Friday, 10 August, 2012 | 10:11 WIB
A Question of Human Solidarity
TEMPO Interactive, Jakarta:Human rights violations against the Rohinya ethnic minority in Myanmar have reportedly been committed. It is time for Indonesia to play its diplomatic role. If we are affected by the continued suffering of the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, it is a healthy sign that human solidarity still exists.
Who is not be moved by the sight of the Rohingya, who for decades have lived in that western state of Myanmar, being hunted down by the ethnic Rakhine majority, while the Myanmar military seems disinclined to lend a hand. The state should be protecting the people. However, they are not the only ones who are turning away from this Muslim minority of Bangladeshi descent.
In Myanmar, being Rohingya means living in isolation, without the support of other ethnic communities. In its history, Rohingya is a minority which has often fueled armed rebellion against military regimes known for their repression against various ethnic groups in Myanmar. While facing up to Thein Sein, which has begun to open up the country and offer change, they have suddenly noticed the appearance of a strange phenomenon: other ethnic groups are now keeping their distance from the Rohingya in order to smooth their negotiations with Yangon.
The fate of the Rohingya remains untouched by the pro-democracy movement, which is centered around the figure of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, suddenly faltered when she was asked about the Rohingya problem. She is very careful about issuing statements that could put the government of Thein Sein in a difficult position—even though her NLD held a strong bargaining position in the last legislative election.
Given the lack of interest among the international community, however, and the slow reaction of the United Nations and ASEAN member states, we do not need to get caught up in simplistic conclusions: that this tragedy is the outcome of religious conflict. The ethnic conflict between the Rakhine and Rohingya is a conflict of the majority against the minority, which has been going on for decades, and can be triggered by trivial issues. In the latest conflict, which led to hundreds of thousands to evacuate, the problem began with a rumor of a Rakhine girl being raped by three Rohingya males.
The story of Rohingya is about a group of people who were born and lived in the wrong part of the world. In the western state of Rakhine, they have to accept the arbitrary use of power: decisions which rely on extended discrimination based on an appalling dichotomy between “newcomers” and “native residents.” This condition which “exists but whose existence is not recognized” has been going on since Burma’s independence in 1948, when Rohingya was not included in the list of 137 ethnic groups recognized by the country. Since then, 1.5 million Rohingya people have been forced to leave Rakhine, to live in other countries, leaving behind 800,000 others who still reside in Myanmar.
In addition to being overly simplistic, considering all of this to be part of a religious conflict is a conclusion with potentially explosive results. With its experience as a mediator in conflicts between governments and minorities in the Philippines and Thailand, it is time for Indonesia to play a greater diplomatic role, in the Rohingya case, in which human rights violations in Rakhine were committed.
The government of Myanmar must be pressured to recognize that democracy is a slow process that must also include protecting and not persecuting minorities. ****