Monday, June 18, 2012

Human rights crisis on Burma-Bangladesh border

Aung San Suu Kyi is the Burmese opposition politician put under house arrest from 1989 to 2010 by the military junta in her country. For this, she became a democracy icon as “the Mandela of Asia” & is presently being feted throughout Europe after belatedly accepting the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991. Her list of international awards as a champion of democracy & human rights is nearly a mile long so there is certainly no one in the world at the present moment in a better position to speak out against racist violence, suppression of democratic rights, persecution. That’s why many are puzzled that she is not speaking out against the violence & human rights crisis in Burma causing over 30,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee for their lives. Many are appalled that her responses to repeated reporter queries are shabby little platitudes urging people in Burma to get along with each other & calls for rule of law. The Rohingyas are publicly pleading for her support & the UN, Human Rights Watch, & Amnesty International have already spoken out so Suu Kyi wouldn’t stand alone. Some have excused her platitudes as diplomacy & political caution. Well if such an international icon can’t speak out, who the hell can!? What’s the point of those honorifics if you have to clam up to get them?

Media reports the conflict as a religious one between Muslims & Buddhists but Suu Kyi surely knows that the 800,000 Rohingyas have been subject for decades to violent state-sponsored persecution & discrimination conducted by the military, including denial of citizenship (though they have lived in the region for decades), religious persecution, forced labor, land confiscations, arbitrary taxation & various forms of extortion, forced eviction & house destruction, restrictions on travel for health & work, restrictions on marriage, education, & trade. The violence is so extreme & sustained going back decades that hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas flee for asylum to Malaysia, & to squalid refugee camps in Thailand & Bangladesh. Bangladesh has long been trying to deport the thousands living in refugee camps, has subjected them to harrowing human rights violations, & is refusing to accept the new refugees. Boats of desperate Rohingya refugees are now being turned back by Bangladeshi border guards. There were several incidences of Rohingya refugees to Thailand being towed by the military in dilapidated boats & abandoned on the open sea. In this photo, a Bangladeshi border guard is denying entry to asylum seekers in violation of elementary human decency & international law. (Photo by Saurabh Das/AP)

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