Rohingya refugees sit in front of their makeshift shelter in Balukhali refugee camp in the Bangladeshi district of Ukhia on November 23, 2017.An estimated 618,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled mainly Buddhist Myanmar since a military crackdown was launched in Rakhine in August triggered an exodus, straining resources in the impoverished country. AFP Photo

A SPADE must be called a spade. United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who visited Myanmar last week, condemned the military’s crackdown against the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing in statement on Wednesday, an accusation it last made at the United Nations Security Council in September.

Tillerson’s words say it all: “After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.” And: “No provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued.”

Among Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia has been the strongest in its condemnation of the atrocities in Myanmar against the Rohingya, with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak calling it “genocide”.

Last year, when addressing a gathering of Rohingya refugees and Malaysian supporters in Kuala Lumpur, he called on the world: “Please do something. The UN, do something. The world cannot sit and watch genocide taking place.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s promise to Asean that she will work out a long-term plan for the Rohingya’s return to their homeland may turn out to be a hollow promise, after all.

In a memorandum of understanding signed yesterday with Bangladesh, Myanmar appears to be imposing conditions for repatriation.

Dithering Suu Kyi must be told, enough is enough. Like the US, we want Myanmar’s government to respect the human rights of all the people in the country, and hold accountable those who fail to do so.

What more the rights of the Rohingya, who have been citizens of Myanmar for generations.

That Myanmar is not keen to take the Rohingya back home is very clear from the statements made by the military regime.

It appears that, if push comes to shove, the regime will only take in refugees based on an agreement reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh in 1992, when tens of thousands fled similar atrocities.

This means only those with Myanmar “citizenship” or “national registration cards”, as defined by the regime, can return.

But, we must remember that the majority of the Rohingya have been deviously stripped off their nationality by the 1982 Citizenship Law. Of the more than 600,000 Rohingya, only a small fraction may be allowed to return. Myanmar is placing far too many conditions to stop the repatriation of the Rohingya.

In addition to the Rohingya in Bagladesh, there are more than 500,000 refugees elsewhere. The world community must find other ways to solve the Rohingya crisis, for recalcitrant Myanmar cannot be relied upon.

But, first it must start by punishing the ethnic cleansers as a deterrence to others. There is enough evidence to haul the military regime and extremist Buddhists to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In addition to UN reports, international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have ample evidence to enable the ICC prosecutor to charge the criminals.

It is time for the UN Security Council to exercise its power under the Rome Statute to refer the perpetrators to the ICC. Otherwise, the community of nations will stand accused in the court of humanity for not putting an end to genocide.

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