Growing Unease In Indonesia Over Plight of Rohingya
Ulma Haryanto, Ezra Sihite& Ismira Lutfia
The plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is beginning to attract more attention from Indonesian lawmakers, activists and religious hard-liners.
Reports have been flowing out of Myanmar describing killings and arbitrary violence targeting the Rohingya minority in northern Rakhine state. Dozens of Rohingya refugees have also been intercepted by Indonesian security officials in the past few weeks.
“I condemn and demand that the massacre stop, especially because it is taking place during the holy month of Ramadan,” Nurhayati Ali Assegaf, the Democrat Party chairwoman at the House of Representatives, said on Tuesday.
Nurhayati said she was corresponding with the Inter-Parliamentary Union to send a letter of protest to the government of Myanmar.
Amnesty International has reported that hundreds of Muslim Rohingya are being killed, raped, beaten and arbitrarily arrested while between 50,000 and 90,000 people have been displaced since the Myanmar government declared a state of emergency in Rakhine state, on the border with Bangladesh.
Neither Myanmar nor Bangladesh considers the Rohingya as citizens.
Eva Kusuma Sundari, from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), called for political pressure from the international community, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nation and the United Nations.
“The US recently lifted economic sanctions, but in return the military junta responded this way,” said Eva, who is also the president of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus.
The lawmaker said President Thein Sein’s response so far had not reflected his promises of “national reconciliation” during his campaign.
She was referring to Sein’s statement to the United Nations earlier this month that it was “impossible to accept the illegally entered Rohingyas, who are not our ethnicity,” and that they should be sent to refugee camps or be deported.
“Indonesia should not stand still. As a country that ratified the UN Convention on Human Rights and the initiator of the Asean charter, the government should condemn this as a crime against humanity and push for a human rights-oriented solution,” Eva continued.
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Michael Tene said, “We hope that the commitment from the Myanmar government for national reconciliation continues.”
But House Deputy Speaker Pramono Anung, from PDI-P, criticized Indonesia’s late response to the situation.
“Our international diplomacy is often late and shows indecisiveness, even though we are one of the largest democratic countries as well as being the largest Muslim country,” he said.
Ulil Abshar Abdalla, founder of the Liberal Islam Network and a politician from the Democrat Party, suggested that the government exercise caution before issuing any statements, considering its position as the world’s largest Muslim majority country.
“The Rohingya have a long, complicated history as a Muslim minority living in an undemocratic country that discriminates against all its citizens,” Ulil said.
Hariyadi Wirawan, an international relations expert from the University of Indonesia, said the Indonesian government should meet with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to discuss the Rohingya.
“One of the most urgent things to discuss is the terms of repatriation, because both Myanmar and Bangladesh are reluctant to take the Rohingyas back,” he said. “Therefore the UNHCR needs to facilitate special shelters for Rohingyas in a third country, either Indonesia and Malaysia.”
Asean secretary general Surin Pitsuwan has taken a personal interest in the Rohingya. During a summit earlier this month in Cambodia, Pitsuwan raised the issue with the foreign affairs ministers of Myanmar and Bangladesh, who promised to cooperate and keep Asean informed.
“We will keep our eyes and ears on the plight of these unfortunate people,” Pitsuwan said in a statement. He also expressed appreciation for the concern shown by the Asean people for the suffering of the Rohingyas, who are migrant workers in many of the Asean member states.
Two Indonesian hard-line Islamic organizations, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), protested in front of Myanmar’s embassy in Jakarta last week over the issue, and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia has called for Indonesian Muslims to help the Rohingyas.
“What are the Muslim armies in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia waiting for?” the organization said in a statement. “Can’t they see the massacre and expulsion of their brothers?”