Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Beyond the Middle East: The Rohingya Genocide
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 1, 2015
“Nope, nope, nope,” was Australia’s Prime Minister,
Tony Abbott’s answer to the question whether his country will take
in any of the nearly 8,000 Rohingya refugees stranded at sea.
Abbott’s logic is
as pitiless as his decision to abandon the world’s most
persecuted minority in their darkest hour. “Don’t think that
getting on a leaky boat at the behest of a people smuggler is
going to do you or your family any good,” he said.
Abbott is hardly the main party in the ongoing suffering of
Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic group living in Myanmar, or Burma. The
whole Southeast Asian region is culpable. They have ignored the
plight of the Rohingya for years. While tens of thousands of
Rohingya are being ethnically cleansed, having their villages
torched, forced into concentration camps and some into slavery,
Burma is being celebrated by various western and Asian powers as a
success story of a military junta-turned democracy.
“After Myanmar moved from dictatorship toward democracy in 2011,
newfound freedoms of expression gave voice to Buddhist extremists
who spewed hatred against the religious minority and said Muslims
were taking over the country,” reported the Associated Press from
the Burmese capital, Yangon.
That “newfound freedom of
expression” has cost hundreds of people their lives, thousands
their properties, and “another 140,000 Rohingya were driven from
their homes and are now living under apartheid-like conditions in
crowded displacement camps”.
While one may accept that
freedom of expression sometimes invites hate speech, the idea that
Burma’s supposed democracy has resulted in the victimisation of
the Rohingya is as far from the truth as it gets. Their endless
suffering goes back decades and is considered one of the darkest
chapters in Southeast Asia’s modern history. When they were denied
citizenship in 1982 - despite the fact that it is believed that
they descended from Muslim traders who settled in Arakan and other
Burmese regions over 1,000 years ago - their persecution became
almost an official policy.
Even those who take to
the sea to escape hardship in Burma find the coveted salvation
hard to achieve. “In Myanmar, they are subjected to forced labor,
have no land rights, and are heavily restricted. In Bangladesh
many are also desperately poor, with no documents or job
And since many parties are interested in the
promotion of the illusion of the rising Burmese democracy - a rare
meeting point for the United States, China and ASEAN countries,
all seeking economic exploits - few governments care about the
Despite recent grandstanding by
Malaysia and Indonesia about the willingness to conditionally
host the surviving Rohingya who have been stranded at sea for many
days, the region as a whole has been “extremely unwelcoming,”
according to Chris Lewa of the Rohingya activist group Arakan
“Unlike European countries - who at least make
an effort to stop
North African migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean -
Myanmar's neighbors are reluctant to provide any assistance,” he
Sure, the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya may have
expose false democracy idols like Noble Peace Prize winner,
Aung San Suu Kyi - who has been shamelessly silent, if not even
complicit in the government racist and violent polices against the
Rohingya – but what good will that do?
The stories of
those who survive are as harrowing as those that die while
floating at sea, with no food or water, or, sometimes even a clear
destination. In a
documentary aired late last year, Aljazeera reported on some
of these stories.
“Muhibullah spent 17 days on a
smuggler's boat where he saw a man thrown overboard. On reaching
Thai shores, he was bundled into a truck and delivered to a jungle
camp packed with hundreds of refugees and armed men, where his
nightmare intensified. Bound to shafts of bamboo, he says he was
tortured for two months to extract a $2,000 ransom from his
“Despite the regular beatings, he felt worse for
women who were dragged into the bush and raped. Some were sold
into debt bondage, prostitution and forced marriage.”
Human rights groups report on such horror daily, but much of it
fails to make it to media coverage simply because the plight of
the Rohingya doesn’t constitute a “pressing matter”. Yes, human
rights only matter when they are tied into an issue of significant
political or economic weight.
Yet, somehow the
Rohingyas seep into our news occasionally as they did in June 2012
and later months, when Rakhine Buddists went into violent
rampages, burning villages and setting people ablaze under the
watchful eye of the Burmese police. Then Burma was being elevated
to a non-pariah state status, with the support and backing of the
US and European countries.
It is not easy to sell Burma
as a democracy while its people are hunted down like animals,
forced into deplorable camps, trapped between the army and the sea
where thousands have no other escape but “leaky boats” and the
Andaman Sea. Abbott might want to do some research before blaming
the Rohingyas for their own misery.
So far, the democracy
gambit is working, and many companies are now setting offices in
Yangon and preparing for massive profits. This is all while
hundreds of thousands of innocent children, women and men are
being caged like animals in their own country, stranded at sea, or
held for ransom in some neighbouring jungle.
countries must understand that good neighborly relations cannot
fully rely on trade, and that human rights violators must be held
accountable and punished for their crimes.
should be spared to help fleeing Rohingyas, and real international
pressure must be enforced so that Yangon abandons its infuriating
arrogance. Even if we are to accept that Rohingyas are not a
distinct minority -
as the Burmese government argues - that doesn’t justify the
unbearable persecution they have been enduring for years, and the
occasional acts of ethnic cleaning and genocide.
A minority or not, they are human, deserving of full
protection under national and international law.
one is not asking the
US and its allies for war or sanctions, the least one should
expect is that Burma must not be rewarded for its fraudulent
democracy as it brutalizes its minorities. Failure to do so should
compel civil society organizations to stage boycott campaigns of
companies that conduct business with the Burmese government.
As for Aung San Suu Kyi, her failure as a moral authority can
neither be understood nor forgiven. One thing is sure, she doesn’t
deserve her Noble Prize, for her current legacy is at complete
odds with the spirit of that award.
- Ramzy Baroud –
www.ramzybaroud.net - is
an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an
author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com.
He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of
Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s
Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).
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