Lack of Accountability in Myanmar
I recently read about yet another vicious attack on Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority. This time, the venue was Du Chee Ya Tan village in the Rakhine state, close to Bangladesh. If you think that the rioters shamelessly justified their actions by claiming that the victims were illegal Bengalis trying to sneak into Myanmar, you are correct. For the past many years in Myanmar angry Buddhist mobs have attacked groups of Rohingya Muslims. The carnage follows: killing, raping and looting. This time, news sources claim that members of the Rohingya community had dared to protest against atrocities committed by local Rakhine officials. The protesters were rewarded with brutal acts of violence.
To make matters worse, each time there is an attack on the Rohingya community, the Burmese riot police and army are present in the vicinity, but they choose to be spectators. Of course, the state media claims that nothing happened, and that there were hardly any noticeable instances of violence. The United Nations has described the Rohingya as friendless. In 2012, sectarian violence killed hundreds of Rohingya men and women and has left over 140,000 homeless as entire neighborhoods were razed. According to Human Rights Watch, planned campaigns of ethnic cleansing were conducted. Because the aggressors were local political and religious warlords, the government has chosen to ignore these crimes.
In 2013, the ethnically motivated riots spread to central Myanmar and the BBC reported that Rohingya children were burnt alive, and many of them were filmed being brutally attacked right in front of the police. Arson and killing became the norm, and Human Rights Watch once again reported that the government showed no interest in punishing the wrongdoers in spite of the overwhelming evidence against its own security forces. Most of the anti-Rohingya activities in 2013 were carried out by the extremist 969 Movement of Buddhism which has repeatedly called for the annihilation of ethnic minorities in Myanmar. In cities such as Lashio and Thandwe, the 969 Movement often circulates pamphlets that are full of blatant hate speech against the minorities in general and Muslims in particular.
Amidst all this, where does the government of Myanmar stand? The government essentially sides with the oppressors. The state of Myanmar has defended its armed forces along with the Buddhist extremists, claiming that their actions against the ethnic minorities are in the best interest of the Burmese nation. In spite of international criticism and laws against religious hate speech, the government of Myanmar has turned a blind eye toward the plight of the Rohingya. Even further, the government repeatedly supports the 969 Movement and affirms its anti-Muslim sentiments. As a result, when word spread about the incidents in Du Chee Ya Tan village, the government’s spokesperson was quick to react:
— Hmuu Zaw (@HmuuZaw) January 17, 2014
And to quote the Deputy Information Minister Ye Htut: “We have had no information about killings.” Maybe because, it could be argued, the authorities were the ones who did most of the killings. This anti-Rohingya governmental bias is not new. Ever since the conflict began, the government has followed a policy of siding with the oppressors. The official word used for the Rohingya community is ‘Bengali,’ which hints at the (false) belief that Rohingya are not ethnically Burmese and thus, deserve to die, which only incites more hatred.
Ethnic strife and religious conflicts are not new. All around the world, various groups have bled and have been killed over such matters. However, in case of Rohingya, the story is different in the sense that they are practically helpless. They are too few of them for their voices to be heard, too poor to have any influence, and too weak to be noticed by the rest of the world.
The ongoing ethnic cleansing in Myanmar has all the ingredients of a full-fledged genocide: religious extremists and hate groups, biased state police and army, and an ineffective state. As a result, when the government calls for inquiries and investigations, one cannot help but question the credibility of such processes. More often than not, official inquiries end up claiming that no violence occurred whatsoever, and whatever little damage was done, the Rohingya have none but themselves to blame. Thus, for justice is to be administered, a neutral investigation needs to be conducted. The question is: is the international community willing to act, or are we going to watch the Rohingya children die?