For decades, the Rohingya population has been persecuted in Burma
(Mynamar) to such an extent that the UN calls them one of the most
persecuted minorities in the world. Doctors Without Borders calls
them among the most likely people to become extinct. There are
roughly 3 million Rohingyas left in the world. This calls for
serious, collective and urgent actions by world governments, media,
corporations, interfaith organizations, and individuals. None of us
can afford to remain silent any longer. Neighboring countries can
specially play a vital role in stopping this.
According to human rights organizations, every war crime –
genocide, rape, concentration camps, forced displacement of hundreds
of thousands of people – that the world witnessed in Bosnia 20
years ago has been committed against Rohingyas by the Burmese
government for 30 years. In the past four months, things have gotten
a lot worse in Burma.
Although Rohingyas have been living in Burma since the eighth
century, the Burmese government revoked their citizenship by passing
a Citizenship Law in 1982. In addition to claiming them as stateless,
the current law also controls their everyday business and personal
lives. They need the state’s permission to get married. In most cases
this permission is not granted for at least five years. They cannot
have more than two children. They cannot attend schools. They need
permission to move in and out of their own city. Their property has
been confiscated. After the riots earlier this year, thousands of
Rohingyas are being rounded up in temporary camps outside the cities.
Due to the systematic genocide by the Burmese military and
civilian governments, the Rohingya population is diminishing
dramatically. About 2 million have fled to the neighboring countries
of Bangladesh, Thailand and beyond. There are only 800,000 Rohingyas
left in Burma. According to the reports compiled by Human Rights
Watch, the current situation is horrific. They have found clear
evidence of the involvement of the Burmese government of President
Thein Sein in committing organized atrocities against the Rohingyas.
And yet, for the most part, the world has remained silent.
About 100,000 Rohingyas are currently in concentration camps.
Thousands of women and girls have been raped by security forces.
Villages are burnt. According to the UN Office of Humanitarian
Affairs, Rohingyas face deteriorating living conditions in the
temporary camps run by the government.. “Their condition is worse
than animals,” said Mohammad Nawsim, secretary of the Rohingya
Human Rights Association (RHRA) based in Bangkok. Those in the
refugee camps in the neighboring countries are living a miserable
life as well.
The Burmese government has denied access to international media
and human rights organizations, so the picture of what is happening
to the Rohingya is incomplete.
For the sake of humanity, justice, and the preservation of a
global moral consciousness, the world community must take serious
actions to stop the ongoing genocide against the Rohingya Muslims, as
well as other human rights violations in Burma. It’s upon us all to
save the most vulnerable, endangered Rohingya population. These are
stateless, homeless and voiceless people with no real leadership.
They have nobody but us to fight for them.
Burma Task Force – USA, a nationwide alliance of various
national and regional Muslim organizations, has launched a concrete
program with action items ranging from daily calls to governmental
leaders, to organized peaceful protests to raise awareness and to
demand justice for Burma’s persecuted populations. This is an
initiative of the organization Justice for All, which launched Bosnia
Task Force in the 1990s and played a crucial role in organizing
Americans to help stop genocide in Bosnia.
This alliance includes regional umbrella groups such as Majlis ash
shura of NY, CIOGC of Chicago, the councils from Detroit and Atlanta,
(working with councils from LA, Northern California, Houston etc )
and national organizations such as ISNA, CAIR. Individual chapters of
ICNA and Muslim civil and human rights groups also came together
along with Rohingya-American groups.
The BTF has been working on several levels. Its board members have
met OIC ambassador to the UN and secretary general in June as the new
wave of ethnic cleansing was raging. They have been educating Muslim
organizations by conference calls, Muslim community using booths at
ISNA, distributing brochures and posters. They have been using social
media including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube to engage online and
community as well. Rallies were organized all across the country and
in Canada raising awareness about the plight of Rohingya. Interfaith
alliances have also been built.
The task force recommends that the United States, other countries,
and the United Nations must keep pressing Burma to deliver peace and
justice to its people. The restoration of the citizenship of Rohingya
people must be demanded, as the Citizenship Law is in violation of
international laws. Although a couple of reminders have been given to
the President Thein Sein and to the opposition leader Aung San Suu
Kyi by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton, they are not enough. There should be a
concrete set of demands for the restoration of human rights, along
with serious consequences, including trade sanctions, in the absence
of the delivery of justice in a preset time frame.
The neighboring countries including India, Bangladesh, China,
Thailand must exert more pressure on Burma to halt this slow genocide
immediately. It has been long time overdue for the neighbors to
intervene directly, but it cannot be ignored anymore.
None of the above will be accomplished unless we, the people of
the world, ask our governments, media, and leadership to do what is
right. The task force asks all conscientious people to join us in
this cause for the sake of justice and humanity. More information is
available at BurmaMuslims.org.
Zerqa Abid is a community activist and an independent blogger
located in Columbus, OH. She is a board member of Burma Task Force
USA and currently serves as a co-chair of its Media Committee. She
can be reached atZerqa@burmamuslims.org.