Sept 15, 2017
PRESIDENT Joko Widodo needs to send out a clear and firm message to the Myanmar government on the humanitarian crisis befalling the Rohingya people there. Diplomatic pressure, including international sanctions, are needed to push the Myanmar government to immediately halt its military operations in the civilian areas.
Albeit insufficient, Jokowi’s initiative to send Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to meet the Myanmar army commander Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and the state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi at the start of the week should be lauded. However, amid a myriad of pledges from sending medicines, tents, and foods for the refugees at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border to building a hospital there the government was mum on the crux of the problem: the Myanmar government’s discriminatory policies against the Rohingya people.
As the Myanmar army’s military operation in the Rakhine state where the majority of Rohingya people life forges ahead, it is critical for the Indonesian government to stand up and deplore human rights violations there. The United Nations says that 270,000 out of around the 1.2 million Rohingya population in Myanmar have been displaced in the incident. They fled to Bangladesh leaving their homes and possessions, hounded by the Myanmar army assisted by local militants.
The Myanmar army did not waste any time before burning down thousands of homes of the Rohingya whom it suspected of having ties with an armed rebel group called Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Party (ARSA), an Islamic militant group that attacked several security posts at the Myanmar border at the end of August. The army then launched a heavy-handed counter operation to hunt down the armed rebels whom they labeled as terrorists.
Regrettably, the Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi cannot be counted on to resolve this prolonged crisis. Just like the powerful army which still holds considerable power, she herself refused to acknowledge serious human rights violations in the state. Not surprisingly, the recommendations by the Rakhine advisory commission, established by the UN and led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, were never followed through.
The Myanmar military said that it learned from the Indonesian armed forces about the army’s role in Indonesia’s transition from an authoritarian state to a democratic one. President Joko Widodo should now capitalize on this tie to push Myanmar to allow the UN fact-finding team into the conflict zones to probe alleged human rights violations against the Rohingya people.
Moreover, Indonesia’s involvement in the Rohingya crisis should go beyond a mere gesture to appease the public sentiment at home, and should instead serve as a concrete diplomatic effort to safeguard human rights as well as political stability and security in Southeast Asia.