IT appears that Malaysia’s incessant efforts to get the world to put pressure on Myanmar has worked. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi agreed on Monday at the Asean plenary session that there is a need for a long-term solution to the Rohingya crisis. She has promised to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bangladesh to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to Rakhine State. Malaysia and the rest of Asean, we hope, will keep a close eye on how she keeps this promise. The devil will be in the details. Europe, the United States, the United Nations and international human rights organisations have brought the rumble in Rakhine province within their ken. Even US Congressmen Steve Chabot and Joseph Crowley are keeping a close watch.
Some 600,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh since August, taking with them their heart-rending stories of alleged rape, murder and burnt babies. Close to 500,000 have fled to other countries much earlier under similar atrocities said to be committed by the military and civilian mobs. The Rohingya have been repressed and marginalised for too long. The world is finally waking up and making all the right noises. It is better late than never. Suu Kyi has long criticised Malaysia’s support for the Rohingya as interference in the country’s internal affairs. But, in an editorial in Thailand’s newspaper The Nation, which she wrote on July 13, 1999, she said: “In this day and age, you cannot avoid interference in the matters of other countries.” The irony must have been lost on her. Malaysia’s compassionate concern for the Rohingya cannot amount to interference in Myanmar’s affairs, but if she saw it that way, we are glad Malaysia did what it did.
Now that Asean has accepted Suu Kyi’s promise, we hope Myanmar will henceforth cease all forms of atrocities against the Rohingya who are still in the country. Any sign of harm, brutal or otherwise, against the Rohingya either by the military or other extremist elements will signal insincerity on her part. Clearance operations by soldiers or mobs must be stopped immediately to ensure the safety of the internally-displaced. Another immediate measure that Suu Kyi needs to take is allow access to independent fact-finders, especially now that the military is exonerating itself from any atrocities committed against the Rohingya.
The world needs to keep a close watch on the MoU to be signed with Bangladesh. Myanmar must not be allowed to sign a lopsided agreement that only favours the interests of the country’ military or mobs. Given the dire situation that Bangladesh is in, it may very well be forced to sign away the rights of the Rohingya just to relieve itself of the burden of hosting them. We know Malaysia will not watch this in silence, but neither should the international community. No Rohingya must be kept out of Myanmar or denied citizenship. They must be guaranteed safe return to their homeland. And, in dignity, too. Anything less will harm the cause of Myanmar and Suu Kyi’s promise.