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Delayed justice

A Buddhist man brandishes a machete amid rising tensions in Sittwe, Burma. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

August 18, 2013

Nearly two years after the unprecedented violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, six Buddhists are about to be tried. The six are responsible for the lynching of 10 Muslim bus passengers that sparked the violence. Although the trials are being held a bit late in the day and is the result of a lot of international pressure, there is a degree of satisfaction that at least a few of the guilty are being punished at last. The fact, however, is that many more Buddhists are evading the law for the killing of Rohingyas. More than 200 Rohingyas were killed in the violence in the country’s western Rakhine state and about 50 in Meikhitila that led to thousands fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh and other nearby countries like Thailand. Even today, scores of Muslims are leaving Myanmar. 

The reasons for the continuing exodus are straight and simple: the persecution of Muslims is continuing. And this was stressed on Thursday by Roble Olhaye, Organisation of Islamic Countries chairman and Djibouti’s permanent representative to the United Nations. He also said that UN authorities in Myanmar had so far failed to end what he described as the genocide of Muslims. The onus now certainly is on the UN. In other words, the international community has to be proactive to force the government of President Thein Sein to end the violence. But that is not happening despite appeals from many quarters. The European Union has tightly embraced Myanmar. The United States too is mollycoddling Thein Sein. Neighbours like India are following the same obnoxious policy. All know that this new love for Myanmar is because of its huge mineral resources. Worse is the silence of Aung Saan Suu Kyi. In fact, Suu Kyi has referred only obliquely just once or twice to the violence against Muslims. This is shocking from a person regarded all over the world as a beacon of freedom and human rights, who fought relentlessly for her people against the country’s military dictators and spent years in detention.

Not many in the modern world have suffered so much as the Rohingyas. Without being given citizenship by the Myanmar government, they are a stateless people and have been subjected to persecution over the years. In the 1990s, as a result of a round of violence, thousands had fled to Bangladesh. Intervention by the international community brought some solace for them. Now, about the two decades later, a repeat of those dreadful days is happening. But this sad and at the same time horrible state of affairs cannot continue. The international community must pressure Thein Sein to respect the inalienable rights of the Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmar and bring all the Buddhists having blood on their hands to trail.