Myanmar has decided to ban a United Nations Human Rights Special Investigator from visiting the nation in the wake of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority group. Yanghee Lee, the Special Investigator who sought to gain access to the nation, wanted to prepare a report on human rights issues in Myanmar, which would include an assessment of the purported murder and torture of many Rohingya people in the Rakhine state.
In response to being barred, Yanghee Lee has requested that the international community place more pressure on the government of Myanmar, which is led in a de facto capacity by Aung Sang Suu Kyi. She further contended that the military commanders and generals clearly do not respect the moral legitimacy of the international condemnation of its actions if they are willing to exclude a human rights investigator from entering the country.
To examine whether this point has validity, it is necessary to break down the nature of the attitude of the international community towards this hybrid regime. As Western nations have criticized her refusal to speak out for the interests of the persecuted Rohingya, Aung Sang Suu Kyi has climbed into a metaphorical political fortress and sought to deepen her diplomatic relationship with China. Indeed, the growing and dynamic superpower has an economic interest in Myanmar, which is particularly evident through its Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing also has an interest in maintaining a positive relationship with Myanmar for security reasons, as it aims to curb the influence of Pakistan’s support for fundamentalist groups which could theoretically threaten Chinese influence in Asia. The country may also sympathize with Myanmar’s approach towards the Rohingya, as China itself seeks to prevent an insurgency of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi is also friendly with Russia, which recently provided military supplies to the nation to strengthen its defence capabilities. Moreover, Indian Prime Minster Modi has refused to criticize Myanmar’s handling of the Rohingya people, presumably because it seeks strategic cooperation with Myanmar through investments in its infrastructure and military, as a counterweight to China’s influence. India has recently sought to negotiate a border pact with Aung Sang Suu Kyi in an effort to manage the security threat posed by insurgent groups in the North-East of Myanmar and regulate economic activity on the border.
Currently, around 500,000 of the Rohingya people are sheltering in Bangladesh as the Bangladeshi and Myanmar governments seek to create a deal to enable some of them to return to Myanmar. Most Burmese people view the Rohingya as ‘illegal immigrants’ who do not belong in their country. The military also controls most of the powerful government ministries and exerts considerable influence over politicians, even holding some seats in parliament itself.
Yanghee Lee claims that the actions of the government towards her demonstrate that it must have “something to hide.” One could say that her argument has substance when it is considered in relation to recent government actions. Not too long ago, Myanmar detained two Reuters reporters who were investigating a mass grave within the Inn Din village in Maungdaw. Government authorities claim that they may have breached the Official Secrets Act. Furthermore, many villages have been torched and destroyed since attacks on border officers by Rohingya militants on 25 August 2017.
The challenge of the international community is to keep pressuring Myanmar to defend the human rights of the Rohingya people, while staying aware of how to pragmatically manage relations with the country in light of the strategic goals of the various actors within the region. Every day, 35,000 refugees pour into neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, demonstrating the travesty of the situation. Governments around the world need to take concrete steps to tackle this violence. A peacekeeping force could be sent into Myanmar to manage a ‘safe zone’ in order to protect the Rohingya refugees, although this would be unlikely to receive the backing of the United Nations Security Council, due to the attitude of powerful states such as China. Additionally, Myanmar has blocked aid from the United Nations to the Rakhine State. Nevertheless, the United States could take action by issuing sanctions and other more aggressive measures. Further assistance could also be provided to Bangladesh, which houses refugees in a camp and does not permit anyone to leave it.
It must be mentioned that any long-term solution to the conflict within the Rakhine State will not be effective unless it is backed by Myanmar itself. The country has to undergo a process of introspection in order to diffuse tension between communities and develop a safe path for refugees to be repatriated. Interfaith initiatives are essential, particularly between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. Regional organizations such as ASEAN should play a role in facilitating not only compliance with international human rights and norms, but also the reduction of poverty and security problems within the country. This may provide a sustainable path to reduce communal conflict, protect the interests of refugees, and maintain positive civil-military relations within the fractured nation.
Latest posts by Michael Murdocca (see all)
- The Challenge Of Improving Economic Mobility - May 16, 2018
- The Humanitarian Crisis In The Democratic Republic Of The Congo - February 13, 2018
- The Challenge Of Inclusive Economic Development Within India - January 30, 2018