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The Plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar

“We have to take care of our citizens, we have to take care of everybody who is in our country, whether or not they are our citizens,” State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi said on September 7, 2017. After international outcry, Suu Kyi remarked her desire to solve the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world, but the government has failed to ameliorate the conditions of the Rohingya.

In August 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign against the Rohingya in response to an insurgent attack on police posts. Between August and September 2017, at least 9,000 Rohingya were killed, 730 of which were children under the age of five. As a result, about 730,000 Rohingya refugees were forced to leave western Rakhine state for neighboring Bangladesh, which recently announced a plan to relocate tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees to a flood-prone island off its coast later this year.

According to a recent U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who remain in Myanmar face methodical persecution and are living under the threat of genocide.

Over the last two years, systematic discrimination, segregation, and restricted migration has increased, while the Rohingya still lack access to citizenship rights, land, jobs, education and health care. “If anything, the situation of the Rohingya in Rakhine state has worsened,” Marzuki Darusman said to the General Assembly's human rights committee (Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press 2019).

It’s clear that the Theravada Buddhist government of Myanmar has demonstrated an unabashed, violent ethnic removal campaign against the Rohingya in the Rakhine state. The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, claimed in its final report last month that Myanmar should be held responsible for “alleged” genocide against the Rohingya.

A group of Rohingya refugees after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

“There is a strong inference of continued genocidal intent on the part of the state in relation to the Rohingya and there is a serious risk of genocide recurring,” Darusman said.

The U.N.’s independent investigator on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, urged the international community to impose sanctions on companies owned by Myanmar’s military. At the same time, Lee also said that “there is no discernible improvement” in the human rights situation in Myanmar.

“Discrimination against religious minorities continues unabated,” she said. “I am informed of 27 villages which describe themselves as ‘Muslim free,’ banning Muslims from entry” (Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press 2019).

Protest in Bangladesh against attacks on the Rohingya. Abir Abdullah/EPA

Myanmar rejected the U.N. fact-finding mission when it was formed at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2017 and continues to deny allegations of genocide. In the midst of this international furor, State Counsellor Aung Suu Kyi is conspicuously silent. Australian human rights lawyer and panel member Christopher Sidoti warns that the threat of genocide continuing for the Rohingya.

"The scandal of international inaction has to end," Sidoti said, "Unless the United Nations and the international community take effective action this time, this sad history is destined to be repeated.”

Despite the conclusion of the 2018 UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, no substantial amount of justice has been served. The government of Myanmar continues its exhaustive ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, gender-based violence, live burnings, homocidal beatings, and torture that plagues the lives of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Myanmar today. The international community is failing to hold Burman Buddhist military officials and leaders accountable for their crimes against humanity.

How much longer until the entire case for the Rohingyas is thoroughly made in the International Criminal Court (ICC)? Where does the U.N. Security Council stand today?


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