Decimating a People

Written by: Madi Sharma – Founder Women’s Eco-Nomic and Social Think Tank

Rohingya Refugees Wither in Insecure Conditions as Burma Continues Ethnic Cleansing Campaign

Houses and villages set on fire.

Vicious beatings and stabbings.

Families forcibly separated.

Men and boys kidnapped or outright executed in front of their families.

Women and girls violently gang raped.

All are a part of the Burmese government’s so-called “clearance operations” intended to purge 88 percent-Buddhist Burma of its Muslim community. The Rohingya, 80 percent of whom are from Rakhine State, began fleeing a brutal ethnic and religious cleansing campaign in August 2017, seeking refuge in the neighbouring region of Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh.

Despite vehement denunciation of the State’s actions by a slew of foreign governments, international institutions, and human rights groups alike, the Burmese government has made it clear that it does not intend to cease its ethnic cleansing programme any time soon.

It is certainly not the first time the Rohingya have weathered violence at the hands of their government.

For decades the Rohingya people have faced systemic discrimination and targeted violence at the hands of their government. That government repeatedly denied them both their most basic rights as well as the protections they should freely enjoy as citizens.

In 1948, Burma (also called Myanmar) gained independence from Britain. Not long after, a Muslim revolution broke out in Rakhine demanding equal rights and the recognition of an autonomous region. The revolution was eventually suppressed. Just under 20 years later, in 1962, Burma came under military rule. Any civil rights protections that the Rohingya had enjoyed were effectively slashed, and their safety became increasingly threatened.

By the time 1982 rolled around, the Burmese state managed to pass a new citizenship law guaranteeing protections for 135 ethnic groups. The Rohingya were not included in those protections, rendering them stateless. This means that the Rohingya are not considered citizens or nationals under the operation of the laws of any single country. Their government has disowned and abandoned them. The Burmese government believes the Rohingya do not deserve any rights, much less protection—because they are Muslim.

At least one million people have fled the ongoing violence and devastation. As of March 2019, Cox’s Bazaar is now home to 908,878 Rohingya refugees. The crisis is unique in its gender breakdown: 52% of the total refugee population are women and girls; 85% are women and children. The UNHCR reports that girls especially are at increased risk for child marriage, sexual exploitation, abuse, and neglect. In addition to the obvious needs for basic services like food, water, sanitation, medical care, and shelter, there is a massive need for gender transformative programming—initiatives that equalise gender perceptions to build complete equity and achieve health goals.

It is not a stretch to argue that the Rohingya refugee crisis and the displacement of other ethnic and religious groups in Burma simply would not exist in its current form absent the actions of the Burmese government.

In its annual report on international religious freedom released in April of this year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that, during 2018, reports began to surface that the Burmese Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture had issued orders explicitly restricting any Islamic or Christian instruction to government-approved houses of worship. Both Protestant and Catholic Christian churches were gutted by bombs, or languished under heavy barrages of machine gun fire. All religious instruction was required to be taught in the Burmese language, which is not the first language of many ethnic and religious minorities in Burma. Mosques were shut down or set on fire in Rakhine State, and children forbidden from attending madrassa where they would receive Islamic education. Military officials and soldiers barged into both public and private worship spaces threatening arrest or physical assault if worship continued. After destroying places of worship and homes, the military then blocked humanitarian aid, held civilians hostage in their recently slashed-and-burned villages, and barred journalists from entering conflict zones.

Now living in squalid conditions in Bangladesh, the Rohingya find themselves in yet another state of insecurity. Cox’s Bazaar is an area prone to natural disasters such as mudslides due to heavy rainfall and the recent Cyclone Fani, which tore through south-central Burma and continued northward after pummelling coastal India. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya face the additional threat of post-traumatic stress, the stigma of giving birth to or being a child conceived by rape, the disadvantage of being robbed of an education, and dwindling cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions that come with displacement and discrimination.

By June of 2018, a number of foreign governments—including the EU, Canada, Australia, and the US—had levelled sanctions against military and police officials.

The EU recently extended its own sanctions against Burma through 30 April 2020. Included in the sanctions are an arms embargo; export bans and restrictions on equipment that could have been used by military and government officials for intelligence purposes; restrictive measures on 14 prominent military and/or government officials implicated in human rights abuses; and the prohibition of military training to and cooperation with Burma’s armed forces, the Tatmadaw.

It is absolutely vital that the EU continue to sanction the Burmese government and its officials in the absence of any action that (1) restores to the Rohingya and other displaced people their citizenship status, homes, and land, and (2) offers swift reparations for possessions, livelihoods, and physical, mental, and emotional health lost during the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people. The EU must additionally support all efforts to collect, preserve, and analyse evidence of the crimes and atrocities committed against victims and hold perpetrators accountable, backing all investigations into the actions of the Burmese government and military throughout the crisis.

Forced expulsion, executions, statelessness, rape as a weapon of war, humanitarian aid blockades—all corrode the trust citizens are supposed to be able to place in their governments and institutions. Such atrocities are antithetical to the very sanctity of human life. The EU and the international community must continue to treat them as such.

Source :