TRUE to form, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this week did what it does best—avoid controversy and paper over any problems.
On Monday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano claimed success because Myanmar, an Asean member, had called on other members of the bloc to provide humanitarian assistance following the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have been forced to flee their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“What was very productive about this year’s meeting was Myanmar’s statement that they need help,” Cayetano said. He added that the Asean had long been pursuing its approach of “not judging” Myanmar but offering help to its member-state.
“That’s always our ultimate approach, not to judge but to offer help and to see how we can make the whole region a region of peace and stability, a region where human rights is respected,” Cayetano said.
This lofty goal, however, seems farfetched indeed when Myanmar’s own neighbors refuse to acknowledge that the humanitarian crisis stems from a brutal and systematic campaign by the Yangon government to drive out the minority Rohingyas from their homes in what the United Nations described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
More than one-million people from the mainly-Muslim minority group lived in Myanmar at the start of 2017, most of them in Rakhine State.
The government of Myanmar, a predominately Buddhist country, claims the Rohingya people are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and has denied them citizenship, leaving them stateless.
But the Rohingya—who have their own language and culture—say they are descendants of Muslim traders who have lived in the region for generations.
The systematic discrimination against the Rohingya people has left them living in deplorable conditions and segregated, with limited access to schools, health care and jobs, Amnesty International reports.
A wave of refugees began fleeing the country in late August after Myanmar’s response to an attack by Rohingya militants on more than 20 police posts that the government said left 12 members of the security forces dead.
Amnesty International said security forces then went on to carry out a “targeted campaign of widespread and systematic murder, rape and burning.”
There were reports of sexual violence against Rohingya women and entire villages being burned to the ground.
More than 600,000 people have fled the violence, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to around 900,000.
The Myanmar government said at least 400 people have been killed, describing most of them as “terrorists.” But UN estimates in September put the death toll at least 1,000.
Many Rohingya have died making the journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Some have been attacked. Others have stepped on landmines. Hundreds have drowned.
Those that survive have given harrowing accounts of death and violence, including hundreds of cases of rape, which is sometimes used as a military strategy.
Now Secretary Cayetano expects us to applaud, simply because the same government that triggered this humanitarian crisis now says it is ready to accept help? Lipstick on this pig only makes it all the more grotesque.