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What Is Really Happening To Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya? Why Is It Significant?

A slow burning genocide of 36-years with periodic spikes of violence and killings followed by waves of exoduses of fleeing Refugees to nearby Bangladesh, as well as Thailand, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Australia and other Western countries.

Myanmar’s genocidal treatment of Rohingya over the past 36 years calls into question the legitimacy, moral authority and effectiveness of the United Nations and its constitutive global governance institutions such as the International Criminal Court and the Security Council. Further, it calls into question the meaning of what it means to be conscientious human beings in the 21st century. Do human beings today willfully ignore large scale suffering of 2 million Rohingya with no means to defend themselves, no livelihood systems or social foundations?

Since February 1978 Myanmar has instituted a policy of genocide under the disguise of anti-immigration operations, which are in fact designed to destroy Rohingya as a distinct ethnic group. In the official media and by various bureaucracies including Education, Home Affairs, Defense and Foreign Affairs Myanmar has portrayed wrongly Rohingya as “Bengali”, that is, illegal economic migrants from neighboring. Aside from the violent ‘anti-immigration’ operations whereby local Rakhine racist extremists and central government authorities coordinate numerous forms of attacks on Rohingya neighborhoods, places of worships (mosques), businesses and properties, including organized acts of arson, summary execution, looting, sexual violence, etc.

Over 1 million has fled the country since the first wave of genocidal attacks on Rohingya. Nearly 200,000 Rohingya have been forcibly relocated by central government troops into refugee camps where they live in inhumane conditions, without access to market, jobs or food systems. Local extremists have become strident for their call to block even emergency relief aid to the camps and threatened to attack any international NGO who provide Rohingya internationally displaced persons (or IDPs) basic services. Myanmar’s central government refuses to give INGOs unfettered humanitarian access to Rohingya camps as well as neighborhood.

Thousands of Rohinya who originally co-existed in peace with local Buddhist communities in Southern Rakhine state have been transferred to Northern Rakhine state adjacent to Bangladesh, creating 90% Rohingya pockets. These pockets are placed in the hands of the Ministry of Defence which has absolute administrative power. The military is aided by a small minority of all-Rakhine civil servants and police officials, thus making Northern Rakhine state’s Rohingya neighborhood an apartheid. As early as July 1978, the Far Eastern Economic Review called it ‘Burma’s Brand of Apartheid’ (14 July 1978, FEER).

Of all Myanmar’s ethnic groups, only the Rohinya are subject to birth and population control on account of their distinct ethnicity. The doctor patient ratio for Myanmar’s Rohingya is worse than Syria during the current civil war (40 doctors: 2 million in Syria where is 1 doctor: 73,000 -86,000 Rohingya in peace time). Rohingya are not permitted to study medicine or midwifery in Myanmar’s universities, if they are admitted at all. Myanmar also maintains a set of severe restrictions on Rohingya marriages. Rohingya are required daily permit from the security forces to travel to even the next village or neighborhood.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and successive UN Special Rapporteurs have characterized Myanmar’s treatment of more than 1 million Rohingya who remain in the country as ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’.

In fact, many human rights specialists and UN officials understand that the decades of persecution and destruction of Rohingya amounts to a genocide, but out of ‘pragmatic’ considerations no international body is so far prepared to call Rohingya genocide by its proper name: genocide.

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