International heft needed for the Rohingya Muslims

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IT is now two years since soldiers, police and Buddhist vigilantes, led by fanatical monks drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from their Myanmar homes. At least nine thousand were killed in the state-sponsored violence and approaching a million are cowering in squalid refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh. Despite this blatant ethnic cleansing by a regime led by a Nobel Peace Laureate, the international community has done precisely nothing.

The shame of this genocidal crime and the appalling tragedy it has created rests not simply with the regime but with every country around the world that has chosen to look away.

In Bosnia, after racist killers massacred seven thousand at Srebrenica, the world finally acted. NATO sent warplanes to assault the Bosnian-Serbs and punish their puppet master, Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. But then the Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia was being carried out in beautiful rolling European countryside hardly more than an hour or two’s drive away from the major European capital of Vienna.

The Myanmar savagery that has taken place under Aung San Suu Kyi is far removed from the lawful streets of Europe or the United States. To its lasting credit, the United Nations has investigated and revealed the full extent of the enormities that have been taking place in Myanmar. But at best the UN is a guard dog. Its barking is useless unless its owners wake up and look out the windows. But no one in the West wants to confront the bloody challenge presented by the coordinated Islamophobic assault of a government on one unfortunate section of its people.

The international community has good reason to be grateful to Bangladesh which at considerable risk to its own limited and delicately-balanced resources has given shelter to hundreds of thousands of the Rohingya. The UN and Non-Government Organizations have done their best to help maintain the health and safety of the refugees in the camps while Western governments have written small checks to help fund the work. But there has been no attempt to address the root cause of this humanitarian disaster — the blind religious hatred of rabid Buddhist radicals backed by a military-tainted regime. Myanmar at this moment ought to be subject to international sanctions, its regime an international pariah and its once-lauded leader Aung San Suu Kyi held up as a disgrace, not least to the Nobel honor that she still bears.

Bangladesh thought it had cut a deal with Myanmar for the gradual safe return of the Rohingya to what is left of their homes and businesses in Rakhine state. It agreed that the process would be voluntary. This week, the repatriation of the first 3,450 was due to begin. But so far only just over two hundred families come forward to register for the first tranche. UN officials report that they have done so after being assured that they would not be forced to return if the final arrangements did not assure them of their absolutely safety. Given that Aung San Suu Kyi’s regime still refuses to admit the Rohingya are Myanmar citizens with full legal rights, it is hard to see how this scheme is going to work. Without significant heft from the international community, this ethnic cleansing is not going to be reversed.


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