Rohingya Exodus: The World’s Most Persecuted Minority.

Hana Mahmood | Comment Editor


 

Who are the Rohingya?

Neglected by neighbouring countries and rejected by their homeland, some 400,000 Rohingya civilians have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State for shelter in overcrowded Bangladeshi refugee camps.

The Rohingya, who are not considered to be citizens by the government in Myanmar, are facing a heightened identity crisis following a military crackdown on the Muslim minority. The ethnic Muslim group constitutes as one fiftieth of Myanmar’s majority Buddhist population of fifty million. Many nationalists and hard-line religious leaders have been directing an anti-Muslim rhetoric for years in an attempt to pressure the Rohingya to leave the country.

Rohingya civilians fleeing across the border to Bangladesh CREDIT - THE BBC

Rohingya civilians fleeing across the border to Bangladesh CREDIT – THE BBC

Long-standing tensions were exacerbated when a Rohingya insurgent group killed 12 people on August 25th during an attack on security forces, triggering a brutal response by the Burmese army.

The violence that has arisen from the Burmese Army’s “clearance operations” has seen the destruction of whole villages. Eyewitness accounts talk of the rape and murder of countless Rohingya, with people being burnt alive. In fact, 40% of the 471 villages targeted by the army are now completely empty.

This “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing, as described by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein), has been veiled behind hard-line military operations – operations he has described as “clearly disproportionate” to the attacks seen on August 25th. In this way, the group of insurgents who carried out the attack in late August has been conflated with the refugees. This begs the question, are the Rohingya Muslims the latest casualty of the War on Terror?

 

Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence is “too high a price”

Leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi CREDIT - THE TELEGRAPH
Leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi  CREDIT: The telegraph

Aung San Suu Kyi – state counsellor who led her Burmese political party ‘National League for Democracy’ (NLD) to victory back in elections in 2015 – has legitimatized her government’s brutal actions as a necessary response to terrorism.

The de-facto leader was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize back in 1991 in recognition of her diplomatic struggles for human rights and democracy. As the youngest daughter of now assassinated Aung San (Father of modern-day Myanmar – famous for fighting for independence from Britain), she endured 15 years of house arrest under an oppressive state. After being forced to live apart from her children and dying husband for years, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a humanitarian – a heroin who has devoted her life to fighting for the rights of Burmese Buddhists who have been persecuted on the basis of religion.

In her first address to the country about the violence, she admitted that she does not fear “international scrutiny” over her government’s handling of the conflict. Her government’s promise to allow refugees to return if they can prove themselves to be citizens falls short: the Rohingya have been denied citizenship for years.

Her indifference regarding the ongoing ethnic cleansing and her decision to detach the maltreatment of the Rohingya from that of other Burmese inhabitants, has led to international condemnation. Twelve Nobel Prize laureates have urged the UN Security Council to intervene. Additionally, breaking his silence on public affairs, Desmond Tutu has described the events in Myanmar as “a slow genocide,” and the leader’s silence as “too high a price” for the sake of “political ascension”. Her absence of protest, in addition to the military’s knowledge that such a statement would be politically damaging, leaves the fate of the Rohingya people hanging in the balance.

What’s more, Suu Kyi’s office has implicated that the UN’s world food programme has been supplying camps “where terrorists sheltered” – accusations made without evidence. Since these claims were made, the UN has re-located international aid workers from the Maungdaw District in Rakhine State.

At a time when the world is looking to Suu Kyi to promote the basic human rights for which she had been internationally applauded for years, her action – or rather inaction – is gravely irresponsible and will no doubt have lethal consequences.

 

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