Burma — not good enough

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Saudi Gazette-Editorial

THE best hotels in Rangoon, once Burma’s capital and still its commercial heart, are busy with businessmen from all over the world, anxious to secure of a slice of a resource rich-economy,  which is coming in from the cold, after years of political and economic isolation. There are not only good profits to be made by outside investors, but the Burmese themselves stand to benefit from a new prosperity — well most of them.

At least four percent of the people in this predominantly Buddhist country are Muslim and the most well-known Muslim community are the Rohingya in Rakhine state. As matters stand at the moment, they seem destined to benefit not at all. Indeed, even though the murderous attacks on their communities by Buddhist fanatics are over — for the present — it seems clear that the Burmese government of  President Thein Sein, is actively seeking to exclude the Rohingya from national life.

According to United Nations human rights envoy for Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, who is on another trip to the country, including visits to the Rohingya, the physical violence of June and October of last year, which drove at least 150,000 people from their homes and villages, has been replaced by something more insidious, even arguably more evil. Burma’s Muslims are being treated as second-class citizens in their own country.

Now of course, the government has argued in the case of the Rohingya, that they are not actually Burmese. Ignoring the facts, there is a campaign to airbrush them out of the country’ history and, because they are not considered Burmese, to deprive them of even the most basic of human rights.

Thus Rohingya who have been herded into areas “protected” by troops and police, have discovered that what this really means in reality, is that they cannot even leave to visit the outside world, without written permission from the local military commander. Such permission is far from easy to obtain.

The government of course argues that by concentrating these luckless people behind security fences guarded by troops, they are indeed protected from the depredations of Buddhist bigots. However, the real reason for this corralling of the Rohingya is not their safety, but rather the reputation of the country’s leaders, including, it should be said, the almost saint-like good name of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the now officially-sanctioned opposition. The last thing that any mainstream politicians want are further massacres.

However, protecting the Muslim minority has to include prosecuting those who persecuted and drove them from their homelands in an orgy of murder, violence and rape. In the wake of a whitewash of the government report into the violence, few Buddhists have been held to account for the savagery and those who have, have received markedly lighter sentences than many Rohingya, whose greatest crime appears to have been defending themselves.

The government is supposed to be “considering” the status of the Rohingya, which is probably shorthand for doing as little about the issue for as long as possible. This is simply not good enough.  The authorities should be working now to restore land and property to the tens of thousands from whom it was taken. Moreover, there needs to be an official   and properly enforced program to stamp out the blind prejudice and ignorance that caused Muslims to become unrestricted prey in an obscene ethnic hunt by hate-filled Buddhists.
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