On Saturday evening I was asked by Al Jazeera news to comment on economic aspects of the Rohingya human rights crisis in Rakhine State. Here is a summary of my comments:
Al Jazeera: Are you surprised to learn that the Myanmar government will harvest the rice crops of displaced Rohingya?
Me: No, I’m not surprised. For a government that pursues policy resulting in hundreds of thousands of displaced people land and crop expropriation is not a big leap. This is part of a national human rights problem where an estimated half of the population does not have the legal right to the land they live on; the system of land tenure in Myanmar is broken. The Rohingya will suffer, in particular, because of the widespread acceptance that they are illegal immigrants in the first place.
Al Jazeera: Is land grabbing the reason for this ethnic cleaning and conflict? Is the government trying to get a hold of not just the rice but the valuable resources in the area?
Me: Certainly relatively plentiful natural resources in Rakhine are underexploited. But this is an ethnic, religious and nationalist conflict. Land grabbing is not the cause but will likely be one of the results.
Al Jazeera: What is next for the Rohingya? What should the international community do or is it too late?
Me: Well, this situation should not be a surprise to the international community. Human Rights organisations have been warning the international community, diplomats in the country and the national government that human rights violations against the Rohingya were causing a precarious situation likely to result in violence, mass exodus and displaced people. ‘Gloomy’ warnings were disregarded as the preferred narrative was that Myanmar is ‘open for business.’
The international community needs to now support the Rohingya and ensure the cost of this humanitarian disaster does not fall solely on Bangladesh. Neighbouring countries need to encourage the Myanmar government to protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of all people in Rakhine State, especially the Rohingya, and ensure they are able to return to their land. But most importantly, leadership at the national level is required to foster a culture more accepting of human rights. This is not just the role of the government and Aung San Su Kyi: Public intellectuals, academics, civil society organisations, lawyers and national media all need to speak out in support of human rights in Rakhine State.