HUMAN rights organization, Fortify Rights, has urged the UN to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate claims that the decades-long persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been an act of genocide.
The call for action coincided with the release of a report by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at Yale Law School which has analyzed the state sanctioned persecution of the Rohingya from a legal perspective. The 78 page report, ‘Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State?’, documents and applies the law of genocide to the Burma government’s human rights abuses against the Muslim-minority.
The Rohingya Muslims have lived for centuries at the crossroads between South Asia and Southeast Asia. Their homeland, Arakan, had previously been a part of the British-ruled Indian subcontinent. When Burma and India won their independence the Rohingya found their homeland between the boarders of these hostile nations. Since military rule took grip of Burma in 1962, the Rohingya have been portrayed as a threat to national security and their human rights have been systematically eroded.
This new report by the Allard K. Lowenstein IHRC details how the Rohingya have been subject to forced displacement, forced labor, religious persecution, marriage restrictions, population control, arbitrary detention, violence, physical assault, sexual assault and murder under the military led government. The report also focuses on the plight of the 140,000 Muslims detained in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) Camps where access to adequate food, humanitarian aid, sanitation and education is withheld. It is believed that the government in Burma has deliberately created these conditions with the intention of weakening the population to the point of extinction.
The plan of the government is to finish our people, to kill our people, but they cannot kill us all by the bullet.
As one Rohingya man, explained to Fortify Rights: “The plan of the government is to finish our people, to kill our people, but they cannot kill us all by the bullet. What they can do is deny us food and medicine, and if we don’t die, then we’ll opt to leave the country. [In these cases] the government has used a different option to kill the people. We must understand that.”
This legal analysis from the U.S. came the same week as a report from the U.K. drew similar conclusions. The report by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University of London, ‘Countdown to annihilation: Genocide in Myanmar’, argued that genocide has been taking place in Burma for the past three decades and the recent escalation in state-sponsored stigmatization, discrimination, violence and segregation was threatening the very existence of the Rohingya.
With national elections due to take place in Burma on November 8, these accusations come at a crucial period in the country’s transition from military rule and despite the Rohingya not having a voice at this historic juncture, the outcome of these elections will largely determine the future of the ‘most persecuted people on Earth’.
The plight of the Muslim minority could improve if a newly formed government is sympathetic to their plight, heeds the international community’s concerns and helps facilitate an independent human rights investigation into the persecution of the Rohingya. However, if the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) join with other ultra-nationalist parties and manage to retain power, conditions for the Rohingya are expected to deteriorate even further and their very existence will be under threat.