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World community must open its eyes to atrocities in Rakhine State

The targeting of rohingya by Myanmar security forces in the name of cracking down on extremists is unacceptable

Photo: AlJazeera

The October 9 killing of nine Myanmar police officers in Rakhine State has jolted that country and its security apparatus is doing all it can to hunt down the culprits behind the attack, seemingly by just about any means possible.

But the massive security sweep in Rakhine is tainted by allegations of rape, execution, torture and arson attacks on the homes of Rohingya Muslims in the conflict-affected region bordering Bangladesh.

According to the United Nations, so far, about 30,000 Rohingya have been displaced by this operation. The October attack posed a serious challenge to the government of Aung San Suu Kyi which came to power just six months ago and undermined the country’s military that is constitutionally in charge of national security.

The famous pro-democracy icon is facing serious criticism for failing to deal with the abuse of the Rohingya – who the Myanmar government consider as stateless people – and other Muslims in the country amid a vicious campaign of Islamophobia by radical Buddhist monks and Myanmar nationalists to devastate their livelihood.

What’s disturbing about this blind security operation is the kind of reports coming out from the area. This is not the first time Myanmar’s security forces have been accused of using rape as part of their strategy to crush ethnic groups they consider enemies of the state.

Just days ago, Reuters interviewed eight Rohingya women who told the news agency they had been raped by soldiers dispatched to their U Shey Kya village on October 19 to conduct a clearance operation.

The Myanmar government wants to paint itself as a victim of international terrorists since the October attack but it seems to forget the decades of persecution the Rohingya have been subject to, including some 125,000 people forced to flee their homes several years ago. Some of those people ended up fleeing to foreign shores, including Thailand.

“I have urged that there has to be complete access to this area and an impartial investigation needs to be conducted to verify, to explore the scope and nature and the cause of this recent attack,” the UN’s human rights envoy on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, told reporters in New York.

To make matters worse, the government is planning to arm and train non-Muslim residents in the state as part of their security measures to curb any possible insurgency activities.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a leading international rights watchdog, warned that the plan is likely to “aggravate an already dire human rights situation”.

“Establishing an armed, untrained, unaccountable force drawn from only one community in the midst of serious ethnic tensions and violence is a recipe for disaster,” Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia director, said in a statement on Friday.

A senior police official was quoted as saying there will be no problem with these local civilian “police”, as they will be operating under the watch of the national police. But that’s hardly reassuring, given the decades of abuse and atrocities in that part of the world. Numerous investigations over previous years have pointed to security forces and officials tacitly supporting what some organisations described as ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.

In other parts of the country, such as Shan State, government security forces have been accused of using rape as a weapon to demoralise ethnic minorities who they accuse of supporting the rebels.

Most of these armed rebel groups have entered into peace negotiations with the government. But from the look of it, the Myanmar military is determined not to let the Rohingya evolve into any meaningful outfit in spite of having accused foreign jihadist groups of “invading” the country and supporting the October 9 attack. To make their point, Myanmar government troops last week fired from a helicopter, killing 30 people who they said were armed with guns, knives and spears. But human rights groups say many Rohingya civilians were among the casualties.

Needless to say, the preconditions for a genocide are already in place. The world can continue to turn a blind eye to this atrocity at its own peril. There will come a day when future generations will ask what did we do to end these atrocities.

© The Nation 2016

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