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On the importance of defending Uyghurs and Rohingyas: The Malaysian duty

Rais Hussin  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | There was a time when the "Gypsies”, more accurately known as "Roma" or Romani people, were the most persecuted lot in Europe. In 2010, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister of Turkey, went on an offensive to defend them.

A Muslim and Islamist leader defending the Romas? The whole of European Union was shocked. That's 27 member states. But Erdogan established a key point - one shall not look down on a "group" or a "collectivity" of people.

Malaysia may have a policy template that seems to improve the lot of the bumiputeras. But one must also understand it within the proper historical context. The bumiputera policy, especially the National Economic Policy (NEP), came after the racial riots of May 13, 1969.

One can, of course, argue that the policy went to the extreme of helping the bumiputeras and eventually caused it to malfunction completely. It was hijacked by top five percent of the Umnoputeras, which led to the kleptocracy of Najib Abdul Razak.

But did Malays and Malaysians not fight back on May 9, 2018, to put a stop to the decay? They did. And, that's what they will always do.

Now, Retired Commander S Thayarapan argued that it is not within the ambit of Malaysia to speak out against the atrocities of the Rohingya nor Uyghurs. After all, he argued, Malaysia is still practising some form of "apartheid" to help the Malays and bumiputeras first.

The notion that a policy to help the Malays and bumiputeras is necessarily "flawed" does not take into consideration of how the policy was first conceived after events in 1969, and how Malaysians, from all walks of life, including Malays, have criticised it since May 9, 2018.

On these two contexts alone, Malaysia has earned the plaudits to speak out against any form of atrocities, any time. Thus it is shocking that a retired naval commander, whose first moral duty must include the need to rush to the aid of any sinking vessel, goes against any attempt to highlight the tragic plight of the Rohingyas and Uyghurs.

These people are not mere "Romas". Some 600,000 to 800,000 or more Rohingyas have been chased out by the Myanmar military, with the complicit silence of Aung San Suu Kyi (photo), a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas have been maimed, murdered, and killed. Research by the United Nations as recently as last month has confirmed the genocidal campaign of the Myanmar military against the Rohingyas.

In China, although the Chinese government officially recognised the existence of 55 ethnic groups in China, the Uyghur and Hui Muslims have been singled out for all-out attacks and "re-education" doctrines, where up to 46 witnesses released from their detention camp have recounted horrid stories of torture and gross violation of their rights to freedom of worship.

Placed in austere, regimented detention camps

According to Human Rights Hong Kong, up to one million Uyghurs, Hui and Han Muslims have been placed in austere and regimented detention camps, with more being built.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has never stood for the policy of allowing the great powers to do what they will. The reason Malaysia has the Antartica policy, for example, was to demonstrate the importance of common heritage.

In fact, despite the taboo of non-intervention, Mahathir, who welcomed Myanmar into the fold of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 1997, has since then called for its expulsion as a full member of Asean.

Not only is Myanmar unable to live up to it's most basic command of protecting all citizens, it is turning to an even more extreme interpretation of nationalism to kill them. Indeed, of chasing them into another neighbouring country, like Bangladesh, or leaving them at the mercy of the open sea.

Malaysia must not abandon the duty to protect all persecuted human beings, including the Romas or Gypsies. In fact, rather than acceding to all the human rights templates and covenants, we must act, for action speaks louder than words.

The Uyghurs, Rohingyas, Romas and all minorities in Malaysia and beyond must be given the benefit of the thought that there are countries that are willing to stand up and speak up on their behalf.

Pakatan Harapan is against the inhuman treatment of anyone, including gross violation of the flora and fauna too, if not the animal kingdom as well.


RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). He also heads the party’s Policy and Strategy Bureau.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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