x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Persecution of Rohingya must be put to an end

States who seek a stake in Myanmar's prosperity must not contribute to the oppression done by the government, especially against the Muslim minorities.

Two years is a very long time in politics. In 2011, when the military junta in Myanmar opened the door to political and economic reform, there was a flurry of diplomatic activity from around the world. The release from house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi drew praise, and the transformation of General Thein Sein from military hardman to civilian president brought promises of economical normalisation.

By and large, western and regional governments have kept up their end of the bargain. Sanctions have been lifted and world leaders, including US president Barack Obama, have visited a nation that was once a pariah. Just this month Thein Sein made a friendly return visit to Washington.

But as the West has lined up to welcome Myanmar in from the cold, it is in Myanmar where politicians are failing to deliver.

A troubling surge in ethnic violence, particularly against Muslim minorities, is raising doubts about the many promises made by Myanmar's leaders just two years ago. A new law aimed at restricting Muslim births is particularly worrying.

Myanmar has 135 recognised ethnic groups, some of whom are in armed conflict with the central authority. They all have more rights than the Muslim Rohingya people, who have been denied citizenship on the grounds that they "belong" in Bangladesh. This is despite evidence that the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for centuries.

They have suffered serial persecution, including the rasing of villages and mass killings carried out by Buddhist extremists and even monks, with the authorities turning a blind eye. Now, the government has declared that Rohingya families in villages bordering Bangladesh can have no more than two children. It is believed to be the only such policy that targets a specific religious group.

On Monday, a cautious Ms Suu Kyi noted that "if true", such a move would be against the law. "It is discriminatory and also violates human rights," she said. Buddhist leaders, however, have welcomed the regulation - which had also been in place under the military dictatorship - because they fear a Muslim population explosion.

Even amid such disturbing mandates, the world's economic interest in Myanmar has tied the tongues of those looking to invest. The Americans, the Chinese, the Japanese and others are all eyeing the potential economic opportunities that await, from energy to rare earth minerals. But exploitation comes in many forms.

Last year, UN investigators described the Rohingya as "the most oppressed people on Earth". Those who seek a stake in Myanmar's prosperity must not contribute to that oppression. They must speak out against any policy that denies people the right to build a family and secure their own futures.