Tensions are high and the risk of violence is on the rise in Burma. Fears of massive killing are increasing ahead of what many expect to be hotly contested elections in November.
Sounding the alarm, United to End Genocide has warned about the march to genocide in Burma, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Early Warning Project has placed Burma at the top of its watch list, and U.S. Members of Congress have urged the end of persecution of the Rohingya people by the Burmese government.
But it is not just the West that is warning about the increased risk of mass atrocities. A group of South East Asian Members of Parliament, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), just traveled to Burma to assess the risk of violence. During their trip in early April, they observed several troubling signs of anti-Muslim rhetoric and broader risks of violence. Using the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, APHR found that nearly every common risk factor for atrocity crimes exists in Burma today.
Chairman of APHR, Charles Santiago, a Member of Parliament in Malaysia, warns, “We are standing on the precipice of a great tragedy. ASEAN as a grouping as well as individual leaders have the responsibility, both morally and under international law, to act to prevent mass atrocities and crimes against humanity from taking place.”
The longstanding persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in western Burma has led to the highest outflow of asylum seekers by sea since the Vietnam War and a regional human trafficking epidemic. The high risk of atrocities extends to other Muslims and ethnic minority groups throughout the country.
This dynamic not only threatens Burma’s political transition but also strains regional economies and supports the rise of extremist ideologies that pose potential security threats to the region. As the Parliamentarians conclude, these challenges are not just a problem for Burma domestically, but for the region and the world.
On the eve of the 26th ASEAN Summit hosted by Malaysia starting on April 26, these Parliamentarians are raising the alarm, writing an open letter, calling on ASEAN leaders to lead an independent investigation into the growing crisis, and deployment of ASEAN monitors in the lead up to elections.
Their call to action isn’t just being heard in Asia. U.S. Members of Congress Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Joe Pitts (R-PA), sent a letter as Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission congratulating APHR on the report and their efforts. The Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect also released a statement joining APHR in calling on the Burmese government to ensure peaceful elections.
This growing network of global citizens and political representatives are sending a clear message: immediate steps need to be taken to protect the Rohingya ahead of the November elections in Burma. This message might have been difficult to hear coming from the United States. But now that Burma’s neighbors are adding their voices hopefully, the government of Burma will get the message.