Human Rights Watch calls on ‘all politicians, all people of conscience within Myanmar’ to say that the abuse of Rohingya refugees ‘cannot be tolerated’

MANILA, Philippines – The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to break her silence on the humanitarian crisis affecting “boat people” stranded at sea. The group also criticized the ASEAN for neglecting Myanmar’s 800,000 Rohingya refugees seen by the government as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

“All politicians, all people of conscience within Burma with any type of public platform, should be speaking out loudly, clearly, and directly, that the Burmese governments abuse of the ethnic minority, the Rohingya, cannot be tolerated,” said HRW Deputy Director for Asia Phelim Kine on Rappler Talk.

Suu Kyi earlier declined to speak out on behalf of Rohingya Muslims, and insisted she will not use “moral leadership” to back either side in deadly communal unrest in west Myanmar.

The migrant crisis has seen thousands of boat people arrive in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia in the past two weeks.

The rights group earlier accused the ASEAN member states of subjecting refugees at sea – who have suffered months-long starvation and distress – to a game of “human ping pong.” The attitude, he said, was “scandalously negligent,” particularly since the crisis has long been ongoing.

“We don’t see ASEAN speaking with one voice strongly urging and taking steps to bring in and reign in this member of ASEAN which is trampling on the universal rights and freedom of its ethnic Muslim minority,” Kine said.

HRW welcomed a breakthrough in the region’s crisis when Malaysia and Indonesia decided to halt boat push-backs on May 20. They add, however, that the response must be more proactoive.

“This is a humanitarian emergency that requires search and rescue by those states to actively identify, find, and bring in those boats. Otherwise, people are going to die,” Kine said.

The group also called on Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia to give the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) “immediate and unimpeded access” in order for the agency to begin the process of identifying, repatriating, and relocating refugees.

Kine stressed that in the longer term, friendly countries are needed to accept the relocation of refugees.