The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has launched a major international campaign to put an end to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in the Arakan state of Myanmar and protect their legitimate rights.
OIC Secretary-General Ekmeledin Ihsanoglu and Nurul Islam, president of Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO)
OIC offices in Geneva, New York, and Brussels are making intense efforts to foster international intervention in the issue. The OIC is in touch with the United Nations, UN Human Rights Council, European Union and other international organizations to halt the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.
OIC Secretary-General Ekmeledin Ihsanoglu strongly condemned the renewed repression of Rohingyas since June 2012, which has resulted in deaths of innocent civilians, burning of their homes and mosques, and forcing them to leave their homeland.
He added that over the past three decades, Rohingya Muslim citizens had been subjected to gross violation of human rights including ethnic cleansing, killings, rape, and forced displacement by Myanmar security forces.
“The recent restoration of democracy in Myanmar had raised hopes in the international community that oppression against Rohingya Muslims would end, and that they would be able to enjoy equal rights and opportunities. However, the renewed violence against Rohingyas has caused great concern to the OIC,” Ihsanoglu said.
“When efforts of the international community including the United Nations were underway for a peaceful resolution of the issue, the OIC was shocked by the unfortunate remarks of President Thien Sein disowning Rohingya Muslims as citizens of Myanmar,” he said.
The OIC chief stressed that the Myanmar government, as a member of the United Nations and ASEAN, had to adhere to the international human rights charters, including the relevant conventions and declarations, in treatment of its citizens.
Ihsanoglu referred to the UN declaration that the Rohingyas are an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority from western Burma. Historical facts show that Rohingyas have been present in the land of Myanmar for centuries before the arrival of the British and before the formation of Burma.
“In spite of this, the government of Myanmar continues to persecute and discriminate against the Rohingyas,” he said, adding that the citizenship law of 1982 violated international norms by stripping the Rohingyas unjustly of their right to citizenship.
Ihsanoglu hoped that the Myanmar government would respond to the concerns of the international community in a positive and constructive manner, so that all its Rohingya Muslims are able to return to their homeland in honor, safety and dignity.
“The OIC Charter stipulates that the organization should assist Muslim minorities and communities outside the member states to preserve their dignity, cultural and religious identity,” he added. “Myanmar should recognize that its new engagement at the international level does not only come with opportunities but also with responsibilities,” Ihsanoglu said.
The OIC intends to send a delegation to Myanmar after meeting with its permanent representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Ihsanoglu called on the Myanmar government to order an immediate probe into the slaughtering of Rohingya Muslims to bring those responsible to justice.
The OIC chief recently sent a letter to Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi urging her to help end the violence against the Rohingya community. “As a Nobel Peace laureate, we are confident that the first step of your journey toward ensuring peace in the world would start from your own doorstep, and that you would play a positive role in putting an end to the violence that has afflicted Arakan State,” it said.
The OIC chief suggested that Suu Kyi could make the government in Naypyidaw agree to an international inquiry into the recent violence, granting free access to humanitarian aid groups and international media in Arakan as well as expediting the return of the victims to their respective homes.
Rohingyas living in Arakan State of Burma are one of the most forgotten and persecuted peoples on earth. Their population is about three million, of which about 1.5 million are in diasporas in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, USA, UK and Europe.
“The successive Burmese regimes have subjected them to institutionalized persecution, and the ruling civilianized military government is no exception,” said Nurul Islam, president of Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO).
The Thein Sein government’s wind of change has not touched the Rohingyas yet, he said. Even the very word “Rohingya” is blacklisted and unmentionable, while the authorities have described them as “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh”, he added.
According to Nurul Islam, the primary factor that has led the Rohingyas to suffer grave human rights violations or crimes against humanity in Burma is their religion and ethnicity.
“Arbitrary killings, rape, torture, land confiscation, forced labor, forced relocation, theft, extortion and so on, perpetrated by the authorities in cohort with local miscreants and xenophobes, are widespread,” he said. The phenomenon can be described as slow burning genocide, which aims at ethnic cleansing or driving the Rohingyas into Bangladesh, he said.
In 1982, late dictator Ne Win enacted a new citizenship law that violated several fundamental principles of international charters and rendered the Rohingyas stateless. Their basic freedoms, such as freedom of movement, marriage and education, and economic activities are under humiliating restrictions.
Extension, repairs and renovation, and construction of new mosques or religious institutes have been prohibited. Muslim relics, monuments and place names have been erased. All these attempts aim at effacing the Muslim character of Arakan, said Nurul Islam.
A planned increase in Buddhist settler villages has caused serious demographic changes in Rohingya homeland. Vast tracks of their lands have been confiscated, forcing the Rohingyas to become increasingly landless, internally displaced, and to eventually starve them out to cross the border into Bangladesh.
There are 28,000 legal and over 200,000 illegal Rohingya refugees living in squalid condition in southern Chittagong, Bangladesh. The illegal refugees are vulnerable, often subject to arrest and harassment by security forces.
As a result, many Rohingyas become desperate and voyage in rickety boats to Southeast Asian countries in search of protection and food security. Since 2009, many died, over a thousand drowned, while scores of others were rescued or jailed in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and East Timor. A number of them were victimized at the hands of greedy exploiters and human traffickers.
Given their position of statelessness, food insecurity, denial of access to education and employment, lack of security of life, property, dignity and honor, the Rohingyas have virtually become a “dying alive” population in their own homeland. “This impossible situation is a ‘push factor’ that the Burmese government has created. They want the Rohingyas to slowly leave their hearth and home,” said Nurul Islam, who has repeatedly appealed to the international community to address the root cause of the Rohingya problem for a permanent solution. He has also requested for international protection in the absence of national protection.