Lonely, yet we do not walk alone | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 29, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:55 PM, October 29, 2017

Lonely, yet we do not walk alone

The position of Russia is bullish at best because the Kremlin machinery does not have the eye to see the human destruction in the Rakhine State of Myanmar; yet there have been protests in Moscow, and arrests too, with Chechen Republic's Ramzan Kadyrov contemplating a nuclear strike.

China (playing the “internal matter” card to mask its Belt and Road Initiative) takes a little time, as it did in 1971, to understand the situation in Bangladesh because its radar, some say, is slow to detect friends. Interestingly, across China's border province of Yunnan, Myanmar's Kachin and Shan populations have been restive for over fifty-five years.

India's position is “clear haay” because of its heavy investment in Myanmar for its “Act East” policy. Modi shook hands with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi after her out-of-her-control army launched the bloody carnage, and Sushma Swaraj is jetting to and fro to keep intact, even if by cementing, Indira Gandhi's pledge of lasting Dhaka-Delhi friendship. In her most recent visit to Dhaka, the Indian external affairs minister said that “normalcy” can only be restored after all the refugees in Bangladesh return to Myanmar, not uttering “Rohingya”, which should please Naypyidaw. Suu Kyi is a Jawaharlal Nehru Awardee and Bhagwan Mahavir World Peace winner.

Two are permanent members of the UN Security Council and the third is a contender, despite which for the first time in nine years the 15-strong council unanimously expressed on September 13 “concern about reports of excessive violence during the security operations and called for immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, de-escalate the situation, re-establish law and order, ensure the protection of civilians.” One can vaguely read “the brutality of Burma” between those lines.

Holding on to her Nobel Peace Prize by the apology of tradition that the award has never been rescinded, the “military prisoner” has lost face. Oxford University's St Hugh's College has removed Suu Kyi's portrait from public display in a decision that followed students voting. She will also be stripped of the Freedom of the City of Oxford after the city council voted unanimously, saying it was “no longer appropriate” to celebrate the de facto leader of Myanmar.

UK decided last month to suspend all engagement, including training, with the Myanmar until military action against civilians in Rakhine State stopped. Notwithstanding Brexit, the European Union will cut back contacts with Myanmar's top generals in a first step to increase sanctions over the vicious army offensive. This follows an existing EU embargo on arms and equipment “that can be used for internal repression”. Suu Kyi had been bestowed with European Parliament's Sakharov Prize.

The US has condemned atrocities against Rohingya Muslims and in late October was considering new sanctions because the atrocities committed are tantamount to “ethnic cleansing”, which the French President Emmanuel Macron has called genocide. Present and past Myanmar military leaders have also been barred from visiting the states, only one year after decades-long trade sanctions against the secretive and isolated regime were lifted to set the stage for democracy. Suu Kyi is a US Congressional Gold Medallist.

Professor Muhammad Yunus—among the first Nobel laureates to speak out against the atrocities being committed against the Rohingya—penned an open letter to the UNSC asking the latter to intervene. Archbishop Desmond Tutu also condemned fellow Nobel peace prize awardee Suu Kyi with the words “Silence is too high a price”. Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai condemned the tragic and shameful treatment of the Rohingya. Suu Kyi is a recipient of the Swedish Olof Palme Prize.

In December last year, several Nobel laureates called for the “international community as a whole to speak out much more strongly” as “a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” was unfolding in Myanmar, a disturbed country with over a hundred different ethnic communities.

It appears the 400,000-strong Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) were looking for an excuse to pounce on the Rohingya to depopulate the Rakhine State as per the country's 1982 constitutional amendment. It can now be confirmed that the country (where the military has a stranglehold on the civil society) has backtracked from marching towards democracy. Isolation is addictive.

While some in Dhaka's sceptic opposition are accusing the Hasina government of failing in international diplomacy, the savoir-faire with which the prime minister has won the hearts beyond boundaries is evident even among world leaders. In fact, the people of Bangladesh can take a bow. Here we must add plaudits for our government officers who have done a splendid job thus far by managing the colossal task of providing for over six lakh additional people, sick and weary, hungry and homeless, in a few thousand acres of land, amidst the rain.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi was sent to Myanmar to urge the government to halt deadly violence against the Muslim-majority Rohingya amid growing anger in the world's most populous Muslim nation. She also visited Dhaka to assure Bangladesh of its humanitarian support.

In addition to Germany providing humanitarian aid, its Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that Germany supports the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission under the leadership of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a “good starting point”. Suu Kyi has been honoured with the Norwegian human rights award, the Professor Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize.

The Arab world has been stirred too. Saudi's King Salman has ordered the payment of USD 15 million aid for the Rohingya refugees. The Saudi Cabinet renewed the Kingdom's calls on the international community to take urgent action to stop the attacks and to allow the Myanmar Muslim-minority their basic human rights. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told the UN General Assembly, “My country is gravely concerned and condemns the policy of repression and forced displacement carried out by the government of Myanmar against the Rohingya minority.”

As part of its USD 100,000 intervention for Rohingya refugees, Qatar Red Crescent Society also aims to vaccinate children and fund public catering centres for the refugees.

UNHCR chartered a Boeing 777 to deliver family tents, shelter materials, jerry cans, blankets, sleeping mats and other essential items as emergency relief for 25,000 refugees—1/24th of the total number fleeing from Suu Kyi, who won UNESCO's International Simón Bolívar Prize.

Indian Air Force used Chittagong's Shah Amanat International Airport to deliver India's massive 7,000-tonne relief assurance for Bangladesh. Another flight carrying 14 tonnes of relief materials from Morocco also landed at Chittagong. The Indonesian ambassador to Dhaka Rina Prihtyasmiarsi Soemarno handed over tents, blankets, rice and sugar at Chittagong.

Malaysia was strongly vocal, saying that Myanmar had denied permission for the international community to provide humanitarian aid to the Rohingya Muslims and, more disappointingly, killed Rohingya women and children. Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Malaysia could not accept the Myanmar crackdown on the Rohingya community and wanted the issue to be resolved democratically and by international standards.

Most recently, United Nations investigator Yanghee Lee acknowledged that there were “well-documented accounts of killings, rapes, burned villages and forced displacement” of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

In spite of overwhelming global denouncement of Myanmar and yet disappointing international relief for the Rohingya, despite widespread condemnation of Suu Kyi and yet regionalised concern based on strategic self-interest, regardless of bravado verbalisation by world bodies and leaders, and yet no effective socioeconomic action plan, there is reason to believe we are not the only friends of a marginalised ethnic population. We do not walk alone.

Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising architect, a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian. 

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