Will the world remain silent on massacres and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar?

Conflict in Rakhine state in Myanmar between Rohingya Muslims, state authorities and Buddhists, have taken place frequently over the last years.

September 5, 2017 00:59
3 minute read.
Will the world remain silent on massacres and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar?

Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Children beheaded, soldiers burning bodies, villages torched, hundreds killed and thousands fleeing are the latest reports of atrocities carried out against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar (Burma). According to the UN up to 87,000 refugees have fled into Bangladesh. Pope Francis has spoken out against the violence targeting “our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” according to the Catholic Herald. But despite the news and some condemnations, it is unclear if the international community will take action.

Conflict in Rakhine state in Myanmar between Rohingya Muslims, state authorities and Buddhists, have taken place frequently over the last years. According to Al-Jazeera, as of 2014 more than 100,000 had fled what reporters called “communal violence.” In 2015 Amnesty International accused the government of “institutionalized discrimination” and “state-sponsored persecution.” Melanie Nezer, vice-president for Policy and Advocacy at the HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, shed light on the crises in 2015.

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“Nobody would get in a boat [to flee] under these conditions, unless they absolutely had to.”

The background of the conflict in Myanmar, like many similar conflicts in places like Kashmir or Sudan, is complex. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority and an ethnic minority, accused by authorities of being “Bengalis” and thus foreigners.

Just as Kurds were denied citizenship in Syria under President Bashar Assad’s regime, Rohingya have been denied citizenship and portrayed as illegal immigrants according to reports.

The conflict has spawned insurgent groups such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and the Rohingya Solidarity organization, often seen as terrorists by the government. The current crises began in late August when 25 locations were attacked by ARSA.

The Guardian reported from Cox’s Bazaar across the border in Bangladesh that 12 members of the Myanmar security forces had been killed and 100 Rohingya had died in the fighting.

Myanmar media reports on September 2 noted that the country views the conflict as one between “extremist Bengali terrorists” attempting to threaten the “sovereignty” of the country.

As thousands flee and reports of killings grow, pressure is mounting on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Prize in 1991 as a democracy and human-rights activist, to do something. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who won a Nobel in 2014 has condemned the “shameful” abuses of the Muslim minority. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Islam has urged Malaysia and Indonesia to pressure Myanmar for a cease-fire and peace talks. According to The Star in Malaysia, the NGO called for a UN Security Council meeting. Thousands of Rohingya protested on September 2 in Kuala Lumpur.

Turkey has also become a passionate supporter of the minority group. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Myanmar of “genocide” on Eid al-Adha on September 1. The Turkish daily Hurriyet features a huge section on its homepage devoted to the issue, while Anadolu news has highlighted a Turkish charity named Cansuyu that has donated meals for 32,000 Rohingya.

With up to 90,000 having fled the violence, the crises now affects South Asia and Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey seem to be wondering whether the international community will do more.

It is just over three years since Islamic State carried out the systematic genocide of Yazidis in northern Iraq. Thousands of Yazidi women fell victim to slavery and rape, and are still missing.

Today it is unclear if yet another series of abuses will go unchallenged.

Ben Samuels wrote in Haaretz in 2015 that the international community’s “apathy toward the plight of the Muslim-Burmese refugees stranded at sea mimics the indifference that saw many Jews sent to their death.” A subsequent report at the same paper by John Brown on September 4 alleged that Israel has sold weapons to the Burmese army.

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