The world must hold ‘democratic’ Myanmar to account

The world must hold ‘democratic’ Myanmar to account

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An exhausted Rohingya refugee woman touches the shore after crossing the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, Sept. 11, 2017. (Reuters)

The Rohingya people have faced sustained persecution in Burma/Myanmar since it gained independence in 1948. At the core of this discrimination lies the false narrative that they have no place in the ethnic mix of the country because, it is alleged, they migrated from what is now Bangladesh in the 19th century.
At its most benign, this falsity resulted in them being denied full citizenship in 1948 (though they were granted conventional civic rights). By the 1970s, the country’s military dictatorship began taking a series of steps to strip them of even this limited status and, as a result of several campaigns of violence, expelled many to Bangladesh.
By the time a limited democracy was restored to Myanmar in 2010, the remaining Rohingya had lost all of their civic rights.
Since this return to democracy, the Rohingya have faced murderous persecution. As a result of the violence in 2012 and 2013, about 600,000 fled (mostly to internal camps). The military onslaught in 2017 drove out a further 1 million, who fled to Bangladesh where they eke out an existence in the largest refugee camps in the world.
If their plight is not resolved by concerted efforts to guarantee a safe and protected return to their homes, the Rohingya face a future in which they are denied citizenship in their own state and lack proper refugee status in the places to which they fled.
So far, Western policy has been too supportive of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the governing party in Myanmar. The persecution of the Rohingya has largely gone unremarked upon, as Western nations take the simplistic view that Myanmar is on a bumpy road to democracy, and fear that any pressure they apply might push it into China’s arms.

As long as the West fails to press the NLD, and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Rohingya will remain stateless and persecuted.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

This has to stop. The NLD and Myanmar’s military are in perfect accord over the status of the Rohingya, and 60 years of state-sponsored lies means there is no widespread sympathy in the country for their plight.
As long as the West fails to press the NLD, and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Rohingya will remain stateless and persecuted. The situation facing those still in Myanmar is so bad that the International Court of Justice has demanded (but not yet received) a statement from the NLD explaining how they intend to protect this “extremely vulnerable” community.
There is no meaningful form of democracy that is based on expulsion, incarceration and the denial of basic human rights to 1.6 million of a state’s citizens. Treating Myanmar as a true democracy leads only to silence in the face of genocide, and so can no longer be considered an acceptable response by any external state or agency.

— Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a director at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim

— This is the executive summary of Dr. Azeem Ibrahim’s research paper for Arab News Research & Studies. To read and download the full report, click here.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view