Genocide Watch Alert: Burma/Myanmar
Genocide Watch is issuing a genocide alert on the continuing plight of the Rohingya in the Rakhine state of Western Myanmar. Myanmar, formerly Burma, is now embarking on a transition under the leadership of President Thein Sein after more than six decades of military rule. However, while the newly opened trade markets of the resource rich country have attracted scores of lucrative foreign direct investments, the Myanmar regime’s gross human rights abuses and minority persecution, particularly of the Rohingya, persist alongside a pervasive culture of impunity.
Burma/Myanmar is a melting pot of political tensions, mutual ethnic distrust and hostility between the predominantly Buddhist majority Bamar (Burman) peoples and minority ethnic groups such as the Karen, Shan, Kachin and Rohingya. A surge of nationalism prompted the unity of ethnic groups against the imperialist nations of Britain and Japan. Ethnic groups were promised the opportunity to secede from the nation of Burma if they chose to do so. However, the assassination of Aung San in 1947 left the nation without a capable leader. Burma became a military police state in 1962 under the socialist leader, General Ne Win. Hopes of ethnic minority rights were nullified and numerous secessionist movements have since fought against the military junta, the Tatmadaw, who viciously suppress such movements and commit heinous human rights violations.
Minority rights experts consider the Rohingya to be one of the most persecuted minority groups in the world. They are stateless because of the government’s official denial of their citizenship. Xenophobic Burmese regard the Rohingya as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh. The government refers to them as “Bengalis,” a pejorative name for foreigners, despite the Arakan/Rakhine state being their home for centuries.
Because of the Myanmar government’s denial of their citizenship, the Rohingya have been Classified outside the Myanmar nation. They are denied fundamental human rights and protections. They are subjected to pervasive Discrimination and Persecution. The government aids and abets extremist Buddhist anti-Rohingya violence.
In 1978, Burma’s Tatmadaw junta launched systematic persecution against the Rohingya that resulted in destruction of their mosques, mass murder and rape. The persecution accelerated in 1991 and 1992 when a renewed wave of oppression and pogroms drove an estimated 250,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and makeshift camps around Burma’s coastal borders.
Apart from denial of citizenship, the Rohingya are subject to such state-sponsored human rights abuses as forced displacement, forced labor, rape and other sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, extortion, police harassment, restrictions on freedom of movement, land confiscation, arbitrary taxation, inequitable marriage regulations, a two-child-limit family planning policy, exclusion from access to jobs, education and healthcare, and eviction and destruction of their homes. These systematic, intentional tactics constitute crimes against humanity. Massacres are acts of genocide.
These dire conditions have resulted in a refugee exodus of over 140,000 Rohingya to neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Boarding rickety boats, thousands of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar face a perilous journey across the Adaman Sea and Bay of Bengal. These journeys can take up to 40 days, with starvation, dehydration, physical and sexual abuse and murder on board.
Arrival in these countries is no guarantee of security. Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia have disregarded international refugee law. They have repatriated Rohingya and deny them refugee or asylum status. Many are taken by human traffickers upon arrival and sold into servitude or sex slavery. Even where they are admitted to refugee camps, the Rohingya live in squalor beset by diseases and starvation, with no access to employment, education, healthcare and humanitarian aid.
Ceasefire negotiations in 2011 resulted in some improvement in relations between the government and recognized ethnic groups. However, since the Rohingya are not officially considered a recognized ethnic group, they are excluded from this national dialogue and remain vulnerable to state-sponsored ethnic violence and persecution.
In 2012, Buddhist violence against the Rohingya reached new heights. Human Rights Watch called the attacks on Rohingya “ethnic cleansing,” carried out by Rakhine militias and incited by extremist Buddhist monks with support by state police. Bureaucratic obstructions, corruption, extensive restrictions, and expulsion of humanitarian groups from access to vulnerable populations in the Rakine State compound these atrocities.
Marginal improvement in freedom of expression has become an avenue for Buddhist chauvinists to broadcast anti-Rohingya, anti-Muslim rhetoric. Militant Buddhist nationalists are attempting to forge a sense of national identity based on Burmese chauvinism. Such anti-Rohingya. Anti-Muslim invective is spreading paranoia of Muslim expansionism. Anti-Muslim violence has also occurred beyond the Rakhine state. In 2013, Buddhist chauvinists launched “Movement 969,” an anti-Muslim campaign in which Muslim businesses are marked and boycotted. Such Symbolization is reminiscent of Nazi marking of Jewish businesses. Government propaganda has stressed the importance of protecting the “true Burmese” religion of Buddhism from “outside contamination.”
Speaking at the UN General Assembly in September 2014, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister, Wunna Maung revealed the “Rakhine State Action Plan” drafted for the “reconstruction and development of the Arakan/Rakhine state,” which included the relocation of all Rohingyas to unspecified detention camps. This calculated plan of forced displacement of the Rohingya population constitutes a crime against humanity.
When Aung San Suu Kyi was released, the western press was deluded into writing about a “democratic Myanmar.” Such romanticization has diminished as the Rohingya humanitarian crisis has escalated, raising questions about the government’s genuine commitment to democracy and tolerance. U.S. President Obama and His Holiness The Dalai Lama have both urged fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to champion the cause of the Rohingya. Their calls have been met with silence, much to the indignation of human rights advocates in the international community, who have accused her of political opportunism.
The UN General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, and the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) have urged Myanmar to extend citizenship to the Rohingya, and to arrest human rights violators. They have called upon ASEAN to develop regional solutions to the worsening emigration crisis. The United States, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia have expressed concern about the Rohingya crisis yet delivery of aid to the Rohingya has remained minimal. Several countries have lifted sanctions and cancelled bilateral debt in favor of economic investment in the new, “open” Myanmar, with its prime location between India and China.
Myanmar continues to perpetrate deliberate persecution of the Rohingya. Impunity for human rights abusers against the Rohingya remains official policy. Combined with Myanmar’s intransigent denial of citizenship to Rohingya, withholding of healthcare, confinement in detention camps, and genocidal massacres, Genocide Watch has concluded that Myanmar may have reached Stage 9: Extermination, and 10: Denial in Genocide Watch’s stages of genocide.
Genocide Watch recommends that:
- -Myanmar must extend full citizenship to the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities including property and travel rights and other rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
- -Myanmar should uphold the protection of human rights for the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, and arrest violators of these rights and perpetrators of crimes against humanity as specified in the Rome Statute of the ICC;
- -Myanmar must stop its official discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya;
- -Myanmar should arrest and hold perpetrators of human rights abuses and ethnic and religious violence against the Rohingya accountable in its courts;
- Myanmar and neighboring nations should allow humanitarian organizations unobstructed access to the Rakine state and Rohingya refugees;
- -The UN Human Rights Council and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights should authorize a Commission of Inquiry to investigate and document human rights abuses against the Rohingya;
- -ASEAN nations should be encouraged to to bear responsibility for the emigration crisis and open their borders to Rohingya asylum seekers in accordance with the ASEAN Charter, and and permit them to settle in refugee camps until Rohingya are granted full citizenship rights in Myanmar.
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- Copyright: Genocide Watch 2015