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The Rohingya Crisis
By admin September 8, 2017

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The narrative the world has been hearing over the past two weeks concerning Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, often described as “the world’s most persecuted minority,” has been one of tragedy, cruelty and devastation. The United Nations reports that in the last two weeks a quarter of a million Rohingya refugees, most of whom are women, children and the elderly, have fled persecution in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and crossed into neighbouring Bangladesh. However, Myanmar’s de-facto leader and Nobel peace laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, has disputed this narrative, claiming a “huge iceberg of misinformation” is distorting the crisis.

The conflict is rooted in a deeply contested cultural history of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar that has in recent times erupted in communal violence in the Rakhine state. According to the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation, the “Rohingya’s have been living in Arakan from time immemorial,” referring to the area now known as Rakhine. Myanmar’s government steadfastly rejects this claim by the million strong Rohingya’s. Instead, the government contend the group, who are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and speak a different language to the rest of Myanmar, were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh during British rule. However, Bangladesh too denies any claim to the group, declaring any migration that took place during British rule is “illegal” and on those grounds refuse citizenship to the majority of Rohingya’s.

Since the 1970’s, the Myanmar military and government have launched a crackdown on the Rohingya in the Rakhine state, forcing thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh and other countries in Southeast Asia. Those that remained in the Buddhist majority country lived in temporary makeshift housing and in fear of being persecuted by the Burmese military. In the past year, the situation, deepened further by poverty, has worsened. The latest conflict erupted in October 2016 when armed men, said to be Muslims, killed 9 border police. After the attacks, the Rohingya’s accused the Burmese security forces of rape, killings, torture and burning Rphingya villages. In validation, the UNHCR said “devastating cruelty” had taken place.

On August 25, the conflict escalated when the militant group, the Arakn Rohingya Salvataion Army (Arsa), whose main aim is to protect the Rohingya Muslim minority, attacked at least 30 police posts in northern Rakhine with knives and home-made bombs, killing 12 people. In response, the Burmese army, who have accused the militancy of trying to create an Islamic state in Rakhine, said it had killed at least 370 fighters in subsequent clashes. Rohingya activists dispute this, claiming many were not fighters and the government has become complicit in a “scorched earth” policy of the Rohingya people. However, because journalist access to the Rakhine state is severely restricted it is difficult to corroborate the scale of the atrocities.

Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi, long held to be the bearer of moral sanctity, authority and champion of human rights, has so far remained silent on the violence perpetrated by government forces against the Rohingya. Instead, she has blamed “terrorists” for the enveloping violence in Rakhine. UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said Suu Kyi should intervene, commenting “she is caught between a rock and a hot spot, but I think it’s time for her to come out of that spot now.” Likewise, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns of the risk of ethnic cleansing and urged Myanmar to protect all civilians “without discrimination.”

Across the Muslim world, large protests in support of the Rohingya have taken place. In Jakarta and Manilla large crowds gathered while The Maldives have severed economic ties with Myanmar. In Turkey, President Erogan said the government would provide 10,000 tonnes of aid to help Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in Myanmar.

Even if she were to speak out, Aung San Suu Kyi cannot halt the crisis on her own. The Burmese military retain too much power for her to do so. Instead, an increase in concerted action is essential to ensure analogous atrocities of the late 20th century are not repeated in Myanmar.

Further Reading:

The Guardian view on the Rohingya in Myanmar: the Lady’s failing, the military’s crimes

Myanmar: Who are the Rohingya Muslims?

Exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh Tops Quarter of a Million: UNHCR

Aung San Suu Kyi and her foreign admirers must help the Rohingyas

Is the Burmese Military Carrying Out A Genocide Against Rohingya, World’s Most Persecuted Minority?

 


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