Illustration: Craig Stephens
Aung San Suu Kyi held a large town hall meeting in Singapore December 1. She LAUGHED OUT LOUD at allegations of massacres of Rohingya. She said they are 'external fabrications'.
Amidst protests in Asian capitals over ongoing atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar committed by government troops, Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, issued a sternly worded alarm over the “allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture, rape and the destruction of religious property” in Rohingya villages. He firmly urged the Myanmar government to “demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law and to the human rights of all its populations.”
Human Rights Watch has presented satellite images of over a thousand charred buildings in Rohingya villages where government troops have carried out ‘clearance operations’ since 9 October when Rohingya militants, armed with swords and sticks and a ‘few hand-made’ guns, attacked three Burmese border posts near the country’s border with Bangladesh, killing nine policemen.
For nine weeks, the government has locked down the entire northern Rakhine state, blocking the flow of humanitarian assistance, both food and medicine, to 160,000 Rohingya. Witnesses smuggle out grainy images of burning rice supplies in the areas of the military’s mop-up operations, evidence that the government intends to deprive the entire Rohingya population in the locked-down area of their food supply. The government’s intention can only be understand as induced starvation of the Rohingya population, an act of genocide.
Reminiscent of past genocides, the government troops separate men of all ages from their families for torture and murder, while raping women with blanket impunity. A woman who survived this horrendous sexual violence phoned a relative in Malaysia, and begged, “Just wish us to die fast death. We can’t bear this any more. They (the Burmese troops) are killing our men and boys. They are doing anything they please with us, women. We don’t want to be carrying babies of these monsters. Please, please, send us birth control pills.”
Weeks of wanton slaughter, arson and rape have resulted in the forced displacement of over 30,000 Rohingya from their villages in northern Rakhine. UNHCR has estimated that at least 10,000 Rohingya fleeing death and destruction have gathered along the 170 mile long land and river borders with Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh has tried to keep its borders shut, and forces the refugees back to the Burmese side. A small number who have made it across to the nearest refugee camp tell tales of horror in Rakhine, confirming the widely reported allegations of mass atrocities.
These are just the most recent testimonies of a well-documented, systematic program of state-organized persecution of the Rohingya over the last four decades. Ex-General Khan Nyunt, former Head of Military Intelligence with 25 years of intimate involvement in these violent operations against the Rohingya, recorded that in the first large scale campaign against the Rohingya in 1978, nearly 280,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. When General Zia Rahman of Bangladesh threatened to arm the Rohingyas if Burma refused to take them back, the Ne Win government of Burma grudgingly accepted UNHCR’s managed repatriation of the majority of those who fled.
Following this repatriation, Burma’s military rulers enacted a new Citizenship Law in 1982, stripping the Rohingya of all citizenship and legal rights, making Rohingyas instant aliens on their own ancestral land. The law excludes from citizenship any Rohingya who cannot prove their ancestors were already in residence in Burma on the eve of the first Anglo-Burmese War of 1824. Few people have such records. This requirement is enforced only against the Rohingya. The Citizenship Law excluded Rohingya from the list of groups recognized as ethnic minorities in the multi-ethnic Union of Burma.
The parallel to Nazi Germany is exact. The Nuremberg Laws stripped German citizenship from all Jewish people in the Third Reich.
The official estimate of the Rohingya population is 1.33 million. Over 800,000 of them have no legal status in Myanmar. They are effectively stateless. An estimated 60,000 Rohingya children have no birth certificates because the Myanmar government refuses to grant each newborn the right to a nationality, in direct violation of its obligations as a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
State-sponsored violence against the Rohingya, Karen, Kachin, Shan and other minorities in Burma from 1978 to 2012 went largely un-reported in the world’s media because the Burmese military junta closed off Burma from the outside world. Since the commercial opening of Myanmar (as Burma is now called) in 2012, the government of President (ex-General) Thein Sein has framed its persecution as ‘communal or sectarian violence’ between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhine. The world has come to view the violence against the Rohingya as if it were the clash of religious communities. It is actually ethnic persecution.
By releasing Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and permitting her party to win a majority of seats in Parliament, the Thein Sein military junta has lulled the world into the view that Myanmar is “democratizing.” In fact, the junta still holds a quarter of the seats in Parliament as well as the key ministries of Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs. Western governments normalized relations and rolled back economic, military and diplomatic sanctions.
In sharp contrast to the official explanation of violence in Rakhine as communal, the present government of Aung San Suu Kyi has sought to tell the world that her government is fighting Rohingya Muslim extremists, who are spreading Islamic terrorism. In fact, there is no evidence of penetration of radical Islamist terrorism amongst the Rohingya.
In disappointment with Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence over the plight of Rohingyas, fellow Nobel Laureates and world leaders have called on her to stop the genocide being perpetrated by the Myanmar Army, whose partnership and cooperation she depends on for her influence.
Not only have these calls fallen on her deaf ears but they have become a laughing matter for Suu Kyi and much of the Burmese population who remain enthralled with the woman whom they call Mother.
Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, have requested independent UN investigations on the alleged ‘ethnic cleansing’ and other mass atrocities in the Rohingya region of Rakhine state.
Instead, Ms Suu Kyi’s government announced the establishment of a “national inquiry commission” with Vice President and ex-Lt-General Myint Swe, as the chair. Myint Swe is former head of Military Intelligence. He coordinated the Border Affairs Army Division, one of the worst persecutors of the Rohingya.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her government brazenly deny that genocidal massacres are being perpetrated against the Rohingya. When a Nobel Peace Prize winner laughs out loud at allegations of genocide, she should give back her prize. In fact she should be prosecuted for complicity in the crimes.
Dr. Maung Zarni coordinated the consumer boycott of Burma in support of the National League for Democracy from 1995-2004. He now lives in England.
Dr. Gregory Stanton is founding President of Genocide Watch and Research Professor at George Mason University, USA. He drafted the UN Resolutions that created the Rwanda Tribunal (ICTR) as well as the Rules of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC.)