Looking at some of the world’s intractable problems today, we often wish that governments had done things differently in the past. In the future, we may be looking back with similar regret at what’s happening now with the Rohingya in Myanmar, whose plight could develop into a lasting problem for the Southeast Asian nation, and the world, if not properly addressed.
Rohingya Muslims have long been persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, forcing them to flee to neighboring nations. In recent months, survivors have accused security forces of killing, raping and burning homes — charges the government denies. Journalists and human rights organizations aren’t allowed into northern Rakhine State, where the alleged atrocities are occurring. More than 65,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since last October. Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner, has faced criticism recently for not controlling security forces though the constitution does not allow her to directly control the military.
The crackdown began in October after a Rohingya insurgent group attacked three border posts in Rakhine State, killing nine police officers. The group, which calls itself Harakah al-Yaqin, is led by a committee of emigres based in Saudi Arabia and is locally commanded by Rohingya with international training, advocacy organization International Crisis Group (ICG) reported last month.
While acknowledging that the government must ensure security against such attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice, the ICG noted the imperative of addressing “the sense of hopelessness and despair underlying the anger of many Muslims.”
If the government’s heavy-handed response continues, the advocacy group warned, the cause of the Rohingya risks being hijacked by “transnational jihadists.” It is an all-too familiar scenario that can only be averted if Myanmar makes some tough calls — otherwise we’ll be talking about the benefit of hindsight all over again.