An analysis of the genocide in Myanmar

Jessica Kaplan, Contributing Writer

Although Myanmar is currently at the center of a humanitarian crisis of historic proportions, for years the American media ignored the growing crisis in the nation. Unfortunately, the crisis has grown so large that it is impossible to ignore anymore.

Rohingya Muslims claim that tensions in Myanmar have been present since the 15th century. The Rohingya are an ethnic group that practices Sunni Islam and have resided in Rakhine, Myanmar’s least developed state near the Bangladesh border, for centuries. In fact, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, their name derives from the word “Arakan,” the former name of Rakhine state.

Since gaining independence in 1948, the Myanmar government has refused to recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, even passing a law in 1982 that denied them citizenship. They are instead merely classified as immigrants from Bangladesh who came during the British rule. As a result, the group has no legal documentation, making them stateless and without government funding. Accordingly, many live in squalor, lack access to schools, clean drinking water, and health care. The government in Rakhine has also blocked them from interfaith marriage and enforced a two-child limit on Rohingya families.

Tensions in Rakhine broke in May 2012 when four Muslim men gang-raped and killed a Rakhine woman. By October 2013, Buddhist men were regularly carrying out attacks on Rohingya, and as a result strict regulations were placed on Rohingyas. A 2013 Human Rights Watch characterized the anti-Rohingya crimes as “severe ethnic cleansing” and a “crime against humanity.” They also discovered that 125,000 Rohingya had been forced to flee their homes to refugee camps. Similar evidence was also found in a 2014 New York Times video titled, “21st Century Concentration Camps,” which examined the camps and its horrific conditions. Residents have limited freedoms and no access to healthcare. A series of attacks on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border in October 2016 sparked larger outbreaks of ethnic violence in Rakhine. Rakhine authorities accused Rohingya of initiating the conflict and placed tight military supervision on the state, prompting tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee their homes.

Fast forward to August 2017. Conflict erupted when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army targeted police posts and army bases during their latest attack. They were convicted for killing, raping, burning villages and shooting innocent civilians. Thus the migration out of Myanmar commenced; 400,000 Rohingya have fled so far. Survivors of the attacks have reported mass executions, large-scale rape, and the complete destruction of villages.

After countless deaths, shootings and outbursts, leaders have finally begun to speak out against the violence. The United Nations’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, has called this a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and Bangladesh’s prime minister referred to the events as “genocide.”

Moreover, Al Qaeda has threatened the Myanmar government with “punishment” as retaliation for the mistreatment of the Rohingyas.

Citizens of Myanmar are led by Burmese politician, diplomat, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi. While Suu Kyi is in charge of Myanmar civilian government, she has no control over the military and remained neutral towards the crisis until last week. In a state of the union address, Suu Kyi did not denounce atrocities against the Rohingya community. She instead insisted that the Myanmar government needed more time to figure out “what the real problems are” before it could draw conclusions about the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar. She also announced that she would allow the Rohingya people back into the country as long as they first passed a verification process.

Professionals have said it would be challenging for Suu Kyi to criticize the political climate in Myanmar given the unpopularity of the Rohingya. However, the fact that she has remained silent despite the severe injustices at hand has caused a disconnect between her and the citizens who once viewed her as Myanmar’s Nelson Mandela. Critics argue that, as a Nobel Prize winner, she has the moral duty of speaking out. Suu Kyi has the power to unite her frayed country and stop a potential genocide. However, considering her current non-responsiveness to the situation, the future for Myanmar seems grim.

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