It was one year ago, August 25th 2017, when Myanmar’s military junta launched a vicious exercise of terror on the Rohingya people. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights described the offensive in Rakhine as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
After the killings of nine border police in October 2016, the government blamed what it claimed were fighters from an armed Rohingya group. Troops started pouring into the villages of Rakhine State. A security crackdown on villages where Rohingya lived ensued, during which government troops carried out crimes against the people, including extrajudicial killing, rape and arson.
Myanmar’s disgraced leader Aung San Suu Kyi, incidentally the winner of the 1991 Nobel peace prize, has faced international outrage and disgust for not condemning her army’s actions in Rakhine state.
Due to ongoing violence and persecution, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring countries, either by land or boat over the course of many decades. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fled their homes into Bangladesh. At least 700,000 Rohingya have since fled into neighbouring Bangladesh. 220 000 people entered Bangladesh in only 6 days, between 4th and 10th September 2017. 60% of all refugees were children according to the preliminary data.
For many of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled into Bangladesh, life remains a daily struggle for survival, with refugees living in terrible conditions and overcrowded camps.
The Rohingya are an ethnic group, the majority being Muslim. Currently, there are about 1.1 million Rohingya in the Southeast Asian country. The Arakan Rohingya National Organisation has said, “Rohingyas have been living in Arakan from time immemorial. They are a people with distinct culture and civilization of their own. They trace their ancestry to Arabs, Moors, Pathans, Moghuls, Bengalis and some Indo-Mongoloid people. Early Muslim settlements in Arakan date back to 7th century AD.”
During more than 100 years of British rule (1824-1948), there was a significant amount of migration of labourers to what is now known as Myanmar from today’s India and Bangladesh.
The British promised the Rohingya separate land, a “Muslim National Area”, in exchange for support. During the Second World War, the Rohingya sided with the British while Myanmar’s nationalists supported the Japanese. Following the war, the British handed out to the Rohingya government posts, however not a separate state.
In 1948, when Myanmar achieved independence from the British, violent conflicts broke out among various segments of its more than one hundred ethnic and racial groups.
The migration of labourers was viewed negatively by the majority of the native population. After independence, the government viewed the migration that took place during British rule as “illegal, and it is on this basis that they refuse citizenship to the majority of Rohingya.”
This has led many Buddhists to consider the Rohingya Bengali, rejecting the term Rohingya as a recent invention created for political reasons.
After the 1962 military coup in Myanmar, all citizens were required to obtain national registration cards. The Rohingya, however, were only given foreign identity cards, which limited the jobs and educational opportunities they could pursue.
In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed, effectively rendering the Rohingya stateless. Under the law, Rohingya were again not recognised as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. The law established three levels of citizenship. In order to obtain the most basic level (naturalised citizenship), proof that the person’s family lived in Myanmar before 1948 was needed, as well as fluency in one of the national languages. Many Rohingya lack such paperwork because it was either unavailable, or denied to them.
As a result of the law, their rights to study, work, travel, marry, practice their religion and access health services have been and continue to be restricted. The Rohingya cannot vote, and even if they navigate the citizenship test, they must identify as “naturalised” as opposed to Rohingya, and limits are placed on them entering certain professions such as medicine or law or running for office.
Since the 1970s, a number of crackdowns on the Rohingya in Rakhine State have forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, as well as Malaysia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. During such crackdowns, refugees have often reported rape, torture, arson and murder by Myanmar security forces.
The Citizenship Act of Myanmar, enacted in 1982, legally denied the Rohingya citizenship rights. Rohingya Muslims are neither recognized as an ethnic group, nor as citizens, but as “resident foreigners.” As they are stateless, the Rohingya do not have freedom of movement, access to higher education, or hold public office.
Today, the Rohingya are the single largest “stateless” community in the world. Lack of citizenship means they are not entitled to any legal protection from the government. Without citizenship, basic rights are denied such as access to health services, education and employment.
The Rohingya are also the only ethnic group in Burma that must ask the government for permission to marry.
In 2012, widespread violence in Central Rakhine left 140 000 people, mostly Rohingya, displaced. While the authorities have initiated a limited return process, over 120 000 people remain internally displaced more than six years after the events.
In August 2017, residents described troops firing indiscriminately at unarmed Rohingya men, women and children. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), at least 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the first month after the violence broke out.
In February 2018, the Associated Press released a video showing what they say is the site of a massacre and at least five undisclosed mass graves of Rohingya in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s government razed at least 55 villages once populated by Rohingya, destroying with them evidence of crimes against the minority.
A total of 362 villages have been destroyed either completely or partially since Myanmar’s military began a campaign against the Rohingya in August last year, according to Human Rights Watch.
In a report published in March 2018, Médecins Sans Frontière said it had treated 113 survivors of sexual violence since August 25 last year, ranging in age from 9 to 50 years old.
In April 2018, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres placed Myanmar’s army on a watchlist report of security forces and armed groups “credibly suspected” of using rape and sexual violence in conflict.
“The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was integral to this strategy, serving to humiliate, terrorise and collectively punish the Rohingya community as a calculated tool to force them to flee their homelands and prevent their return,” Guterres said.
Many Rohingya also risked their lives trying to get to Malaysia by boat across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Between 2012 and 2015, more than 112,000 made the dangerous journey.
The genocide and persecution of the Rohingya is a disgrace on the political leaders of the world- East and West. They have watched innocent people being humiliated, due to their race and religion and not intervened once to stop their oppression. The people of Rohingya have wandered the continent of Asia for decades and endured every evil which humanity has to offer.
Women have been raped in front of their children and their homes have been razed to the ground, whilst the international community watched.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been celebrated as a Nobel Peace winner and a mascot for democracy and freedom, however she has been the lead in destroying the lives and homes of the Rohingya people. Her Nobel peace prize has not even been stripped off her. The irony is that Suu Kyi received the award for “her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” while standing up against military rulers. Suu Kyi has dismissed the Rohingya crisis as ‘fake news’.
There has been plenty of condemnation and words against Suu Kyi and the murderous rampage by her army, but this is where it has ended for the worlds political leaders.
Instead of deep sanctions against the Burmese state and more substantial intervention, the then British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said, “It is vital that the Rohingya refugees must be allowed to their homes in Rakhine voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, under international oversight, and when the conditions in Burma are right,”
The poor response from the leaders of the Muslim world has been on display soon. Harsh words have been echoed, however no intervention has been carried out that can act as a deterrent for Suu Kyi.
Some countries have been quiet due to lucrative trade deals. For example, Saudi Arabia competes with Russia to be China’s top crude supplier. Expanding its footprint there requires Burma’s help. A recently opened pipeline running through Burma, also known as Burma, carries oil from Arab countries and the Caucuses to China’s landlocked Yunnan Province. The 771-kilometre (479-mile) pipeline starts at the Bay of Bengal in western Burma’s Rakhine state, from where most of the Rohingya have been forced out.
The United Nations has not been a force for good for the Rohingya and has acted as a ‘toothless tiger’. The UN is encouraging a ‘return’ for refugees, but the fact of the matter is that the majority of those returning will not be going back to their villages and their homes. Instead the Burmese government will send them to internal refugee camps, as has been the case in the past when the U.N. “facilitated the return” of Rohingya refugees who had fled abuses in Burma.
It is a fact that many of those villages have already been burned to the ground, and many of the lands have already been redistributed to Rakhine Buddhists.
There is nowhere for the Rohingya to return to. The leaders of the world betrayed them and the United Nations betrayed them. Therefore the blame is not only on Aung San Suu Kyi for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people, it is on every leader of the world who had the ability to stop the genocide but decided to watch instead.