Silence on Rakhine violence is equal to complicity

Silence on Rakhine violence is equal to complicity

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, seen here during her official visit in June, continues her silence on atrocities in Rakhine state. (File photo)
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, seen here during her official visit in June, continues her silence on atrocities in Rakhine state. (File photo)

The worst is already happening in Rakhine State, Myanmar, with tens of Rohingya murdered, mutilated, and tortured. Unverified accounts have emerged of horrors, including children being thrown into burning homes by the Myanmar military, who are acting with total impunity.

This escalation of violence has been going on for weeks now, with the Rohingya diaspora and human rights advocates appealing for intervention and help through social media.

Yet the world is silent. There has not been a whimper from Asean or its member governments. Malaysia, a country with an added responsibility given its instrumental role in bringing Myanmar into the Asean fold, is quiet. The United Nations has not said very much, and the world superpowers are dismissive. No one believes that the butchering of Rohingya by the military is a worthy enough cause to take up.

It's even more appalling that such brutality is happening under the leadership of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Once considered an icon of democracy, Ms Suu Kyi has simply disappeared, much to the disappointment of allies who once considered her worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize that she won while under house arrest in 1991.

Human rights activists, civil society representatives, and even political leaders from neighbouring countries have lost faith in her, and even more so when she turned a blind eye to the sacking of Myanmar Times journalist Fiona McGregor, who was fired after she reported that security forces had raped Rohingya women. Ms Suu Kyi has not ordered an exhaustive and comprehensive probe into the allegations.

Instead, the military and police have upped attacks against Rohingya, including air strikes last weekend. Access to areas which are under siege by security forces has been denied for diplomats, journalists and humanitarian aid workers, meaning there is no way for independent observers to verify the government's claims.

The world catches glimpses of the horror inflicted on Rohingya men, women and children through the photos and short videos captured by people on the ground. But stakeholders, regional bodies such as Asean, and governments, including Malaysia, have not acted to stop the targeted killings and sexual assaults on a group of helpless people.

This is unconscionable. This is about a group of men in uniform, without public objection from the NLD government, unleashing violence against the Rohingya seemingly without regard for civilian life. And every one of us will be complicit in these crimes, which are being carried out with impunity, if we remain silent.

Asean, government leaders, the United Nations, and international organisations must therefore come together to exert pressure on Myanmar to stop these atrocities.

This humanitarian crisis could lead to another exodus of the Rohingya to neighbouring countries through a perilous sea journey. This would mean another round of abuse, victimisation, and horror at the hands of traffickers.

It would mean Rohingya children being forcefully married off to traffickers to settle money owed by their parents for the boat rides.

This is happening in our backyard. Asean must therefore demonstrate its commitment to the Asean Charter and respond effectively, in accordance with the principle of comprehensive security, to all forms of transnational crimes and transboundary challenges.

It's also time for Asean to reaffirm its commitment to the Declaration Against Trafficking in Persons Particularly Women and Children, adopted in 2004.

As violence in Rakhine State continues to escalate, silence equals complicity. Asean as a region has a duty to act.


Charles Santiago is a member of the Parliament of Malaysia and Chairperson of Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

Charles Santiago

Malaysian politician

Charles Santiago is a Malaysian Member of Parliament representing the constituency of Klang and Chairperson of Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

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