Speak for the Rohingyas: The Star Columnist

Myanmar ethnic Rohingya Muslims react during a protest condemning Myanmar's government violence on Rohingya people in Rakhine State, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Dec 4, 2016.
Myanmar ethnic Rohingya Muslims react during a protest condemning Myanmar's government violence on Rohingya people in Rakhine State, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Dec 4, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The trouble with Malaysians is this - many of us often see issues from a religious and racial prism.

So if Rohingyas are getting slaughtered, raped and forced to flee from their homes, it is a Muslim problem.

The only ones who should be getting hysterical are their fellow Muslims and if radical Buddhist monks are said to be involved in the mayhem, then it is plain social media propaganda - these are the exact words that some Buddhists have used to tell me off.

Many of us cannot handle facts well especially if they involve issues relating to our race, religion and community.

Some vocal non-Muslim groups and personalities, who are often quick at issuing press statements over the flimsiest of issues, seem to be indifferent towards the Rohingya issue. And it doesn't help that certain Muslim groups are busy holding protests because the Rohingyas are Muslims.

The reality is that this is essentially a human rights-humanitarian concern. We are talking about people being persecuted - not just Muslims being oppressed.

And those who have been hero worshipping Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, are now just as silent as the de facto leader and Myanmar foreign minister.

We have finally come to realise that she is just as another selfish politician, who is more concerned about being popular with the majority than the principled statesman we expected her to be.

She is not standing up for the oppressed Muslim minority and has refused to even address the genocide taking place in the northern Rakhine state in Myanmar.

She no longer deserves her international hero status. To put it bluntly, she's quite a disgrace. This is because her silence only means she is condoning the genocide in Myanmar. The Nobel Peace Prize award should be taken away from her.

The Queen Mary University, in a statement recently, rightly said "her claim that 'we have not tried to hide anything on Rakhine' is utterly disingenuous. Her statements can only be interpreted as denial - a familiar and integral strategy deployed by criminal states to deflect blame."

Hundreds of homes have been destroyed in multiple villages amid an ongoing crackdown by the Myanmar military following violence last month, according to the Human Rights Watch.

The authorities have reportedly claimed that the fires were set by local militant groups and have disputed HRW's account.

The Rakhine state is home to 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims, a stateless ethnic minority that has faced discrimination and persecution for years.

The Myanmar government's official position has always been to not recognise them as "Rohingya" but illegal Bengali migrants.

International observers have reportedly documented the systematic disenfranchisement and discrimination Rohingyas faced including government restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education and freedom of movement.

There are serious implications here. While Asean has often adopted a non-interference stance on domestic issues concerning member countries, this time, Myanmar has crossed the line of decency.

No member country of Asean should be allowed to violate basic human rights while we, as a fellow Asean member country, look the other way and say that it is not of our concern.

Are we supposed to turn a blind eye when mass murders, looting and rapes are taking place on a grand scale this very minute?

We are living in the 21st century and not some barbaric age, where slaughters are an accepted form of behaviour.

Thanks to modern technology involving satellites, the world is now able to track accurately what is taking place in Rakhine.

Clear images of villages being destroyed are now easily available as evidence to show the unimaginable destruction that is being systematically and mercilessly carried out.

We should seriously call for an emergency meeting of Asean to discuss this matter beyond the protests. That is simply because Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos may soon have to face a fresh round of refugees.

Refugees are unpopular, let's face it, in any country but we do not turn refugees away or send them back to the seas.

Myanmar may have carried out some degree of democracy but it must learn that human rights is very much a part of democracy. To respect human values is an integral part of a democratic country.

Myanmar has outraged the world and not just Asean - and we urgently need to engage with the superpowers that deal with the military junta, making it clear that they must stop what they are doing.

International pressure must continue and this has to come from countries like Thailand and China which Myanmar depends on.

Malaysia, together with other Asean members, must also state categorically that Myanmar leaders are not welcome here for the time being.

Suu Kyi, for example, had to call off a trip to Indonesia after protests there over her country's renewed crackdown on its Rohingya minority.

Let's stand up for the Rohingyas - not because they are Muslims but because they are people with families running away from state sponsored murderers, presumably acting in the name of race and religion.

It is sheer madness that such brutality in violation of human rights is happening now. It must not be allowed to continue.