Assalamualaikum, salam sejahtera and good evening.
In Cambodia’s Killing Fields, where more than a million people were murdered and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, it is well documented how Pol Pot’s troops devised diabolical ways to kill. One of the sports they conceived – and to them it was a sport – was to take babies and young children and throw them into the air while their comrades took turns to spear these innocents with their bayonets. Or they would just snatch a child out of its mother’s arms and swing it against a tree to smash its skull. This state-sponsored genocide, which took place after the Cambodian Civil War (1970–1975), happened barely an hour’s flight from where we stand today; and it continued for four years from 1975-1979.
- We are gathered here tonight to raise funds for a humanitarian cause, and it is not my intent to put a sombre mood or a cloud over our gathering. If I have done so, please accept my apology.
But time and again, when the outrage of these crimes against humanity hits us, the world wrings its hands and says, “Never again.” And yet, it happens again; and again; and the wise remonstrate by saying “the world has learned nothing.”
- Do we not all sometimes wonder whether we could have done anything to prevent that genocide, or whether we did anything to ease the sufferings of the hundreds of thousands of Cambodians or Vietnamese boat people who fled their countries and lived in over-crowded refugee camps in countries across the region, including in Sungai Besi and Pulau Bedong in our own country?
- Today, another humanitarian crisis has flared up, again, barely two hours by flight from where we sit. More than 400,000 Rohingyas, or almost a third of their total population of 1.5 million in Rakhine State in Myanmar, have been displaced and live in squalor in makeshift refugee camps. Thousands more have been murdered and dumped in rivers and shallow mass graves. Every day, dozens, if not hundreds of them die due to lack of food and medical supplies or drown when their boats sink.
- Hundreds of thousands more are stateless, living in fear, without much hope for a future, in camps in our own country, in Thailand, in Bangladesh, in Nepal and in India. A large number of them fall prey to evil human traffickers who sell them as slave labour, like commodities in the marketplace. Authorities in Malaysia and Thailand have discovered mass graves where many of these Rohingyas have died, either killed or dying of malnutrition and for lack of medical attention, including within our own borders in Perlis.
Indeed, Ladies & Gentlemen, the world has learned nothing.
- The term Genocide was coined by Polish writer and attorney, Raphael Lemkin, in 1941, by combining the Greek word ‘genos‘ (race) with the Latin word ‘cide’ (killing). Genocide as defined by the United Nations in 1948 means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including:
- killing members of the group;
- causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and
- forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
In the case of the Rohingyas, almost all the criteria, as defined by the United Nations, apply.
- The list of genocides is long. In the last 100 years alone, tens of millions have been massacred because they were from a particular ethnic group, because they were of a particular religious belief; or because they were on the wrong side of politics. There have been numerous incidences, over short periods, like in Rwanda, or prolonged periods like The Holocaust and the Palestinians. And at the turn of this 21st century, we had the genocide in Darfur. Today, we have the Rohingyas, right in our backyard. The Bishop of Rwanda John Rucyahana described the genocide in his country as “a typhoon of madness” that saw 800,000 people being massacred in less than three months – or an average of 10,000 people a day.
That same typhoon of madness is sweeping through Rakhine state in Myanmar today.
- We can only learn from those who have seen these horrors with their own eyes; from those who have suffered the consequences of genocides over the centuries. And we can only hope that our children, our future generations, will learn from what we could have done and what we have done, in our own small ways, to ease the suffering of victims of injustice and genocide. We have to believe that we can change; although history has shown over the centuries that man does not learn, as I said earlier, and always succumbs to his reptilian instincts.
- A Native American holy man, Black Elk, of the Sioux tribe and a cousin of the famous chief named Crazy Horse, witnessed his tribe being decimated in Dakota. He had this to say:
“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream…”
Let us not let the dream of the Rohingyas die. Let us not let the dream of humanity die.
- On this note, I want to thank all of you who have donated to this cause for your generosity, for your humanity, for thinking of the grief and sorrow of others; for being human. In particular, I would like to thank the artists who have big-heartedly donated their paintings – Pak Latif Mohideen, Datuk Sharifah Fatimah Zubir, Ahmad Zaki Anuar and Chang Fee Meng – and the collectors who have parted with their prized art pieces; and last, but not least, the promoters Datuk Seri Kalimullah Hassan and Datuk Tong Kooi Ong, and the organisers, The Edge Media Group, in particular, its publisher Ho Kay Tat, for all they have done. Your kindness will be remembered.
- Before I conclude, I would like to end by saying that it needs courage for those who are in a position of power – be they diplomats, neighbouring countries, regional groupings or world powers – to stop genocide and in the context of tonight’s event, the ongoing Rohingya genocide. We cannot allow fears of upsetting our neighbours; or fear of being accused of interference; or fears of affecting our regional trade and commerce to prevent us from voicing out our anxieties and alarm at what is happening in Rakhine state.
- I leave you with a quote by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who once said: “It is not power that corrupts but fear.”
That Nobel laureate is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
I implore Daw Su to heed what the well-known Pulitzer-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote on the Darfur genocide:
“You will be judged in years to come by how you responded to genocide on your watch.”
- Once again, I thank you for your generosity and I sincerely hope that Malaysians will strive to help these less unfortunate in whatever way they can. In this respect I would like to single out the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, and its Under Secretary General Tan Sri Jemilah Mahmood, for all the good work they are doing in disaster zones and wherever there is a humanitarian crisis, including caring for and providing aid for displaced communities such as the Rohingyas.
Wabillahi taufiq walhidayah
Wassalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.