EU continues to ignore Rohingya in Myanmar

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
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The European Union is the largest economic block in the world and also has the distinction of holding a Nobel Prize. It has historically taken a lead on human rights issues and has prevented many a conflict as former Easter bloc countries mull whether to risk EU membership and the economic benefits it’s brings by antagonizing their neighbors. However, when it comes to the Rohingya in Myanmar, the EU has been completely absent.

Take for example, the EU’s Facebook page in Myanmar. A key accusation against the Rohingya minority by the Myanmar authorities is that the word ‘Rohingya’ did not historically exist but was manufactured by illegal Bengali immigrants to give themselves an identity.


An examination of the EU’s Facebook page shows that the word Rohingya is not even used once. One would think the EU would speak truth to power considering the millions of Euros they continue to pour into the country building roads and infrastructure.

It is left to the EU to be the last defender of human rights and universal values on the world stage. And the EU also has a checkered history with genocides and ethnic cleansings to make up for

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

The EU's weak stance

This should not come as a surprise. When it comes to the genocide itself, the EU has been exceptionally weak to even acknowledge its existence. It has passed a resolution stating "the very serious nature of the allegations" and "current investigations conducted at the domestic level", it stopped short mandating the investigation sought by Commissioner Ra'ad al-Hussein.

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EU diplomats justified the move by claiming they preferred using an existing mechanism that had received “good cooperation” and access from Myanmar's government, rather than gamble on a new approach, and to give more time to the domestic process.

To be sure, there have not been hundreds of thousands of people executed with machetes like in Rwanda, but the swift and calculated violence has already driven more than 90% of the stateless Rohingya from the land of their birth. Almost all the agencies of the state have aligned against them, and there is no element of the state, either local or federal, nor indeed no element of Burmese society, that is on their side. There is, in other words, no reason to expect that things will improve and Rohingya will be allowed to return.

Need for immediate action

For both historical reasons, and current geopolitical reasons, the most likely authority at the UN to intervene is the European Union. Neither Russian, nor China, nor Trump’s America have any concern for human rights in Myanmar – or anywhere else, for that matter. It is left to the EU to be the last defender of human rights and universal values on the world stage. And the EU also has a checkered history with genocides and ethnic cleansings to make up for.

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The EU infamously failed to take any action in Bosnia when there was a genocide happening on their doorstep. Just as it failed to in Kosovo, and had waited until the US stepped in and provided 97% of all military assets in the action against the Serbs. Then, as now, the EU does in fact have the necessary assets, military and diplomatic, to intervene effectively on behalf of the Rohingya. What it lacks is any meaningful foreign policy direction.

This lack of direction from the EU is no longer something we, and indeed the world, can afford. In a world dominated by an unholy triumvirate of Putin, Jinping and Trump, the European Project is left as the last hope for civilized values and for the weakest peoples of the world.

This UN Commission of Enquiry is the absolute minimum the EU and the international community should be calling for. It is time to step up to the plate. And in doing so, the EU must finally arrive, in a meaningful way, on the geopolitical scene as a force, and what is more, as a force for good.

Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He completed his PhD from the University of Cambridge and served as an International Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a World Fellow at Yale. Over the years he has met and advised numerous world leaders on policy development and was ranked as a Top 100 Global Thinker by the European Social Think Tank in 2010 and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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