NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar — Hundreds flow into concentration camps. Mass graves litter the region. Disease ravages thousands without medical care. Humanitarian aid disappears. These are images of genocide in Myanmar.
On the west coast of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) in the Arakan State, hundreds and thousands of Rohingya Muslims suffer abuses of their human rights at the hands of radical Buddhist monks and the Burmese government.
This abuse is not new. In fact, this period of violence began in 2012.
Informative pamphlets distributed by the government and monk organizations deny the existence of the Rohingya. The government labels the Rohingya as Bengali, or illegal, immigrants from Bangladesh. In discussions of the group, public leaders vilify the Rohingya and demand their removal from the country. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that in 2012, President Thein Sein called for “illegal” Rohingya to be deported. Though many of these people have lived in Burma for several generations, their own government refuses to grant them citizenship. Therefore, the Rohingya lack access to basic commodities such as education and healthcare.
Essentially, Buddhist monks and government leaders dehumanize and antagonize the Rohingya Muslims.
Arakenese citizens refer to the Rohingya as terrorists. Fed propaganda from their government, they see the Rohingya Muslims as a threat to Buddhists and believe mosques are meant to store weapons.
Fueled by these misperceptions, Arkanese people rationalize their abuse of the Rohingya. Many of these citizens refuse to sell food to the Rohingya. Aung Mingalar, a 38-year-old, Rohingya woman, told HRW, “It is very difficult to eat. We have no food. The whole area is surrounded by Arkanese people. If we go outside, we are afraid we’ll be killed by the Arkanese, so no one dares to go out.” Her fears echo the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya ostracized by the Arkanese.
According to Time, over 100,000 Rohingya were evicted from their homes and now live in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Nicholas Kristof refers to these IDP camps as concentration camps. These camps lack proper shelter, sanitation and medical care. Isolated from the rest of the country, infections run rampant in the camps, and easily cured diseases claim lives.
United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Kyung-Wa Kang said, “I witnessed a level of human suffering in the IDP camps that I have personally never seen before.”
Further, the United Nations notes that the conflict undermines the economic and political changes made since 2011. In the last three years, Sein installed a civilian led government after the military leadership stepped down. He made some progress in human rights by releasing political prisoners, though the abuses of the Rohingya continue.
The HRW reported uncovering four mass graves storing hundreds of bodies. Accounts from Rohingya’s in the region recall gun shot and stab wounds, burns and constraints around the hands and feet of the dead.
Within Burma, the government largely rejects attempts at humanitarian aid. In January 2013, mobs killed over 40 Rohingya men, women and children. When Doctors Without Borders attempted to treat survivors, the government drove out the organization. Supplies of food meant for the Rohingya are often ransacked, and the World Food Programme reports that it cannot provide enough food to prevent widespread malnutrition.
Thousands of Rohingya attempt to escape the violence. The UN reports that since 2012, 86,000 Rohingya fled to Malaysia by boat. Many drown on the journey, and those who survive are indebted to traffickers upon their arrival.
In 2000, the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court established initial guidelines for identifying genocide. The guidelines organize the qualifications for genocide into five categories: genocide by killing, genocide by serious bodily or mental harm, genocide by deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction, genocide by imposing measures intended to prevent births, and genocide by forcibly transferring children.
The mass graves and the IDP camps reveal the dire conditions in Myanmar. Additionally, over the last two years, the government of Myanmar as well as Radical Buddhists limited healthcare and basic nutrition and expelled hundreds of thousands from their home. The human rights abuses are accelerating to a point of fulfilling the aforementioned qualifications, with no sign of slowing down.
– Tara Wilson