By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
The Myanmar military commander recently justified crimes committed by his soldiers and officers, such as murder, the burning of houses and villages and driving Rohingya Muslims out of the country despite the fact that the entire world has agreed that this amounts to ethnic cleansing and genocide against that hapless minority.
The army chief’s justification is based on a false claim that those who committed these crimes are none other than Bengalis. He avoided even using the word “Rohingya”. If he ever visited the regions where these so-called Bengalis live, he would see proof that they have lived there for centuries.
It is not only the army chief who justifies these crimes in this way, but also the elected leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who denies the existence of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Suu Kyi tries to prove that she is right and the entire world is wrong.
The following is a letter from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who also received the Nobel Peace Prize. Suu Kyi lacks Tutu’s living conscience and his sense of responsibility toward humanity. Tutu speaks out against the crimes being perpetrated against this persecuted minority on racial grounds.
My Dear Aung San Suu Kyi
I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but I am breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya.
In my heart you are a dearly beloved younger sister. For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people. You symbolized righteousness. In 2010 we rejoiced at your freedom from house arrest, and in 2012 we celebrated your election as leader of the opposition.
Your emergence into public life allayed our concerns about violence being perpetrated against members of the Rohingya. But what some have called “ethnic cleansing” and others “a slow genocide” has persisted – and recently accelerated. The images we are seeing of the suffering of the Rohingya fill us with pain and dread.
We know that you know that human beings may look and worship differently – and some may have greater firepower than others – but none are superior and none inferior; that when you scratch the surface we are all the same, members of one family, the human family; that there are no natural differences between Buddhists and Muslims; and that whether we are Jews or Hindus, Christians or atheists, we are born to love, without prejudice. Discrimination doesn’t come naturally; it is taught.
My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep. A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all of its people, is not a free country.
It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain.
As we witness the unfolding horror, we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again. We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people. We pray for you to intervene in the escalating crisis and guide your people back toward the path of righteousness again.
God bless you.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
This letter must be written in gold and must be listed among the documents of the United Nations. Also, the UN should call for slapping sanctions on the state officials of Myanmar, led by Suu Kyi, the leader of the country. The world looked forward to her coming to power but when she came to power, she disappointed everyone, including other Nobel Laureates.
It is unfortunate that the crimes against Rohingya Muslims have doubled during her regime, and ethnic cleansing and genocide have become systematic. These crimes are perpetrated by Buddhist extremists, as well as by military personnel and security forces.
In this scenario, the United Nations must create a safe haven in northern Rakhine state, monitored by the United Nations peacekeeping forces, until the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh to escape persecution. The situation will not be safe in Rakhine state if there is no international force to protect the Rohingya and supervise their return and resettlement in the areas from which they have been expelled.
— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org