Where Now For The Rohingya?

It seems that in the past 48 hours or so, moves have been made to put at jeopordy any hope that the Rohingya have had in recent weeks that their anguish of denial of citizenship by Burma over the past three decades would finally come to a peaceful end. This comes on the back of a month long state-backed campaign in Arakan state of Burma against the Rohingya.

US President Barack Obama announced to the world on Thursday morning that the US would finally ease the last of their economic sanctions against Burma that had been in place since the unrest from ethnic clashes in 1988. This was followed swiftly with a meeting between Burma's premiere, President Thein Sein and the head of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres. As details of the meeting emerged late on Thursday afternoon it appeared that President Thein Sein had offered two 'solutions' to the UN - that either the Rohingya be deported to 'third-countries' who are willing to host them, or that Burma would simply hand over the Rohingya to UNHCR custody in Arakan - regardless, Sein expressed emphatically that "it is impossible to accept these Rohingyas who are not our nationals". Further to this, on Friday, Secretary of State for the US, Hillary Clinton met with President Thein Sein to congratulate him on his efforts for progressing the transformation of Burma from military-led to a democracy. And amidst such high level communication from arguably the US Number 1 and 2, no mention of the unfolding story of the systematic abuse of Rohingya human rights.

It now appears that any hope of a viable solution via international diplomacy and pressure on the Burmese Government remains in tatters.  With the US so eager to begin investment and trade with Burma, up until early this year, a pariah state but rich in natural resources, and with the UN unable to make any sort of impression on the Burmese President where does it leave the Rohingya of Burma?

The Rohingya have a history in Burma which stretches back as far as the 7th Century, but since the 1982 Citizenship Law passed by the then Burmese Junta are now a stateless community. The recent clashes between Rakhine and Rohingya was initially described with a range of terms - ethnic, racial, sectarian to name but a few. Since then, with the banning of international observers and journalists, the official death toll of 78 is all but laughable. No birth certificates have been issued to the Rohingya since 1982 and so, at times of death, of course, death certificates are not issued either.  Also with the lack of international observers, it is virtually impossible to accurately say how many have perished during this period. Many have been reporting this situation with terms such as genocide, ethnic cleanisng and the like - and yet it seems, the US are comfortable to 'get into bed' with the Burmese administration. And it doesn't stop with the US only; Canada, the EU and even Britain seem keen to join in with David Cameron being the first Head of State of any country to visit Burma in 20 years when he travelled there earlier this year.

Our sources in Maungdaw have reported that two make-shift camps have emerged in the township. Around Sector 6 on the North of the town, approximately  50,000 Rohingya villagers are gathered with a larger gathering of around 100,000 in Sector 7 on the South side of Maungdaw. Sector 7 has around 50 Rohingya villages and since the state of emergency was called in early June, this area has been blocked off from access in or out of Maungdaw - as a result this regoion has now become one large refugee camp with Rohingya from nearby villages fleeing to be safer with numbers.  The conditions in this make-shift camp are detirorating day by day. Medical aid is needed desperately and since trade between Rohingya and Rakhine has halted, virtually no food supplies are coming here either. The onset of rainy season coupled with untreated wounds and rampant hunger, the picture of a real humanitarian disaster in this sector is being unveiled.

To make matters worse, mobile phone communication is becoming increasingly difficult and so fresh pictures, audio and video footage is reducing. The world needs the large media corporations to report from the region - but with the focus being shifted more and more by our 'World Leaders' painting an agenda filled image of a Burma with democracy and trade and with Suu Kyi's deafening silence on the issue, it is clear that this isn't going to 'just' happen. 

Restless Beings are calling on community organisations around the globe to join us in making a statement which has been drafted to the attention of local, national and international news agencies. The statement calls for investigative and non-biased journalism from Burma and focuses on the fact that Burma is in contravention of curtomary international law and practices by its continued denial of citizenship to the Rohingya. The statement can be found here.

The implications of the last 48 hours by the UN and US's attitude towards Burma and in effect the Rohingya show us that the notion of relying on 'World Leaders' to be the protectorate of Human Rights is  a false sentiment. If the plight of the Rohingya is to be affected to bring about positive results, then the challenge to do so will fall on the 'real' international community, us - you, me, him and her.   We will stand strong and tall and will be persistent in our quest.

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