General Assembly to put pressure on Burma’s President Thein Sein following his proposal that third countries accept Rohingya refugees.
The Burmese president is currently in New York attending the UN General Assembly. Ahead of a meeting between Thein Sein and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, the US announced it was lifting further sanctions on Burma due to the progress of reform under its new government.
In a letter to the UN on Wednesday, the BROUK president said, “We appeal to world leaders to put pressure on President Thein Sein to provide safety and security and to restore Rohingya ethnic rights and citizenship rights. We also appeal to world leaders to ensure strong wording in the UN General Assembly Resolution on Burma, including reform of the 1982 Citizenship Law, and the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry into what has taken place in Arakan State.”
Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law fails to recognize the 800,000-strong Rohingya community as one of the country’s ethnic groups. Many Burmese consider the Muslim group to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, though many have lived in the country for generations.
In June, violence erupted in western Burma between the Rohingyas and the majority Arakanese Buddhist community following the rape of a local Buddhist girl, allegedly by three Rohingya men, and the public lynching of 10 Muslim pilgrims.
A month of riots and violence followed, which left thousands homeless and at least 82 dead, according to government figures. Rohingya sources, however, put the number of dead in the high hundreds.
In its letter to the UN, the British NGO claims that despite a Burmese government inquiry into the crisis, “unacceptable restrictions still remain, and the government is also failing to provide sufficient security for aid workers assisting Rohingya who have been threatened.”
The group claims that during diplomatic visits to the region in the wake of the violence, Rohingya community leaders were detained by police beforehand to prevent them from speaking to the diplomats, and that members of their community are barred from participating in the government inquiry.
Rohingya sources say that Burmese security forces continue to harass and detain members of their community, and that border guards have insisted on payment in order for them to be allowed to build new camps in the Maungdaw area.
Many of the 3,000 Arakanese Buddhists who are currently living in makeshift shelters have also expressed a fear of returning to Maungdaw and other majority-Rohingya towns, saying they are afraid of further violence. Many say they have put their houses up for sale and will not return.
According to Amnesty International: “Rohingyas have been persecuted for decades in Burma. They have been killed, raped, falsely imprisoned and forced to leave their homes. There are over 100,000 people who are homeless and helpless.
“The Rohingya minority are being persecuted in their own country, and we are demanding that some action be taken to stop this ethnic cleansing. The United Nations has said that the Rohingya minority in Burma is considered one of the most persecuted in the world.”
Human Rights Watch released a statement in August alleging that Burma’s security forces are playing an underhand role in persecuting the Rohingyas in the wake of the violence. It quoted witnesses as saying that “government forces stood by while members from each community attacked the other, razing villages, and committing an unknown number of killings.”
In mid-August, following a mission to Arakan State, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) condemned “the continued recourse to violence by the Myanmar authorities against the members of this minority and their refusal to recognize their right to citizenship.
“The [OIC] summit has decided to bring this matter before the General Assembly of the United Nations,” it said in Mecca.
However, the Rohingya issue is not on any itinerary at the UN General Assembly this week.