Editorial: Myanmar persecution of Rohingya is a major world crisis

September 21 , 2017

The persecution of the Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority ethnic group in Myanmar, is none other than an act of ethnic cleansing—the mass expulsion or killing of a particular group of people from an area in which they live. The international community must move quickly to address this calamity.

On September 19, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that more than 420,000 members of the Rohingya ethnic group have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to seek refuge. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has categorized the persecution of the Rohingya as a major world crisis that stands alongside the North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono announced that Japan has contributed some 4 million US dollars (450 million yen) in aid so far.

There is an estimated 1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western coastal state of Rakhine. Heavily discriminated against by the majority of the Burmese population, which is Buddhist, the government of Myanmar does not recognize them as an official ethnic group and have denied them citizenship.

Their persecution escalated into violence when, on August 25, 2017, a group of Rohingya insurgents who call themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts. Burmese military troops, backed by local Buddhist mobs, retaliated by repeatedly attacking and killing Rohingya civilians and burning their villages.

According to Bangladesh, many of the Rohingya refugees fleeing into their country are women who are pregnant or with babies, resulting in a catastrophic humanitarian disaster.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader who holds the post of both state counselor and foreign minister, is placed in a difficult position. With the military assuming control over public order and safety and the longstanding precedent of hostility against the Rohingya within the country, there is little she can do to stop the crisis.

A year ago, Suu Kyi established the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in an effort to persuade the military to stop the violence and resolve the issue. The commission has since suggested ways to resolve the conflict, including revising citizenship laws that would effectively improve socioeconomic conditions in the Rohingya region, initiatives to coexist with Buddhists, and job assistance aimed at eradicating poverty.

Suu Kyi has stated that the Burmese government will work to implement the commission’s recommendations. This is the first among many steps that the international community should encourage.