Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent on the Rohingya issue. (Reuters)

London-based Burma Campaign UK has slammed pro-democracy activists in Myanmar for failing the Rohingya, "the world's most persecuted minority" according to the UN, by not speaking out on their behalf.

The activists are keeping quiet for fear of losing support ahead of 2015  elections, says the campaign, despite mounting reports of mass killings, mass graves, torture and concentration camps.

"Pro-democracy activists in Burma have been largely silent about the recent crisis - but some have actively jumped on the popular tide of racism and even suggested Rohingya be deported," Burma Campaign UK's director Mark Farmaner told IBTimes UK.

According to Maung Zarni, visiting fellow at LSE's Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, the pro-democracy opposition is actually "a big part of the obstacle to resolving the Rohingya crisis peacefully and amicably".

The National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who spent nearly two decades in jail and under house arrest, earned worldwide praise for their refusal to kneel before the military junta and for their steady criticism of human rights abuses inside the country.

But Aung San Suu Kyi has dodged questions about the Rohingya situation during her visit to Europe and has not spoken out on it yet.  

Diplomats and human rights groups have grown increasingly concerned by her silence.

"She is no longer a political dissident trying to stick to her principles. She's a politician and her eyes are fixed on the prize, which is the 2015 majority Buddhist vote," Zarni told The Independent.

Racist pro-democracy leaders

As far as the NLD's senior leaders and co-founders are concerned, they are "racist to their cores" according to Zarni. Journalist U Win Tin, among those of "Generation 88" (named after the year the pro-democracy activists banded together) who founded the party, even advocated the idea of interring the Rohingya, as the US did with Japanese people resident in the States during World War II.

"What is shocking to me as a Burmese is that these dissidents have failed to internalise humanism and human rights ideas, despite the fact that they have been barking human rights for the past 25 years," said Zarni.

Aung San Suu Kyi called for a "revolution of the spirit" a quarter of a century ago, but "nothing spiritually progressive has taken root in the popular Burmese psyche", Zarni continued.

Prejudice against Rohingya is so endemic "that anyone speaking out for Rohingya rights faces abuse and condemnation", Burma Campaign UK said.

"With critical elections due in 2015, activists may fear losing support if they speak out," Farmaner agreed.  He added that this prejudice needs to be challenged but that will not happen until "pro-democracy leaders start taking a moral stance and showing principled leadership".

Racism is so widespread in Myanmar that it is considered socially acceptable.

"Racism exists not just against Rohingya but against and between various ethnicities in Burma as well as against foreigners. There is also widespread anti-Muslim prejudice."

The current resurgence of racism is a direct result of a half-century of despotic military rule, according to Zardi.

Crimes against humanity

Representatives from the military members of parliament attend the opening of a joint parliament session in Naypyitaw
Representatives from the military members of parliament attend the opening of a joint parliament session in Naypyitaw

UK-based human rights organisations and scholars have called on the international community to delay lifting sanctions against Myanmar until a solution to the persecution of Rohingya is found.

The allegations of ethnic cleansing raised by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) are serious enough to charge the Burmese leadership on grounds of "crimes against humanity" before the UN, according to Zarni.

"The West should second the OIC's attempt to put the Rohingya ethnic cleansing - or partial attempts by the Burmese government - on the UN's agenda in the General Assembly," he said. "There is strong enough evidence to charge the Burmese leadership."

The Rohingya have never been granted citizenship in Myanmar and a 1982 law excluded them from the list of officially recognised minorities.

Sectarian tension between Rakhine state's 800,000 Rohingya and their Arakanese Buddhist neighbours exploded in June after allegations that a gang of Rohingya men had raped an Arakanese woman. The Muslims were lynched in response, sparking days of rioting.

However, many challenge this version of the facts, claiming the government's media "were whipping up the stories of the Rohingya as a threat to national security and Buddhism society".

People shout slogans against the massacre of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar
People shout slogans against the massacre of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar (Reuters)

According to Zarni, the military regime "had a hand" in the outbreak of ethno-religious violence in western Burma.

"One rationale is that the regime has decided to resort to this ethno-religious mobilisation of the Buddhist masses as a way of shoring up its dwindling popularity vis-a-vis the growing and active popular support for Aung San Suu Kyi, at least domestically," Zarni said.

One estimate reports that 90 people have been killed and more than 100,000 displaced during the conflict but HRW said this figure was grossly underestimated.

"There is a major humanitarian and human rights crisis taking place in Rakhine state and it isn't getting the international attention it should," Farmaner said.

It is widely believed within the Islamic community that the Myanmar government has acquiesced in or even actively supported the recent violence against the Rohingya.

"The Rohingya have faced severe human rights abuses at the hands of security forces for many decades and these have escalated in the current crisis," confirmed Farmaner. "Burma Campaign UK has received reports of rape, executions, torture and looting by security forces against Rohingya."

Since the 1970s, the military regime has attempted to drive out or otherwise severely restrict the Rohingya in western Burma, Zarni claimed.

"This is the first time the Rohingya persecution has caught the world's attention," he said.

"The resultant pressure and policy priority by the Organisation of Islamic Countries has - for the moment - forced the generals in Naypyidaw [the capital] to play nice with the Rohingyas in Burma."

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