When Will the World Do Something to Save Rohingya Muslims?
CJ Werleman on why the international community should hang its head in shame over its failure to help stop the genocide still ongoing in Myanmar.
It’s been almost two years since Myanmar security forces launched their most recent campaign to annihilate the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority – an effort described by the United Nations as “textbook ethnic cleansing”.
It is still ongoing today, but the international community is doing little or nothing to resolve the humanitarian crisis.
Today, roughly one million Rohingya Muslims remain homeless and stateless in squalid refugee camps along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. At the same time, 200,000 remain trapped in small villages and townships throughout Rakhine state or – what Mohammed Salam, chairman of a local Rohingya welfare committee, described to me recently as – a “genocide zone”.
The international community must first stop pretending that the genocide isn’t ongoing.
The Rohingya’s current plight began on 25 August 2017, when Myanmar’s soldiers, accompanied by local Buddhist militias, launched a wave of attacks on Rohingya villages in the north-west corner of the country, including mass killings, gang rapes, looting, and the destruction of homes and property.
The violence carried out against the Rohingya was so vicious that the international aid group Doctors Without Borders estimated that at least 10,000 Rohingya had been killed and thousands more raped and injured. It has stated that 700,000 were forced to flee to the Bangladesh border in the three-month period spanning the end of August to the start of December 2017, while other aid agencies have documented 18,000 incidences of rape.
These atrocities continue today, with Amnesty International recently finding “fresh evidence” that the Myanmar security forces are carrying out attacks on Rohingya villages, while at the same time blocking all humanitarian aid, as they carry out military operations in the area against the separatist Arakan Army.
China, Israel, and Australia maintained military ties with Myanmar long after the UN identified the human rights violations against the Rohingya to constitute ethnic cleansing.
When I spoke with Mohammed Salam in April, he told me how a Myanmar military “gunship” attacked a Rohingya village in the township of Buthidaung.
“A half dozen were killed, and the injured were taken to the hospital in Buthidaung, which is running out of medicines and anesthesia,” he said.
But, despite these ongoing atrocities, and the desperate pleas of more than one million Rohingya, the international community has stubbornly resisted any serious attempt to provide security, comfort, and a long-term solution to those trapped at the border of Bangladesh and within Rakhine state.
In fact, there has been almost no collective action to hold Myanmar accountable for its crimes against humanity within the United Nations, aside from a draft resolution that was put forward by the UK at the UN Security Council, one that was ultimately boycotted by permanent members Russia and China.
Earlier this year, the UN launched an inquiry into its “dysfunctional” conduct towards the Rohingya genocide after international human rights groups accused the UN of ignoring the warning signs of escalating violence prior to the commencement of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar security forces in August 2017.
Alarmingly, the ignoring of “warning signs” and the boycotting of draft resolutions by UN Security Council members to resolve the Rohingya crisis ranks among the least of the international community’s failures – given the fact that a number of countries have continued to sell weapons and provide military assistance to the junta-controlled “democracy” in Yangon, even as it carries out verifiable crimes against humanity.
The international community has stubbornly resisted any serious attempt to provide security, comfort, and a long-term solution to those trapped at the border of Bangladesh and within Rakhine state.
China, Israel, and Australia are notable examples of countries who maintained their military ties with Myanmar long after the UN had identified the human rights violations against the Rohingya to constitute ethnic cleansing.
For instance, one investigation by a human rights group found that Israel sold more than 100 tanks, light weapons, and a number of patrol boats, which have been used to attack Rohingya fishermen.
Moreover, Myanmar military officials were spotted at an arms expo held in Tel Aviv last week, despite the fact that Israel has claimed that it has stopped selling weapons to Myanmar.
The manner in which the US has dealt with Myanmar could be described as even more duplicitous, given the fact that an investigation found that the Trump administration isn’t fully enforcing the very limited sanctions it had imposed on a mere four of the country’s generals in 2018 for their respective roles in the ongoing genocide.
Politico observed that the US has been “permitting the children of some past and present Myanmar military leaders to travel to the US – despite a years-old law prohibiting such immediate relatives from obtaining US visas.”
While the European Union has enacted a ban on arms sales to Myanmar, its assistance to the Rohingya has been limited to refugee and humanitarian aid, with the UK alone contributing more than £129 million, according to UKAID.
Myanmar’s soldiers… launched a wave of attacks on Rohingya villages in the north-west, including mass killings, gang rapes, looting, and the destruction of homes and property.
Refugee aid and assistance only constitutes band aid measures, however, and do nothing to provide long-term security or guarantee human rights to the Rohingya Muslim minority.
“The international community should push for accountability for atrocities against the Rohingya in Myanmar,” John Quinley, a human rights specialist at Fortify Rights, told me.
“We believe this will have a preventative effect and stop future attacks in Rakhine state.”
As for Rohingya refugees who have been displaced to Bangladesh, Malaysia and further afield, the international community must increase its pressure on the Myanmar Government through sanctions and diplomatic means, in order to inch it closer towards providing the Rohingya, not only a safe return to their homes, but also full citizenship rights. This would allow them to attend schools and seek employment and basic rights they have long been denied.
To cross that bridge, however, the international community must first stop pretending that the genocide isn’t ongoing.
And the fact that it did nothing to prevent the slaughter in 2017, and has done little to stop it today, should embarrass us all.