We, civil society organisations from the ASEAN countries, have today submitted an Appeal to the ASEAN 25th Summit meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, to take urgent action to stop the systematic persecution, genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority including the Rohingya in Myanmar. The appeal has been handed to the Heads of State/Government of the member countries of ASEAN.
ASEAN’s lack of response to the violence and the gross violation of human rights committed against the Muslim minority by extremists in Myanmar is shocking. None of the member States have taken a strong stand to condemn the killing of innocent women, children and men and the destruction of their homes and sources of livelihood.
In 2012, Rakhine Buddhist extremists attacked the Rohingya community, burned their homes and boats. Thousands, fearing more violence, fled to other parts of Myanmar and neighbouring countries. Many who tried to flee in overcrowded boats were drowned after their boats had capsized. Many also became victims of human traffickers. There are, now, over 140,000 Rohingya refugees living in concentration camps and facing a severe shortage of food and basic amenities.
From 2013-2014, riots against Muslims have spread from Rakhine state to cities in central and eastern Myanmar. This is the result of the “Buddhist 969” movement, led by the Buddhist priest Sayadew U Wirathu, instigating and inciting hatred and violence against the Muslim minority..He has called on them to “defend” Buddhism and expel the Muslims as if Muslims, who constitute about 5% of the population, constitute a serious threat to Buddhism in Myanmar.
Through his hate campaign based on lies and falsehood, using the social media, he has succeeded in poisoning the minds of a significant section of the Buddhist community. The atmosphere in Myanmar is so charged with Muslim-hatred that even a traffic accident involving a Buddhist and a Muslim can ignite a communal riot.
Longtime expats and native-born Burmans have said that they find the climate comparable to Berlin before the rise of the Nazis. Regrettably, the Myanmar government has taken no effective action to curb Wirathu’s hate propaganda. Some rogue elements in the military and security apparatus are colluding with the extremists in the continuing ethnic cleansing of Rohingya and other Muslims.
The ethnic cleansing of Rohingya is rooted in the racist and discriminatory policies which the current government inherited from the previous military regime. They are denied citizenship rights, rendering them stateless without any protection. They are demonised by the state media and restrictions have been placed on marriage, domestic travel, employment, property rights and religious rights in violation of law and morality.
Rohingya are one of the over hundred minorities in Myanmar and have been there since the 8th century. After achieving independence, the first president of Burma (now Myanmar) Sao Shwe Thaik had stated: “Muslims of Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma. If they do not belong to the indigenous races, we also cannot be taken as indigenous races.” They were recognised as citizens until the 1980s when the Ne Win military dictatorship deprived them of their citizenship and began their persecution.
The current government has a plan to place thousands of Rohingya, not recognised as citizens by the authorities, in detention camps and deport them although they have lived in Myanmar for generations. The plan has come under criticism from many governments, the OIC and the United Nation. The UN approved a resolution last week urging the Myanmar government to give access to full citizenship to the Rohingya. ASEAN should ensure that Myanmar abides by the UN resolution.
ASEAN leaders must stop hiding behind the Charter provision against interference in the internal affairs of member states to justify their inaction in the face of serious human rights violations in Myanmar. Ethnic cleansing and genocide are not mere “internal affairs” of Myanmar but serious crimes under international law which require intervention by ASEAN and the international community to stop them.
By Article 14 of its Charter, ASEAN is committed to promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms and, in pursuance of this commitment; the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) was established. AICHR is mandated to uphold the right of the peoples of ASEAN, which includes the Rohingya and other Muslims, to live in peace, dignity and prosperity but it has failed to stop the violation of this right by the extremists. ASEAN’s failure to respond to the cries and screams of the women and children of the Muslim minority for protection and justice has irreparably damaged its standing among the public.
If no action is taken by ASEAN and the international community to stop the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Muslim minority including the Rohingya, it will inevitably lead to violence and tension in Myanmar which could derail the on-going democratic process there. The victims would be forced to resort to armed resistance to defend themselves, their women and children rather than submit meekly to the butchering by the extremists. The resistance would attract support from people in ASEAN member States and other countries.
Such a development would destabilise the region and negate ASEAN’s mandated purpose to maintain and enhance peace, security and stability. We hope ASEAN leaders realise the seriousness of the situation and take urgent action to stop the violence and crimes against the Muslim minority and restore peace.
We appeal to the the Heads of State/Government of the member countries of ASEAN to take urgent action to urge the Myanmar government to:
1. Abide by the United Nations resolution and restore the citizenship status and rights of the Rohingya.
2. Take firm action against the “Buddhist 969” movement, led by the Buddhist priest Sayadew U Wirathu, for instigating and inciting hatred and violence against the Muslim minority.
3. Allow free and unfettered access for regional and international humanitarian agencies to provide relief and support to the victims of the violence and internally displaced people.
4. Facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees from the ASEAN region and other parts of the world, and resettle them and the internally displaced people.
5. Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate and deal with the crimes committed against the Muslim minority and promote national reconciliation.
6. Take appropriate action to stop the hate crimes and violence against the Muslim minority.
7. Pay adequate compensation to the victims of ethnic violence and their dependents.
Citizens International & Spokesperson for the coalition of CSOs.
1. Citizens International
3. Universal Justice Network
CITIZENS INTERNATIONAL is a global initiative from Penang, Malaysia. It seeks to analyse the causes of increased militarisation of the planet and to work towards an environment of peace and international security including the preservation of social justice, ecology and sustainable development. CI also intends to support the development of traditional knowledge systems.