By Sadiq Khan - 17th August 2012
Sadiq Khan highlights the plight of Rohingya Muslims being murdered, raped and displaced from Burma’s Rakhine state.
"My country today stands at the start of a journey towards, I hope, a better future. So many hills remain to be climbed, chasms to be bridged, obstacles to be breached. Our own determination can get us so far. The support of the people of Britain and of peoples around the world can get us so much further."
These are the words of human rights campaigner and former political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi, when she addressed both houses of the UK Parliament back in June.
The words display an acknowledgement by Suu Kyi that Burma has a long way to go if it is to be a truly democratic state, and yet there is immense optimism that change can be achieved with the help of people around the world.
Two months on, and I’m afraid my own optimism on this subject is at a dangerously low ebb. One of the best kept secrets is the humanitarian catastrophe taking place in Burma’s Rakhine state where we have seen reports over the last few weeks of Rohingya Muslims being murdered, raped and displaced in clashes with members of the local Buddhist population and Burmese security forces.
As we approach the last few days of Ramadhan, which is of huge religious significance to Muslims, the treatment of the Muslim minority in Burma and the silence from the rest of the world is a topic of conversation and consternation in Mosques around our country.
Human Rights Watch claims that security forces have killed and raped members of the Rohingya group and arrested hundreds of others. Just today Channel 4 have the first reports from any Western journalists in which they filmed the previously bustling town of Narzi, in the city of Sittwe, now a
deserted wasteland – homes raised to the ground – and its 10,000 inhabitants nowhere to be seen. Channel 4 also managed to speak to refugees who are now languishing in camps far from their home town with little food or adequate resources to sustain them.
This current wave of violence erupted on the 4th June after 10 Muslim men were killed when an angry crowd attacked a bus in the Taungup district, apparently mistakenly believing some passengers were responsible for the murder and rape of a young Buddhist woman in Rakhine in May. But this is not out of the blue.
Although the historical ties of the Rohingya people to Burma is disputed, what is certain is that they have a long history of persecution and suffering in the region
The Burmese government considers them to be recent migrants from what is modern day Bangladesh and as a result, the country's constitution does not include them among indigenous groups qualifying for citizenship.
Building an accurate picture of the situation on the ground is extremely difficult due to the Burmese authorities stopping journalists and aid workers from getting to the most sensitive parts of the state.
Even those Rohingya who manage to flee the violence face further anguish when trying to enter neighbouring Bangladesh, whose border control authorities have allegedly refused to take in any refugees, a clear violation of international law. They either turn back to the violence, or wait to die in
There is a real concern that the gross human right’s violations are taking place at a time when the world's attention has been focussed elsewhere.
If you look carefully it is possible to discover that our Foreign Secretary has issued a statement on the FCO website, which condemns the violence and offers the support of the UK government which he says
‘...stands ready to assist the government of Burma in its efforts to develop Rakhine State, to share our knowledge and experience of tackling the many complex and long-standing issues to be overcome....and ‘to support an inclusive political settlement that protects the rights of all members of the local
However, many now feel that our government should be saying and doing more. The statement issued so far does nothing to address this man made humanitarian catastrophe taking place in Burma. What compounds the disaster is the lack of awareness in the mainstream media about this. Where are the headline news reports? Why is the loss of human life and massive displacement of tens of thousands and corresponding atrocities only receiving scant attention in the media?
My concern and anger about this issue is not due to the fact that these people are of Islamic faith, nor do I accept the conspiracy theorists’ claim that this case shows Muslim lives are cheap. My concerns arise because they are fellow humans who are victims of sickening crimes and have nobody standing
up for their human rights.
We urgently need to publicise and shine a light on the atrocities being committed in Rakhine State. Britain has influence over both Burma and Bangladesh. We need to demand that the Burmese authorities do all they can to stop, not escalate, the violence and that the international community do
more to assist those who have fled persecution and those who can't.
Parliament gave a rousing and well deserved welcome to Aung San Suu Kyi when she addressed us recently but our government needs to properly take on board what she said and make sure that Britain supports Burma in moving forward, and in turn bringing an end to this horrific loss of life and violation of human rights law.