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No direction home

  • Published at 06:03 pm November 26th, 2016
  • Last updated at 08:57 am November 27th, 2016
No direction home

Did the world really think Myanmar would change?

In spite of the much anticipated elections last year which saw Suu Kyi’s party come to power, Myanmar remains, in effect, a military regime that continues to rape, kill, and burn down the homes of the nation’s own Rohingya people.

What is going on is nothing if not genocide, and it is happening right under the watchful eye of Myanmar’s beacon of peace, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

As the world waits for Suu Kyi to say something, do something, she remains silent. In fact, she won’t even use the word “Rohingya.” Whether Suu Kyi is unwilling or unable to make a stand, it is clear that her moral high ground has long been compromised.

The Nobel peace prize itself has always been a bit misleading though. Barack Obama had won the prize for achieving nothing more than a very inspiring presidential campaign, a decision that gained the Nobel committee some flak. But Obama’s unworthiness was nothing compared to Suu Kyi’s complicity in the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.

Military rules

While Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is, in theory, the ruling party of Myanmar, the military retains a chokehold on the nation, controlling a number of things, from national security, to police, to the justice system. The NLD seems powerless to stop the military from committing human rights violations.

This does not let Suu Kyi off the hook. She has lacked the backbone to take a stand, possibly in fear of political repercussions. After a very long time, she is in a position of some actual power, and she would rather not risk it by angering the military.

Of course, Suu Kyi herself will never acknowledge this. She maintains a delicate balancing act of telling the world community that the NLD needs a bit of “space” to address the complicated issues of the country, thereby dancing around the issue of the crimes against humanity going on in her own turf.

But enough is enough. NLD can’t fix this problem. It is time for the world to get tough on Myanmar, and not take genocide for an answer.

The good neighbour

Recently, Dhaka summoned the Myanmar ambassador to talk about putting an end to the atrocities, but all that seems to have taken place is an exchange of hot air. Dhaka “conveyed” its message to Yangon.

Tell that to the people about to be killed.

Bangladesh may well be the only safe haven for many Rohingya feeling persecution.

However, we have had a complicated relationship to the Rohingya issue for quite some time. On the one hand, many Bangladeshis feel a natural sense of fraternity towards our dark-skinned, Muslim neighbours from across the border. Nonetheless, the long-standing refugee crisis at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border is one of immense logistical complexity, and one that most of our top public officials don’t have a clue about how to solve.

But right now, those are details.

What matters is that these refugees are fleeing death. They are coming to us because they have nowhere else to turn.

Never mind the fact that the plight of the Rohingya is not our fault, that it is all Myanmar’s doing. Let’s not hope to work out fully the logistics of how such a large refugee population will be contained in Bangladesh, and what the ramifications are, right away.

The Rohingya are at the door, and Bangladesh has a choice to make. After all, it is our moral choices that define who we are

The Rohingya are at the door, and Bangladesh has a choice to make. After all, it is our moral choices that define who we are.

If Bangladesh looks deep within itself, if we are being honest with ourselves, the answer is obvious: We must open up our borders.

Let’s not forget our own history. When Bangladesh was faced with genocide, India welcomed us, and took in some 10 million refugees. It is time for us to pay it forward. It won’t be easy, and it will strain our already overburdened resources. But the right thing to do is the right thing to do.

A global humanitarian problem

Ultimately, the Rohingya crisis is the whole world’s problem, and turning a blind eye to it makes us look bad as a species.

Why are the world’s powerful nations not coming forward? The United States and Australia have embraced refugees before -- why are they not coming to the aid of the Rohingya now?

The world needs to take a hard stance against Myanmar’s still-military government and its genocidal activities, and place economic sanctions if needed.

A good start is to stop pretending as though Myanmar is now a functional democracy, and that Suu Kyi will eventually do the right thing. If the world fails to act now, one day it will have to look back and wonder: How could we have idly stood by and let a whole population get wiped out?

Rakhine referendum?

A couple of years ago, an op-ed piece by Zeeshan Khan published in this very newspaper suggested that Rakhine state, 42% of which borders Bangladesh, be allowed to hold a referendum. After all, Myanmar does not acknowledge Rohingyas as rightful citizens, and kills them as though it is routine government business.

The why not let the Rohingya people decide if they want to secede from Myanmar? This would involve the districts of Sittwe and Muangdaw joining Bangladesh, and becoming part of the Chittagong division.

At the time of publication, the op-ed seemed like just a theoretical exercise, but protests soon broke out in Myanmar. Buddhist monks took to the streets.

Yangon summoned the Bangladeshi ambassador to ask if this was Bangladesh’s official position. The ambassador, who I doubt was a Dhaka Tribune reader, must have been a bit flummoxed about the whole thing.

The Myanmar government’s reaction was very telling. The country was, and still is, unfamiliar with the concept of a free press that raises human rights concerns independent of the actions of the government.

It is not surprising, then, that no one in Myanmar, not even the great Aung San Suu Kyi, is denouncing the shameful treatment of the Rohingya that is taking place right now.

But the rest of us cannot stay silent.

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.

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