NEW YORK: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday (Sep 24) called on the international community to urgently resolve the Rohingya crisis.
"Let's start by calling a spade, a spade. What happened in Rakhine state is genocide," he said on the sidelines of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
"What took place were mass killings, systematic rape and other gross violations of human rights."
About 740,000 Rohingya fled their villages in Rakhine following a military crackdown in August 2017, joining nearly 200,000 already living in squalid camps across the border in Cox's Bazar, in southeast Bangladesh.
And the longer the refugees stayed in the camps, the more desperate their situation would become, Dr Mahathir added.
"As it is, the refugees have become vulnerable to other forms of exploitation. They become likely targets for cross border crimes such as human trafficking and sex slavery, among others. In other words, they can only see a bleak future ahead," he said at the UN headquarters in New York.
Those who remain in Myanmar have become internally displaced persons languishing in camps in Rakhine, said Dr Mahathir.
"The Myanmar authorities have denied access to some UN officials and humanitarian aid workers," he said.
"If Myanmar has nothing to hide, why bar others from (assessing) the situation in Rakhine? Let these officials and aid workers visit, inspect and assist those living in the camps."
Repatriation should be Myanmar's main priority to demonstrate its seriousness in tackling the crisis, said Dr Mahathir. He pointed out that two attempts were made to repatriate some of the refugees and both had failed.
"Reasons for this are obvious. No one would return if they do not feel that their safety is guaranteed," he said.
"On this, Malaysia will continue to insist that repatriation be done in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner."
Dr Mahathir said this could only be done by granting full citizenship to the Rohingyas.
"However, the Myanmar authorities have manipulated the Rohingya issue to incite fear, hatred and violence. Thus, merely considering the idea of granting citizenship is unacceptable," he said.
UN'S "SILENCE IS DEFEANING"
At the event which was also attended by his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, he praised the country for hosting more than 1.2 million Rohingya refugees.
He added that Malaysia has also provided humanitarian assistance, including operating a field hospital in Cox’s Bazar and hosting close to 100,000 registered Rohingya refugees, and more unregistered ones.
"While this may seem like a small number compared to those in Bangladesh, plenty of resources have been dedicated to allow them a decent life while they await relocation to a third country.
"We will continue to help the Rohingyas within our means and capacity," he pledged.
The Malaysian prime minister said it was clear that the Myanmar government was unwilling to take any action to resolve the crisis.
"Therefore, it is left up to us, the international community, to do something about the situation,"he said.
"We hope others would also join us and Bangladesh in our resolve to end the miseries that have befallen the Rohingyas. We need to put an end to the crisis and we need to do it now."
Dr Mahathir said the UN should play its role in preventing future man-made miseries, "but its silence (on the Rohingya issue) is deafening".
Noting the lack of action by the UN Security Council, he commended the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for addressing the Rohingya issue at the international forum and bringing the matter to the International Court of Justice.
"We hope other countries would support the OIC to ensure that the perpetrators do not get away with the heinous crimes that they have committed," he said.