Asean must give serious consideration to the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, especially as Asean heads of state and leaders will gather at Naypyidaw on May 10 and 11 for the 24th Asean Summit.
It is also an appropriate time as Myanmar serves as the Asean Chair for 2014 and the theme is “Moving Forward in Unity to a Peaceful and Prosperous Community”.
Resolving inter-ethnic, inter-religious conflict especially being experienced by minorities across Asean requires some formal mechanism of reconciliation based on moderation. This must become a major task of the Asean body in order to build a people-centred Asean where all communities irrespective of majority or minority can experience peace and prosperity. This must be the Asean way.
On April 17, 2014 the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM), Asian Muslim Action Network (Aman) and PROHAM hosted a Roundtable Discussion entitled “Human Rights Violations & remedies: The Rohingya Case” at the GMM Conference Room.
About 50 people participated. We had a panel of speakers with direct experience and data on the challenges, suffering and injustice faced by the Rohingya.
Among the panel were Wai Wai Nu, founder of Women’s Peace Network (Arakan from Myanmar), Debbie Stothard (coordinator for Alternative Asean Network on Burma – AltAsean), Suthep Kristanavarian (photo journalist and author of the publication Stateless Rohingya… Running on Empty and Eraj Sabur (Aman).
Other participants included Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir (Sisters in Islam), Andrew Khoo (Bar Council), Josie Fernandez, Dr Lin Mui Kiang (Proham), Jamal Ibrahaim (founder, Media Durian Asean), Dr Nora E Rowley (Burma Human Rights), Zafar Ahmed (Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organisation Malaysia – Mehrom).
There were representatives from a number of organisations, including Abim, Tenaganita, Institute Kerjasama Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia (Ikiam), Union of the World Rohingya Organisations (UWRO) and Rohingya National Development Organisation.
The RTD was moderated jointly by Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria with Datuk Kuthubul Zaman providing a historico-legal overview and setting the agenda for the discussion.
Findings of the RTD
In the course of the presentations and discussions we identified five major concerns which must be at the heart of Asean seeking to find an immediate solution to the Rohingya crisis.
First, we recognise that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides a universal framework for the promotion and protection of human rights for all communities. This is especially so for both minorities and dominant-majority communities.
Asean’s demography presents a diversity of majority-minority human rights issues and concerns.
Religious majorities in one country find themselves as minorities in another and vice versa. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and United Nations instruments, such as the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), provide rights for all with a strong obligation of the state to protect those whose rights are being denied or violated.
This is relevant in Myanmar, especially in the context of the dominant Buddhist majority and Muslim minority Rohingya. Interlinked with ethnicity and religion are other social issues pertaining to poverty, gender inequality and citizenship rights.
We also heard of the many difficulties and suffering of Rohingya refugees in Malaysia whose basic rights as stated in Convention of the Rights of Children (CRC) are being denied, especially in terms of access to education and healthcare.
Second, during the RTD we heard from both panel speakers and participants about major human rights violations being faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar.
We were briefed about the Al Jazeera documentary entitled “The Hidden Genocide” which chronicled the 2012 violence in the Arakan states between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhines.
We heard stories of systematic oppression of the people, including ethnic cleaning and violence against the Rohingya.
We noted the politicisation of the issues and state-sponsored religious extremism. We were told of Rohingya being denied their identity and citizenship.
There is also confiscation of lands and property. There are many allegations of blatant disregard for human rights and claims that Rohingya are not treated as human beings.
Third, we adopted the three points highlighted by Wai Wai Nu in her presentation with regards to the role of Myanmar authorities. These are:
To protect Rohingya from violence and ensure that there is no denial of basic human needs.
To recognise and include Rohingya as one of the recognised ethnic groups as they are not listed as one of the 135 code numbers in the National Census.
To restore full citizenship and equal rights to Rohingya communities.
Fourth, we adopt the additional points highlighted by Wai Wai Nu in her presentation concerning the role of Malaysian government. These are:
To provide access to education and healthcare facilities for Rohingya children in Malaysia as either undocumented people or as refugees base on the CRC.
To create space during the 2015 Asean chairmanship for Asean leaders and Asean civil society to talk about, deliberate on and resolve the human rights violations of Rohingyas.
Fifth, that the Asean community, especially the Asean Inter Governmental Human Rights Commission (AICHR) and the international community take the violations seriously as there is strong evidence that another Rwanda or another atrocity, such as the killing fields of Cambodia, is in the making.
Prompt and concrete initiatives are urgently needed to solve the Rohingya crisis. This is the least we can do as human rights defenders and advocates. – May 9, 2014.
* Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates, Datuk Kuthubul Zaman is the chairman of Proham and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria is the secretary-general of Proham.