Thursday 8 December 2016. A large solidarity meeting, titled “Silence over Rohingya Genocide”, was held at the London Muslim Centre on 30 November 2016, to protest the Burmese military’s brutal subjugation and human rights abuses of Rohingya Muslims, including executions, arrests, torture, forced relocations, blocking of humanitarian aid, burning of entire villages, and mass rape of women.
Jointly called by the Rohingya Minority Crisis Group, Muslim Voices, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, Muslim Association of Britain and supported by IlmFeed, the meeting was hailed a success as nearly 500 people packed the conference hall at short-notice.
It was streamed live, including by Aljazeera TV, allowing many more to view the event proceedings in other countries. Concerned members of the public who attended the meeting watched recent video footage of the genocide, listened to speeches and first-hand accounts from the ground, then generously committed £45,000 to help the Rohingya.
Tun Khin Ghaffar, a prominent human rights activist from Arakan State in Burma and president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, highlighted the recent escalation in violence, rape and torture.
He argued that “innocent people in Myanmar are being subjected to all kinds of attacks because they are Muslims”, and “the global silence and inaction to rescue the Rohingya is unacceptable and shameful. The British government did not do anything, not even issue a statement”, he complained.
Pleading with the international community, particularly the UN to intervene, Ghaffar thanked the organisers and people concerned for Rohingya for their solidarity, “we need your help as we are voiceless”.
Carl Buckley, Director at Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, who had made representations before the International Criminal Court and the UN, described Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s inaction to stop the persecution of the Rohingya as “undermining everything that she had stood for during her decades of incarceration”.
Further, “in failing to act, the international community is in effect tacitly approving the on-going mass human rights violations; the Rohingya are being subjected to Genocide.”
He added, “the lack of action being taken is yet another example of the hypocritical and myopic approach taken by many countries and their approach to foreign policy. The international community has a moral obligation to act.”
Lord Nazir Ahmed, member of the British House of Lords and a long-time campaigner for the Rohingya and other persecuted communities across the globe, said, “the UN should demand an end to the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people immediately”, and called for “an investigation into rape, torture and killings of civilians by the Burmese Army.”
Highlighting the sheer silence over the Rohingya persecution and duplicity of world powers, Lord Ahmed recollected his discussions in various UN and other international arenas where he is always told Islam is not a peaceful religion due to bloodshed in the Middle East and elsewhere, but “I sometimes also remind my friends about the genocide of Muslims in Central African Republic, India and other parts of the world.”
He continued, “the Buddhist faith is classed the most peaceful religion on earth but it is Buddhist monks that have burnt Muslims in Sri Lanka and more in Burma. Thousands of innocent people have been killed by the military and Buddhist monks.
It is time we start talking about these monks as they have blood on their hands. Just like Muslims are required to condemn extremists within us, I say to Buddhist leaders that they should call these Buddhist monks the Daesh of your religion and they too should be condemned.”
He further remarked that “had it been another community [faced with such an atrocity], God forbid say a Christian community, the whole of Europe would have stood up. It is time those who lecture us on human rights and about common humanity, that they too should speak about the Rohingya.”
Lord Ahmed ended by calling on the Bangladesh government to allow refugees; that the Nobel Peace Prize committee should consider withdrawing the prize from Aung San Suu Kyi; and he appealed to all to support anyone oppressed irrespective of background, colour or creed.
John Biggs, Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, home to the highest proportion of Muslims in England, joined other speakers expressing solidarity with the Rohingya:
“The Rohingya Muslims deserve absolutely the same human rights and justice as everyone else in that country [Burma]. It is an outrage, a human rights disaster, and a disgrace for a country considering to be civilised to allow such persecution of the Rohingya Muslims. Burma does not deserve the respect it seeks as a democracy until and unless it gives the rights and protection to the Rohingya.”
Mayor Biggs called on the packed audience, mostly locals, to “improve their understanding of the Rohingya crisis, as knowledge is power.” He also asked for the profile of this issue to be raised and for all to speak up for people facing persecution.
“This is an issue that resonates strongly in the East End of London, but most people in our country have not heard about the situation in Rohingya yet. We need to make sure as moral upstanding people that we stand for human rights of people persecuted.”
Margaret Minolleti, a Dementia Care Advisor for the East London NHS Foundation Trust, related her son’s story who is stationed in Myanmar.
“My son is an Economic Development Worker who has been awarded a PhD to work in Myanmar, to help the Rohingya. He has been working there for five years and is due back this week to London to spend Christmas with family.”
Margaret spent one month herself in Myanmar two years ago and recalled the devastation and the calamity faced by Rohingya Muslims, especially children and mothers. She recalls how young children would stop her in her visits asking for pens and paper so they can study.
But she was overwhelmed by the sheer devastation, torture and inhumanity inflicted on the Rohingya by the Burmese. Despite all this and the restrictions in her son’s path, he remains committed to serving the Rohingya as a fellow human being.
Margaret ended her brief unplanned interjection at the meeting saying the “the trauma we witnessed in Myanmar is still with me. In Myanmar, the torture and the horrific ordeal is ongoing”. Putting aside the politics in Burma, she appealed to all that “We need to take action. We know with our hearts what happens to human beings.”
Dr Anas Altikriti, CEO of The Cordoba Foundation, rounded up the evening by weighing the costs of our collective inaction in the face of an unravelling genocide in Myanmar.
“The first cost is that of democracy. With military regimes such as that which rules Burma being allowed to commit these heinous crimes against the defenceless Rohingya, our very democracy is severely undermined and becomes tokenistic and vacant.
The second cost is that to the very concept of the international community, and particularly to the United Nations, as a symbol of human unity and hope. The fact that so much suffering can engulf the world while the UN proves toothless, inept and helpless, erodes not only its authority, but deems its very presence an irrelevance.
The third and most significant cost is that of terrorism. The suffering of the Rohingya and the failure of the international community and international institutions to intervene, presents an ideal scenario for global terrorism, namely Al-Qaeda or ISIS to occupy that vacuum and claim this issue as their own.
Should that happen, the world will then face another epic crisis in another fragile and vital region of the world, which might be even more difficult to address than those in Iraq or Syria.”
Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK and someone active in advocacy for human rights in Burma since 1998 and the Anti-Apartheid campaign, could not attend the meeting due to illness but welcomed the solidarity meeting at the London Muslim Centre.
Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow also could not attend but sent a statement, which was read out by Mayor Biggs: “I am deeply concerned about the recent escalation in violence towards thousands of Rohingya Muslims…
I have made representations to the UK Ambassador to Burma, Andrew Patrick and the Burmese Education Minister, Professor Myo Thein Gyi during his visit to London this week. I am also making representations to our Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson MP.”
“Together with the international community, the UK Government must intensify its pressure on the Burmese government to allow full humanitarian access to the Rohingya [who] have recently been displaced [and are in need] of urgent protection, and I call on the Government to do all in its power to help those fleeing the violence to find a safe passage home.”
Imam Ajmal Masroor, TV presenter and broadcaster, ended the evening with an engaging fundraising appeal, with £45,000 raised within half an hour. He made, among other things, the following points:
“The massacre of Rohingya Muslims is one cause that has been forgotten for too long. The slogan by politicians, ‘never again’ not only sounds empty but actually is empty,” he lamented because “politicians don’t mean what they say.
They saw what happened in Bosnia, Syria, Palestine, Kashmir, Sudan and elsewhere – yet they keep saying ‘never again’ but it keeps on happening.
“Rohingya Muslims are not forgotten people, we will never forget them! But we must rise to the challenge, we have a moral duty to respond to the plight of the Rohingya.”
Dr Abdullah Faliq, chairman of Muslim Voices and the convener of the Rohingya Minority Crisis Group, opened and closed the evening.
He explained the purpose of the meeting was to “show solidarity with the fallen and persecuted in Myanmar by raising the profile and plight of the Rohingya. We need to help break the shameful and deafening silence over the genocide.
We thought we had moved on from the dark days of genocide and massacres such as in Rwanda and in Srebrenica, but the reality on the ground is different – the international community needs to rise to the challenge.
We are humbled by the level of interest shown in this meeting, and hope it is a small step towards greater awareness by engaging communities in the UK and abroad.”
Mohammed Kozbar, Vice President of the Muslim Association of Britain, and member of the Rohingya Minority Crisis Group, appealed for action, not just words. He said, “the Rohingya genocide is a very important issue not only because it is a human tragedy but because it has been forgotten for so long. It is a disaster that affects so many people, men and women.
The horrific images of children burnt alive in front of their parents are no movie, but a reality!”
The meeting concluded with a list of actions people can take to help the Rohingya.
Organisers of this event:
Rohingya Minority Crisis Group – http://www.rmcg.org.uk/
Muslim Voices – http://www.muslimvoices.org.uk
Muslim Association of Britain – http://www.mabonline.net
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK – http://www.brouk.org.uk
Supported by IlmFeed – http://www.ilmfeed.com