IN THIS age of social media, digital connectivity and 24-hour news networks, it seems inconceivable that a democratically elected government could carry out genocide on an entire ethnic group without facing universal condemnation. Sadly, this presumption that the information age would curtail such horrific acts is false, as the brutal violence and systematic persecution taking place in Burma (Myanmar) demonstrates.
Given the abundance of photographs, video reports, first-hand accounts and satellite images of Myanmar’s brutal military offensive against the Rohingya, there can be no doubt that the systematic killings, gang-rapes, and destruction of villages are indeed, ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’ Arguments to the contrary, by Myanmar’s leaders and the leaders of neighbouring countries, are simply distortions of the truth by those who want this appalling humanitarian crisis to be ignored.
Tragically, the governments, organisations, and individuals which are ignoring the genocide of the Rohingya, are also the only parties with the power to bring an end to this ethnic cleansing.
The most prominent individual to turn a blind eye to the genocide of the Rohingya, is Myanmar’s de facto leader, and former Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. On Tuesday 19th September, Suu Kyi finally broke her silence on the plight of the country’s Rohingya ethnic minority only to offer “untruths and victim blaming”, while sidestepping allegations of violent atrocities and avoiding any criticism of the country’s military.
Given the overwhelming evidence that Myanmar military’s have been attacking, raping and murdering Rohingya civilians, it was shocking to hear Suu Kyi say, “We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence.”
“The security forces have been instructed to adhere strictly to the code of conduct in carrying out security operations, to exercise all due restraint and to take full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians.”
Human rights groups were taken aback by Suu Kyi’s address which bore little resemblance to the realities on the ground in Western Myanmar, as Magnus Fiskesjö, PhD, Associate Professor at Cornell University, explains: “She did not address the accusations that this is ethnic cleansing, as described by UN Secretary-General Guterres and, perpetrated directly by the country’s army, as seems abundantly clear based on several lines of evidence the numerous refugee eyewitness accounts, and independent media observations on the ground and satellite imagery analysis showing the orchestrated village-burning campaign.”
“Her reassurance that ‘There have been no conflicts since the 5 September and no clearance operations’ is plainly contradicted by independent media observation of continued burning, and gunfire.”
Suu Kyi’s address was so far removed from the evidence presented by international media outlets that it has been suggested that her speech was primarily intended for the local audience, “to reassure her own people that things are not as horrible as the UN and foreign media have said and documented.”
Burma’s neighbours have also been adept at ignoring Asia’s latest genocide, with the region’s superpowers commending the government’s actions, while other countries have indicated that Rohingya refugees would not be accommodated.
Thailand’s own military-led government has been the first Asean country to clearly state that Rohingya refugees would not be welcomed, with an announcement from Col. Peerawat Saengthong of the Internal Security Operations Command explaining: “There are three steps. First, if the boat has yet to enter territorial waters, we will look at their intentions. If their intention is not to enter Thailand, we may provide food and water on humanitarian grounds. Secondly, if they intend [to enter] we will act according to the law by pushing the boat away. Third, if they are discovered on shore, we must detain them.”
Australia’s ignorance towards the plight of the Rohingya is almost as shocking as Aung San Suu Kyi’s, with the country offering to pay money to Rohingya refugees who agree to return to Burma. What is even more astonishing than Australia’s callous attempts to repatriate refugees during the midst of ethnic cleansing operations, is the fact that conditions in Australia’s refugee camps in Manus Island are so bad that some asylum seekers are actually planning to return to the bloodshed.
Reporters for The Guardian spoke with Rohingya refugees who explained their dire predicament: “I don’t want to stay in PNG, I don’t want to die in PNG. I prefer to die in Myanmar. Probably Buddhist people are going to kill me as soon as I arrive in Myanmar … Australia doesn’t care if we live or we die.”
In China, where human rights are routinely violated, it’s hardly surprising that the country leaders leaders have backed the Tatmadaw military offensive against the Rohingya. Furthermore, Suu Kyi’s popularity in China has surged in recent weeks and she has been called a hero for the manner in which she has dealt with the issue. Burma is now counting on China to block any sanctions the UN may propose as a result of the violence. India has also has shown support for the Burmese military over its actions in the Rakhine.
China and India’s willingness to ignore Burma’s persecution of the Muslim Rohingya is in part influenced by their economic interests in the Rakhine State, where the genocide is being conducted. Both countries have huge investment plans for infrastructure, cross-border pipelines, deep-sea ports and industrial area such as the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone, Rakhine. Therefore, as Fan Hongwei, an expert on Burmese politics at Xiamen University expounded: “Stability in Rakhine state really matters… If the situation in Rakhine remains as bad as it is now, the future of all these projects would be really bleak.”
It is a cruel twist of fate that the backwaters in which the Rohingya had lived quietly for generations, particularly the coastal areas of Rakhine State, have now become an extremely strategic location, attracting the interests of Asian superpowers, China and India. The investment that these countries have planned for the state are set to guarantee substantial employment, tariffs, taxes and revenues for the whole of Burma.
The economic rewards of clearing the Rakhine State of its unwanted ‘pests’ to prepare the area for developments which will further boost Myanmar’s strong economic growth, have made it convenient for Myanmar, China and India to ignore the evidence presented by NGOs and the international media that genocide is underway.
Tragically, the Rohingya have little support from any regional powers which could influence the Myanmar military to cease their attacks in the Rakhine.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘assurances’ that the Rohingya who have fled the bloodshed are welcome to return, and will be peacefully repatriated, are not to be trusted and it is unrealistic to believe that the Myanmar military will end their cleansing operations until they achieve their goal of riding Rakhine of the Rohingya once and for all.