16 Feb
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Rohingyas hope for justice

Rohingyas hope for justice and Protection through the NYC Conference.

By Saifullah Muhammad,

The Columbia University hosted a two-day conference from Feb. 8-10, urging for collective action against Myanmar and find tangible solutions for one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern times.

The conflict in Myanmar is based on deep-rooted causes that aren’t immediately apparent, even to the witnesses. It’s easy to focus on the latest political discussion, or humanitarian atrocity that dominates the headlines. People watch the erupting volcano, and try to fight the damage. Meanwhile, the plates continue to shift under the feet, and people barely notice.

Panelists, including international legal experts, Rohingya activists and genocide scholars from different countries demanded for the punitive pressure on Myanmar Government, education and empowerment.

The conflict zones in Myanmar are largely found in the minority states, populated largely by the poor and disadvantaged. The conflicts between these disadvantaged villagers form the basis of the images that grab the attention on television and on social media.

But look closer. Lying unseen, often far from the violence, are powerful stakeholders who are manipulating events for their own selfish purposes. How did the Rohingya live on the same lands for hundreds of years, and only in recent memory become such an unwanted presence? To know the answer, people need to see the secret movers, the players behind the players.

The problem is getting a clear answer when the truth is itself a battleground. This is a genocide based on rewriting history, on creating new myths and narratives that deny their roots in the land. There are powerful forces that use stories to displace the Rohingya from their homelands, to erase their histories, to deny basic awareness of themselves.

Their battle against truth, and against the power that knowledge brings, extends further. In Bangladesh and other places where the Rohingya now live, they are kept from the universities and institutions that would allow them to make their voices heard. Even in the digital world, they are pushed out, denied contact with those who could help them find solutions. One way to silence them is to paint them as extremists, as ignorant, as uncivilized.

How did they get there? As always, it was a power grab. Those who were seeking to strengthen their authorities did so through a strategy of divide and conquer. To provide the Rakhine people with a strong sense of themselves, and to strengthen their faith in the dictatorship, they called the Rohingya foreigners and aliens. They proclaimed differences in values, beliefs, priorities and cultures. They planted seeds that grew into monstrous growths. Terrible flowers that continue bloom and poison the air today.

This is not a fate the Rohingya would wish on their worst enemies. And for hundreds of years, they had no enemies. In fact, it is still their wish to forgive and forget, to move past this manufactured conflict, and return to the peaceful state of cohabitation that once worked for everyone.

This may be a naïve wish. Once the lid of the box is broken, it’s very difficult to control the animal spirits of hatred and misunderstanding. Certainly, they would be naïve to return to their homelands now. It is going to take a serious, systematic and far-reaching effort to create the conditions of peace and understanding that will be needed for them to ever return. The conference was a good step in this direction.

Rohingya need the opportunity for education. It is no coincidence that dictatorships always limit the ability of their people to gain a higher education. People without an education have difficulty in knowing how to organize and pull the levers of power. With education, on the other hand, a world of opportunity opens.

The pillar to this movement toward empowerment and rehabilitation is an economic opportunity. People who are kept in poverty have a nearly impossible time escaping from the weight of oppression and persecution. Along with education, any lasting solution will require building an infrastructure of economic opportunity that will allow the Rohingya to escape the cycle of dependence, and begin to stand on their feet again.

It sounds like a steep mountain to climb, but it is doable.

Genocide is the word. It’s a statement of fact and a political declaration with political consequences. So far, Canada and the United States are the only countries to declare that Myanmar’s crime against the Rohingya people constitutes genocide but no action is taken.

Rohingya people still hope that international community will find a lasting solution for them and wish for the better future of their children and where they can live in a world in which genocide is something they only read about in a history book.

 Saifullah Muhammad is a journalism student in Canada, Rohingya activist and a co-founder of Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative (CRDI).

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