Checking Myanmar

March 20, 2014 - 4:28:21 am
The world is so riveted on some major conflicts and issues dominating the headlines that other smaller conflicts and crises are almost forgotten. The Syrian uprising, the Ukrainian crisis, the Iran nuclear issue etc and now the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner are hogging the limelight and have made sure that issues like the sectarian violence in Myanmar are conveniently forgotten.  The world media hardly noticed that in February-end, the Myanmar government banned the Doctors Without Borders from the state of Rakhine, thereby depriving more than 750,000 people affected by sectarian violence of medical care. The reason for the ban: to prevent foreign witnesses to the human rights violations in the region.

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are being slaughtered by the majority Buddhists in the country as the world is watching without bothering to intervene. The Rohingya, who have lived in Myanmar for generations, have long been persecuted. In 1982, they were stripped of their citizenship and restrictions were placed on their right to travel within Myanmar or own property.  Rohingyas form only miniscule minority of Myanmar’s population and don’t pose any threat to the country’s demographic balance. But radical Buddhist leaders like Ashin Wirathu have been preaching hatred against them, which has resulted in Buddhist mobs going on a rampage and killing spree. Hundreds of people have been killed, as many as 75,000 Rohingyas have fled the country and thousands have been driven from their homes. The situation is so inflammable that the region flares up at the slightest provocation.

The international community, especially Muslim countries, must share the blame for the dire situation in the country. Though Myanmar has been warned against persecuting Rohingyas by the West and its neighbours, those warnings have fallen on deaf ears. The government will listen only when it’s threatened with sanctions, and time has come for the international community to consider sanctions.

The ban on Doctors Without Borders is an unpardonable cruelty. The group has provided medical care in Rakhine State since 1994, and its withdrawal will have huge consequences. About 150 people, including women with difficult pregnancies, are estimated to have died since the ban was imposed.

Myanmar, which was once a reclusive state like North Korea, is being rehabilitated. The country has won praise from the international community for its steps towards democracy, and Western states are attracted by the huge business opportunities in the state. These factors have been preventing the West from taking tough action against the country. The United Nations has said it is seriously talking with Myanmar’s government to let Doctors Without Borders continue its work. But reports say the government is unwilling. This is not acceptable. Myanmar must be forced to respect the international law and serious measures must be taken to solve the Rohingya issue.