THE ASSOCIATION of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has been urged to take urgent action on the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State, which has seen more than half a million Rohingya Muslims flee into Bangladesh in little over a month.
Amnesty International sent a letter to the Asean Secretary on Friday – Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano – calling upon the regional bloc to end “grave human rights abuses” against the stateless Rohingya population of Burma (Myanmar).
“Asean is failing to take a stand as one of its member states carries out a violent campaign of ethnic cleansing,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
More than 500,000 mostly Muslim refugees have flooded into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh since Aug 25 when members of the Rohingya militant group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched attacks on the outposts of Burmese security forces, sparking a violent backlash from the Tatmadaw.
The army has been accused of extrajudicial killings, arson of Rohingya villages and rape.
In its letter, Amnesty accused the security forces of unleashing a “unlawful and disproportionate campaign of violence” against the persecuted minority group. Along with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty has accused Burma of crimes against humanity.
The group called for the government to end violence, ensure assistance for Rohingya refugees and the safe return to Burma of those wishing to go back, ending “entrenched discrimination” against Rohingya Muslims, and supporting independent investigations into human rights violations.
International criticism of the government of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been widespread over her failure to end what UN Human Rights Chief has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
According to the US-based watchdog Human Rights Foundation the situation “fits the legal definition of genocide under international law.” Asean, however, has been divided over the issue.
Late last month, Cayetano released a statement on behalf of Asean regarding the Rohingya situation which did not criticise Burma’s military, rather referring to the situation as “a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots.”
The Foreign Minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia Anifah Aman subsequently distanced his government from the statement, stating that it was a “misrepresentation” of reality in the Rakhine.
Indonesia has also publicly expressed its concern and has sent aid to the Rakhine for displaced Rohingyas. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi flew to Burma soon after violence broke out in August for high level meetings with Suu Kyi and the military chief General Min Aung Hlaing.
“Governments in the region must uphold the commitments to human rights enshrined in the Asean Charter, commitments which Myanmar’s military is showing clear contempt for as they perpetrate crimes against humanity against the Rohingya,” added Gomez.
Thailand’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday said it would provide 10 million Baht (US$300,000) in aid to displaced persons in Burma and Bangladesh.