End the genocide now: What we know about the Rohingya crisis

Ramzy Baroud
Ramzy Baroud
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“The military took away my father along with all other men from our village. Then, they set fire to our house with my mother inside. She was burned to death.”

This was part of a brief testimony by Mohammed Jakaria, a 13-year-old Rohingya child from Rakhine state in western Burma.

Now, Mohammed and tens of thousands of refugees like him live in squalid conditions in crowded ref-ugee camps in Teknaf, in the southernmost point of mainland Bangladesh, which shares a long border with Burma.

Since the renewal of hostilities targeting Rohingya Muslims in Burma, hundreds of thousands of refu-gees have crossed that dangerous border seeking shelter from imminent death and torture.

Thousands of Rohingya have been reportedly killed since August. Thousands more are missing. Their plight is the most pressing humanitarian issue at the present time.

But, the Rohingya crisis cannot be filed under yet another humanitarian crisis. The Rohingya, known as ‘the most persecuted people on earth’ are running out of time.

Yet, aside from calls to allow UN monitors access to Rakhine, there has been no comprehensive plan of action to bring an end to their ongoing genocide.

Indeed, this is a story of greed, involving the world’s largest multinational corporations, and hypocrisy involving none other than Aung San Suu Kyi.

Indeed, this is a story of greed, involving the world’s largest multinational corporations, and hypocrisy involving none other than Aung San Suu Kyi

Ramzy Baroud

Glorified by the West

In essence, Aung San Suu Kyi is a false prophet. Glorified by the West for many years, she was made a ‘democracy icon’ because she opposed the same forces in her country at the time that the US-led West-ern coalition isolated Rangoon for its alliance with China.

This was a marriage of convenience, and Aung San Suu Kyi played her role as expected, winning the approval of the Right and the admiration of the Left. And for that, she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

The ‘Lady’ of Burma’s journey from being a political pariah in her own country finally ended in tri-umph when she became the leader of Burma following a multi-party election in 2015. Since then, she has toured many countries, dined with queens and presidents, given memorable speeches, received awards, while knowingly rebranding the brutal military that she had opposed throughout the years.

Yet, the great ‘humanitarian’ lost all integrity as her government, military and police began conducting a widespread ethnic cleansing operation that targeted the Rohingya, subjecting them to a brutal and systematic genocide, conducted through a joint effort by the Burmese military, police, and majority Buddhist nationalists.

The so-called “Cleansing Operations” have killed thousands of Rohingya in recent months, driving well over 250,000 frightened and hungry people to flee for their lives in any way possible. Hundreds more have perished at sea, or were hunted down and killed in jungles.

Stories of murder and the burning of villages remind one of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian peo-ple during the Nakba of 1948. It should come as no surprise that Israel is one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to the Burmese military. Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, insists that his country has no intention of halting its weapons shipments to the regime in Rangoon.

The news of one of the Israeli shipments was announced in August 2016. The company proudly featured that its Corner Shot rifles are already in ‘operational use’ by the Burmese military.

Israel’s history is rife with examples of backing brutal juntas and authoritarian regimes, but why are those who have positioned themselves as the guardians of democracy still silent about the bloodbath in Burma?

Aung San Suu Kyi did not even have the moral courage to say a few words of sympathy to the victims. Instead, she expressed an uncommitted statement: “We have to take care of everybody who is in our country”.

Meanwhile, her spokesperson and other mouthpieces launched a campaign of vilification against Roh-ingya, accusing them of burning their own villages, fabricating their own rape stories, while referring to Rohingya who dare to resist as ‘Jihadists'.

Documented Atrocities

But well-documented reports give us more than a glimpse of the harrowing reality which the Rohingya continue to experience. A recent UN report details the account of one woman whose husband was killed by soldiers in what the UN described as “widespread as well as systematic” attacks indicating the “very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

“Five of them took off my clothes and raped me,” said the bereaved woman. “My eight-month-old son was crying of hunger when they were in my house because he wanted to breastfeed, so to silence him they killed him with a knife.”

Fleeing refugees that made it to Bangladesh following a terrible journey spoke of the murder of children, the rape of women and the burning of villages. Some of these accounts have been verified through satellite images provided by Human Rights Watch, showing wiped out villages throughout the state.

Reporting from Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, veteran British journalist, Peter Oborne, described what he has seen in an article published by the Daily Mail on September 4:

“Just five years ago, an estimated 50,000 of the city’s population of around 180,000 were members of the local Rohingya Muslim ethnic group. Today, there are fewer than 3,000 left. And they are not free to walk the streets. They are crammed into a tiny ghetto surrounded by barbed wire. Armed guards prevent visitors from entering — and will not allow the Rohingya Muslims to leave.”

With access to that reality through their many emissaries on the ground, Western governments knew too well of the indisputable facts but deliberately chose to ignore them.

Big oil

Reporting from Ramree Island, Hereward Holland wrote on the ‘hunting for Myanmar’s (Burma) hid-den treasure.’

Massive deposits of oil that have remained untapped due to decades of Western boycott of the junta government are now available to the highest bidder. It is a big oil bonanza, and all are invited. Shell, ENI, Total, Chevron and many others are investing large sums to exploit the country’s natural re-sources, while the Chinese - who dominated Burma’s economy for many years - are being slowly pushed out.

Indeed, the rivalry over Burma’s unexploited wealth is at its peak. It is this wealth - and the need to undermine China’s superpower status in Asia - that has brought the West back and installed Aung San Suu Kyi as a leader in a country that has never fundamentally changed, but only rebranded itself to pave the road for the return of ‘Big Oil’. However, the Rohingya are paying the price.

Rohingya are natives

The Rohingya are not foreigners, intruders or immigrants in Burma. Their kingdom of Arakan dates back to the 8th Century. In the years that followed, the inhabitants of that kingdom learned about Islam from Arab traders and, with time, it became a Muslim-majority re-gion. Arakan is Burma’s modern-day Rakhine state, where most of the country’s estimated 1.2 million Rohingya still live.

The false notion that the Rohingya are outsiders started in 1784 when a Burmese King conquered Ara-kan and forced thousands to flee. Many of those who were expelled to Bengal, eventually returned.

Attacks on Rohingya, and constant attempts at driving them out of Rakhine, have been re-newed over several periods of history, such as in 1942, 1948, 1962 and 1977.

In 1982, the military government passed the Citizenship Law that stripped most Rohingya of their citi-zenship, declaring them illegal in their own country. The war on the Rohingya was reignited in 2012.

Amid international silence, only a few respected figures like Pope Francis spoke out in support of the Rohingya in a deeply moving prayer last February. The Rohingya are ‘good people’, the Pope said: “They are peaceful people, and they are our brothers and sisters.” Alas, his call for justice was never heeded.

Appalling silence

The violence in Burma is likely to escalate in coming months and years and reach other ASEAN coun-tries, simply because Muslims and Buddhists are the main ethnic and religious groups in that region.

The triumphant return of Western countries to exploit Burma’s wealth and the US-Chinese rivalry are likely to complicate the situation even further if ASEAN does not end its appalling silence and move with a determined strategy to pressure Burma to end its genocide of the Rohingya.

The likes of Aung San Suu Kyi should be exposed for her moral failings and held responsible for her position at the helm of Burma’s political apparatus.

South African Bishop Desmond Tutu had strongly admonished Aung San Suu Kyi for her jaded posi-tion. It is the least we expect from the man who stood up to Apartheid in his own country, and penned the famous words: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppres-sor.”
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ’The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the Univer-sity of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Stud-ies, University of California. Visit his website: www.ramzybaroud.net.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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