A Helping Hand for Refugees

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What will election victory bring to the people of Rohingya?

New Straits Times - 14 November 2015

This column has frequently spoken of the drama of the people of Myanmar. It has many times described how in the wake of the clashes in 2012, Rohingya Muslims were exposed to genocide, abandoned on the high seas while trying to escape the country in rickety boats, had their Myanmar citizenship taken away and were deprived of their human rights. Those aware of the drama of the Rohingya Muslims will realize what the general election in Myanmar last week will mean to these people.

Myanmar has recently emerged from a junta regime lasting some 50 years. Although elections in 2010 in theory put an end to the military regime in question, the presence of a junta that backed the ruling party could still always be felt. Last week's elections, however, resulted in a major success for the NLD, under the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. However, that great success does not mean that the country is now fully democratic. While the people choose 75% of the deputies who will now enter parliament, the remaining 25% are appointed by the military. It therefore appears impossible for the leading party in Parliament to be able to get laws through Parliament or introduce reforms. It can be seen that every step toward renewal will be vetoed by the military.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a leader who in fact emerged victorious from the 1990 elections. Despite obtaining an 80% majority in Parliament, the junta refused to recognize the election results and sentenced Suu Kyi to house imprisonment. She spent 15 years imprisoned, until 2010.

Although the junta has now in theory come to an end, there are still worries that Suu Kyi's success will again be met by a coup. Although Thein Sein, who took over from the junta regime in 2010, says, "We must accept our voters' desire," many analysts still think that the military will hold Sein's moderate views responsible for this unexpected outcome and will make their displeasure felt.69

But what do these results mean for the people of Rohingya?

Let us go back to before the elections. Following the clashes that broke out in 2012 and ended in the deaths of hundreds of Rohingya people in the country, many Rohingya Muslims were forced from their homes and workplaces and taken into refugee camps. The Myanmar government prevented them from moving within the country and receiving services such as health and education. At the beginning of the year the government revoked their identity documents, alleging that the Muslim minority were not Myanmar citizens. The Rohingya Muslims were therefore unable to stand or vote on this year's November elections. As a result, for the first time, there are no Muslims in the Myanmar Parliament.

While the Rohingya people are pleased at the fall of the existing regime, they are also not entirely happy with Aung San Suu Kyi, of whom they had high hopes in the past. The main reason for this is the way that she avoided using the term "Rohingya" and refused to visit areas with Rohingya populations during the election campaign. It did not escape attention that she glossed over the subject whenever Rohingya was mentioned and described the question of minority rights as a 'sensitive issue' that should be treated 'very carefully.'70

The tragedy of the Rohingya Muslims, which has been ongoing for years, still persists. Leaving the coasts of Myanmar, only a few of the boats carrying the Rohingya Muslims can reach the coasts of the neighboring countries.

Many Rohingya criticize that as a policy adopted in order to avoid losing the Buddhist vote. Looking at the general condition in the country from the outside and as a whole, this political maneuver can be interpreted in different ways.

It is always hard in a country ruled by a junta to keep the balance and advocate the rights of those the junta does not want. In countries such as Myanmar, where the junta has in practice not come to an end and that have no qualms about resorting to violence and torture, the most rational course is always to avoid risky moves that might incite further upheaval or sparks. Had Suu Kyi emphasized the rights of the Rohingya people before the election, that would probably have elicited a reaction from the military. Bearing in mind the conditions in the country it should not be regarded as unreasonable that Suu Kyi should have adopted a different pre-election tactic.

The only way of confirming these criticisms or otherwise is the course that Suu Kyi follows from now on. Although her party lacks the strength to act outside the military constitution and thus to bring in serious reforms, she has now a greater capacity to prevent injustice and genocide in the country and to bring the subject to the attention of the international community. By following a sensible policy, Suu Kyi can bring the matter of genocide in Myanmar to the constant attention of the international community. In practical terms, international pressure can bring about a solution in Myanmar.

Let us also add that very little changed in the lives of the Rohingya people up to the election. The U.N. says that 370 Rohingya people drowned in the sea between January and June this year. According to Amnesty International, however, the true figure is very much higher. Witnesses state that dozens of boats have set out from the shore, but that only a few have reached Indonesia or Malaysia.7 In other words, the drama of the Rohingya people is still continuing beneath the radar.

We hope that this new period will be an auspicious one for the people of Rohingya, who have been persecuted, deprived of their human rights and subjected to genocide. We will also continue to pray and to speak for them in these pages.

Give relatives their due, and the poor and travelers. That is best for those who seek the pleasure of God. They are the ones who are successful.
(Surat Ar-Rum, 38)

 

Footnotes

69 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/09/myanmar-election-result-military-aung-san-suu-kyi-govern-analysis

70 http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/10/22/myanmar_rohingya_violence_ election_aung_san_suu_kyi/

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