A two-day conference in Oslo focusing on ending the persecution of Myanmar’s (Burma) Rohingya Muslims concluded with a call from seven Nobel Peace Laureates describing the plight of one of the world’s most oppressed groups as nothing less than a genocide.
Desmond Tutu, leader of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, called for an end to the slow genocide of the Rohingya in a pre-recorded address to the conference at the end of last month.
Tutu’s appeal was amplified by six other fellow Nobel Peace laureates: Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland, Jody Williams from the US, Tawakkol Karman from Yeman, Shirin Ibadi from Iran, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel from Argentina.
“What Rohingyas are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous community is being systematically wiped out by the Burmese Government,” they stated.
The conference concluded that the pattern of systematic human rights abuses against the ethnic Rohingya people “entails crimes against humanity including the crime of genocide” and that the Myanmar Government’s denial of the existence of the Rohingya as a people “violates the right of the Rohingya to self-identify.”
The international community, including the UN, was criticised for privileging economic interests in Myanmar while failing to prioritise the need to end the systematic persecution of the Rohingya.
The condemnation came as the EU Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Myanmar to change its approach towards minorities and recognize the Rohingya as lawful citizens.
“To truly address the problem of migration, the EU must engage with countries that are the source of these desperate populations,” said the resolution raised by Liberal MEP Dita Charanzova.
Charanzova criticised Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbot, that his country would refuse to help stranded Rohingya asylum seekers desperately trying to escape the persecution. Thousands have been virtually abandoned at sea in rickety boats.
In the past few weeks, there have been more alarming discoveries of mass graves in Thailand near camps where refugees are abused and killed by human traffickers, while only Indonesia and Malaysia have offered to give temporary shelter and Gambia to resettle all the refugees.
Much maligned has been Myanmar’s own famous human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Aung San Suu Kyi, who has refused to even fully acknowledge the plight of her fellow countrymen let alone condemn their oppression and persecution.
Among others, Penny Green, a law professor at the University of London and Director of the State Crime Initiative, has argued that Myanmar’s opposition leader could have challenged “the vile racism and Islamophobia which characterises Burmese political and social discourse.”
“In a genocide, silence is complicity, and so it is with Aung San Suu Kyi,” Green told The Independent, imbued with “enormous moral and political capital”. Instead she has been accused of courting the Buddhist majority in an attempt to be elected as the country’s president next year.
In April last year, Human Rights Watch accused the quasi-civilian Government in Myanmar of “ethnic cleansing” and committing “crimes against humanity” in a report into the sectarian violence that ravaged the country’s western Arakan state.
At least 200 people were killed and more than 125,000 made homeless as mass arson, looting and cold-blooded murder erupted against Muslim Rohingya by Buddist Rahkine groups, while the state authorities were accused of allowing the bloodletting to go on unabated.
It seemed as rather ironic that the report was released the same day that the country’s President, Thein Sein, was awarded a peace prize by the International Crisis Group, and the EU lifted trade, economic and individual sanctions on Burma.