Myanmar: The world is watching as human rights collapse

The international community has let itself become a spectator in the tragic and complete collapse of human rights in Myanmar, writes Amjad Bashir.

Rohingya refugees wait to cross the border into Bangladesh | Photo Credit: PA Images

By Amjad Bashir

23 Feb 2018


The international community has let itself become a spectator in a tragic and complete collapse of human rights in Myanmar.

In responding to the plight of the persecuted Rohingya minority, our national leaders and international institutions have been big on condemnation, light on action and invisible in terms of real intervention.

A genocide is playing out unchecked as thousands are murdered and hundreds of thousands driven out in state-condoned violence.

We saw the same lumbering impotence before in Rwanda and Srebrenica and hoped we would never let it happen again. Yet the same grim scenario is playing out all over again.


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Last year I visited the makeshift camps in Bangladesh where hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled for their lives. Last week I went to Myanmar, hoping to see the other half of the jigsaw.

I went as part of a delegation from the European Parliament's subcommittee on Human Rights, joined by MEPs from both the Trade and Foreign Affairs Committees.

We met civic organisations and religious leaders, who confirmed that the process of democratic transition in Myanmar was facing difficulties. I also met parliamentarians including the Minister of Defence.

However, the most telling thing was where our delegation was not allowed to go and the people we could not question.

Our request to visit the region of Rakhine was declined. This is where the Rohingya population is concentrated and where there is clear evidence of ethnic cleansing, rape, infanticide and a whole litany of brutality. Our request to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, was also refused.

We considered cancelling the delegation in objection to these restrictions, but in balance decided to go ahead to see what we could learn in spite of them.

"Our request to visit the region of Rakhine was declined. This is where the Rohingya population is concentrated and where there is clear evidence of ethnic cleansing, rape, infanticide and a whole litany of brutality"

Contrast this, though, with the carte blanche on travel and contacts which we were granted in visiting Bangladesh, and the help we received from a state as poor as this to explore fully the scale of the Rohingya crisis.

I have long had concerns about the human rights situation in Myanmar and this five day visit has only served to see these fears heightened.

The Rohingya people are being driven out of their lands, persecuted and killed. They are still being offered no prospect of citizenship and the human rights situation in other regions of the country is clearly deteriorating.

Without citizenship they remain stateless, landless and without property, healthcare, education or the ability to work.

We support the democratic development of Myanmar, based on respect for fundamental rights. But the pace of change is clearly diminishing.

The drive for full democracy must be given fresh momentum and those changes must deliver better lives to the Rohingyas as well.

The Rohingya issue can no longer be treated as a humanitarian issue nor can it be left in the hands of just two governments. The international community must step in to enforce and monitor the implementation of a lasting political agreement.

"The Rohingya issue can no longer be treated as a humanitarian issue nor can it be left in the hands of just two governments. The international community must step in to enforce and monitor the implementation of a lasting political agreement"

Here is my three-point plan for breaking the log jam.

  1. Full implementation of the 23 November agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh for the return of refugees, crucially with guarantees including a strong involvement of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
  2. A modification of the of the 1982 Burmese law on citizenship to resolve the problem of stateless people, especially the Rohingyas.
  3. Effective monitoring of human rights in Myanmar and access for all relevant aid and human-rights agencies - including the Rakhine state.

Late last year I succeeded in securing an extraordinary debate in the European Parliament and a cross-party resolution calling for action. We urged the EU to "lead international efforts by means of an intergovernmental summit together with the UN".

We proposed that "this summit review progress on the Rohingya repatriation process and the restoration of citizenship rights and that the procedure for an independent investigation of crimes against humanity be initiated."

It is never too late to start doing the right thing.

Read the most recent articles written by Amjad Bashir - Rohingya crisis: Damning UN report must be a turning point

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