The World Must Stop Myanmar’s Savagery Against Rohingya

If the world has a conscience, it will do something about the unconscionable genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority community in Myanmar, which has abdicated its duty as a nation.

The latest scrutiny of the Myanmar government was sparked by the recent flight of more than 123,000 Rohingya who crossed border into Bangladesh.

The name of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi has been blackened irreparably by her refusal as de facto head of the Myanmar government to stop the violence against a defenseless people who have tried to do nothing more than to live in the area they have occupied for hundreds of years. Her 21 years of house arrest in defiance of the junta that ruled the country until 2012 have been rendered meaningless.

This is only the latest incident in the long-running discrimination that has been perpetrated against the Rohingya. Ethnic-cleansing, discrimination, bigotry and violence have been visited on the Rohingya Muslims for decades. The misery they endure has materialized in every aspect of their lives. Although they had been living peacefully in Myanmar for many generations, they are still considered illegal immigrants in the place they call home.

This has resulted in discriminatory rulings on employment, participation in politics, educational opportunity and land appropriation which have further impoverished these minorities. Many have also been killed and burned alive by Buddhist extremist groups. Human Rights Watch recently identified 700 destroyed buildings in the Chein Khar Li area from an analysis of satellite imagery recorded on August 31, 2017. The imagery shows that 99 percent of the village was destroyed. Damage signatures are consistent with fire, including the presence of large burn scars and destroyed tree cover.

According to a study by the US-based Human Rights Watch, this imagery builds on previously published data indicating burnings taking place at 17 separate sites across northern Rakhine state between August 25 and 30, 2017. Those burnings followed a series of coordinated attacks by ethnic Rohingya militants of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on the morning of August 25, 2017 against dozens of Burmese government police stations and checkpoints, government offices, and an army base.

Government blames Minority

The Burmese government has blamed the setting of fires on Arakan Rohinya militants and villagers who the government claims set fire to their own homes. The government has not provided any evidence to support these allegations, nor did they ever prove similar allegations made by the government during the burning of Rohingya areas between October 2016 and December 2016. Human Rights Watch and others determined that Burmese security forces deliberately set those fires.

Numerous Rohingya refugees who recently fled from various other villages in northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh told Human Rights Watch that Burmese soldiers and police had burned their homes and carried out armed attacks on villagers. Many of these Rohingya refugees suffered from recent bullet and shrapnel wounds.

Ashin Wirathu, the head of a controversial Buddhist group in Myanmar in the previous decade ignited the movement to boycott Muslim-owned shops and baselessly accuse mosques of being ‘enemy bases’. His movement and extreme measures which subjugate Rohingya are the main reasons why he is dubbed the Bin Laden of Burma. He is ruining the name of Buddhism as a religion of peace.

The continuing inhumane treatment towards Rohingya Muslims is due to the lack of the international community’s attention to the worsening situation in the Rakhine state.

Business as Usual for International Community

Many governments around the world have voiced their concerns and criticisms against the Myanmar government for turning a blind-eye to the condition suffered by the Rohingya. Some, such as member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have also urged the government in Naypyidaw to end the prolonged conflict.

For example, responding to the latest incident, the Indonesian President Joko Widodo has expressed serious concern stating that the crisis in Myanmar, if not immediately addressed, will negatively impact the region. The leaders in the region see Myanmar’s turn back from democratization as a setback to the development and growth within ASEAN.

The United States, under President Donald Trump. has largely maintained its silence on the situation. The government in Naypyidaw made public promises concerning the Rohingyas’ condition during then-President Barrack Obama’s diplomatic visit in 2012. Nonetheless, nothing has happened. In fact, the US is still doing business as usual with Myanmar. Since Obama lifted the economic sanctions in September 2016, trade relations are in fact growing stronger with various agreements have been signed by the two countries.

The same also goes with the UK government. Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK, said that the British government has not changed its policy and conducting business relations with Myanmar as if nothing happens.

China is no exception. China imports gems, metals, and timber across its vast land border with Burma, and has been propping the Myanmar government with diplomatic aid and financial support. Chinese economic activities in the country have pumped billions of dollars of investment into Myanmar over the past decade.

Other countries such as Australia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, and Russia also still have their firms operating in Myanmar’s energy sector.

The UN has also been warned repeatedly concerning how bad the situation faced by the Rohingya is and indeed it has over time published highly critical reports. But, like usual, its impact is limited, in part due to the enduring politics of the Security Council and also because of the fact that the organization has multiple roles in Myanmar.

Although other human rights NGOs and organizational bodies such as ASEAN and the OIC have pressed Myanmar to end its inhumane practices, the unchanging behavior towards the government in Rangoon by many member countries has allowed Myanmar to pay lip service to these requests. The pursuance of relationship as usual on the part of many countries is feeding into Myanmar’s overall belief that it will face no real pressure, and is steadily preparing the ground for the day when an attempt to massively expel the Rohingyas may occur.

No more business as usual

The Rohingya require concrete and serious efforts to end their continuing misery. One thing to note that is often forgotten is that the global condemnation of Myanmar’s brutal suppression is ineffectual as the countries who have voiced their critics remain eager to do deals with Myanmar.

Given the grim situation, a real will to take action to end the crisis is needed, rather than the continuation of ‘business as usual’ by many governments around the world. In practice, this involves creating a minimum set of demands and seeking to hold the Myanmar authorities to them.

It is shameful for major powers and other countries to hide behind vocal condemnations and criticisms. In this, the lesson from Rwanda is obvious: global silence will be interpreted as global disinterest -- removing one of the few barriers now standing between the Rohingyas and genocide.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a doctoral candidate at the University of Manchester. Dikanaya Tarahita is a freelance writer from Indonesia and studied HR Management and Industrial Relations at the University of Manchester. They are regular contributors to Asia Sentinel