The hypocrisy of Najib Razak
Najib’s comments will only further harden local opinion against the international community. That’s going to make the situation worse for Rakhine State’s Muslims. Thanks for nothing, Najib.
(The Frontier, Myanmar) – JUST WHEN the divisions over Rakhine State appeared insurmountable, an event occurred that momentarily managed to bridge the gaping chasm.
Those who have called for independent investigations into abuse allegations in Maungdaw and those placing their trust in military and government denials now have something they can all get fired up about: the naked opportunism of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
His remarks at a December 4 rally – “Enough is enough”, “I refuse to shut my eyes and my mouth,” “We will continue to fight until the Rohingya are safe,” and so on – have rightly been denounced as a piece of political theatre. You don’t need to be a scholar of Malaysian politics to see Najib is desperate to shore up his waning popularity among conservative Muslims. It’s clear all the way from Yangon.
It’s not as if the issues Najib raised are unimportant, Frontier continues to call on the Myanmar government to conduct a transparent and credible investigation into allegations of abuses in Rakhine State, and the granting of access to aid workers and independent journalists to the affected area.
But if Najib was sincere, he would have raised his concerns through diplomatic channels. In the case that they needed to be expressed publicly, he would have done so in moderate language that would not inflame tensions further, rather than use the politicised and contested term “genocide”.
Instead, he’s put his own political future ahead of bilateral relations (granted, he’s not the first politician to do that) and made any genuine international efforts to improve the situation in Rakhine more difficult. Najib’s comments will only further harden local opinion against the international community. That’s going to make the situation worse for Rakhine State’s Muslims. Thanks for nothing, Najib.
Another issue is that Najib has tried to take the moral high ground when he’s hardly in a position to do so. As some Malay commentators have pointed out, there are plenty of human rights abuses being perpetrated by his own government that he could address first.
A great place to start would be respecting the rights of those Muslims from Rakhine State who have sought asylum in his own country. As of the end of October, there were almost 55,000 refugees in Malaysia who identify as Rohingya, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, as well as many more who are not recognised (some estimate there may be up to 150,000).
Malaysia should be commended for offering de facto protection to these populations, including allowing asylum seeker boats to land on its territory after they have been pushed back by the Thai navy, something that has reportedly been happening since 2012.
But because Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, even recognised refugees face significant difficulties in Malaysia. They are unable to study or even send their children to school, which means that many are illiterate.