Rohingya crisis embarrasses Suu Kyi with Muslim neighbours
Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week postponed a visit to Indonesia after protests there over her country's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. Meanwhile, thousands of Rohingya have been turned back at the Bangladeshi border as they tried to flee Myanmar's Rakhine state in the past week.
Although the fleeing Rohingya made horrifying claims of gang rape, torture and murder at the hands of security forces, they were turned back by the Bangladeshi authorities.
Reports of widespread discrimination and accounts of systematic torture, rape and killings of Muslim Rohingya surfaced first in 2012, when Buddhist sectarians forced tens of thousands of them out of their houses.
Currently more than 100,000 Rohingyas live in squalid internment camps.
Last week hundreds of Muslim Rohingya tried to flee to Bangladesh after the army staged a massive counter-insurgency operation following attacks on army posts allegedly by armed Rohingyas.
On Monday Bangladeshi officials turned back eight boatloads of refugees.
“We have been campaigning for 25 years for human rights and democracy in Burma,” says Mark Farmaner, director of the London-based Burma campaign.
“For most of that time we were campaigning for the release of Aung San Su Kyi and supporting her struggle, leading the struggle in Burma for human rights and democracy.
“What we didn't expect is that we have to be doing this after Aung San Su Kyi is being released and when she is now leading a government that we are still having to lobby on human rights, on some of the most basic issues, especially the Rohingya issue.”
Critics point out that other Muslim countries nearby Myanmar are not very eager to help the Rohingya either.
There is a whole range of things that she could be doing but isn't
Aung San Su Kyi and the Rohingya
“Burma is a part of Asean and we are seeing some other countries, including Muslim countries, that when refugees do arrive, they are not given any formal rights of asylum,” says Farmaner.
“Many times they are treated very badly and effectively end up as slave labour in sweatshops and at the same time, politically, Asean governments have been refusing to take any action.
Malaysia and Indonesia tried to oppose international action proposed by a UN Commission of Enquiry just over a year ago.
But sentiment in Malaysia seems to be changing.
On 4 December the Malaysian ruling party will join the opposition at a gathering that is aimed at raising awareness of the plight of the Rohingya.
But that is not enough for some campaigners.
“The Malaysian government has to be blamed because of the selective nature in addressing the issues of ethnic cleansing,” says Arunagam, a director with human rights organisation Suaram.
The Malaysian government is taking the Rohingya question "quite seriously", he believes. “But the government should apply the same principle to ethnic cleansing that takes place in any of the neighbouring countries, for example when ethnic cleansing to some extent took place in Sri Lanka, the Malaysian government was supporting the Sri Lankan government. So their position is a bit politically biased at times."
On Sunday Aung San Su Kyi cancelled a visit to Indonesia, because of a massive protest in Jakarta against the Myanmar government’s handling of the Rohingya issue and a plot to attack the Burmese embassy in Jakarta that was claimed by an Islamist armed group.
But it may not be too late to turn the tide.
“Aung San Su Kyi's reputation is been damaged by her inaction here,” says Farmaner.
“She doesn't control the police or the military, but she has other things she can do. She has moral authority, she has the support of the international community, she could be allowing humanitarian assistance in, there is a whole range of things that she could be doing but isn't.
“And it is inexplicable why because she is at her peak strength now, if she wants genuinely to achieve change, now is the time to do it,” he says.
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