Indonesian protestors enact scenes of alleged army brutality in Myanmar during a pro-Rohingya demonstration at the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta on Nov. 25 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen
Elsewhere, the Malaysian foreign ministry said that the situation facing Myanmar’s Muslim minority was a cause for “concern” and said it would emulate the Bangladeshi government by delivering a warning about Rakhine State. “The ministry will summon the ambassador of Myanmar to convey the government of Malaysia’s concern over this issue,” the ministry announced, as hundreds of Rohingya protested on Nov. 25 in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
After Indonesia, Malaysia has the second biggest Muslim population of the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is also a member.
Around 50,000 Rohingya live in Malaysia, most as refugees who fled Myanmar over the decades since the enactment of a 1982 law that denied most Rohingya Myanmar citizenship. The Myanmar government and many locals regard the Rohingya as immigrants from Bangladesh and use the term “Bengali” to describe the group — an epithet that most Rohingya refused to accept during Myanmar’s 2014 census-taking process.
In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, several thousand protestors marched through the streets on Nov. 26, chanting “Stop killing Rohingya Muslims,” and burning an effigy of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The protestors called on the Bangladeshi government to allow more Rohingya refugees cross the from Myanmar into Bangladesh, after human rights groups recently said that hundreds of Rohingya trying to enter Bangladesh from Rakhine state were turned back by Bangladeshi soldiers.
Eyes on Dhaka
Bangladesh has hosted hundreds of thousands Rohingya, many in fetid camps in the border town of Cox’s Bazaar, but stopped granting refugee status to Rohingya from Myanmar in 1992.
“Rohingya migration is an uncomfortable issue for Bangladesh. Hopefully, no more illegal migration will happen now,” Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said on Nov. 22.
But Bangladesh’s reluctance to accept refugees has drawn criticism. “The Rohingya are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Burmese [Myanmar] and Bangladesh authorities,” said Champa Patel, South Asia director for Amnesty International.
In military-ruled Thailand, where demonstrations related to domestic affairs are banned, protestors were able to gather on Nov. 25 outside the Myanmar embassy in the capital, Bangkok. \
Despite growing protests across the region and claims of ethnic cleansing, Myanmar’s neighbors are unlikely to take action – possibly in the interests of ASEAN solidarity. Indonesian Ambassador to ASEAN Rahmat Pramono discounting the prospect of an ASEAN meeting over the crisis, told local media that allegations of ethnic cleansing did not take into consideration the difficulties faced by the Myanmar government in Rakhine State.
Despite Myanmar’s transition to democracy since a quasi-civilian government took office in 2011, and successful elections in 2015, the military retains a veto-wielding 25% of seats in parliament and controls security-related ministries.
Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to media at her Yangon villa in Nov. 5 2015 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)
International pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi to allow an independent or international investigation could flounder on her need to maintain a working relationship with the military, which appears to have strong public support among Myanmar’s people for the crackdown in northern Rakhine State.
Suu Kyi has limited herself to vague comments about the need for the army to adhere to the “rule of law,” while approving the formation of various Rakhine-focused national and international committees — including one headed by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — to examine the wider conflict. The latest violence in northern Rakhine was also discussed at the U.N. Security Council on Nov. 17.
Previous bouts of violence in the region in 2012 — initially inter-communal but later intensifying into what critics described as a pogrom carried out by Rakhine Buddhists against Rohingya Muslims — drove almost 150,000 Rohingya into camps and resulted in the eviction of most of the Muslim population of Sittwe, the regional capital.
Rohingya children play inside Dar Paing camp near Sittwe, Rakhine State, April 2014 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)
Since then thousands more Rohingya have fled by sea to Malaysia and Thailand, risking stormy crossings on rickety boats and the perils of the region’s murky human trafficking nexus, and reminding that the plight of the Rohingya is a regional problem
Non-interference in what is deemed the sovereign affairs of member countries has long been an ASEAN maxim — meaning that human rights abuses have usually been overlooked by the bloc. But some politicians in Southeast Asia want ASEAN to do more. In a recent statement by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Charles Santiago, a Malaysian opposition lawmaker, said that the bloc’s members “must remember that what happens in Rakhine State affects more than just Myanmar,” adding that the violence is not “an internal affair, but a situation with clear regional implications.”
Indonesian police stand guard at the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta on Nov. 25 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)