The international opinion on Myanmar or Burma is undoubtedly very negative these days and there is no argument on that, of course with the exception of India and China whose first priority is to advance their national interest given the geopolitics and strategically important position of the country.
The international opinion or negative attitude on Myanmar was laid bare, when human rights lawyer Thein Than Oo elaborated the accusation by the people he met during various discussions in the United States, on October 8 to the Voive of America: “Based on the news received, they form views and made accusation (of Myanmar) on genocide, crime against humanity, the whole country being racist, harboring racial segregation, acting like terrorists with no standard, and asked (for explanation)”.
Thein Than Oo was attending a symposium in Idaho State, Brigham Young University on “Rule of Law and Religion in a Changing World” and also met the State Department in Newseum, its United States International Religious Freedom Affairs, where the EU parliamentary representatives were also present.
Let us ponder on how Myanmar has reached this precarious position and has to be on the receiving end of the international ire and outrage because of the Rohingya’s mass exodus.
The Rohingya believed that they have been residing in Arakan State from time immemorial and that it has the right to be taken as indigenous and also the rights to citizenship like all the other ethnic groups residing within the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. And indeed during the era of U Nu government, before the 1962 military coup, they were recognized as indigenous and granted citizenship, but were revoked after the military took over.
Thant Myint-U, a well know historian recently wrote in Nikkei Asian Review in a piece titled, “Myanmar’s resurgent nationalism shapes new political landscape” as followed below:
“A central tenet of Burmese nationalism is that the country belongs to people officially recognized as indigenous (taing-yin-tha), with everyone else a “guest.” The Shan and the Kachin, for example, are seen as indigenous. So too are the Kokang, descendants of Chinese freebooters who fled the Manchu invasions of the 17th century; and the Muslim Kamans, whose Afghan ancestors arrived around the same time in the train of the Mughal Prince Shah Shuja, an erstwhile governor of Bengal. They are regarded as indigenous because “their people” came prior to British rule.”
On the other hand, the Myanmar government official stand is that the “Rohingya”, self-identifying ethnic identity is not accepted and instead labeled them as “Bengali”, are illegal immigrant from Bangladesh is shared by the Military, Arakanese and also the majority of the country’s population.
A recent BBC report with the headline “The story not being talked about in Myanmar”, on October 9, confirmed the rejection from different strata of the Myanmar society when the Rohingya issue was raised. The reporter doing the survey wrote that people were either forthright in their opinion or tried to gloss over the topic, saying “there are many other issues in this country”.
According to him, U Aung Hla Tun, vice-chairman of the Myanmar Press Council said: “They [Rohingya] do not belong to the ethnic minorities [of this country]. This is a fact.”
“This issue is seen from outside as a religious problem. But it is not. The violence is an act of terrorism. The international community is getting wrong information about the situation in the Rakhine state,” a female student answered in response to question on Rohingya issue.
Shwe Toontay Sayar Taw, one of the leading monks in the Saffron Revolution when asked him as a young democrat, whether Myanmar is responsibly to treat all communities, including the Rohingya, equally, answered: “In democracy all are equal,” adding “but not terrorists”.
“If they take up terrorism [then] all the people of the world should unite to destroy terrorism. Otherwise they will destroy our generation.”
It should now be clear that this polarization of conceptual differences, one side struggling to secure a decent recognized place as an ethnic group within the society and the other totally rejecting it with the tendency to get rid of them in anyway possible, the outcome from this has been a human tragedy unparalleled in our recent history.
Half a million Rohingya has fled from Arakan State to Bangladesh, thousands have been killed and thousands of homes have been burnt down, These are the hard facts and reality on the ground.
While it is true that the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacks on some 30 government outpost that killed a dozen or so policemen and soldiers have sparked the Burma Army’s retaliation, the disproportionate response and collective punishment befallen on the Rohingya are there for all to see. And undoubtedly, this has led the international community to see Myanmar in a very bad light.
The Myanmar leadership should understand the international norms and universal values accepted by the civilized world and act accordingly if it wants to be taken as a respectful member of the international community.
Myanmar just couldn’t go on with the attitude that it knows best on how to defuse and tackle the Rohingya issue with its own recipe without outside help. Given the facts and figures that has painted the unfolding human tragedy, which is still ongoing, it should be clear by now that Myanmar could not solve this problem alone and only with international help and involvement could this problematic issue be resolved.
In a nutshell, while international humanitarian aid to lessen the woes and hardships of the refugees, eventual repatriation and rebuilding of the burnt out communities, including the political solution or dialogue to the question of Rohingya identity problem, which cost undoubtedly would have to be shouldered by the UN and international community, Myanmar on its part must be also ready to fulfill its part to be conducive in resolving the problems. And it is none other than to accept the universal human rights notion and do away with everything that promotes racism and ethnocentrism, in order to become mainstream again within international community and resolve not only the Rohingya issue but also the numerous ethnic conflicts that have been going on since the independence from the British in 1948.
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