Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh on makeshift rafts have accused the Burmese military of murder and rape AP Images
The UK has received "very troubling" evidence which will be used to assess whether genocide has been committed against Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Boris Johnson has said
The Foreign Secretary added that the treatment of the Rohingya risked meeting the definition of ethnic cleansing, and called on Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader Aung San Suu Kyi to condemn what was happening in her country before it was too late.
Mr Johnson’s intervention came as human rights group Amnesty International published a report saying the roots of the current crisis lay in long-term “persecution” of Rohingya Muslims that amounted to apartheid and was a crime against humanity.
Burma’s military has insisted it is conducting a counter-insurgency clearance operation that was provoked by Rohingya militants' synchronised attacks on 30 security posts in the northern part of Rakhine state on 25 August.
But there has been widespread international condemnation of Burma over a crisis that has seen 620,000 refugees fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh since August, many of them alleging murder, rape and arson by Burmese soldiers.
Boris Johnson has now suggested that the UK has received evidence that might on further examination point to genocide having been committed in Burma.
After being pressed about the situation by Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi on Tuesday, the Foreign Secretary told Parliament: “I agree very much that unless the refugees are allowed to return, then this crisis, this purge will indeed satisfy the definition of ethnic cleansing.
"As for genocide, it is I'm afraid it is the case that we have recently received evidence of a very troubling kind, and what we will do is make sure that such testimony as to what has been taking place is collated and used so that the proper judicial authorities can determine whether indeed it answers to the definition of genocide.”
Stressing that further analysis would be needed before it could be decided whether or not genocide was happening, Mr Johnson added: “Genocide is a strict legal term and we hesitate to deploy it without proper judicial decision."
Accusing Aung San Suu Kyi of so far failing to show proper leadership in the crisis, Mr Johnson said: "It is vital that the Burmese government acknowledge the scale of what is happening and the horror with which events are being greeted around the world.
"For many years the world has looked to Aung San Suu Kyi as a great moral leader, and we still salute her for her struggle for democracy in the face of the generals.
"It is absolutely vital now, however, that she stands up and condemns what is happening and brings the nation together.
"So far, I'm afraid, the Burmese government has failed to do that."
His comments came as Amnesty International published a report saying that the current crisis was merely the most extreme manifestation of decades of systematic state-sponsored discrimination by the Burmese authorities that broke international humanitarian law.
The human rights group’s Caged Without A Roof report, based on two years of investigation, stated that the authorities of Burma, a predominantly Buddhist country, had imposed a “dehumanising” apartheid system on the Rohingya Muslim minority. The Burmese government, the report said, had:
Anna Neistat, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Research, said the report showed Burma’s Rakhine State region, where the Rohingya usually live, had for years been “a crime scene.”
“The authorities are keeping Rohingya women, men and children segregated and cowed in a dehumanising system of apartheid,” she said. “Their rights are violated daily and the repression has only intensified in recent years.
“This was the case long before the vicious campaign of military violence of the last three months.
“This abhorrent system of discrimination and segregation permeates every aspect of Rohingyas’ lives.”
After alleging a series of abuses, the report concluded: “The racial base of the discrimination against and segregation of the Rohingya, the way in which they have been characterized as “outsiders”, and the clear aim of dominating and isolating these communities have led us to conclude they amount to the crime against humanity of apartheid.”
This, the report said, puts Burma in breach of both the UN’s International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which defines apartheid as a crime against humanity.
Underpinning the discrimination, the report claimed, was Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law which was said to be “blatantly discriminatory on ethnic grounds”.
The law excluded the Rohingya from the “national races” of Burma that were entitled to full citizenship, and, it was claimed, “Its implementation in Rakhine State allowed authorities to deprive Rohingya of citizenship en masse.”
Making clear that the discrimination continues to this day, the Amnesty report said successive Burmese governments refused even to use the term Rohingya.
Last year, the report said, Aung San Suu Kyi asked diplomats to “refrain” from using the word Rohingya and suggested that they talk instead about “Muslims living in Rakhine State.”
In Burma, the report added: “Rohingya are often referred to as ‘Bengalis’, a divisive term used to imply that the Rohingya are migrants from Bangladesh.”
The report said that since 2012, the Burmese authorities have imposed such tight restrictions on access to education that in large parts of Rakhine State Rohingya children were no longer allowed into previously mixed government schools at all.
The Rohingya people’s freedom of movement, the report said was also severely restricted by what was described as an intricate web of national laws, “local orders” and policies implemented by state officials displaying “openly racist” behaviour.
Travel between townships required a “Form 4” permit and in some parts of Rakhine State, the report said, Rohingya people needed a “Village Departure Certificate” before they could spend the night outside their own village without being arrested.
The result of such movement restrictions, the report said, was that in an already poor part of Burma, “Rohingya and other Muslim communities are prevented from accessing places they rely on for their livelihoods such as farmlands, fishing areas, and local markets.
“The inevitable result is that most Rohingya and other Muslims are poor.”
“Their situation and overall food security,” the report added, “Is further threatened by government-imposed restrictions on international aid access. According to UN agencies, northern Rakhine State, where most Rohingya lived until recently, has alarming rates of malnutrition, in particular among children.”
The report claimed the situation was summed up by one 25-year-old Rohingya man who told journalists: “We don’t have enough to eat.
“We would be better in jail or prison because at least then we would have food regularly. It is like we live in a prison anyway.”
Aung San Suu Kyi has previously described the Rohingya issue as a “very complex problem” caused by “long-term socio-economic problems” that cannot be solved overnight.
(c) 2017 The Independent