As elections take place in Myanmar in which the opposition is predicted to make big gains, human rights activists have urged people to lobby their MPs over the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, writes Siema Iqbal.
Four hundred people, including parliamentarians and councillors, listened to accounts of the horrors inflicted on the Rohingya people at the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester.
The Rohingya are described by the United Nations as the “most persecuted ethnic minority in the world.”
The audience was told that 160,000 refugees have been put into camps, mosques and business have been burnt down, restrictions have been placed on marriage, and the 1.3 million Rohingya have been denied citizenship.
Therefore, at least 20% of Myanmar’s population wasn’t be allowed to vote at yesterday’s election.
Tun Khin, of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation, said he was distressed by the inaction of the international community. He pleaded with the audience: “We need your help. Write to your MP or to the Foreign Office. We need an enquiry.”
Elinor Chohan described the impact of the genocide on women and children. She said women and young girls had been brutally and systematically raped and mutilated in front of their families.
Children speak of villages being set on fire, relatives hacked to death and bodies cut into small pieces. Women commit suicide unable to carry the burden of rape. She said that “rape is a cheap, a simple weapon of war.”
And Yasmin Qureshi MP said the government had been premature in lifting sanctions against the Burmese regime and that their so-called move to democracy was fake. She urged the audience to “make an appointment and speak to your MP” and to say “educate your MP, tell them exactly what’s happening so it’s raised as an issue in Parliament. It’s time to start the debate and effect a change.”
Myanmar’s first openly contested polls for 25 years took place yesterday with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party expected to do well.
But many feel that Aung San Suu Kyi, who’s a famous human rights campaigner, has failed to speak up for Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims who in recent years have suffered xenophobic mob attacks.
2015 saw almost 200,000 Rohingya flee from Myanmar’s shores into the high and open seas of the Andaman. Many hundreds perished. Many thousands were displaced yet again amid a rising tide of Buddhist nationalism.
Campaigners say the military will remain in de facto control after the elections while the Rohingya have been effectively barred from the political process.
Western countries such as the UK – who have remained close to the military regime because they anticipate new business opportunities – have been urged to pressure Myanmar over the plight of the Rohingya.
Myanmar has classified the Rohingya as stateless Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982.