Burma And The Rohingya People: An Open Letter To President Obama – OpEd


Dear Mr. President,

I am somewhat puzzled by your decision to visit Myanmar, which has the worst records of human rights in our planet. As an overture to your trip, your administration has recently lifted import restrictions on Myanmar, broadly authorizing Myanmar-origin goods to enter the United States for the first time in almost a decade. So, you can understand why like so many other concerned human rights activists, I am at a loss to understand your rationale for the trip.

I am sure your administration is well aware of Myanmar government’s apartheid policy and its monumental crimes against its own people, esp. the Rohingya, who remain the worst persecuted people in our time. The root cause of the Rohingya people lies with the 1982 Citizenship Law, which is at odds with scores of international laws. This law, formulated during the hated dictator Ne Win’s era, has effectively made the Rohingya people stateless in their ancestral homeland. President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government promised reform from its criminal past, but, sadly, continues to follow the footsteps of its evil predecessors and ignore the calls from the international community to reform or revoke that age-old racist and highly discriminatory law.

The Myanmar government, a member of the United Nations, continues to deny human rights of the Rohingya people, ignoring all of the thirty Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is guilty of practicing a slow but steady genocidal campaign against the unarmed Rohingya civilian population, which has resulted in forced exodus of nearly two million Rohingya people who live as unwanted refugees in many parts of our world, including countries like Thailand and Bangladesh. While this figure of 2 million – nearly half the Rohingya population – may not sound too large to you, but just reflect for a moment that this is equivalent to forced expulsion of 170 million of the U.S. population.

Surely, such a gross racism and bigotry has no place in our time! And yet, such evil twins have become the defining characteristics of today’s Myanmar and its chauvinist Buddhist population. It is no accident that a Myanmar diplomat U Ye Myint Aung working in Hong Kong called the dark brown-complexioned Rohingya people “ugly as ogres.” How would you, Mr. President, who is equally dark brown, have felt if such hateful comments were made about you, your wife and your children? Just take a look at the postings by racist Burmese and Rakhines in the Internet to understand the depth of ugliness of today’s Myanmarism. It is no accident either that Suu Kyi, through her appalling silence, endorses the current extermination campaign against the Rohingya.

Mr. President, the United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as the ‘purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.’ As the never-ending episodes of violence clearly demonstrate what the Rohingyas are facing is nothing short of ethnic cleansing by fellow Rakhines that is participated by state security forces, politicians, and government officers.

Ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people has truly become a national project in today’s Myanmar that enjoys wide support from within the Buddhist population. In recent months, the Rakhine Buddhist terrorists and their patrons and partners-in-crime within the government – central and local – have uprooted more than a hundred thousand Rohingya people, let alone torched hundreds of Rohingya villages and townships. Muslim parts of the most of the towns and cities within the Rakhine state have simply been wiped out, as if they are bombed out places reminiscent of the Second World War. With homes, shops, schools, businesses, mosques, crops and cattle burned down, the Rohingya people are forced to either risk the high seas to seek a shelter anywhere or settle for segregated prison-like concentrations camps outside Sittwe (Akyab) in the Rakhine state. Regrettably, the Government of Bangladesh continues to deny them shelter. In recent days, hundreds have died in the Bay of Bengal. Thousands have also died as a result of the latest genocidal campaign.

Deemed stateless by the ultra-racist 1982 Citizenship Law, where will the Rohingya go and who will shelter them? What excuse does the world community, especially the powerful nations like the USA, have to stop this greatest crime committed by the Myanmar government and its racist elements within the society in our time?
Mr. President, please, read US photographer Greg Constantine’s recently released book “Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya” to understand their human stories. He relates the story of 20-year-old Kashida who had to flee to Bangladesh with her husband. The Burmese authorities had denied her permission to get married, but when they discovered she had married in secret and was pregnant they took away all her family’s money and cows and goats. They forced Kashida to have an abortion, telling her: “This is not your country; you don’t have the right to reproduce here.” What atrocity and what brutality, and yet no relief for this unfortunate people! Rape has become a weapon of war to terrorize this people.
President Thein Sein is guilty of speaking with a forked tongue. He reneged on his agreement with the OIC. He is averse to international observers and an independent UN Commission of Inquiry. He likes to hide his regime’s crimes. He is not serious about securing the lives and properties of the non-Buddhist Rohingya people.

Last Friday, 3,000 Rakhine Buddhist terrorists surrounded the village of Paik Thae in Kyauktaw Township to evict the Muslim inhabitants. On Saturday morning some 200 security forces and Burmese Army soldiers entered the Muslim village of Anaryme in Pauktaw and ordered the Muslim villagers to leave their houses and the village. They have evicted these Muslims from their homes so that the security forces and soldiers can live in them. How can our generation allow such crimes of forced eviction?

As I write on Saturday, 50 ponds in Rohingya villages of U Hla Pe and Rwa Nyo Daung in Buthidaung Township have been found to be poisoned by Rakhine terrorists. It was aimed at killing the Rohingyas of those villages who depend on those ponds for drinking water.

Dear Mr. President, the list of such daily abuse, harassment, persecution and slow but steady genocidal campaign to wipe out the Rohingya and Muslim identity of Arakan and Myanmar is long and simply unacceptable. It needs to be stopped. Your visit to Myanmar should not and cannot be interpreted as an endorsement of the devious policies of the Thein Sein government which wants to push out the Rohingya minorities one way or another.

I, therefore, urge you to press President Thein Sein for genuine democratic reform, national reconciliation and restoration of human rights, and an end to genocidal campaign against the Rohingya and grant them citizenship on par with other ethnic nationalities.

I urge you to insist that if the Myanmar government is desirous of a friendly relationship with the USA, it must allow safe, timely and unhindered access of international media and rights groups across the Rakhine (Arakan) state to monitor and thus, act as a deterrent to any future pogrom against the Rohingya minorities. It must support UN peace-keeping forces being sent to Arakan for the purpose of preventing final solution of the Rohingya problem. It must also allow the UN to conduct unbiased inquiry and to send independent international observers to the troubled region. Like the Rohingyas in the Rakhine state, some 90,000 people have also been internally displaced in the Kachin state who are denied humanitarian aid by the Thein Sein regime. Therefore, you must stress the urgent need to allow international aid to reach the Rohingya and other affected minorities for security conditions that would allow them to return to their homes safely. The Myanmar government must also compensate the victims.

In 1994, Rwanda witnessed genocide in which more than half a million Tutsis were killed. The Clinton administration did not act quickly enough after the killing began and failed to call the crimes by their rightful name: genocide. Four years later, President Clinton and the First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton visited the capital city of Kigali to apologize for the international community’s failure to stop the genocide. I pray and hope that we shall be spared of a repeat of that sad episode of American indecision to come to the rescue of an endangered people.
Mr. President, the Rohingyas are victims of genocide in Myanmar. No linguistic camouflage of the yesteryears can hide this ugly truth. Please, have the moral authority to call a spade a spade, and stop this genocide, failing which, I am afraid, the Rohingyas will be an extinct community. Simply put, the human rights of the Rohingya and other affected minorities cannot take a backseat when they face extermination. It would be the greatest crime under your watch! Please, stop the extinction of the Rohingyas of Myanmar.

Habib Siddiqui

Dr. Habib Siddiqui

Dr. Habib Siddiqui has a long history as a peaceful activist in an effort towards improving human rights and creating a just and equitable world. He has written extensively in the arena of humanity, global politics, social conscience and human rights since 1980, many of which have appeared in newspapers, magazines, journals and the Internet. He has tirelessly championed the cause of the disadvantaged, the poor and the forgotten here in Americas and abroad. Commenting on his articles, others have said, "His meticulously researched essays and articles combined with real human dimensions on the plight of the displaced peoples of Rohingya in Myanmar, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo and Palestine, and American Muslims in the post-9/11 era have made him a singular important intellectual offering a sane voice with counterpoints to the shrill threats of the oppressors and the powerful. He offers a fresh and insightful perspective on a whole generation of a misunderstood and displaced people with little or no voice of their own." He has authored 11 books, five of which are now available through Amazon.com. His latest book - Devotional Stories is published by A.S. Noordeen, Malaysia.

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