Myanmar is home to an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority. Numerous sources both inside and outside the country have reported horrific human rights violations. Shabnam Mayet explores the enduring discrimination against the marginalised group.
The Rohingya crisis is a humanitarian disaster created over decades by the institutionalisation of a slow-burning genocide against an ethnic minority.
Made to endure the brutality and oppression of the military junta, more than 200 000 Rohingya fled across Myanmar’s border to Bangladesh in the late 1970s. In 1982 the military junta revoked their citizenship and no longer recognised them as one of the 135 “national races”.
Since 2012, the brutality against the Muslim minority has been one exacerbated by Myanmar’s unwillingness to punish the right-wing Buddhist nationalists who propagate hatred against them, address its apartheid policies, and keep its security forces in check. The persecution has forced tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee the country in recent years, with many seeking safety in Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia.
They have been denied the right to self-identify, freedom of movement, access to education and healthcare. The Rohingya have been subjected to land confiscations, forced sterilisation, extortion, torture, human trafficking and collective punishment, and they even require government permission to marry.
Popular media and right-wing politics use Islamophobia to condition us into believing extremism and terrorism are the sole domain of Muslims, preferably those holding weapons against the skyline of a bombed city or desert dunes. This perception allows a democratic government led by a Nobel Peace Laureate to turn a blind eye to both state terror and violent extremist Buddhism.
Despite Myanmar’s first democratic election in 2015 being won by the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi, right-wing nationalist Buddhist groups have successfully rioted and looted in Rohingya communities while the police and military have idly watched on. They have lobbied for discriminatory legislation to be passed and even for the word Rohingya not to be used, once again proving that a transitional government is an acceptable justification for ignoring atrocities against minorities.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s (ASEAN) non-intervention policy has resulted in mass graves of Rohingya being found in human trafficking camps along the Thai-Malaysian border.
Since October last year, the military has undertaken a violent crackdown on Rohingya villages in Rakhine State. Security forces went on the rampage slaughtering children, arresting and torturing men, forcing entire communities to relocate, blocking humanitarian aid, burning homes and raping Rohingya women. Almost 2 000 Rohingya structures were burnt and 75 000 refugees fled to Bangladesh while thousands remain displaced internally.
A journalist who interviewed Rohingya rape victims after the military crackdown was told by a 15-year-old-girl that she was only raped by one soldier because she was not as beautiful as the girls who were gang raped. However the state maintains eyewitness accounts, including the testimonies of mass rapes, are fabricated.
The government has characterised the actions of its security forces as anti-terrorism related. Predictably, when the word terrorism is bandied about, tangible evidence is irrelevant and extreme force against a civilian population becomes an acceptable response.
Myanmar has elected to ignore the UN Special Rapporteur’s recommendations, deny access to international observers including foreign journalists and has even rejected the call for a United Nations fact-finding mission investigating the violence.
Western countries have been quick to lift sanctions and invest in the untapped market since it threw off the shackles of military dictatorship, proving once again that profits are more important than people.
Many claim the condition of the Rohingya is far worse than the apartheid experienced by both Palestinians and South Africans. Drawing these parallels underplays how disenfranchised the Rohingya are. As a country with a past steeped in discrimination and oppression, we have a responsibility to ensure others do not suffer the same fate.
Mumia Abu-Jamal, former Black Panther and journalist, once said that the greatest form of sanity anyone can exercise is to resist that force that is trying to repress, oppress, and fight down the human spirit. It is with this in mind that I appeal to everyone to join Protect the Rohingya‘s event this Tuesday, by wearing black in solidarity with the Rohingya, and to call for an end to the Rohingya genocide.
Tweet your photos and messages of solidarity to @ProtectRohingya using the hashtag #Black4Rohingya.
Advocate Shabnam Mayet is the co-founder of Protect the Rohingya. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Daily Vox’s editorial policy.