The Burmese government has lied about the violent events that took place in Rakhine State last year. Not only did it falsify an intricate political discourse regarding the nature and extent of the violence, but it also lied about its own role in the bloody campaign.
Of course, we have deduced this much anyway, but a recently released extensive report by the Bangkok-based rights groups, Fortify Rights, has shed light on how the Burmese military staged a systematic assault against the Rohingya community in Rakhine starting last August.
To carry out its massive violent campaign which uprooted hundreds of thousands and killed thousands more, the government used as a pretense, a series of attacks staged by Rohingya militants which reportedly claimed the lives of 12 security personnel.
More and more such findings are helping the world see through the media blackout imposed by the Yangon government which is actively arresting any journalist daring enough to expose the ongoing massive crimes carried out by government forces and Buddhist mobs.
To substantiate its claim of the Burmese government’s ‘genocidal intent’, the report -entitled, ‘They Gave Them Long Swords’ - demonstrated, through hundreds of interviews and field research, how the military actually armed non-Rohingya civilians in the run-up to the 2017 violence.
The aim of the military all along had simply been to ethnically cleanse the Rohingya. The report is a major breakthrough considering the authoritarian policies through which the former junta government runs the country.
Although the government remains very guarded regarding its slaughter of Rohingya, Buddhist activists on social media have no qualms about sharing their racist views, violent images and details of the mass murderRamzy Baroud
Inn Din Massacre
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, two brave young journalists for Reuters were arrested for attempting to uncover a massacre committed in the village of Inn Din. On July 9, they were charged with the violation of a Colonial-era law known as the ‘Official Secret Act’, and now face the possibility of spending 14 years in prison.
On September 2, 10 Rohingya men were executed in cold blood. Two were hacked to death by Buddhist villagers and the remaining eight were shot by the army. Their mass grave was dug in advance, where their frail bodies were dumped near their village, after homes in the village were set ablaze.
The two journalists were documenting this single episode with a thorough investigation based on government papers, interviews with Buddhist villagers and security personnel. Their report was meant to provide indisputable evidence of government-mob synchronization in killing Rohingya and covering up their crimes.
The report by Fortify Rights has further corroborated these findings.
Despite the arrest of their colleagues, the Reuters staff in Burma and Bangladesh still managed to produce an exhaustive investigative report that details how the army’s 33rd and 99th light infantry divisions were used as a “tip of the spear” in the savage government campaign to ethnically-cleanse the nearly 700,000 Rohingya last year.
The report also discusses the culture of impunity that is now rampant in that country.
Culture of Violence
“Are you going to eat Bengali meat?” a Facebook friend asks a soldier, Kyi Nyan Lynn, who was getting ready to join the onslaught in Rakhine.
The ‘Bengali meat’ refers to the killing of Rohingya, who are also often referred to by the derogatory term ‘kalar.’
“Crush the kalar, buddy,’ urged another friend.
“Will do,’ Kyi Nyan Lynn casually responds.
The soldier made sure to keep his friends abreast on the bloody development on the ground.
“If they’re Bengali, they’ll be killed,” he posted a comment on August 11. It was during that time that the Burmese government has falsely claimed that it was forced to interfere to fend against Rohingya militant attacks.
Although the government remains very guarded regarding its slaughter of Rohingya, Buddhist activists on social media have no qualms about sharing their racist views, violent images and details of the mass murder.
However, the Massacre of Inn Din, thanks to the work of the two journalists, forced the government to ‘investigate’. It shared the results of its alleged investigation on Facebook on January 10.
Although the government acknowledged that the 10 Rohingya men were executed by the army and a Buddhist mob, promising retribution, it largely placed the blame on the murdered men.
In a jumbled-up statement, the government’s ‘Truth Team,” wrote: “It was found that local ethnics had grievance against those 10 Bengali terrorists involved in the terror attacks against...villagers, who arrested and killed U Maung Ni without reason, and they threatened and bullied the local ethnics. So, the ethnics killed 10 arrested Bengali terrorists as they were keen to kill the arrestees with taking revenge.”
Such findings are leading to greater awareness of our understanding of the extent of the crimes against the Rohingya, but this is yet to contribute to any meaningful action.
The World Looks On
“In my four years as High Commissioner, I have heard many preposterous claims. That claim is almost in its own category of absurdity. Have you no shame, sir, have you no shame? We are not fools.”
These were some of the remarks made by outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, in his final briefing to the Human Rights Council on July 4. He was responding to a Burmese official’s claim that his country is not targeting Rohingya in a genocidal campaign but is defending the rights of all of its citizen.
Ra’ad is, of course, correct in his assessment. Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee from their homes in the Northern Rakhine State in Burma last year alone, and this number is constantly rising. They have been exiled mostly to Bangladesh. Many of the refugees are forced into deplorable existence in prison-like, extremely crowded refugee camps in the no man’s land between Burma and Bangladesh.
Even before the last exodus, thousands of Rohingya were already living in exile, as the Burmese army’s ethnic cleansing of its ill-fated minorities has been in the making for nearly six years.
Despite a recent burst of media attention, however, Western governments which are eagerly welcoming Burma’s former junta government to the ‘democratic world’ are yet to carry out any meaningful action, or even a threat of action to slow down the genocide.
In a recent report, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) relayed the harrowing death toll of Rohingya during the first month of the army’s violent campaign last year. In the period between August 25 and September 24, up to 9,000 Rohingya were killed, including 730 children under the age of five.
Burma’s killing campaigns are now impossible to hide, and no clumsy government attempts at cover-up will conceal the facts. The real tragedy is that the rest of the world looks on nonchalantly, leaving people of conscience everywhere pondering how long the Rohingya will have to endure before something is done to alleviate their suffering.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.