An open letter to the UN secretary general on Rohingya persecution

Published: January 16, 2017

What makes the situation today the most perilous it has ever been is the fact that in this crisis the Rohingya are likely to be targeted by all parts of Burmese society PHOTO: REUTERS.

Dear Mr Secretary General,

I am writing to you to express my deep concern over the fate of the Rohingya people of Myanmar. I am certain you are familiar with their extremely precarious situation, as we have seen them teetering on the edge of genocide since at least 2012.

Since the series of attacks against the border guard outposts in October 2016, the police and army in the local state of Rakhine/Arakan have carried out over 100 indiscriminate extra-judicial killings of Rohingya – including old men, women and children.

The fear on the ground is that the violence may now escalate to at least the level of violence of 2012 or 2013, when dozens were killed, over 100,000 were displaced to internal camps and many more Rohingya were driven out of the country altogether, triggering the South East Asia Migration Crisis which culminated in the spring of 2015. And that may be the optimistic scenario. This upsurge of violence may ultimately prove to be the final trigger to outright genocide that the UN and many NGO observers have been dreading.

What makes the situation today the most perilous it has ever been is the fact that in this crisis the Rohingya are likely to be targeted by all parts of Burmese society. Historically, the dark-skinned, Muslim minority had been chosen as the favourite ‘enemy within’ of the succession of military regimes that governed Burma/Myanmar. Whenever these governments needed to invoke some ‘dark forces’ that undermined the success of their ‘vision’ for the country, they scapegoated the country’s Muslims, particularly the Rohingya. Whenever they needed to distract attention from other national issues, some conflict with the Rohingya would suddenly materialise.

Yet, the violence of 2012-2013 had not been initiated by the federal state. Or indeed the local state. The decades of anti-Rohingya propaganda have been absorbed by the political culture of the country, and now the biggest threat to the Rohingya is actually their ethnic Rakhine Buddhist neighbours, in their native state of Rakhine/Arakan. Civil society groups, Rakhine nationalist political parties, even prominent groups of Buddhist monks are the perpetrators of dehumanising propaganda and incitement to anti-Rohingya violence. Indeed, in the last few years, the organs of the state have either been passive or have helped calm tensions down when they flared.

But now these attacks are driven by the law enforcement agencies of the local state. And the civil society groups that have carried out most of the attacks in the recent years are merely waiting their turn. The floodgates have not been opened just yet: but they are about to burst through.

The only thing that can stop the spiralling levels of violence from escalating into a full blown latter-day Rwanda scenario would be the intervention of the federal government of Aung San Suu Kyi to pacify the Rakhine/Arakan and impose the rule of law. However, so far, the federal government is making no haste to intervene, and Ms Suu Kyi does not seem to be moved by the gravity of the situation.

Fortunately, the situation is not beyond all hope. Ms Suu Kyi is known to be sensitive to international opinion, and indeed much of her political capital comes from the favourable view the West has had of her as a democracy campaigner for her country. We do have leverage to lean on her to confront this issue as a matter of urgency, and if we do, we know she has the political power and capital as the first democratic leader of her country in half a century to carry through what needs to be done.

You are in a uniquely privileged position to help build the international pressure needed to move Ms Suu Kyi and her government to suppress the recent upsurge in violence before things get completely out of control. I urge you to take charge of this issue and help prevent yet another international humanitarian catastrophe.

I realise that in the current news media cycle it can be difficult to get such a message through: between Trump, Brexit, and Aleppo, we barely have the energy to process everything else that is happening in the world today. But if we do not do something about the situation of the Rohingya as a matter of urgency, the issue will come back to haunt us as an even greater calamity – and one which we could have been able to prevent.

Should you need any help or support in this, from up-to-date information to contacts with on-the-ground sources, to contacts within the relevant UN and non-governmental agencies, I am at your service. Please do not hesitate to get back in touch.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Azeem Ibrahim
Academic, author of The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide

This post originally appeared here.


Azeem Ibrahim

An International Security and Geopolitics Lecturer at the University of Chicago. Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a former Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and World Fellow at Yale. He is the Strategic Policy Advisor to Imran Khan and he tweets as @AzeemIbrahim (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • hp kumar

    I think author must be writing open letter to UN regarding persecution of Hindus in pakistan.He must know that hindus girls r being abducted by muslim fundamentalist in broad day light and their never returning back has become a common occurence in pakistan.Recommend

  • Huzur

    In addition he should write about the persecution of the Pandit community in Kashmir and their ethnic cleansing.Though one has sympathy for the Rohingyas one should also have similar feelings for other minorities like the Pandit,Christian,Ahmadi,Shia and Hindu communities in……..nations.Recommend

  • G. Din

    A Muslim heart aches only for another Muslim – but only as long as he doesn’t have to share his fortune with him. If he is asked to share, he would sooner kill him than share. Take the case of 300,000 Pakistani “Biharis” that Pakistan left in Bangladesh to their fate, refusing to accept them even after Agha Khan offered to foot the bill for their repatriation to Pakistan. Take the case of Palestinians. They are unwelcome in any other Arab country. Take even the case of Rohingyas who stole into Myanmar a couple of generations back and now even Bangladesh turns their dinghies away. Myanmar needs a Trump.Recommend

  • Lalit

    Persecution of Muslims is the sole right of muslim monarchs,while persecution of non muslims is an integral right of every Muslim….Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    Hypocrisy. Then why Pakistan never accepted Syrian or Rohingya Muslims who are displaced? Why only empty talk. These people are forced to go to Europe, Australia, Malaysia etc.. No Muslim country willing to accept either Syrian or Rohingya people. Go figure!Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    Problem is not only with Pakistanis but also so called liberals and secular in India. No one talks about Hindus in Pakistan and their plight. This issue must be front, center and back all the time in India. But not.Recommend

  • Scott Riley

    This author has actually been very critical of Muslim behaviour and has called out Muslim hypocricy many times. See this great piece:

  • justice4 world

    This writer knows little or nothing about the real situation in Rohingya state.
    Who will believe this ?Recommend

  • wb

    Brother Azeem, where is your open letter to the government of Pakistan at the plight of thousands of stranded Biharis in Bangladesh who are living without citizenship and like third class citizens, whom you promised and abandoned?

    Brother Azeem, where is your open letter to the government of Pakistan at the plight of Balochis who are being killed and dumped in dozens every day by your own country?

    Brother Azeem, where is your open letter to the govenment of Pakistan on the plight of Pashtoons during Zarb e Azb. Did you question why not a single high value Taliban target has been killed (repeat: not a single high value target) during this whole operation while several thousand innocents have been carpet bombed and many lakhs have been displaced?

    Brother Azeem, where is your open letter to the UN about the plight of South Asians in Saudi Arabia who are not only treated as third class humans but also denied their rightful salaries, unjustly imprisoned on frivolous charges, no proper legal assistance given and then beheaded on tarmac?

    Brother Azeem, where is your open letter to the UN about the plight of HIndus, Ahmadis, Shias, Christians of Pakistan who have faced daily persecution in Pakistan?

    Where is your open letter to the government of India at the plight of HIndus and Christians who are being persecuted in the state of West Bengal and Kerala?

    Where is your open letter to the UN about the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who were killed expelled and now not allowed to go back by the Sunni Muslims of Kashmir valley?

    No? No open letters?

    The brazenness of the dishonesty, self-righteousness and lies of Pakistanis doesn’t baffle me anymore. And I’m sue it won’t baffle the UN. So, I’m pretty sure the UN will duly ignore your open letter.Recommend

  • wb

    Well said. In fact, a perfunctory count of the killings will tell brother Azeem that Pakistan has killed more Muslims than India/Myanmar/Israel combined.Recommend

  • An Indian

    Dear Dr. Ibrahim, How about a similar letter on Pakistan’s persecution of Baloch, on Pakistan’s carpet bombing of Pakhtoons (when it is the punjabis who breed all forms of terrorists), on Pakistan’s persecution of Mohajirs, on Pakistan’s blatant colonization of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, on iron brother’s gross human rights abuse of it’s Muslim minorities? Can you? Please?Recommend

  • An Indian

    They haven’t even accepted their own Bihari muslims whom they left behind in Bangladesh – to create another Pakistan inside Bangladesh, I guess.Recommend

  • Milind A

    Hypocrisy is the middle name of Muslims…Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    He must stop being a hypocrite and concentrate on Baluch independence.Recommend

  • Sane

    Welcome to Indian Trolls: Divert the discussion and start writing poisonous comments against Pakistan and Muslims. Recommend

  • Sane

    well, well and well. On a Pakistan blog 90% comments are from Indian trolls. They don’t have any other thing to do. Probably this is their bread earning.Recommend

  • wb

    This is our job. We get 8 rupees fifty paise, a plate of idlies and a cup of chai for working the whole day commenting here. If you don’t know, RAW pays us. But those stingy guys don’t increase our allowance. We get an additional 25 paise for every up vote we give on comments. We also get an additional 25 paise for using a swear word here. We get an additional 25 paise if we use mathematics to prove a point. We get an additional 25 paise if we can quote from Quran and Hadees. We get an additional 25 paise if we don’t make any grammar or spelling errors.

    So, as you may have already guessed, I make most money compared to other Indian trolls. Because my English is far superior to most other RAW trolls. I can use swear words wantonly, I can quote from Quran and Hadees, and I can use mathematics very well. Guess what! Yesterday I made 14 rupees. My kids ate for the first time in a week! That too 4 peanuts.

    Thank you RAW.Recommend

  • Hammad Mian

    See how the hate is coming out .Recommend

  • vinsin

    Nope because they care about Pakistani. India given Subcontinent Muslims Pakistan so that they take of it. Indian just want to know how well are Pakistani taking care of their ancestral land.Recommend

  • vinsin

    If they are against Muslims and Pakistan then why they created Pakistan in the first place? Do you even know that India has 15% Mulsims? Are you saying that Indian Muslims are against Pakistan and Muslims?Recommend

  • Sane

    Muslims of India fought to get Pakistan. You did not have power or courage to stop dividing India in 1947.Recommend

  • Sane

    so, you worth 25 paisa. So cheap, but still you work!!Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    British (with help from pacifist like Gandhi and Nehru) actively collaborated with Jinnah to divide India. Else it would be impossible. Just look at Kashmir. Pakistan is not getting it for last 70 years and even next 70 years either. While India broke Pakistan into two in 1971. Go figure who is strong and who is weak!Recommend


    If Pakistan really wish to address this issue please leave the Rohingyas alone, keep silence. Because the whole world knew Pakistan’s credibility in protecting the minorities.Set your house in order first afterwards you can type sms ,email,write a letter to the UN etcRecommend

  • Sane

    Before ‘India’ broke Pakistan, India itself was broken by Muslims in 1947.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    OK. So then we can say Hindus took revenge on Pakistani Muslims by breaking their country into neat two parts in 1971. I like this explanation. Do you?Recommend