The electronic media and the print media play a significant role in presenting to the world the inhumane effects of targetted violence that take place in different parts of the world.
Over the last few weeks, they have been highlighting the cruel ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims, belonging to the Rakhine state in Myanmar.
Most countries in the world have watched with horror as more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have trudged across the border into Bangladesh and are now urging Myanmar to take necessary steps to restore a peaceful and secure climate within the troubled region so that the refugees can return to Myanmar with dignity.
Scars that will never heal
The media of Bangladesh and the foreign electronic media (including the BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera), over this last month, have also focused on the serious psychological scars that have been imprinted on the minds of the younger section of the Rohingya refugees.
Health workers are pointing out that children and the elderly in particular are in need of psycho-social support. Many amongst them who have witnessed murder and arson are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the form of headaches, pain in the abdomen and joints, as well as the illusion of weakness, without any real organic causes. This is also causing feelings of insecurity, anxiety, fear, and pessimism.
The unicef in collaboration with local government authorities and local aid agencies, has initiated an important initiative — creating 42 Child Friendly Space (CFS) areas not only in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar but also in temporary refugee camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf.
These CFS centres are becoming sanctuaries for children with trauma and are focusing on psychosocial and recreational support, life skills based on education, protection and safety issues, and health and hygiene. They are also providing recreational items: Learning toys, pens and pencils, colour pencils, and also sports material.
The media has reported that several important civil society representatives from the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Crisis Group have repeatedly drawn world attention to the fact that Myanmar is committing crimes against humanity in the name of its campaign against Muslim insurgents in Rakhine state.
James Rose, legal and policy director of Human Rights Watch has stated that “the Burmese military is brutally expelling the Rohingya from northern Rakhine State … and the massacres of villagers and mass arson driving people from their homes are all crimes against humanity” — the Human Rights Watch has also gone the next step by calling for the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions and arms embargo on Myanmar.
Such a possible course of action is obviously being suggested to point out that Suu Kyi as well as the Myanmar armed forces are culpable and must face the punishment such a crime against humanity deserves. It may be recalled that the US and its Western allies had imposed, in the past, sanctions on Myanmar for years in support of the Suu Kyi campaign for democracy.
Seven UN experts, including Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on rights in Myanmar, have called on Suu Kyi to meet the Rohingya Muslims to hear for herself the reasons for their exodus.
In this context, they have carefully stated that: “No one chooses, especially not in the hundreds of thousands, to leave their homes and their ancestral land, no matter how poor the conditions, to flee to a strange land to live under plastic sheets, and in dire circumstances, except in life-threatening situations.”
The media, while being critical, has also acknowledged that Suu Kyi has little, if any, control over the Myanmar security forces under the military-drafted constitution that also bars her from the presidency and gives the military veto power over political reform.
See no evil, hear no evil
Hau Do Suan, Myanmar’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations on the other hand, has not only opposed reports of ethnic cleansing as “unsubstantiated allegations” but also claimed that Myanmar is striving for freedom and human rights and will do everything to prevent ethnic cleansing and genocide.
He, however, did not have any effective reason as to why nearly half a million Rohingya Muslims from the Rakhine state have crossed over to a relatively low-income developing country like Bangladesh and sought sanctuary over the last month — bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to nearly a million.
Myanmar is trying to escape accountability for its crimes by relying on continued support from Russia and China and their ability to oppose any resolution in the UN Security Council through the use of veto. They are overlooking the other actors in the international stage.
Myanmar needs to understand that upholding human rights is an important element within the European Union matrix. Its parliament as well as the British Parliament has been severely critical of Myanmar’s actions. There has also been severe criticism from many other important Islamic states and also Canada. The ASEAN is also divided over this issue. A mock international tribunal in Kuala Lumpur has already found Myanmar and its leadership guilty of perpetrating humanitarian crime.
We have had a special session of the United Nations Security Council on September 28 (the first public meeting on Myanmar in eight years) on the request of US, UK, France, Sweden, Egypt, Kazakhstan, and Senegal — thanks to international media reporting.
This was called because the media had highlighted some important countries about how the Myanmar government is trying to mislead the world about ethnic cleansing, including the burning of entire villages and then implementing plans to grab the vacated space.
Where do we go from here?
UN Secretary General Gutterres, on September 28, briefed UN Security Council members and the UN members about the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and the serious violations of human rights, including indiscriminate firing of weapons, the use of landmines against civilians, and sexual violence.
He also demanded that Myanmar allow access of humanitarian aid to areas affected by violence, take back the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, and give them benefits associated with citizenship.
China and Russia, permanent members of the UN Security Council have, however, upheld measures taken by the Myanmar government and overlooked the humanitarian aspects of the situation. The Myanmar representative also denied any wrong-doing. The Bangladesh permanent representative reiterated the demands put forward earlier by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her statement in the UN General Assembly and take steps for the implementation of the recommendations of the Kofi Annan report.
It was no surprise that there was a lot of talk, but no concrete result — either in the form of a resolution or a communique.
Thanks to the media, the ball is no longer only in Bangladesh’s court. The world today knows that instability and violence create vulnerability that helps to generate terrorism and inter-communal conflict.
Myanmar needs to understand that equal opportunities for all ethnic communities will also help Myanmar access its potential and will also reduce the growing culpability that it is generating through ethnic cleansing, discrimination, and violence.
- Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org