Human rights in peril
Human Rights violations in Asia are soaring rampantly with migrant crises being the biggest concern. The current situation of the Rohingya Muslims is exceptionally complex. However, this is no justification for the inhumane treatment of those migrants who are stranded at sea. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an estimated 25,000 Southeast Asian migrants took to the seas in the first three months of 2015. This alarming rate of migrants has raised concern and an outcry in the international forum for the better enforcement of human rights and the protection of minorities and refugees.
Over 3,500 Rohingya refugees and migrants from Bangladesh have washed up on the shores of Malaysia and Indonesia in recent weeks, many of them abandoned by human-trafficking gangs. At least 1050 have died in the process and the rest have been violently abused and robbed by smugglers. While Indonesia and Malaysia are providing temporary relief, it is not enough. The association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which committed itself in its Charter to human rights and humanitarian principles, must fulfil their obligations and rescue all those who are stranded at sea and offer lasting protection to people who are fleeing persecution. The persecution of minorities in Myanmar not only violates human rights norms and customary international law, but complicates Myanmar’s relations with its neighbours.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein addressing the Council said, “I hope the discrimination that targets this vulnerable minority will swiftly be reversed, and that the Rohingya will be able to take their rightful place in their country where they were born”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein addressing the Council said, “I hope the discrimination that targets this vulnerable minority will swiftly be reversed, and that the Rohingya will be able to take their rightful place in their country where they were born.”
The US Secretary of State spoke for many countries in the region when he said that Myanmar should shoulder some blame for the crisis and work towards providing full citizenship to the country’s Rohingya.
Since 2011, anti Muslim and anti Rohingya sentiment in the country has flared. Majority regarding them as illegal immigrants argue that they should be denied citizenship. The ‘white card’ document which makes Rohingya temporary residents has been cancelled earlier this year, making their status in the country even more fragile. The Population Control Law is another attempt to curb the population of the Rohingya. This has further undermined Human Rights with no protection being provided to the minorities.
There have been widespread protests in Myanmar, accusing the UN and the international media of exaggerating the plight of the migrants. The issue is primarily legal but it carries political connotations as well. However, politics cannot trump international treaties and obligations of states and international laws. Human rights obligations may allow for a degree of flexibility in their application, but they are highly binding, regardless of how other state parties conform to their duties. Myanmar is signatory to ICCPR, UDHR, ICESCR, ICERD, Ratifying and Implementing the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness Conventions, and the 2000 Migrant Workers Convention. Myanmar cannot overlook these human rights obligations and it is vital for human dignity and for the protection of the weak and powerless from arbitrary and tyrannical power.
Such blatant violations of human rights in Asia urgently call for a model like the European Convention of Human Rights, which ensures better enforcement of Human Rights obligations
Myanmar is not only flagrantly violating human rights but is also engaged in ethnic cleansing, which gives rise to state obligations of responsibility to protect. If this treatment with refugees and minorities continues, it would not only have heavy repercussions for Myanmar but this state practice threatens the efficacy of human rights entirely. This issue should be tackled immediately in order to protect more lives from suffering and for defending human rights obligations which are being gravely violated. While Myanmar is primarily responsible for ensuring that the rights of Rohingya are respected, other Southeast Asian states are also obligated to observe international law requirements in their treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, migrant workers, and stateless people.
Such blatant violations of human rights in Asia urgently call for a model like the European Convention of Human Rights, which ensures better enforcement of Human Rights obligations. The regional meeting will only be a success if every government commits to effective search and rescue operations, meeting the needs of refugees, prosecuting traffickers, and resolving the root causes that drive these desperate people onto boats. International burden sharing, including resettling refugees, is also important, but will only be a lasting solution if all governments agree that human rights must be at the centre of all current and future policies.