Saturday,23 June, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)
Saturday,23 June, 2018
Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Saving the Rohingya

Statements of condemnation have been plentiful but there has been little concrete action from the Arab and Islamic worlds to support the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, writes Amany Maged


Saving the Rohingya
Saving the Rohingya

As news of massacres and other horrors perpetrated against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims dominates the media and social networking sites human rights activists around the world are asking how best to defend this persecuted minority.

UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Raad Al-Hussein said on Monday the violence and injustice faced by the Rohingya minority in Myanmar “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. UN human rights investigators have been barred from entry into Myanmar, the Associated Press reported.

Al-Hussein said the UN refugee agency had reported 270,000 people fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh in the last three weeks. He also pointed to satellite imagery and reports of “security forces and local militias burning Rohingya villages”.

“The Myanmar government should stop pretending the Rohingya are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages,” he told the latest UN Human Rights Council session.

The Rohingya crisis has decades-old roots. It was not until the middle of this year, however, that hundreds of photos and videos began to circulate across the Internet documenting the extent of the violence.

Al-Azhar released a lengthy statement in reaction to the horrors portrayed: “From Egypt, the heart of Arabism and Islam, and from Al-Azhar, we sound a resounding humanitarian cry demanding immediate action on the part of the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the EU, the UN and especially the Security Council. We appeal to decision-makers in Arab and Islamic nations to exert as much political and economic pressure as possible to bring the ruling authorities in Myanmar back to their senses and compel them to end this policy of racial and religious discrimination.”

 “Al-Azhar has not forgotten to express its sorrow at the contradictory stance taken by one who holds the Nobel Peace Prize in one hand while with the other blesses crimes that throw peace to the winds and void the word of all meaning.”

Crimes of this sort, said the grand imam, encourage the plague of terrorism and “Al-Azhar will not stand idly in the face of the savage abuses being inflicted on Rohingya Muslims.”

He described hesitant appeals by international and human rights organisations to save the Rohingya from the Burmese army and Myanmar authorities as a waste of time. “These international organisations would have taken a different stance — a strong and rapid response — if the victims were Jewish, Christian, Buddhist or affiliates of any other faith but Islam,” he said. He criticised religious leaders in Myanmar who “have totally undermined the efforts of Al-Azhar by allying with extremists from the national army as they perpetrate acts of genocide against Muslims”, and blamed the “death of the global conscience” for the brutality and inhumanity in Myanmar”. Conventions pledging to safeguard human rights have become “no more than ink on paper, a lie”.

In its statement Al-Azhar called on international organisations and human rights agencies to take all necessary measures to investigate these crimes against humanity and bring their perpetrators before the International Court of Justice.

The statement noted that earlier this year Al-Azhar had hosted in Cairo representatives of all faiths and ethnic groups in Myanmar as a first step towards reconciliation only to find its efforts undermined when some religious leaders in Myanmar allied with the army in its ethnic cleansing of Muslim citizens.

Al-Azhar’s statement was welcomed across the Islamic world. Many officials said it would work in favour of the persecuted Rohingya. Deputy Sheikh of Al-Azhar Abbas Shouman told the press that the statement would contribute to the growing pressure on Myanmar to halt the atrocities.

Al-Azhar, said Shouman, was ready to take serious steps to help end the crisis including resuming the reconciliation efforts it launched in January, and to work with others to devise a mechanism to ensure the displaced received assistance.

The OIC issued its own statement condemning the outrages, describing the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine (formerly Arakan) region in western Myanmar as “a gross violation of international law”. It urged the government of Myanmar “to take all necessary measures to halt the displacement and discriminatory practices against the Rohingya Muslims, eliminate the root causes of these injustices and guarantee that Rohingya refugees inside the country and abroad can return to their homes permanently”.

The statement called on Myanmar’s authorities to “revive an earlier agreement on the opening of an OIC bureau for humanitarian affairs in Yangon which would provide humanitarian assistance to all victims of violence in the country”.

Beyond the statements there has been no action from the Arab and Islamic world. In Southeast Asia, however, governments are coming under grassroots pressure to act to halt the crisis. Mass demonstrations have been staged in Indonesia to protest against the human rights violations and the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta was the target of a Molotov cocktail attack. The Maldives has severed commercial relations with Myanmar “until the government takes the measures necessary to deter the brutal attacks on Rohingya Muslims”, according to a Maldives Foreign Ministry statement.

Jihadist organisations are seeking to capitalise on the crisis. Al-Qaeda has called for retaliatory attacks against Myanmar. One of the group’s leaders, Khaled Bartarfi, exhorted Muslims in Myanmar to ready themselves for jihad and Muslims in Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and elsewhere to come to the aid of their brothers in Burma and furnish them with whatever supplies and equipment they need.

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