Saturday, 23 November 2013

Letter to the OIC: Evacuate the Rohingya from Burma

24th November 2013

Dear Members of the OIC,

I am writing to you regarding the Rohingya in Burma/Myanmar. I have been campaigning for them every day since June 2012 when they experienced the first round of terrible violence, when many were killed, thousands of homes were burnt and thousands of innocent people were driven from their land.

During that time my friend and I interviewed a Rohingya village leader via telephone. His village was surrounded by devastation and he pleaded with us to save his people and to send food as they had completely run out, and to send medical help as people were dying from untreated injuries.

We tried desperately to get the world to wake up to what was happening. When I told people that a genocide was taking place, I was warned that I was going to ruin my reputation, because that is not a thing you can go around saying.

In October 2012 I made friends with another Rohingya on the ground who had managed to acquire a phone and was learning how to use Twitter. He tweeted daily events from a camp, since he had just been driven from his home, which was not actually destroyed but authorities said he had to leave and he was never allowed to return. In the weeks that followed he tweeted details of terrible events as they unfolded. He sent reports of thousands more homes that were burning and thousands more innocent Rohingya fleeing to sea, where hundreds drowned or died in boats as they were not allowed to land for days.

It has been a traumatic time since then. Almost every day I have learnt of new atrocities. Hardly a day goes by when we don't hear of another innocent person wrongfully arrested, tortured, never to be seen again, or brutally slaughtered, or raped, or drowned at sea, or dying from starvation or untreated disease. The level of persecution is unimaginable and it is relentless. Day after day, month after month, the attempt to eliminate the Rohingya entirely from their country continues.

Delegations have come and gone. Politicians and ambassadors have expressed words of deep concern. Millions of dollars have been handed to the Burmese government to assist with the situation. However, very little of this funding actually gets through to the Rohingya. Still they are starving and dying from disease, not due to lack of aid, but due entirely to blocked aid and prohibited care.

Should you think to research the topic of genocide, you will quickly come to realise that what is happening in the state of Arakan towards the Rohingya (although Kaman Muslims and Burmese Muslims across the country have also been targeted) has all the characteristics of a textbook case of genocide. Professor William Schabas, former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, says (with regard to the Rohingya’s position):

"When you see measures preventing births, trying to deny the identity of the people, hoping to see that they really are eventually, that they no longer exist; denying their history, denying the legitimacy of their right to live where they live, these are all warning signs that mean it's not frivolous to envisage the use of the term genocide."

Something else you will also learn is that genocide is always political, and does not happen by chance, it is planned.  I encourage you all to watch the documentary 'Genocide: Worse than War' by Daniel Goldenhagen for greater insight into why and how genocide takes place, and what, if anything, you can do to stop it.

The elimination of the Rohingya from Burma is not a simple case of an escalation of hatred. The escalation of hatred is a result of carefully planned and targeted propaganda. The rise of the 969 group is not a simple case of rising intolerance but rather a criminal organisation that is paid to carry out the work of the genocidal masterminds.

The situation for the Rohingya, despite the many delegations, deep concern, and no doubt bribes (ie. aid), has not improved. Rather it has got worse, and continues to deteriorate. The level of persecution against the Rohingya is such that no human being on this earth could tolerate and so increasingly they are faced with no option but to try and flee the country. Thousands are taking to rickety boats knowing that there is a high probability that they will drown, but that is preferable to staying on the land to suffer a long drawn out death through starvation, or disease, under constant fear of torture, slaughter or rape, to themselves, or worse still to their loved ones.

Muslims around the world are horrified at the unfolding of events and feel powerless as we hear and see many reports of intolerable affliction. Everyone is looking for leadership and decisive action to alleviate the  suffering of these desperate people. The concept of the 'Muslim Ummah' has sadly become little more than a topic of ridicule.

When I began campaigning for the Rohingya I had hope that when the world saw what was happening, UN forces would be sent to protect these people, who are officially the world's most persecuted minority. Yet not one country has called for such protection, instead choosing to believe the lies of 'reform' since that sits more comfortably with 'national interests'.

It is now apparent that no-one is going to protect the Rohingya. The Burmese regime  is well aware that they can continue their crimes with impunity. The Rohingya are therefore being left to die, fast or slow, one way or another, they are being wiped from the land. They are under the very real threat that a third wave of violence will be unleashed against them any day that really could see the Rohingya suffer complete and total destruction. But the alternative to a wave of violence is that of deprivation of food, medicine, education and access to communications which would eventually result in the same outcome.

This week I called a Rohingya man in Burma, who I had been told spoke English, but when I called him I could not understand his words, nor him mine. So I just listened to his heart instead. He cried like I have never heard anyone cry in my life. He begged for help. I searched desperately for some words that he might recognize, and so I recited Surah Al-Fatihah so that he might understand we are one, and his suffering is also mine. What he was pleading, I learnt afterwards, was for the 57 countries of the OIC to take them away from there, because that would be better than what they are suffering now. You can listen to the recording here:

The Rohingya belong in the state of Arakan in Burma. They have lived there for centuries. They deserve to stay there and be protected. But no one is going to protect them, that fact is now clear. I therefore request that you give careful consideration to the possibility of evacuating all of the Rohingya from their homeland, as that is perhaps the only option left, should you really wish to save these, our brothers and sisters.

When considering the protection of a child at risk, it is always desirable to leave children with their parents wherever possible. The exception comes when that child's life is at extreme risk. In this case all other considerations must come second - the removal of the child from the immediate danger is the priority. Right now there are literally hundreds of thousands of children's lives at very serious risk of death. At any time now a third attack may be unleashed and at that stage the opportunity to act will have passed.

I therefore recommend that all member countries of the OIC act with urgency to send large naval ships to evacuate all of the Rohingya that wish to do so. I would expect the Burmese government to welcome such a proposal, as that was Thein Sein's original and only 'solution' when this started in 2012. I realise that the Burmese regime may then think that is their victory. But firstly I would like to point out that saving the Rohingya lives should be the very first consideration. Secondly, the matter of justice can be addressed once the Rohingya have been removed from the immediate danger. Thirdly, I must emphasize that the removal of the Rohingya, a very gentle and peace loving community, would actually be a great loss to Burma and a gain to any country that would welcome them. The Rohingya have so much to teach any society regarding endurance, perseverance, and gratitude of the simple things in life that we all take for granted.

Since the Rohingya are surrounded by people who hate them and want them dead, and the Burmese government would clearly not co-operate with a peace keeping force even if any country might suggest such (which they haven't), I do not think that protecting the Rohingya whilst they remain in Burma is now feasible.

Official figures suggest that there may be up to 1 million Rohingya living in Burma. I suspect that many more Rohingya have either died or have been driven out to sea over the past year than people realise so the actual figure may not be anything like that number now.

If each OIC country was to take in 10,000 Rohingya and offer them help to relocate and restart their lives, that would accommodate 570,000 people. I suspect this may suffice. Some people will naturally want to stay, but at least Muslim nations should give those that want to leave a way to do so? Surely that is better than watching them die?

I am pleading with you on behalf of the Rohingya man who pleaded with me on the telephone to take this request to the OIC. Please give this option careful consideration, urgently, before it is too late, as it may be the only option if the Rohingya are to be saved. Thank-you.

Yours faithfully,

Jamila Hanan
Human Rights Defender

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