Myanmar’s State-Sponsored Genocide Against the Rohingya: Whose Responsibility to Protect?
By Rafi Zaw Win, The Rohingya Post
August 25, 2020, marked three years since Myanmar’s military (also known as the Tatmadaw) launched a genocide against the Rohingya civilians in the northern region of Rakhine State. Violent clashes erupted in the townships of Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw, leaving over 80 percent of the Rohingya villages razed to the ground, and forcing an estimated 740,000 Rohingya to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh. More than 120,000 Rohingya were also forced into internment camps within Rakhine State, and subjected to extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, forced-detention, and enforced-disappearances in the previous outbreaks of violence unfolded in June 2012. Ravagers continued to siege and burn down entire villages, crops and livestock. Automatic weapons, mortars, bombers, helicopter gunships and landmines were used to exterminate the innocent Rohingya civilians. Since a number of mass graves have been identified, and more are yet to be found.
According to Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience – report by Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA), since 25 August 2017 at least 24,000 Rohingya have been killed by Myanmar’s security forces. The U.N. investigators concluded that the military operations in Rakhine state had been executed with genocide intent. A recent U.N. report concluded that the Rohingya ‘remain at serious risk of genocide’ in Rakhine state.
The Rohingya are an indigenous ethnic minority group and original settlers in the Rakhine State, formerly known as the Kingdom of Arakan – an oldest coastal country in Southeast Asia. The Rohingya identity dates back to the 7th century AD, and derives from the Rownga, one of peoples of Rohang of Arakan, are deeply rooted in the region and have managed to protect their identity throughout centuries despite a number of massacres, wars, genocides, political, historical and geographical changes.
According to an article in the Burma Empire published in 1799 by the British surgeon to Embassy of Ava, Dr. Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, who visited Myanmar decades before the British occupied the territory, ‘the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan call themselves Rooinga (Rohingya), or natives of Arakan’. The Classical Journal of 1811 identified ‘Rooinga’ as one of the languages spoken in the Burmah Empire. In 1815, Johann SeverinVater listed ‘Ruinga’ (Rohingya) as an ethnic group with a distinct language in a compendium of languages published in German. According to Dr. Ganganath Jha of Jawaharlal Nehru University of India, the term Rohingya is derived from Rohang, the ancient name of Arakan.
Arakan was never a part of Myanmar. In 1784, Burmese forces of King Bodawpaya invaded Kingdom of Arakan and incorporated it into his kingdom, massacred tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, Hindus and Rakhine Buddhists, enslaved 24,000 more, and deported thousands of Rohingya and Rakhine men to central Myanmar. This caused approximately 70,000 Rohingya and Rakhine to flee into Chittagong region of British Bengal (today’s Bangladesh); most of them eventually settled there permanently.
The British annexed the Rakhine state in 1824, and ruled it until 1948. Following independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, Myanmar’s 1948-1962 parliamentary government officially recognized the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic minority group and citizens of Myanmar. They were issued citizenship cards, which awarded them the full enjoyment of their rights as citizens, until 1982. Myanmar’s national radio broadcast in the Rohingya language three times a week on Burma Broadcasting Services (BBS) between 1961 and1965, along with the languages of other officially recognized indigenous groups.
Recognition of the Rohingya Genocide
Myanmar’s crimes against the Rohingya are officially recognized as genocide by the governments of Canada, the Netherlands and the Gambia. On 13 December 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring the crimes committed by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya as genocide.
On 11 November 2019, the government of Gambia filed a case at the United Nations’ top court – the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – accusing Myanmar of genocide against its ethnic minority – the Rohingya. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de-facto head of state, appeared as Agent of Myanmar’s government at the ICJ in the Rohingya genocide case on 10, 11 and 12 December 2019.
On 23 January 2020, in a landmark case, the ICJ unanimously ordered Myanmar to take all measures within its power to prevent all acts of genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar, to stop destroying evidence of possible genocide, and to report back to the ICJ on the compliance with these measures.
On 16 July 2020, my organization, Rohingya Human Rights Monitoring Network joined 57 other organizations in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, urging him to issue a statement that Myanmar has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.
The Duty to Protect the Rohingya from Genocide
States parties to the U.N. Genocide Convention have a legal duty to prevent, punish and prosecute genocide, and recognize Myanmar’s military as the perpetrator of the Rohingya genocide, refer Myanmar’s top military generals implicated in the Rohingya genocide to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution, and offer support to the Gambia in litigating the ongoing genocide charges against Myanmar’s government and the military at the ICJ to halt genocide facing the Rohingya in Rakhine state.
Myanmar’s state-sponsored genocide against the Rohingya continues in the Rakhine state. Three years since the genocide, sadly nothing has been done to protect the remaining 600,000 Rohingya, including those Rohingya forcibly displaced by Myanmar’s military in 2012, 2016 and 2017, forced into ghettos and internment camps across Rakhine state, where they have been subjected to genocide, including forced curfews, systematic persecution, dehumanization and arbitrarily stripped of all their human rights in which they have legitimately nothing to protect themselves.
Since the ICJ has ordered Myanmar to stop all acts of genocide against the Rohingya, dozens of Rohingya have been killed, mostly women and children. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government has done nothing to protect the Rohingya in the pursuit of accountability or to prosecute and investigate the genocide. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD government have continued to dismiss, deny and defend the military’s crimes against the Rohingya, thereby hindering return of internally displaced Rohingyas to their areas of origin, and resisting voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.
One of the biggest challenges facing the Rohingya refugees in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh is the question of dignified repatriation with full restoration of their civil, political and citizenship rights. However, they are fearful of returning, citing the ongoing genocidal persecution against their countrymen and no indication of restoration of their citizenship rights.
Myanmar’s military has made no secret of its deliberate intent to annihilate the whole population of the Rohingya through killings, dehumanization, enslavement, torture, ghettoization, forced detention, forced displacement, forcible transfer into internment camps, forcible expulsions or enforced disappearances within their ancestral homeland in the Rakhine state.
On 11 July 2012, General Thein Sein, Chairman of Myanmar’s military-led USDP party, then Myanmar’s President personally implicated in the Rohingya genocide, told Mr. Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, then Head of UNHCR, in a meeting in Naypyidaw that the Rohingya should be placed in U.N. sponsored refugee camps or sent abroad.
On 1 September 2017, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Chief of Myanmar’s military personally implicated in the Rohingya genocide said that the military operations against the Rohingya were unfinished business dating back to World War 2, referring to the Japanese imperial army-sponsored systematic decimation of the Rohingya during the British-Japanese War in Rakhine in 1942.
The ongoing state-sponsored genocide against the Rohingya requires deployment of the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rakhine state. It is time for the U.N., States parties to the U.N. Genocide Convention and permanent members of Security Council to send in peacekeeping forces under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to protect the Rohingya, and bring in peace, human rights, justice and democracy. The U.N. and international community have deployed peacekeeping forces to such places like Western Sahara, C.A.R, Mali, Haiti, D.R.C, Darfur, Cyprus, Lebanon, Timor-Leste, Abyei, Kosovo, Liberia, South Sudan, Middle East and many other places.
The Rohingya need and deserve international solidarity support, not only in word, but in lawful preventable military actions to protect and defend the 600,000 Rohingya in Rakhine state from the ongoing genocide. Myanmar’s military has not only been committing unspeakable atrocities against the Rohingya since February 1978, but it has been clearly articulating its intent to destroy the entire Rohingya population.
As a party to the U.N. Genocide Convention, Myanmar must comply with the ICJ court order and restore peaceful environment for the Rohingya IDPs across the Rakhine state. They must be allowed to rebuild their homes without the fear of attack. The Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh must be assured conditions conducive to the dignified repatriation, with full guarantee of restoration of their citizenship rights, including their civil, political and basic human rights. All Rohingya, Kaman and Rakhine prisoners must be released. Myanmar must also initiate a credible peace building process for restoring economic, political and human rights for all communities in Rakhine state.
The sooner the U.N., State parties to the U.N. Genocide Convention and international community create a safe zone and deploy peacekeepers to protect the Rohingya as a people, the better.
Rafi Zaw Win is the Founder and Head of the Rohingya Human Rights Monitoring Network (RHRMN). RHRMN was established in June 2012 to protect and promote the rights of the Rohingya. Over the last years, Rafi Zaw Win has been working tirelessly to draw attention to the ongoing plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar and the region. Between 2013 and 2014, Rafi Zaw Win has helped more than one hundred Rohingya vulnerable refugee babies, women, men and minors to get released from the prolonged Immigration Detention Centers in Gowa, Makassar and Pontianak, Tanjung Pinang, both in Indonesia, into IOM-run community housing centers to continue their freedom. This was achieved with the support of his human rights networks, including refugee rights advocates who have links with the Indonesian human rights organizations, civil society and UNHCR. He has been a member of the Bangkok-based Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network since 2012.
Follow him on Twitter: @Rafi_ZawWin
In 1990, Myanmar’s military government changed the name Arakan State to Rakhine State.