Burma’s Rohingya: A Slow Genocide

September 14, 2017

Photo by European Commission DG ECHO (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Photo by European Commission DG ECHO (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Genocides are neither sudden nor unavoidable phenomena. Minority groups that were once accepted members of society do not become targets for extermination overnight. Instead, a series of ever-harshening policies that aim to deprive rights and implicitly condone violence are enacted against a minority group. Rohingya Muslims were once Members of Parliament. They were recognized as an ethnic group. Now, they are completely disenfranchised. They are denied citizenship. They cannot access health care. And since the first wave of violence in 2012, they have been confined to refugee camps, ghettos, and villages from which they cannot move.

Without international attention, forceful condemnations, or strong sanctions, a genocide becomes tolerable by the international community. Today, we see this process playing out in Burma, as the Rohingya people face severe instances of state-sanctioned persecution. Former Burmese president Thein Sein and current de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi deny the problems they face, refuse to address massacres committed against the Rohingya, and reject all attempts at cooperating with the international community in investigating these atrocities and aiding these refugees.

The UN is now calling the Burma crisis “ethnic cleansing” that is on the brink of genocide. In fact, there is growing evidence that suggests government forces have been assisting in the extermination of Rohingya Muslims by participating in raids against their communities.

A Major Religious Freedom Crisis

As American Muslims, we support the strongest possible protections for religious liberties here in the United States and vigorously defend the rights of religious minorities abroad, including in Muslim-majority countries. That is why we urge President Trump and Secretary Tillerson to demonstrate American leadership by calling for an immediate humanitarian relief on behalf of the Rohingya people in Burma.

Because of their religion and ethnicity, the Rohingyas are singled out as different and perceived as a threat. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded that, "the deprivation of [Rohingya Muslims’] rights—by both government and societal actors—is one of the most profound human rights tragedies of the 21st Century." For example, the Burmese government enacted a series of laws that discriminate against and restrict the religious freedom of Muslims. More than 370,000 Rohingya people have fled to Bangladesh. By turning away thousands of fleeing Rohingyas arriving by boat, Bangladesh is failing to respect the Islamic values of hospitality, welcoming the stranger, and aiding those in dire need.

Burma Cannot Hide Its Human Rights Violations

Among the forms of human rights abuses committed by the Burmese government are: 1) denying them citizenship, 2) not recognizing Rohingya Muslims as an official minority, 3) dictating a two-child policy for them, and 4) state police indiscriminately raiding and killing Rohingya people in their villages. Amnesty International reported that Burma's military has planted landmines in the path of Rohingyas fleeing from violence.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, this crisis is underreported due to the complicity of the Burmese government with Buddhist aggressors which ultimately does not allow human rights groups to verify the number of those killed and quantify the tragedy in numbers. With de facto leader Suu Kyi denying the atrocities, the struggle of the Rohingya Muslims continues unabated. The Burmese military has blocked both the media and international humanitarian organizations from entering the region.

We Must Call on Burma to End the Violence

President Trump, Secretary of State Tillerson, U.S. Ambassador to Burma Marciel, and UN Ambassador Haley must immediately act to influence Burma’s government and save civilian lives. In a strong message to the Burmese government, Senator John McCain announced that he will strip language from a bill authorizing defense spending that would have expanded U.S. military cooperation with Burma. Friend, they need to hear from you. Write a letter to your member of Congress to take immediate steps to protect the lives of the Rohingya people. We call on Burma’s de facto leader Suu Kyi to:

Stop the military’s firing on and forced displacement of the Rohingya people.
Allow media, relief agencies, and human rights organizations immediate access to the region.
Pressure Bangladesh to allow Rohingya Muslims full access to humanitarian agencies on their own soil.
Support the UN investigation into mass rape, killing, and other abuses and permit the UN investigation team to enter the region.

The United States government must act clearly and immediately do all it can to protect the Rohingyas from this horrific assault. We cannot allow any ethnic or religious minority to be attacked simply because of who they are and what they believe.



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