Please skip to the bottom to watch Al Jazeera’s documentary: “The Hidden Genocide” [50 min]. It provides the clearest outline of the tragic conflict that continues to reap destruction and death upon Burma’s Muslim Rohingya population. It really is a must watch.
Around this time last year the Burma advocacy organization I worked for met with a UN official from the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (UNOSAPG) to discuss whether there was a risk of ethnic violence/discrimination that had the potential to amount to genocide. Despite our fairly radical position on the tragic state of human rights in Burma, and the specific concern of the 800,000 – 1,000,000 Muslim Rohingya living in the country’s Western Arakan State, “genocide” seemed to be an inappropriate term. At the time, discrimination against the Rohingya was institutionalized. Rohingya were denied citizenship, rights to free movement, marriage, and access to education – still, violence, at least on the part of the state, was not part of the equation.
Early this summer the balance changed when violence broke out in Arakan State. Though both sides played a role, the Rohingya bore the brunt of the death, destruction, and mass displacement. The government’s border guard / police forces (Nasaka) played an active part, targeting Rohingya instead of stemming the violence.
Still, to outside observers the extent of the crisis was unclear. Estimates of the number of dead ranged from the government’s (78) into the hundreds.
The extent of displacement, while unquestionably high, was also not clear – as aid organizations and the UN were denied access (by both Burma and bordering Bangladesh)
Slowly information on the extent of the tragedy trickled into the press, which was denied access to the affected areas.
In October, AFP reported on the sinking of a boat carrying Rohingya refugees, fleeing the violence, to Malaysia – leaving approximately 130 dead.
In Mid-November, Human Rights Watch released satellite photos showing the complete destruction of Rohingya neighborhoods in Mrauk-U, Arakan State.
Just this week, the UN declared that approximately 115,000 Rohingya have been displaced as a result of the conflict, and in desperate need of aid.
Concurrently, the Burmese government has bathed in praise from the international community, culminating in the nation’s first hosting of an American president.
Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and the figurehead of the Burmese democracy movement world-wide – turned local politician, has been tight-lipped at best concerning the Rohingya issue. Optimists attribute her silence to necessary political calculus. One can hope that is true, and still, as myself, feel wretching disgust at the country’s most popular figure cow-tailing to popular, and state-sponsored discrimination against one of the world’s most oppressed people.
The facts of the conflict are hopelessly unclear, but the following documentary sheds greater light on them than any previous reporting. It is clear that what has unfolded since this past May amounts to mass destruction, displacement, death, and discrimination against the Burmese Rohingya, whether there are mechanisms in place to stop the conflict from progressing into “genocide” remain far less clear. Now would be a good time for the countries throwing aid dollars at and removing sanctions from Burma to consider the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
“If only I had been older I would have killed thse Rakhine” – Young Rohingya Girl