The United Nations in 2018: Its Role in the Rohingya Crisis

03.14.18
Anna Dubuis/DFID
World News /14 Mar 2018
03.14.18

The United Nations in 2018: Its Role in the Rohingya Crisis

When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres assumed the mantle of leading the United Nations in 2017, he urged the world to let peace be its guiding principle. However, in assessing the global landscape, he said the “world instead had ‘gone in reverse.” Speaking to a gathering of member states, Guterres said that “peace remains elusive.”

There are several flashpoints and transnational threats that remain quite daunting. They are not new challenges but will continue to grow if not adequately addressed. From the danger posed by a nuclear North Korea, global climate change, the turmoil in the Middle East, and the Rohingya crisis, the world continues to remain unsettled. Furthermore, the UN faces increased pressure as it pertains to funding. The number one challenge confronting the global body in this regard comes from the White House.

The problems do not end here. The secretary-general cited a litany of issues that need answers if his hope for peace is to be achieved. The growing economic divide, the heightened threat posed by nationalism, racism, and xenophobia as well as continued human rights abuses around the world. This prompted the world leader to call upon civilized nations to find ways to work together to solve these matters.

The United Nations’ foundation is built upon three pillars: peace and security, development, and human rights. It works very hard around the world upholding these core principles. Many of the issues confronting the global community today will require a multilateral approach to solve. The United Nations and its member states working together is the only chance for real progress to be made.

The Rohingya “crisis” is one issue requiring greater attention. The term genocide is not often used in connection with this matter; it has been labeled as ethnic cleansing. Earlier this year, U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, did draw attention to the plight of the Rohingya by saying the Myanmar government’s denial of ethnic cleansing was “preposterous.” Moreover, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said late last year that the atrocities waged against the Rohingya may be tantamount to the crime of genocide. He further stated that he would not be surprised if Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi had charges imposed against her for the crime of genocide.

Under Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” I would argue that this description would certainly fit what is occurring to the Rohingya today.

The government of Myanmar, for some time now, has readily, knowingly, and supportively permitted atrocities to be perpetrated upon the minority Muslim Rohingya population in the western state of Rakhine. The 1982 citizenship law passed by the government of Myanmar declared the Rohingya people as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh subsequently denying them rights as citizens in the country. According to the UN, the Rohingya are the world’s most persecuted minority.

Information regarding the Rohingya people is at a premium as the government does not allow anyone into areas where the Rohingya are located. In recent weeks, two Reuters journalists were arrested and charged under the government’s Official Secrets Act – a law dating back to 1923 when Myanmar, then Burma, was a province of British India. The act states that anyone who “obtains, collects, or publishes…any official document or information…useful to an enemy” is in violation of the law. The journalists were reporting on the “military crackdown” of the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state.

The human rights violations perpetrated by the government even extends to the denial of food and healthcare services to the Rohingya people evidenced by The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in his most recent column titled, “I Saw a Genocide in Slow Motion.” The denial of these necessities of life should prompt greater outrage at the highest levels of government.

The UN’s independent investigator, Yanghee Lee, has called upon China and Russia to oppose the Myanmar government’s violations of human rights. She has stated publicly that it is her hope to see the international community work with China and Russia to condemn these actions. As two of the five members on the UN Security Council acting against Myanmar requires their backing.

The words “never again” have been uttered many times throughout the course of history. Once again we witness crimes against humanity play out before us. It is time for the global community to summon the political courage to put an end to these atrocities.

Author’s Note: As this piece was being written, the U.S. Holocaust Museum revoked the Elie Wiesel human rights award presented to Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012.

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