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Persecution of Rohingya must be put to an end

A Muslim man sits in a shelter in Rubber Garden refugee camp Times photographer Kaung Htet,

The National ‎-

29, 2013

Two years is a very
long time in politics. In 2011, when the military junta in Myanmar opened the
door to political and economic reform, there was a flurry of diplomatic
activity from around the world. The release from house arrest of opposition
leader Aung San Suu Kyi drew praise, and the transformation of General Thein
Sein from military hardman to civilian president brought promises of economical

By and large, western
and regional governments have kept up their end of the bargain. Sanctions have
been lifted and world leaders, including US president Barack Obama, have
visited a nation that was once a pariah. Just this month Thein Sein made a
friendly return visit to Washington.

But as the West has
lined up to welcome Myanmar in from the cold, it is in Myanmar where
politicians are failing to deliver.

A troubling surge in
ethnic violence, particularly against Muslim minorities, is raising doubts
about the many promises made by Myanmar’s leaders just two years ago. A new law
aimed at restricting Muslim births is particularly worrying.

Myanmar has 135
recognised ethnic groups, some of whom are in armed conflict with the central
authority. They all have more rights than the Muslim Rohingya people, who have
been denied citizenship on the grounds that they “belong” in
Bangladesh. This is despite evidence that the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar
for centuries.

They have suffered
serial persecution, including the rasing of villages and mass killings carried
out by Buddhist extremists and even monks, with the authorities turning a blind
eye. Now, the government has declared that Rohingya families in villages
bordering Bangladesh can have no more than two children. It is believed to be
the only such policy that targets a specific religious group.

On Monday, a cautious
Ms Suu Kyi noted that “if true”, such a move would be against the
law. “It is discriminatory and also violates human rights,” she said.
Buddhist leaders, however, have welcomed the regulation – which had also been
in place under the military dictatorship – because they fear a Muslim
population explosion.

Even amid such
disturbing mandates, the world’s economic interest in Myanmar has tied the
tongues of those looking to invest. The Americans, the Chinese, the Japanese
and others are all eyeing the potential economic opportunities that await, from
energy to rare earth minerals. But exploitation comes in many forms.

Last year, UN
investigators described the Rohingya as “the most oppressed people on
Earth”. Those who seek a stake in Myanmar’s prosperity must not contribute
to that oppression. They must speak out against any policy that denies people
the right to build a family and secure their own futures.