TWO laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize have publicly called mass violence against Rohingya Muslims in Burma (Myanmar) “genocide” after making a visit to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh earlier this year.
Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi and Yemeni journalist Tawakkol Karman last week co-wrote an opinion piece in the prominent Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail in which they described their eyewitness accounts of the “fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world today.”
The two women visited Rohingya refugees in late February along with the Nobel Women Initiative and have vowed to fight for justice on behalf of the persecuted Muslim group. “Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw and heard,” they wrote.
“The systematic use of the most brutal and dehumanising forms of violence that we witnessed in the Bangladesh camps should awaken us all to the fact that what is happening to the Rohingya has a name: It is genocide.”
Humanitarian agencies have said that at least 687,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Rakhine State into Cox’s Bazar in since Aug 25 last year in response to so-called “clearing operations” by the Tatmadaw army.
Security forces and Buddhist vigilantes stand accused of mass killings, rape and arson in Muslim villages amid a campaign described by the UN human rights chief as a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.
Burma’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi – herself a Nobel laureate once seen as a human rights champion – has been heavily criticised by many in the international community for failing to stop alleged atrocities against the Rohingya or defend their rights.
Fellow laureates Malala Yousafzai and Desmond Tutu have are also among those who have publicly criticised Suu Kyi.
“More than 100 women told us how the Myanmar security forces burned villages, tortured, killed and systematically raped women and girls,” wrote Ebadi and Karman. Many medical aid organisations and rights groups have similarly documented widespread sexual violence against Rohingya girls and women.
The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict recently added Burma’s military to a blacklist of organisations known to use sexual violence amid armed conflict, stating that rape was a “calculated tool” against the Rohingyas.
The authors also quoted Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s special envoy to Burma Bob Rae’s recent report, stating that: “the lesson of history is that genocide is not an event like a bolt of lightning. It is a process, one that starts with hate speech and the politics of exclusion, then moves to legal discrimination, then policies of removal, and then finally to a sustained drive to physical extermination.”
Rae’s report, entitled Tell them we’re human, argued that Canada should hold Burmese government officials, the military and vigilante groups accountable for committing “crimes against humanity” against the Rohingya, while arguing against sanctions against the long isolated Southeast Asian country.
“Ending the genocide against the Rohingya is a global imperative, and urgently requires robust, concrete leadership from Canada,” wrote Karman and Ebadi.