Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Editorial
Opinion Editorial

The plight of Myanmar's Rohingya

Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, has made substantial progress in the last few years, moving from military rule toward democracy, releasing political prisoners and freeing from house arrest Nobel Prize-winning democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. However, the government has relentlessly continued its appalling treatment of the Rohingya population that lives in Rakhine state in western Myanmar.

A Muslim minority in an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, the Rohingya are effectively denied citizenship unless they can meet onerous requirements, such as tracing their lineage back decades. They are restricted in where they can live and work, are limited to having two children and have been subject to brutal violence at the hands of mobs unchecked by local police. More than 1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, including about 180,000 in squalid internal displacement camps, according to Human Rights Watch. The United Nations has deemed the Rohingya one of the most persecuted groups in the world.

Recently, violence against the Rohingya has escalated, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Two attacks in January left an estimated four dozen Rohingya dead in a village in Rakhine, according to the U.N. report. Myanmar's response has been to deny that it happened.

PHOTO ESSAY: Obamacare -- and 8 other bungled launches

Late last month, Doctors Without Borders was ordered by the government to shut down its extensive operations across the country. Two days later, it was allowed to resume working everywhere except in Rakhine, where the organization provided primary care to tens of thousands of Rohingya.

This state-sponsored oppression must end. Myanmar needs to lift restrictions against the Rohingya and revamp its citizenship requirements. Security forces under government control should be deployed to Rakhine to supplant or oversee local police, who are often too prejudiced against the Rohingya to do their jobs properly. The government should also allow humanitarian groups back into Rakhine to provide aid and to monitor how the Rohingya are treated.

And it should investigate this latest mass killing. The U.N. report notes that some of the Rohingya played a role in the violence — they killed a police sergeant in retaliation for the initial killing of eight Rohingya villagers. That's not excusable, but it's also no excuse for continued mistreatment of the entire group.

PHOTOS: Unbuilt L.A.

Over the last few years, the U.S. has generously applauded the government of Myanmar for its steps toward democracy. President Obama has visited the country; an American ambassador has been installed. Now the United States should press President Thein Sein harder and call for him to extend that democracy to the Rohingya.

It's unconscionable that Suu Kyi, a human rights icon, has not wielded her considerable moral authority to talk about this issue. She should abandon her diffident stand on the plight of the Rohingya and forcefully condemn the repression of and violence against them. It's heartening that she is a member of the Burmese Parliament now and hopes to secure a change in the constitution that would allow her to run for president. But a strong leader would not allow short-term political expediency to keep her from speaking out on a critical, life-and-death issue.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Why the U.S. still has a role in Afghanistan

    Why the U.S. still has a role in Afghanistan

    After 13 years of war, more than 2,300 dead U.S. troops and the replacement of the Taliban regime with an elected government, the United States this past weekend declared a formal end to its combat mission in Afghanistan. That's an important symbolic marker, but no one should interpret the declaration...

  • Rebrand it however you want, but Afghanistan is still at war

    Rebrand it however you want, but Afghanistan is still at war

    Imagine President Franklin Roosevelt announcing at the end of 1944, after the liberation of France but before the final defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, that World War II was over and that U.S. forces were ending combat operations. Instead we would support our allies, from Britain to...

  • Reactions to the Cuba thaw: Will this change matter?

    Reactions to the Cuba thaw: Will this change matter?

    President Obama's announcement Wednesday that the U.S. would resume diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than a half-century is, indeed, a historic event. It's also something of an afterthought to the Cold War, which has been history itself for more than two decades now.

  • Iran is a dangerous 'ally' in Syria and Iraq

    Iran is a dangerous 'ally' in Syria and Iraq

    At the dawn of 2015, the U.S. has yet to articulate a comprehensive foreign-policy strategy to counter the influence and territorial gains of Islamic State, the terrorist group that emerged last year — and poses a dangerous and vexing threat to stability across the Middle East and North Africa....

  • Was revenge a hidden rationale for torture?

    Was revenge a hidden rationale for torture?

    The Senate Intelligence Committee's "torture report" has reignited national debate on "enhanced" interrogation techniques. At the heart of this debate is the question: Do these methods work to prevent terrorist attacks?

  • Our mistake: Thinking that all countries should be structured like U.S.

    Our mistake: Thinking that all countries should be structured like U.S.

    The United States has the most potent military in terms of firepower and operational capacity in history. Our military overthrew Saddam Hussein and crushed the Taliban in a matter of weeks. Our forces can direct a rocket from Nevada through a window in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and nimbly set up nearly...

Comments
Loading
84°