Recently we have seen horrific images and videos of Rohingyas, Burma’s Muslim minority living in the Rakhine state, being subjected to extreme persecution. There are reports of widespread killings, rape, torture, beheadings, and even people being burnt alive by Burma’s military and paramilitary forces.
The violence against Rohingyas has escalated in the last few years. The recent crackdown has been allegedly triggered in response to attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on security outposts in Rakhine on 25 August. Burmese authorities claim they are fighting insurgents. However, this is merely a cover for what many have described as a “genocide” taking place in Rakhine State.
Satellite images show hundreds of buildings burnt down in a town largely inhabited by Rohingyas. First hand accounts of those fleeing persecution indicate a concerted and determined effort by Burmese authorities to expel the Rohingyas from Burma.
Around 270,000 Rohingyas are reported to have fled to Bangladesh in the past two weeks. The Bangladeshi government has, in the past, turned back Rohingyas fleeing persecution, and even restricted aid distribution to those who were already in Bangladesh living in refugee camps in squalid conditions. The Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had said in an interview with Al Jazeera that it was not Bangladesh’s responsibility to help Rohingya refugees.
The Rohingya have been a persecuted minority in Burma for quite some time. After the 1962 military coup in Burma, Rohingyas were classified as “foreigners”. In 1982, they were effectively rendered stateless when the Citizenship law was enacted. Hence, many of their basic rights have been severely restricted, such as, “their rights to study, work, travel, marry, practice their religion and access health services”.
Rohingyas are seen as Muslims from Bangladesh who have illegally migrated to Burma. Buddhist Monk Ashin Wirathu is said to have spread hatred against Rohingyas, such as by portraying Rohingyas as a threat who are torturing and killing Buddhists. Hardline Buddhist nationalists propagate fear amongst people by portraying Rohingyas as Muslim outsiders trying to “Islamise” Burma and take over the country. Therefore, despite Buddhism’s emphasis on non-violence, Buddhist monks have carried out gruesome violence against the Rohingya Muslims of Burma.
As Burma is being hailed for its economic progress and “democratic reforms”, the “international community” continues to turn a blind eye to the suffering of Rohingyas. Former President, Thein Sein, who headed Burma’s military junta was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize even while Rohingyas were persecuted under his rule. Likewise, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a darling of the “international community”, now not only heads a government that is responsible for some of the worst atrocities we have witnessed in recent times, but also, at the same time, dismisses these crimes as “fake news”.