Twelve Nobel Laureates and 15 other eminent personalities across the globe in an open letter to the United Nations Security Council ahead of its meeting on Rohingya issue called on the forum to play its role to bring end to a humanitarian catastrophe and build peace in Arakan region of Myanmar where Rohingyas are being persecuted.
‘A bold change in approach is needed by United Nations and the international community if there is to be an end to the cycle of violence against the Rohingyas. The government of Myanmar needs to be told that international support and finance is conditional on a major change in policy towards the Rohingya. Propaganda and incitement of hatred and all violence, particularly state violence against Rohingyas must stop, discriminatory laws and policies must go, the recommendations of Kofi Annan's commission must be implemented immediately, read the open letter.
They also made some suggestions as preparatory steps to implement the Annan Commission recommendations.
The suggestions include reappointing the commission members immediately to constitute an Implementation Committee to oversee the implementation of the recommendations; taking immediate steps to stop the outflow of refugees; inviting international observers to visit vulnerable areas on a regular basis; inviting back the refugees who already left the country; building camps within Myanmar for the returning refugees to facilitate their rehabilitation with UN financing and supervision; giving them the citizenship as prescribed in the Commission Report under the exclusive authority of the Implementation Committee; and ensuring political freedom and freedom of movement of the Rohingyas.
The signatories urged UN SC president to persuade Myanmar government to take immediate steps to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission which the Myanmar government established in 2016 under the pressure of international community.
The Commission, mostly comprised of Myanmar citizens, chaired by Kofi Annan, recommended providing citizenship to the Rohingyas, to allow them freedom of movement, rights and equality before the law, to ensure communal representation, lack of which affects Muslims disproportionately, to facilitate UN assistance in ensuring safety and security of returning people. The fear became reality through the attack on Myanmar security forces by the militants. Unless, constructive effort to build lasting peace is taken, the situation will get worse which in turn may pose serious security threat to the neighbouring countries.
The open letter said according to different organizations, recent military offensive by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine State has led to the killing of hundreds of Rohingya people. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Complete villages have been burned, women raped, many civilians arbitrarily arrested, and children killed. Crucially, humanitarian aid organisations have been almost completely denied access, creating an appalling humanitarian crisis in an area already extremely poor. According to UN sources, around 300,000 people have fled to Bangladesh during the last two weeks. Human misery created by such massive displacement of men, women and children under the threat of death is getting worse every day.
‘Some of us denounced the previous spate of violence late last year and wrote to you to intervene. However, the situation has not improved. We urge you to take decisive actions to stop the violence against innocent civilians and bring permanent peace in Rakhine state,’ the letter read.
‘We call on UNSC to intervene immediately by using all available means. We request you to take immediate action for cessation of indiscriminate military attack on innocent civilians that is forcing them to leave their home and flee country to turn into stateless people,’ the letter added
The signatories said the arguments that the Myanmar government is using to deny Rohingyas their citizenship are ludicrous, to say the least. At independence of Burma from the British in 1948 and under successive governments, Burma recognized the people of all ethnicities within its border, including the Rohingyas, as full citizens, having representation in the parliament.
‘The military juntas in the 1980s decided that Rohingyas are not Burmese. Accordingly, they stripped the Rohingyas of their citizenship. They used military and political means to make sure that the Rohingyas leave the country. Systematic persecution aiming at ethnic and religious cleansing began,’ it read.
‘We join the secretary general of the United Nations in re-emphasising that, The grievances and unresolved plight of the Rohingya have festered for far too long and are becoming an undeniable factor in regional destabilization. The authorities in Myanmar must take determined action to put an end to this vicious cycle of violence and to provide security and assistance to all those in need,’ the letter added.
Signatories to the open letter are —2006 Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus, 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate Máiread Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate Betty Williams, 1984 Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu, 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias Sánchez, 1997 Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams, 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman, 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate Malala Yousafzai, 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine Richard J Roberts, 2009 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine Elizabeth Blackburn, former Malaysian minister for foreign affairs Syed Hamid Albar, Former Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino, business leader and philanthropist Richard Branson, former prime minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland, entrepreneur and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, human rights activist Kerry Kennedy, Voice of Libyan Women leader Alaa Murabit, business leader Narayana Murthy, former foreign minister of Thailand Kasit Piromya, former secretary-general of ASEAN Surin Pitsuwan, business leader Paul Polman, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Jeffrey D Sachs, actor Forest Whitaker, and business leader and philanthropist Jochen Zeitz.