“The clock is ticking,” a UN spokesman said yesterday. “Every day that goes by there is an increased chance of people dying” in Burma’s Rakhine state. Water shortages could reach critical levels within a week, another UN representative said as part of an effort to urge the government of Myanmar to allow aid organizations to return to the country.Humanitarian aid organizations are eager to help, but last month they were driven out of the country by angry Buddhist mobs amidst rumors that a German aid worker had removed a Buddhist flag from the front of a humanitarian group’s facility. Reuters reports:
“These workers were in Rakhine State providing essential life-saving support, including health services, water and food to internally displaced persons, isolated villages, and other affected communities,” [Tomas Ojea] Quintana [the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma] said.Recent developments in Rakhine State were the latest in a long history of discrimination against the Muslim Rohingya community, which he said “could amount to crimes against humanity.”
When Myanmar announced it would embark on a transition to a more democratic form of government in 2011, most of the world rejoiced at the news. But democracy has also brought with it a revival of ethnic tensions, especially with respect to the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state. Driven from their homes by rampaging mobs of racists and nationalists, the Rohingya are now confined to refugee camps and remote villages and lack access to medical care, essential supplies, and the most basic government protections. The census currently underway, for example, does not include “Rohingya” among the 135 ethnic groups officially approved as “Burmese.”The government, along with many Burmese, considers the Rohingya illegal Bengali immigrants, despite the fact that many families have lived in Burma for generations. Some radical groups are trying hard to rid the country of the Rohingya, one way or another. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy activist has been relatively quiet when it comes to defending this persecuted minority.