A Sad State of Affairs as Asean AWOL Over Rohingya Issue

A Rohingya Muslim family in Pawtauk Township, Arakan State. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — According to Burma’s government, the Rohingya do not exist. Denied citizenship by an internationally criticized 1982 law, the stateless “Bengali immigrants” have in the past faced pogroms, persecution from the Burmese government and more recently from other Burmese.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled to countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand over the past year, giving Burma’s neighbors and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) an ostensible stake in addressing the Rohingya crisis.

But despite launching a new human rights body at the most recent Asean summit in Phnom Penh in November 2012—including a surprise clause acknowledging “universal” human rights norms—the group has largely stuck to its non-interference mantra.

Since June 2012, over 220 people have died in what has widely been described as sectarian fighting between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma, with most of the deaths in Arakan State in the country’s west, where most of Burma’s estimated 800,000 Rohingya live.

In Arakan State last June, mobs of Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya clashed after the May rape and murder of a young Arakanese woman, a crime for which three Rohingya men were arrested. Arakanese retaliation quickly spread to Myanmar’s other Muslim groups, with ten pilgrims lynched by a Buddhist Arakanese mob in June—a crime for which nobody has been charged.

There were more Arakanese-Muslim clashes in October 2012, and in March this year, 43 were killed—some gruesomely and most of them Muslims—in central Burma, after which the sole arrests, to date, have been 3 Muslims who were involved in a shop row at the outset of the violence.

What at first looked like local sectarian fighting later took on the form of a vicious anti-Rohingya and then anti-Muslim campaign, with rabble-rousing monk Wirathu at the forefront. Burma’s current government has not only not done enough to prevent or stop the violence; it has been complicit, according to some.

The Rohingya say that they have lived in what is now Burma for generations. The Burmese government says they are illegal immigrants. Many Burmese, including senior members of the long-feted opposition National League for Democracy, men who themselves spent years in jail as political prisoners, also regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants.

Asked last October whether the Rohingya should be granted Burmese citizenship, Tin Oo, a senior NLD figure, said that “those who are not legal citizens of this country cannot stay,” adding that it was difficult to establish how many Rohingya could be entitled to Burmese citizenship.

“This is a difficult problem to solve,” he said. “When I was a young man, there were no Rohingya in Burma.”

Tin Oo’s party colleague, the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticized for her apparent reluctance to discuss anti-Muslim violence in Burma.

Breaking this silence in Japan last week, Suu Kyi called for a revision of the citizenship laws.

“There is discrimination among citizens in our country,” she said. “We should also determine if certain laws are a hindrance to equal rights among citizens in the country, and revise them if we can.”

Mentioning a meeting she had recently with Burmese Muslim leaders, she lamented the state of inter-faith relations in Burma, saying that “this is a very sad state of affairs. We must learn to accommodate those with different views from ours.”

There has been scant regional pressure on Burma to treat the Rohingya in a more humane way. Asean’s two biggest Muslim-majority member-states—Indonesia and Malaysia—have raised the Rohingya issue with the Burmese government and have sent diplomatic and humanitarian missions to Burma and to Arakan State. But they have for the most part shied away from blunt public condemnation, as is often the way in dealings between Asean countries.

However, the bloc as a whole has been reluctant to single out Burma. Speaking at the most recent summit in Phnom Penh last November, then-Asean Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said that member states told the Burma delegation that “if the issue is not handled by the Myanmar government, there is a risk of radicalization and extremism in that region.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Vientiane on Nov. 6, a spokesman for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expressed unease about the plight of Muslims in western Burma.

“Malaysia remains extremely concerned about ongoing tensions between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State of Myanmar,” he said.

For the most part, that is as far as Asean or its member states have gone in public, with the one exception being Indonesia. Foreign Minister Marty Natelagawa told The Irrawaddy at the ASEM summit that “one core issue in resolving the conflict is citizenship, and this is a matter the Myanmar government must address in the future.”

However, Burmese President Thein Sein told the Democratic Voice of Burma recently that the law would not be changed.

If they were of a mind to, the Burmese government could issue some sharp “heal thyself” type retorts to Jakarta or Putrajaya, in any case. Indonesia has been accused of letting anti-Christian and anti-Ahmadi sentiment get out of hand. Malaysia’s governing parties have dabbled in some sectarian brinkmanship in the run-up to the May 5 election. Hardliners linked to the government threatened to burn Bibles in an unwitting parody of the Rev. Terry Jones, that Perkasa, the group involved, said was in response to a row over whether Malaysia’s Christians should be allowed use the word “Allah” in their literature.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has been much more assertive than Asean with Burma over attacks on the Rohingya, which the OIC deems “genocide.”

Both Indonesia and Malaysia are part of an the OIC’s 11 country “Contact Group,” which has pushed Burma for greater humanitarian access to the roughly 100,000 Rohingya stuck in fetid camps in Arakan State.

The other nine members of the group are Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Djibouti, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Turkey, some of which have a torrid history of human rights abuses directed at ethnic and religious minorities.

Burma will, for the first time, chair Asean in 2014, another factor that will likely restrain the bloc’s members from tackling the Rohingya issue head on. Burma had to forego its turn as chair in the past, as Asean feared this would affect the groups’ relations with Western countries.

Next year will be a crucial one for Asean, the final year before it is scheduled to form a regional economic community, and arrangements for Burma’s role as Asean chair will likely take precedence over political or human rights concerns.

In late March, a United States-Asean meeting, looking ahead to Burma’s chairing of the association, gave the Burmese government every encouragement possible.

US Ambassador to Asean David L. Carden said: “I have every confidence Myanmar will be a leading contributor to Asean integration, including economic integration. We are pleased to see the government and private sector are focused on the road ahead and that other Asean member states are showing strong support.”


18 Responses to A Sad State of Affairs as Asean AWOL Over Rohingya Issue

  1. You guys should persuade Muslim countries to take those illegal Bengalese from Myanmar. I think that could be the best solution for all. I heard there are about 49 Muslim countries. If a country takes about 6,000 of them, then, almost 300,000 illegal Bengalese could enjoy their lives among the believers of Islam. Some big/large countries could take even much more than the numbers I propose.
    We, Myanmar, don’t need to amend any of our immigration law or citizenship laws at all. We’ll never accept them as our indigenous brethren. Sorry illegal promoters!!!!

  2. Bengali people illegally sneaked into Burma in the time of military dictatorship( In the time of Ne Win and Than Shwe Rule). Even though the dictators had tens of thousands of soldiers for their own security, the border security had been badly neglected. Now, the illegal aliens’ issues become the hot topic in Burma and abroad. Khin Yi is talking like an idiot. He is not lawmaker but a minister. Suu Kyi is lawmaker(Hlutdaw Member). Suu Kyi has a better position to fix the law than Khin Yi who is supposed to execute the existing law. Khin Yi has no right to talk about the law which can be amended or cannot be amended.

    If the Burmese government can no longer deport these illegal Bengali aliens, the Burmese government must consider to help them. Send them to third countries through UNHCR or give them legal status. Human beings, no matter legal aliens nor illegal aliens, must be treated with dignity. Burmese government must take stern action and clear vision to tackle illegal Bengali issue now. Other than that Burmese government will be seen like pathetic and arrogant.

    Khin Yi must resign. Because he was part of useless regime which betrayed all of us. He is not in the position to serve as minister of Immigration Department. He had been known as “Yangon City Pimp” having mistresses every corner of the city. Instead of working for the public, he stole too much money from the public. Seeing his pictures and hearing his voice piss us off. Self-serving generals/ex-generals betrayed our nation and our cause. Reformation must start with sending these idiot ministers and military officials home to clean up the government.

  3. If Indonesia and Malaysia are either violating the human right law,Does that gives Myanmar license to massacre Muslims?

    • Actually it gives malaysia( apartheid muslim state) and indonesia (state where muslim extremists abound) little credibility in intervening in Myanmar’s domestic issues! These muslim rohinyas were always traitors and even sided with the Japanese during ww2. These illegal rohingya muslims must realise they are living amongst people who adhere to Buddha’s teachings but who no longer are going to suffer from the violence initiated by these wretched muslims! Muslims cause trouble to others where ever they exist!

      • Malaybigot,
        You make credit to Rohingyas. If they were already in Arakan during WWII, they are legitimate citizens of Burma no matter what. You better not to use the word “Illegal” since you agree that these people existed there in Arakan and were supporting Japanese in WWII. I thought Rohingyas are Bengali people who are newcomers into Arakan from Bengal(Bangladesh and Bangal State of India).

  4. Stupidity,Autoricity of Myanmar government against rohingya ethnic will never end unless threat by force.Myanmar elite nuts calculated very well they have not to face external threat even they committed genocide against rohingya ethnic and Myanmar Muslim.how can they deny century, many generation of rohingya existent,although rohingya ethnic historical record are there.can Myanmar, rakhine radical extremist success to delete thousand years of rohingya ethnic history in arakan?half million of rogue monks,half million of army ,Government institution of every levels attacking rohingya ethnic from every direction in term of education,politically,socially,may be these helpless rohingya ethnic will not stand for exist. Bama and rakhine evil should shame themself linking rohingya ethnic as Bengali immigrant.some one fool will believe Bangali come to arakan and settle in arakan where social standard is lower then bangal,arakanes people hardly surviving,leaving for south east asia for earning.Even regards rakhine magh are not human,worst then wild animal, how can outsider come and stay?Bangladesh is densly populated country, nobody deny. per-capita income is higher then Burma,freedom ,justice,social standard,delivery system is far better then Myanmar.Event some rakhine magh,who are enjoying equal right in bangaldesh,lured back by local rakhine offering Good,cash,property which confiscated from native rohingya ethnic did not stay in arakan longer, in few month run back to Bangladesh.claiming rohingya ethnic as bangali is non-sense base less allegation.people like thein sein,khin yi. rakhine extremist gang are upholding degree of number one denier,lier in rohingya ethnic case.

    ASEAN are the group,less credibility intern of human right democracy.Philippine Thailand,Indonesia where democracy institution fully practice,rest are half democracy,communist,authoritarian.Asean pillar is business not human right justice.i have very good christian friend in Indonesia, Malaysia, there problem in these country not amount 1% what Myanmar Muslim,rohingya ethnic facing in native Burma.Christian in Muslim country are leading politically,economically,socially for which every Muslim proud.even my friend link me as christian which i proud.christian problem in Muslim country is minor,compare Muslim facing under Buddhist Burma.if some body listen Rogue monks sermons,visit web http://www.myanmarexpress.net, http://www.rakhapura.com it is proof of how rohingya ethnic, Myanmar Muslim are under threat for exist in Myanmar.Taliban destroyed Buddha image in afghan,every Muslim through out the world condemn their madness act ,after Taliban regime fall Buddha image restore as before.recently in Bangladesh extremist destroyed some pagoda, monastery but all restored quickly with Government fund.In Burma through out the country since 1962 thousand of Mosque,Muslim school Burnt,Demolished with Bulldozer by Monks led groups with government support.Not single Mosque,Muslim school rebuilt or restore by any mean.this is the reality Muslim facing.

    OIC want justice to be done for Muslim in Burma as Muslim facing Genocide in Burma.OIC representing all Muslim in the world, for welfare and legal organization.OIC have right to request independent inquiry for Muslim,rohingya ethnic in Burma as they are facing life or death under brutality.it is depend government for comply or reject.why Buddhist monks are on the street demonstration against Muslim before OIC serve request.weather Burma have thein sein lead government or Government lead by monks ?if government are backing the monks to do what ever they want with Muslim . after seeing video. record how monks are killing muslim in meikhtila,Myanmar Buddhist monks deserve global condemnation,capital punishment according their crime.

  5. Relation between the ASEM mean business,not the human right. ASEM use the humanright as a tool for keeping good relation with the western nation.Helpless saturation for poor Rohingya.

  6. One more biased report!

  7. As per some comments above, Rohingyas are illegals sneaked to Burma from Bangladesh during Ne Win era. What a joke. Ne Win Govt. had initiated strict surveillance for Bangladesh border. One thing is sure during those period lot of Rakhine Bengali crossed to Burma from Bangladesh as Rakhine state administration was under Rakhine bosses. Before Ne Win era Rohingya were darling of Burmese govt. Now some extremist are writing, Rohingya as Bengali as if they are experts, and have detail list of Bengali. They want Rohigya to be bundled like cattle and send to third country. They have somewhat success in their dream. They burnt Rohigyas houses and were able to make them homeless. Now the second step is to request third country to accept them! But not that easy.

    • So now you’ve coined another term “Rakhine Bengali” with your deceitful hopes of the term sticking. With NASAKA letting poor Bengalis into Rakhine and using them as cash cow extorting money every so often – you call that “strict surveillance?”
      I suppose in an open forum people like you can write whatever they want!

    • Yeah! Right! “Ne Win Govt. had initiated strict surveillance for Bangladesh border” and counting how many Bengali sneaked into Arakan. He did that but doing nothing to stop those sneakers. I saw you sneaked in too.

  8. TheBurmeseFreedomFighter

    People normally find what they are looking for and their action reflects the destination of one’s pursuit. Irrawaddy has clearly shown its intention of complete bias toward Bengali in its coverage of communal riots between Bengali and Rakhine. Nothing positive has been shown toward Rakhine in Irrawaddy as it has to follow the instructions of its funders that leads Irrawaddy to its own unpopularity among the Burmese.

  9. I really agreed to nyuntshwe comment! Bravo! Those who want to talk about the Bengali illegal immigrants need to write how many sneaky_constructed mosques and Islamic schools in Myanmar and all over the world.
    These Muslims are really forget easily how they killed or massacred another religion and faith Or May be pretend to forget and take advantage in any form to get into Myanmar? I really can see their tactics!!

  10. This report by the Irrawaddy is again the case of the ground situation being manipulated by press and vested interests to project a totally different version to what is happening in Myanmar. Buddhism that was once a predominant religion in countries as far as Afghanistan, Maldives, India, Indonesia have completely disappeared due to relentless attacks by Islamic forces and the pacifist nature of Buddhism. As in the case of Nalanda, a Buddhist university in India which was attacked and destroyed by Turkish Muslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khalji. Instead of taking arms or conversion to Islam, the Buddhist opted to be slain by the invaders. Let history not repeat itself again. It is time for predominantly Buddhist nations (starting with Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Mongolia) to form an international organization such as ORGANIZATION OF BUDDHIST NATIONS (OBN) not only to counter the threat from Muslim fundamentalism and other forms of terrorism but also to have a united voice in world affairs.

  11. Malaysia can hardly talk about human rights and protection of minorities! Tje malay have been using Islam to actively discriminate against and oppress non muslims. An Apartheid like situation exists but the west and the OIC ignore the reality! Malaysia i a shameful example of Islamic governance and should keep its Islamic tainted tentacles out of Mynmar’s domestic issues!

  12. I think there is no “Pawtauk” township in Arakan state. I have heard that there is “Pauktaw” township. It is very fun ! Please check the township name.

  13. Look! Lets’ swallow this bitter pill by accepting the Rohingyas as part and parcel of Myanmar. Document them, form a new state under a schedule people or undeveloped area, put the area under direct control of the Central Government, provide them a special status and assistance.
    Secure the borders between Bangladesh and Myanmar, organize a Rohingyas security apparatus in policing their own areas and maintaining law and order. This will reflect Myanmar as a truly Secular Nation to the world, in particular to the Muslim world and it will provide a peace of mind to all which is a win, win situation for all and Myanmar can move forward without having to feel a pariah.

  14. Shwe moe,
    Ary you serious? If yes, you must be a disguised Kawtaw yourselves. We cannot afford it to relocate and make them settled in the long term perspective. You should go and preach those Muslim countries where all other religions are, according to their so Holy Koran, infidels to accept your view of love and compassion. If you were real son of Myanmar and being a serious Buddhist, then shame on you!! I pity your mother.

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