The army’s power grab is not only destroying democracy, it may also lead to another onslaught against the Rohingya.
The streets of Myanmar are covered in blood – again. On March 3, the military which seized power more than one month ago dropped any pretense about allowing peaceful protests against the coup. In a brutal crackdown, at least 38 people were killed across the country, but the actual death toll is likely to be higher.
The shocking scenes brought back painful memories of the military-led repression of protests in Myanmar in 1988 and 2007, as well as military-led violence against ethnic groups like the Rohingya. The bloody scenes must be a wake-up call for the world to act now to support the protesters and ensure a return to a genuinely inclusive democracy. If the Myanmar army’s reign of terror becomes normalized, there is every chance violence will escalate.
Since the new military regime seized power on February 1, it has arrested hundreds of opposition activists, abolished the democratically elected parliament, and enacted a slew of new repressive laws. People in Myanmar have responded by organizing a Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) that has ground much of the country to a halt, as everyone from civil servants to doctors and train drivers has refused to work in protest against the new junta.
For us Rohingya, the violence on March 3 echoes the vicious, genocidal military campaign unleashed in Rakhine State in 2017. The army and its proxies killed thousands of people and drove more than 700,000 to flee into Bangladesh. The Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw as it is known, has also committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against other ethnic minorities.
Friends and family members I speak to back home in Rakhine State are terrified the coup violence can escalate and reach them as well. If the military feels enough domestic pressure, there is every risk it could try to stir up “patriotic” support for renewed military campaigns against the Rohingya or other minorities.
However, there have been glimmers of hope over the past month with the tentative thaw in relations between ethnic groups, united in their hatred of the military. I have been inundated with messages on social media from Bamar people who apologize for spewing hate speech against the Rohingya and say they now understand the Tatmadaw is the common enemy. From the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees have posted their support for protesters.
This interethnic solidarity shows what Myanmar could look like if there were no military interference. We cannot forget that during the election in 2020, many people – including the Rohingya – were effectively disenfranchised. But to reverse this process, to build an equitable society where people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds enjoy equal rights, we first have to defeat the coup. And for that, we urgently need the world’s support.
This year’s coup – and the violence over the past few weeks – is the direct result of the world’s failure to act forcefully against the military in the past, not least after the campaign against the Rohingya in 2017. Many of the commanders identified as responsible then – including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – are now in direct control of the country. It is no exaggeration to say brutality and repression are in the DNA of the Tatmadaw.
The international community must take a forceful stance against the coup and push for an immediate return to democracy. Countries must impose targeted sanctions on the military leadership and their associated businesses, along with a global arms embargo.
Crucially, efforts to hold the military to account for past abuses must be prioritized. States must add support to the investigations already happening at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice, while members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) must finally stop playing politics with people’s lives and support a full referral to the ICC. Only justice can break this cycle of violence.
Regional governments must take responsible action as well. For the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), this coup is a litmus test for its ability to play a constructive and democratic role in the region. Indonesia has so far led diplomatic efforts reportedly focused on making sure the Tatmadaw keeps its commitment to hold new elections within a year. While regional engagement is welcome, this is a deeply flawed plan that would essentially legitimize a military coup.
ASEAN must instead push the Tatmadaw back into the barracks and facilitate the return of the government that was democratically elected in November last year. China must also stop shielding Myanmar from scrutiny on the world stage and stop threatening to veto action against the military coup at the UNSC.
Most importantly, the world must show its unconditional support to those risking their lives and liberty for democracy across Myanmar. The CDM and protesters need to be recognized as legitimate actors and offered the help they need, whether political, economic, or technical. Ultimately, the pressure the military feels from within the country will always be much more effective than anything from the outside.
As Rohingya people, we know from heart-breaking experience what being on the receiving end of the Tatmadaw’s wrath means. On March 3, at least 38 more people in Myanmar sacrificed their lives to stand up to a military that craves power above all else. Now, the world must unite and act so that these sacrifices were not in vain.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
Al Jazeera © 2021
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Below, Genocide Watch is also publishing the immediate media release of the author of this article Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.
BROUK calls for the immediate release of 150 Rohingya refugees detained by police in India
As of March 9, 2021, India has detained more than 150 stateless Rohingya refugees in the city of Jammu in Kashmir, India. India is calling this crackdown a “verification exercise” reminiscent of the brutal verification exercises carried out against the Rohingya by successive government regimes in Myanmar. Indian authorities are planning on forcibly sending these detained Rohingya back to Myanmar. “This move by Indian authorities to send stateless victims of genocide back to the perpetrators of that genocide is outrageous and unacceptable,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK. The international community must urgently act to protect these Rohingya refugees from this violation of their most basic human right, the right to life.
India will be returning Rohingya to a situation of extreme danger that could potentially put their lives at risk. Now with the Myanmar coup ongoing, 600,000 Rohingya people in Arakan are facing an ongoing genocide and are incredibly vulnerable to more violence. Because of the decades of dehumanization, we don’t have the protection that comes with widespread public support and protests from the Burmese population. Widespread violence against the Rohingya by the military could occur at any time. “We have seen ongoing genocide against Rohingya in Arakan State,” said Tun Khin. “How 2 can they send these people back to the open prison they will face in Myanmar?”
Both the military and civilian government in Myanmar have proven that they are willing to weaponize violence against the Rohingya to generate nationalist political support throughout the country, demonstrating a complete disregard for Rohingya humanity as they are used as political pawns. Now the same thing is happening in India. These threats of deportation are politically motivated as the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tries to whip up nationalist sentiment against the Rohingya. The BJP has promised to deport Rohingya if they with the state elections in West Bengal.
“The tragedy is that wherever we turn people are exploiting our vulnerability,” said Tun Khin. “The international must stand on our shared principles of human rights, and leverage their influence to stop this senseless endangerment of Rohingya who is only trying to find some safe corner of the world to live.”
- We call on India to immediately release these detained refugees and halt any plans for returning them to
Myanmar where their lives are at risk.
- We call on the international community to immediately put pressure on India to honor its human rights
obligations to protect Rohingya refugees.
- Rohingya are vulnerable they could be attacked at any time in this climate of instability. We call on the
international community to immediately use all of its leverage to protect vulnerable Rohingya in
- We call on ASEAN to immediately act to address the root causes of this regional problem, those being
human rights abuses and unending impunity for the military in Burma.
For more information, please contact Tun Khin, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK © 2021