For decades, the Rohingya have endured abuse, statelessness and apartheid in the western edge of the country. Their plight was brought to the attention of the international media in 2012 when two anti-Rohingya pogroms led to mass displacement and hundreds of deaths. These incidents were described by Human Rights Watch as “crimes against humanity” undertaken as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign in which state agencies were allegedly involved.
Earlier this year, attention was drawn again to the Rohingya when thousands of “boat people,” among them many from the minority, faced starvation and abandonment at sea in trafficker’s boats as part of what became termed ” the Asian refugee crisis.”
But these events are only the most high-profile agonies that the Rohingya have been subjected to. The group have endured at least three ethnic cleansing campaigns since the late seventies, as well as decades of routine abuses at the hands of the state such as torture, rape and forced labor. Their basic rights have been slowly stripped away by state policy, culminating in total disenfranchisement and new laws designed to control births in measures enacted this year. Throughout this period, an unknown number of killings have taken place.
In May 2013 Human Rights Watch issued a report on crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya; Physicians for Human Rights issued a similar report in August 2013; the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum noted the deteriorating situation and all these are currently mentioned on the Holocaust Museum’s web pages along with its own recent “eyewitness report”,They Want Us All to Go Away: Early Warning Signs of Genocide in Burma, of May 1, 2015. It is no longer early. The online report doesn’t carry a date, doesn’t credit its sources, and comes as a surprise, three years late amidst continuing U.S. support for the Thein Sein military government which is presiding over the crime. A U.S. refusal to note anything wrong with the start of the genocide in 2012 has powerful allies.
Finding herself unable to say anything to counter the program of criminal acts by her Buddhist supporters, the nobelist politician and presidential hopeful Aung San Suu Kyi received a Congressional gold medal in the U.S., September 2012, and an Amnesty International backed speaking tour. In this way the normal confrontation of a genocide is muted, back-burnered, and placed instead at the service of corporate and military tactical interests.
An independent report by the ISCI concluded that riots in 2012, which saw conflicts between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims erupt, were preplanned. The violence saw scores killed, and tens of thousands of people displaced after several thousand homes were burned.
“It wasn‘t communal violence,” said Green. “It was planned violence. Express buses were organised” to bring Rakhine Buddhists from outlying areas to take part in the aggression.
“Refreshments, meals were provided,” she said. “It had to be paid by somebody. All of this suggests that it was very carefully planned.”
The 150,000 or so Muslim Rohinyga now trapped in 10 refugee camps near Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, are not allowed to leave the site, nor are about 50,000 others who were, up until now, villagers tilling the land and fishing the backwaters and shores.
In downtown Sittwe, there are a further 3,000 or so people barricaded in their homes in a handful of city blocks, allowed out once a week on a police bus to shop at the food and goods markets inside the camps. Conditions there are possibly still worse — the parallel is World War II’s Warsaw ghetto.
Outsiders are no longer allowed in to check, and international nongovernment organizations including aid and refugee groups have been run out of town — literally. Violence has been reported against NGO workers keen to help alleviate some of the appalling conditions inside the camps. Local police now occupy Sittwe’s main mosque.