THE Rohingya are a minority community living in Rakhine State in Myanmar. The Muslim Rohingya are considered intruders into Buddhist Myanmar — illegal immigrants from bordering Bangladesh.
They have been always discriminated against, looked down upon, ostracised, and denied any civil and judicial rights.
In August of 2017, a small group of Rohingya militants launched an attack against local police forces. This incident triggered the worst ever reaction against the Rohingya in which the local non-Rohingya population, Buddhist monks and the local police participated.
The official security forces then took over and undertook mass killings, abuses and abductions. Most of the Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh where about 900,000 refugees now live in camps where they receive essential assistance and basic medical care. Efforts are being made to negotiate their return to Myanmar but these appear to have little chance of success.
The violence towards the Rohingya, and their displacement from their homes and villages, is likely to wipe out their traditions, culture and lifestyle as well as their mental and cultural constructs. This combination of physical and psychological violence is likely to lead to the elimination of the Rohingya’s identity.
These acts against the Rohingya constitute genocide as set out in the Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide passed by the United Nations in 1948 — which defines genocide as actions taken to “destroy, in whole and in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.
The Rohingya crisis has been subject to attention at international level; the international press has given the matter considerable coverage; and the UN Human Rights Council has recommended that the commanders responsible for the violence be brought to trial.
However, much more needs to be done given the number of people affected, the fact that the Rohingya, always a poor and vulnerable group, are being pushed into inhuman suffering; and that the brunt of the refugee burden is being borne by a single country (Bangladesh).
Logistic and financial help is needed to address immediate needs, and political and diplomatic pressure is needed to help the Rohingya to return to their homes and to bring to justice those responsible for criminal acts.
This relative lack of attention reflects different factors in developed and developing countries. The rich countries, particularly the US and European countries, are currently grappling with their own immigration and refugee crisis which largely emanates from problems in the Middle East, Africa and Central America.
Among the increasingly sovereignist governments in many countries, there is a limited appetite for addressing crisis that do not directly affect their economic or social interests.
Given the lack of interest by the developed world, much responsibility falls on developing countries, especially large neighbours, such as China, India, Pakistan and Thailand.
These countries should be helping Bangladesh cope with the economic burden of dealing with the refugees and pressurising Myanmar to take back the Rohingya, grant them civil rights and press charges against those that have committed crimes and atrocities.
However, little is being done and this reflects a misguided sense of solidarity among developing countries which results in a reluctance to criticise each other on human rights matters. This is unfortunate.
Bangladesh and its neighbours have experienced rapid economic growth that has raised average incomes and reduced poverty. However, development is about much more than just increased economic wellbeing. It is also about upholding values, allowing citizens to lead dignified lives free from arbitrary violence, and having access to speedy and reliable justice systems. This needs to be done domestically and internationally.
In other countries, such as China and Vietnam, social media activists are taking the lead on rights and justice issues, addressing corruption, cronyism and human rights abuses.
These steps are excellent and timely. However, there is a moral void in the global system with the traditional upholders of the rule-based international order, particularly northern Europe and the US, taking a less proactive role.
The most glaring recent example relates to the limited political and economic fallout of the Kashoggi murder.
As developing countries, especially in Asia, account for an increasing share of global GDP, they should also take up an increasing share of the task of creating a better and more just world.
Given the nature of what needs to be done, NGOs, social media or the national judicial systems which have played a critical role in the domestic sphere, cannot take the lead.
The responsibility for this falls squarely on the shoulders of governments — they must not fail. IPS.
Leila Yasmine Khan is a writer based in the Netherlands. Daud Khan has more than 30 years of experience on development issues with national and international organisations