MAY BULMAN | The Independent
More than a dozen Nobel laureates have criticised Burma’s de facto leader and fellow peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi for not doing enough to curb the “ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” against minority Rohingya Muslims in the country.
An open letter to the UN Security Council, signed by 23 peace laureates, leaders and activists, warns the offensive has killed hundreds of Rohingya people and condemns Burmese State Counsellor Ms Suu Kyi for “not taking any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas”.
It cautions that the situation has “hallmarks of recent past tragedies – Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo”.
The letter, of which the signatories include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, was delivered as Bangladesh announced around 50,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the violence across its border.
“Access for humanitarian aid organisations has been almost completely denied, creating an appalling humanitarian crisis in an area already extremely poor,” it states.
“Thousands have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, only to be sent back. Some international experts have warned of the potential for genocide. It has all the hallmarks of recent past tragedies – Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Kosovo.”
It quotes one Rohingya woman describing how her sons were arbitrarily arrested, recalling how they had their hands “tied behind their backs” and were “beaten badly” for around 30 minutes, before adding that she had “not seen them since”.
It condemns Ms Suu Kyi, who was awarded the 1991 Nobel peace prize and won Burmese elections to become State Counsellor last November, for not taking action to ensure Rohingyas equal rights.
“Despite repeated appeals to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, we are frustrated that she has not taken any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas,” it states.
“Daw Suu Kyi is the leader and is the one with the primary responsibility to lead, and lead with courage, humanity and compassion.”
In November, Ms Suu Kyi refused to address accusations Rohingya Muslims in her country may be the victims of crimes against humanity, and while she vowed to work towards “peace and national reconciliation”, she gave no specific details on how her government intends to resolve the violence faced by the long-persecuted Muslim minority.
The letter goes on to urge the UN to do more to allow for aid to get into the country, as well as journalists and human rights observers. “We urge the United Nations to do everything possible to encourage the government of Myanmar to lift all restrictions on humanitarian aid, so that people receive emergency assistance,” it states.
“Access for journalists and human rights monitors should also be permitted, and an independent, international inquiry to establish the truth about the current situation should be established.”
The letter urges for the members of UN Security Council to put this crisis on the Security Council’s agenda “as a matter of urgency” and to call on the Secretary-General to visit Burma “as a priority”.
“It is time for the international community as a whole to speak out much more strongly. After Rwanda, world leaders said ‘never again’,” it concludes.
“If we fail to take action, people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets, and we may end up being the passive observers of crimes against humanity which will lead us once again to wring our hands belatedly and say ‘never again’ all over again.”
Other signatories include former prime minister of Italy Romano Prodi and British business leader Sir Richard Branson, as well as Nobel peace laureates Jose Ramos-Horta, the former president of East Timor and Yemeni opposition activist Tawakkol Karman.
It comes several weeks after Amnesty International said it has documented the military’s “vicious and disproportionate” security campaign in northern Rakhine state over the past two months, reporting that Burmese security forces have killed, raped and burned down the houses of entire villages.
The rights group accused Ms Suu Kyi, of “failing to live up to both her political and moral responsibility” — an accusation that was met with blanket denials of human rights violations from Burmese authorities.
The Rohingya are a minority of about a million people who, despite having lived in the country for generations, are treated as illegal immigrants and denied citizenship, and are consequently some of the most oppressed people in the world.
Since communal violence broke out in 2012, more than 120,000 Rohingya have been driven from their homes and crammed into squalid camps guarded by police, where they are denied healthcare and education, and their movements are heavily restricted.
The recent bloodshed is the most deadly since hundreds were killed in clashes in 2012 and more than 100,000 were forced into squalid camps.
On Tuesday it was reported that the body of a decapitated Rohingya Muslim man was found in a river in in Burma just days after he spoke to journalists — a discovery that renewed international criticism that Ms Suu Kyi has done too little to help the Rohingya.
In 1982, Rohingyas’ rights to citizenship were removed, and they were rendered stateless, despite living in the country for generations.
Their plight intensified dramatically with the severe outbreaks of violence in 2012, which resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands and a new apartheid between Rohingya Muslims and their Rakhine Buddhist neighbors.