Prime Minister Hun Sen has reassured his Burmese counterpart that the Kingdom will not interfere in the escalating “Rohingya issue”, a day after a damning UN report revealed widespread gang rape and murder allegedly committed against the Muslim ethnic minority by Myanmar security forces.
During talks at the Peace Palace on Saturday, the premier told President Htin Kyaw that “Cambodia disagrees with the attempt to internationalise the Rohingya issue, considering it as an internal issue of Myanmar, and the ASEAN Charter prohibits the interference in the internal affairs of each Member State,” according to a Facebook post from Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith.
Reached yesterday for clarification, Kanharith said Cambodia could not condemn Myanmar’s actions and that “the government of each country has to settle their own issues”, though Prime Minister Najib Razak of fellow ASEAN state Malaysia recently called for the world to act to end what he characterised as “genocide”.
Hun Sen’s comments came barely a day after the UN released a harrowing report in which 204 interviewees who had fled to Bangladesh testified they had seen homes burned, people killed, and women and girls raped in Rakhine state.
“They held me tight, and I was raped by one of them. My 5-year old daughter tried to protect me, she was screaming, one of the men took out a long knife and killed her by slitting her throat,” a mother of three from Kyet Yoe Pyin told UN investigators.
Another described how her 8-month-old baby was slaughtered with a knife before her eyes as five men raped her. More than half of the 101 women interviewed reported they were raped or subjected to other forms of sexual violence.
In stark contrast to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein called on the international community to urge Myanmar to end the atrocities. “The gravity and scale of these allegations begs the robust reaction of the international community,” he said in a statement on Friday.
Dr Maung Zarni, Burmese co-author of the Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingyas and non-resident fellow at the Sleuk Rith Institute in Cambodia, said the parallels between the human rights abuses committed in Myanmar and those which ravaged Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge should prompt the premier to be more compassionate.
“Myanmar’s decades-long persecution and extreme mistreatment of Rohingyas have been causing periodic and voluminous flows of persecution-fleeing refugees . . . across both South and Southeast Asia, who are in turn preyed upon by the ruthless human-trafficking criminal gangs,” Dr Zarni said.
“A population having been halved as a matter of provable national policy based on extreme racism against an ethnic group is deeply troubling. This is where the international concern comes in,” he said, adding the crimes amounted to “ethnic cleansing”.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, said the prime minister’s assurances were a form of “mutual back-scratching among rights-abusing leaders”.
“The real reason [Prime Minister] Hun Sen said that is [because] he doesn’t want anyone interfering in his own rapidly intensifying crackdown on opposition party members and civil society activists.”
While the ASEAN Charter outlines respect for a country’s sovereignty, it also calls on member states to respond effectively to all forms of threats and to ensure that people live in peace in a just and harmonious environment in those member states.
The OHCHR’s acting regional representative for Southeast Asia, Laurent Meillan, said in an email yesterday that the report called for stronger engagement from ASEAN to address the plight of the Rohingyas.
“The ASEAN principle of non-interference should be interpreted with flexibility when significant humanitarian and human rights crises occur in the region,” he said.
Mohammed Rashid, a Rohingya refugee living in Cambodia, said while it was nearly impossible to reach those being persecuted in the closed-off zone, Cambodia should do anything it could to assist.
“Yes, yes they should help,” he said.
Additional reporting by Touch Sokha