- Title: Malaysia PM opens thorny debate in accusing Myanmar of genocide
- Date: 10th December 2016
- Summary: WANG KELIAN, PERLIS, MALAYSIA (MAY 26, 2015) (REUTERS) POLICE LINE READING (English): "DO NOT CROSS" SPECIAL POLICE FORCE STANDING NEAR SUSPECTED MIGRANT CAMPSITE VARIOUS OF ABANDON SUSPECTED MIGRANT CAMPSITE PEOPLE TAKING PHOTOS OF HUMAN SKELETON ON THE GROUND WITH MOBILE PHONE HUMAN SKELETON ON THE GROUND FORENSICS POLICE WORKING NEAR THE GRAVESITE VARIOUS OF FORENSICS POLICE RECOVER HUMAN BODY
- Embargoed: 25th December 2016 06:16
- Keywords: Malaysia Myanmar Rohingya protest Muslims voters critics
- Location: KUALA LUMPUR / PERLIS, MALAYSIA
- City: KUALA LUMPUR / PERLIS, MALAYSIA
- Country: Malaysia
- Reuters ID: LVA0025CAVADH
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's stern rebuke to Myanmar for a military-led crackdown on Muslim Rohingyas was a rarity among Southeast Asian nations, who adhere to a policy of non-interference in each other's domestic affairs.
Critics saw the beleaguered Najib reaching for the moral high ground with his criticism over the weekend of Myanmar protest in order to pander to Malay Muslim voters after a series of protests calling for him to resign over a corruption scandal.
Najib is eyeing elections in the second half of 2017, nearly a year ahead of the 2018 deadline, a government source told Reuters.
At a rally last Sunday (December 4), Najib called for foreign intervention to stop the "genocide" of Rohingya Muslims and lashed out at Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for her inaction.
"The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place. The world cannot just say 'look, it is not our problem'. It is our problem," Najib said at the rally.
The persecution of the Rohingyas in Rakhine state, however, has been going on for years. It has forced hundreds of thousands to board flimsy boats and flee to neighbouring countries including Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia - which along with Myanmar are all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Some Rohingya have fallen into the hands of human traffickers on their perilous journeys from Myanmar. In May 2015, mass graves, believed to be of trafficked Myanmar migrants, were discovered on the borders between Malaysia and Thailand.
More than 100,000 Rohingya live in poverty and face harassment as illegal migrants in Malaysia, with many alleging abuse and mistreatment at the country's immigration centers.
"The worst part was when the (immigration officer) confiscated our belongings, and then they put us in a cell, 150 in one cell. Among them, two died. We lacked food, water, clothes... they only gave us one glass of water a day," said 17-year-old Rohingya migrant Moyoura Begum, who arrived in Malaysia on a boat in 2015.
Rohingyas in Malaysia applauded Najib's intervention, and hoped it would lead to changes not only in Myanmar but in their adopted country.
Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on the status of refugees, which means all refugees, including Rohingya, are viewed as illegal migrants awaiting resettlement in a third country.
They often work illegally in restaurants and construction sites. Rohingya children, who are denied access to public education, can only attend schools run by community centres or non-government organizations.
"Although Malaysia has not signed the refugee convention, because the Prime minister (Najib Razak) has stated his support for Rohingya to help end the cruelty, it is better for the prime minister to recognize the Rohingya in Malaysia in areas like jobs, education and healthcare, so that both sides can benefit," Rohingya Women Development Network founder Sharifah Shakirah said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Malaysia, Richard Towle, said Rohingyas in Malaysia were at risk of exploitation and abuse.
"It's helpful to have the plight of Rohingya highlighted, and really to try find a way for better supporting their needs both in the places that they come from but the places that they also find themselves now. So we think although it's proper to highlight the situation in Myanmar itself, it's also very important to look at the situation of the Rohingya in Bangladesh and here in Malaysia, where there is a lot we can still do to make their lives more secure and safer. That currently is not the case," Towle said.
Najib's popularity dropped after he was linked to a multi-billion dollar graft scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Tens of thousands marched on the streets in capital Kuala Lumpur last month, demanding he step down and face corruption charges.
Najib has denied wrongdoing and has used powerful security laws to block dissenters and his opponents.
Najib needs the support of the powerful Islamist party PAS, to secure a convincing win in the next elections. The premier has put his weight behind an Islamic law, hudud, that sets out punishments such as amputation and stoning.
Political analyst Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani said Najib's concern for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar came at a crucial time in Malaysian politics.
"Well, I think the gathering itself was significant to Najib more than the Rohingya because… I mean while one cannot measure a person's sincerity, no one can deny the atrocity that is happening in Myanmar regardless if it's based on ethnicity or religion. But the timing itself is questionable, with the plunging (Malaysian) ringgit, the possible snap election next year and the ongoing 1MDB saga. The question that arises is, why now?"
Najib's office did not respond to requests for comment.
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