Time has come for Muslim countries to take the lead on the Rohingya crisis

By CJ Werleman

Member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which bills itself as “the collective voice of the Muslim world,” have a rare opportunity to fulfill its promise by choosing to take the lead in bringing peace and security to Rohingya Muslims.

When the United Nations highest court  the International Court of Justice (ICJ)  handed down a landmark ruling on January 23 ordering Myanmar to protect its predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority, and imposing emergency “provisional measures,” Rohingya activists around the world were given an all too rare moment to feel hopeful about their future.

“This is why the ruling means so much to us. I was in the court at The Hague when the verdict was delivered. I had to try really hard not to cry. As I witnessed an official body openly condemn Myanmar for what it did to us, I thought of my friends, family and acquaintances who suffered so much. I thought of the scores of people who shared with me the pain of losing loved ones to the violence of the state. That verdict convinced me that my decades of campaigning for the Rohingya finally achieved something,” wrote Tum Khin, a Rohingya who fled Myanmar in the 1990s after being denied access to a tertiary education by government authorities.

A full three weeks have passed since the ICJ’s ruling, however, and for the Rohingya, that unfamiliar feeling of optimism has again been replaced with the all too familiar sense of anxiety and dread, given the failure of the international community to follow up with action, and given Myanmar has shown no sign it will abide or even acknowledge the judgment of the court.

On the day of the ruling, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi continued her stubbornly defiant stance in denying the genocide and accusing human rights organizations of manufacturing a “distorted picture.” Two days later, her country’s military shelled the Rohingya village of Kin Taung, killing two women, one of whom was pregnant, and injuring seven others.

“There was no fighting, they just shot artillery to a village without a battle,” Maung Kyaw Zan, a national member of parliament for Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine state told Reuters by phone. On February 5, the military shelled a village in the Buthidaung district, seriously injuring a Rohingya man. On February 7, four Rohingya women from a village in Kyaut Taw were injured from artillery fire, and then on February 12 shelling from a naval vessel killed two children and injured ten others, according to Narinjara, a Rakhine State based media.

Myanmar’s unrelenting violence against the Rohingya and its ongoing military campaign against the separatist Arakan Army has caused yet another wave of internally displaced people, with more than 1,500 villagers from roughly 20 villages in Buthidaung fleeing for the relative safety of neighboring villages in a 48-hour period spanning February 7 to 9.

“The primary reason for their departure is the incidents of gun-fighting in their villages. Many houses were already burned down. So, they came to take shelter in our village,” the Thekan Kuason village administrator told Narinjara. Also concerning is the fact the Myanmar government has shut down the Internet in Rakhine State in what is presumably an effort to suppress evidence of its human rights abuses reaching a global audience. On its own, the communications blackout violates the ICJ’s order.

Ro Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya genocide survivor and activist, told Radio Free Asia that were it not for Internet access, the world wouldn’t have known the truth about the military’s shelling of the Rohingya village on January 23, and as such, the current blackout will allow the government to “fabricate stories.”

When I spoke with Lwin, he told me Myanmar’s ongoing violence should only be interpreted as a “clear signal that it will continue committing genocidal acts,” adding, “The court and international community need to move a step forward to take serious action against Myanmar.”

Ultimately, it’ll take a powerful country or a group of countries to put in place a plan that guarantees the “world’s most persecuted minority” welfare, security, repatriation, citizenship, and reparations before Myanmar ends its genocidal campaign against the Rohingya.

Regional security partnerships, specifically The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), could and should take the lead, while a multinational repatriation deal could be enforced by a triumvirate of relatively powerful nations in the region, including Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia. There really is an unlimited availability of workable options. It just takes a relatively small amount of moral energy and impetus.

To that end, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which bills itself as “the collective voice of the Muslim world,” should view the crisis as once-in-a-generation opportunity to demonstrate it is willing to match rhetorical expression of support towards repressed Muslim minorities with actual deeds, especially given it expressed regret in 2018 for not “responding immediately” to the Rohingya crisis, and vowed to assume a “strong” role in the future.

Given Bangladesh, an OIC member, has carried much of the economic and political cost of providing sanctuary and welfare to roughly 1.2 million Rohingya refugees, then one would assume the OIC has had extra incentive to resolve the refugee crisis.

“If it [OIC] continues to ignore this crisis which is debilitating one of its fellow members and humiliating and destroying the lives of Muslims, how can it continue to have any relevance as an organization that claims to safeguard dignity and rights of the Ummah and strengthen solidarity and cooperation amongst peoples of the Muslim world?” asks Bangladesh’s Daily Star.

What then explains the OIC’s indifferent response?

No doubt international oil and gas deals play a central role. For instance, Saudi Arabia ruthlessly and jealously protects its status as China’s top supplier of crude oil, and the Myanmar-China Oil and Gas Pipelines carry oil from the Arab Gulf to China’s landlocked Yunnan Province through Myanmar.

“One could argue that Saudi Arabia is less likely to be outspoken on this (Rohingya) issue because it actually relies on the Burmese government to protect the physical security of the pipeline,” Bo Kong, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has written about China’s global petroleum policy, told the Associated Press.

That said individual OIC members have provided comfort to the Rohingya on a unilateral basis, with Turkey providing 50 tons of humanitarian aid; Azerbaijan 100 tons; Iran 40 tons, and Saudi Arabia $10 million worth of assistance in 2019, respectively.

But Myanmar’s defiance of the ICJ’s ruling and continued violence has made it clear the Rohingya need more than care packages from individual donors. They need collective action, the kind only a multilateral partnership, such as the OIC, can provide.

‘Courtesy Insider Arabia’.

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