Photos: star file
November 12, 2016. Two helicopter gunships of Myanmar's armed forces emptied their rocket pods and machine guns into tiny villages of Rohingya Muslims at the country's Rakhine state, killing hundreds of the villagers and making thousands of them homeless refugees. However, the aerial raid was the only beginning of an apocalyptic disaster for the Rohingyas who are one of the 135 (but the only Muslim) ethnic groups of Myanmar. Followed by the gunship raid, thousands of soldiers with aerial support conducted raids after raids to wipe out the Rohingyas from their villages which were established as ghettoes. The current condition of surrounded, persecuted Rohingyas is unknown as Myanmar army is not allowing any journalist or aid worker to enter the entire Rakhine state. However, the accounts of the fleeing Rohingyas reveal a horrific picture of mass murder, rape, arson and systematic destruction of the Rohingya villages.
The reason behind ongoing persecution against Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar government can be traced back to the country's precarious transition to democracy. This shaky transition under the clutches of the country's still influential military regime allows the far rightist Buddhist nationalist groups like Ma Ba Tha to stir up the anti-Muslim sentiments among the country's majority Buddhist population. Besides Rohingyas, Muslims all across Myanmar are also being deprived of their citizen rights due to upheaval of this anti-Muslim sentiment. During the last election in 2015, Muslims were prevented from casting their votes and Rohingyas were declared illegible to vote at all.
From 2007 to 2013, Muslim refugees from Myanmar were among the top two nationalities (another was Iraqi refugees) seeking shelter in Australia as part of the Australian government's offshore humanitarian programs and the influx of Burmese Muslims has been increasing since 2005 (The Sydney Morning Herald, December 3, 2015). There is no doubt that Rohingyas are the worst victims of long-term Muslim persecution in Myanmar which resulted from the global negligence to this humanitarian issue.
According to a 2015 report published by the International State Crime Initiative, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has been subjected to four of the six stages of genocide for last ten years. These four stages are; stigmataisation, harassment, isolation and systematic weakening. Now, the current evidences showed that Myanmar has reached the final stages of genocide that is extermination of these people and removal of their existence from the country's official history.
And, this new shocking development has taken Bangladesh to the forefront of this humanitarian crisis. Bangladesh has officially accepted 32,000 Rohingya refugees. However, the country is also home to almost 140,000 to 800,000 refugees who have taken shelter in different unauthorised refugee camps since the 2012 Rohingya massacre in Myanmar. In the wake of renewed massacre, Bangladesh has undertaken strict measure to stop any Rohingya infiltration. Bangladeshi coast guards prevented 125 Rohnigya refugees, mostly women and children, from entering the country's territory. Besides closing its borders, Bangladesh has also imposed a ban on the NGOs and aid workers on supplying any relief goods to the refugees.
These hard-hearted steps of Bangladesh government is contrary to its commitment as the signatory of the human rights instruments such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Four Geneva Convention of 1949, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Also, Bangladesh voted for the United Nations Declaration on Territorial Asylum which obliges the country to ensure protection of the refugees. Not only for these legal and policy instruments, but for the sake of humanity Bangladesh should ensure temporary shelter for the helpless Rohingyas which can at least save them from being killed by the marauding Myanmar army. Bangladesh should at least offer this minimal help that Bangladeshis had received from its neighbour India in 1971.
Also, it is time for Bangladesh to expose the dangerous impact of the Rohingya refugee crisis on the regional, global and the country's national peace and security. Bangladesh's diplomatic corps should take Rohingya issue to the global platforms such as Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and also to the countries like India and China who have close bilateral relations with both Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Bangladesh's whole-hearted, much needed, diplomatic and political effort, in this regard, can not only stop Myanmar from committing another holocaust in this 21st century but it can also solve one of the world's biggest refugee crises that has been affecting the country's economic growth and security since the country's inception. And, such efforts can make Bangladesh and its leader, the ambassador of peace and security in this important economic region of South and South-East Asia.