By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
May 26, 2015
The United Nations recently described the Rohingya Muslims in the Arakan state of Myanmar as the “the world’s most persecuted minority.”
For several decades, these people have been subjected to murder, arson, displacement and deprivation. The Myanmar government is pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing against these people.
They have been deprived of their basic civilian, economic, political and human rights. The authorities have denied them their right to citizenship, and subsequently they were deprived of the right to education and healthcare.
There are restrictions on their free movement within the country and they are prevented from working to earn a livelihood or even from performing their religious rituals.
Restrictions have also been imposed on the maximum number of members each Rohingya family can have. The Rohingyas are being persecuted by Buddhist fanatics.
Moreover, such persecution is being carried out with the clandestine support of the government who treat them as illegal migrants who came from Bangladesh.
In fact, the Rohingya people have been living in Myanmar for hundreds of years. In the past, they had their own kingdoms in the Arakan region.
They were citizens of Myanmar until the country came under the control of military dictators a few decades ago. During military rule, Rohingya minorities were deprived of their citizenship under the Citizenship Law introduced in the early 1980s.
They were then subjected to all kinds of human rights violations at the hands of the Buddhist majority, especially extremist groups which commit atrocities with the clandestine support of the government.
The Rohingyas are being targeted deliberately with killing, looting, torching of homes, demolition of mosques and confiscation of property.
All of this persecution, injustice, and denial of rights has taken place with the knowledge of the United Nations, the European Union and United States as well as all international human rights organizations. All of these powers seem to be incapable of doing anything to save these hapless people.
With no end in sight to their sufferings, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya earlier fled to Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government made tented camps available to them and some Rohingya were integrated into Bangladesh society while others managed to obtain Bangladesh passport and reached Makkah.
The Rohingya community in Makkah is now in the hundreds of thousands. The government of Saudi Arabia has treated them fairly and has granted them residency permits (iqamas) free of charge to enable them to seek jobs and move within the Kingdom as legal residents.
Now, the government of Bangladesh has barred any further migration of Rohingya to that country, and it has started sending back boats carrying Rohingya migrants who flee persecution in their homeland.
As a result, many Rohingya set out on overcrowded and damaged boats heading for Thailand, the nearest country, seeking shelter.
However, they were forced to turn back and were stranded at sea without food and water for several days. Eventually, many died of hunger and thirst and there were reports that human traffickers buried bodies of many of these people in mass graves on the coast of Thailand.
Some of these poor people moved toward Malaysia and Indonesia. Initially, these countries were not ready to receive them; however, Indonesia recently declared its readiness to receive migrants at least for the time being.
It is evident that the solution to the problem of Rohingya Muslims is possible only by mounting pressure on the government of Myanmar to halt its ethnic cleansing policy and racial discrimination.
Myanmar must also give the Rohingya all of their rights, including the right to citizenship which they have been denied for decades.
The issue of Rohingya Muslims was discussed at the Islamic summit convened by the late King Abdullah in Makkah three years ago.
In the final communiqué, the summit strongly criticized the Myanmar government for the ethnic cleansing and atrocities committed against the Rohingya who are the citizens of that country.
Muslim leaders demanded that the Myanmar government stop the persecution of the Rohingya and protect them by restoring their legitimate rights.
The summit authorized the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to exert every effort to end the persecution. But, unfortunately, the pan-Islamic body failed to carry out the duties assigned to it by the summit.
The OIC confined its role to dispatching an envoy to Myanmar to tackle the issue and later called upon the Myanmar government to stop its discrimination against Rohingya Muslims and treat them fairly just like other citizens of the country.
The OIC has to shoulder a humanitarian and moral responsibility to convene another Islamic summit or at least a ministerial level conference to discuss the issue of Rohingya Muslims and to take a stern and serious position against the unfair treatment of the Myanmar government toward these people.
If the OIC’s efforts are unsuccessful, then the issue should be taken to the United Nations. It is a shame for anyone to remain silent about this gross violation of human rights.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org