April 18, 2013
On Sunday, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) asked the government of Myanmar to grant entry to a fact-finding ministerial delegation to look into the horrible violence against Muslims. Whether such a visit will serve any useful purpose remains to be seen as long as the government looks the other way or tacitly backs atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims and Muslims of other stock. In fact, the current violence is not a new phenomenon. In the 1990s too, the Rohingyas were subjected to a lot of persecution and hundreds of thousands fled to Bangladesh. Voices were raised around the world in their support. The OIC and the Gulf Arab also joined the chorus. But the effect of the hue and cry was minimal and now years later, the situation has grown worse.
The plight of the Rohingyas and Muslims in other parts of Myanmar is worse than before, mainly due to the indifference of successive military governments. It seems like the government does not want the Rohingyas, numbering about 800,000 in the western Rakhine state, to stay on in the country. That they have not been given citizenship is widely known and there is no move either to make them an integral part of the country. The recent violence has alienated them further. Close to 200 have been killed and a lot of their property destroyed. In the central town of Meikhtila, recent violence claimed more than 40 lives. A lot of Muslim property, including mosques, was destroyed. Despite the anti-Muslim violence, many of those arrested have been Muslims. And this shows the open anti-Muslim stand of the government of President Thein Sein. Even Nobel Peace Prize winner and pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi is silent and giving the impression that she is silently backing the majority Buddhists whose vote she needs to win the presidential elections in 2015.
That few around in the world are really interested in the welfare of the Rohingyas is not in doubt. Some leaders and organisations have expressed concern. This is nothing but mere lip service. And if this indifference, which has been evident from the 1990s, continues their misery will increase. Even neighbouring countries, like Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand, hosting many refugees, do not seem to be giving any sort of genuine solace to these hapless people. Against such a background has come the OIC move. In fact, the Myanmar government must be pressured to accept the fact-finding team, which can also explore ways to provide help to the suffering Muslims. If no way is in sight, the only option would be to reimpose sanctions against Myanmar. And if this has to happen, the United States will have to take the lead once all attempts to make Thein Sein see reason fails.