August 27, 2018; Vox
After several years of escalating ethnic cleansing and violence, including a military “crackdown” that is estimated to have killed “a minimum of 6,700” since last August, as well as driving 688,000 people to abandon Myanmar for Bangladesh, the United Nations has finally issued a report of its own recommending that military officials in Myanmar be investigated and prosecuted for carrying out a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya Muslim people. The report, from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will be formally presented in Geneva in September.
For decades, Myanmar has explicitly excluded the Rohingya from citizenship and interfered with their basic human rights to housing, education, safety, and more. NPQ has reported before on this bitter sectarian conflict, which traces some of its origins in sociopolitical divides created or exacerbated by British colonial rule. Myanmar has excluded journalists, aid groups, and human rights monitors, even providers of UN humanitarian assistance, from the country. The report was gathered from interviews with refugees and aid groups in other countries, satellite images, and other research conducted outside Myanmar’s borders.
The UN commission’s report explained,
Notably, under military rule the concept of “national races” has gradually become the key criterion for membership in Myanmar’s political community, creating a common “other.” […] All others, regardless how many generations have lived in Myanmar, are considered outsiders or immigrants. This includes the Rohingya.
The “othering” and exclusion of the Rohingya has been touted by the ruling military officers, known as the Tatmadaw, as an effort to protect national safety and unity. The Tatmadaw have also helped foster violence and distrust between the Rohingya and the Rakhine, another Muslim ethnic group in the country that does not face the same exclusionary attitudes, with whom the Rohingya had previously enjoyed a peaceful relationship.
The report explains, “The Rohingya were labelled ‘illegal immigrants,’ ‘terrorists,’ and portrayed as an existential threat that might ‘swallow other races’ with their ‘incontrollable birth rates.’ In November 2012 the [Rakhine Nationalities Development Party] cited Hitler, arguing that ‘inhuman acts’ were sometimes necessary to ‘maintain a race.’”
In successive waves going back over a decade, Rohingya have been shot, burned, raped, and tortured, their villages burned and razed, their mosques destroyed. One refugee told the report’s authors, “That day felt like the last day of this world, as if the whole world was collapsing. I thought judgment day had arrived.”
These disasters were not unknown to the United Nations. The report states, “Myanmar has been a country of interest to the United Nations for 30 years, with resolutions condemning its human rights situation since 1991. For three decades, successive Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Myanmar concluded that patterns of human rights violations were widespread and systematic, linked to State and military policy.” In at least two places, the report mentions planning and troop placement that conceals a deliberate intent to perpetrate these violent campaigns. Yet so far, no moves of appropriate scale have been made by the Security Council, the International Criminal Court, or other bodies charged with protecting human rights.
Alice Cowley and Maung Zarni of the Middle East Institute wrote in 2017,
Myanmar’s rights abuses in Rohingya regions of Western Myanmar weren’t seen as something that demanded special attention…As Rohingyas in Northern Rakhine wait and their diasporic relatives post desperate calls for U.N. peacekeepers and intervention on Facebook, “Never again!”—the foundational myth of the United Nations—must sound bitterly hollow.
NPQ’s Cyndi Suarez made a similar point in May, saying,
It’s interesting, however, that [Kofi] Annan, who has made a career of getting the world to respond to genocides, told the BBC in December 2016, in response to rumors of escalating violence and outright ethnic cleansing and questions of whether we should call what’s happening in Myanmar genocide, “I think there are tensions, there has been fighting, but I wouldn’t put it the way some have done.” The BBC notes that Annan cautioned “observers should be ‘very, very careful’ in using the word genocide.” But why? Are these just the machinations of politics? How does this align with the stance of “No Bystanders”?
The word genocide is finally being used, along with “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes,” to describe the Tatmadaw’s campaign.
Noor Ilyas, a refugee in a camp in Bangladesh, wrote for the Guardian, “When the brutal military set fire to the villages of Duden and Lambaguna, which are near Singgri Para, we could see the smoke. We finally decided to go to the border. It was a difficult journey.” Noor joined