The Rohingya Crisis: What it is and How We Stop it

June 11, 2015

Photo credit: EU/ECHO/Pierre Prakash
Photo credit: EU/ECHO/Pierre Prakash

Genocides are neither sudden nor unavoidable phenomenon. Minority groups, that were once accepted members of society, do not become targets for extermination overnight. Instead, they often begin with a series of ever-harshening policies that aim to deprive rights and implicitly condone violence against a group of people. Eventually, that group loses its claim to citizenship and becomes an unprotected minority targeted for extermination.

Without international attention, forceful condemnations, or strong sanctions, a genocide becomes enabled by the international community.

Today, we see this process playing out in Burma, as the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, face increasing state-sanctioned persecution. Despite the fact that the Rohingya population is over 800,000 strong, Burmese president Thein Sein denies the existence of the problems they face, refuses to address massacres committed against the Rohingya, and rejects all attempts at international cooperation with other state and non-state actors in investigating these atrocities and aiding Rohingya refugees.

In fact, there is growing evidence that suggests government forces have been assisting in the extermination of the Rohingya by participating in raids against their communities. More than 8,000 Rohingya who have fled by boat, and many have perished at sea. Even if they manage to survive, they are often turned away by other states, thrown into human trafficking markets, killed in other states and placed into mass graves.

SEE: The Rohingya: Adrift on a Sea of Sorrows

Despite all of these atrocities, there has been little attention given to the Rohingya. Besides H.R. 418, which criticized the Burmese government, there have been scant efforts by our government (or any government, for that matter) to either punish the Burmese government for its behavior or to incentivize and assist neighboring states to accept more refugees and improve the conditions in which the Rohingya are living in. For its part, the State Department last month committed to providing aid to neighboring countries to assist Rohingya refugees stranded at sea and has resettled more than 1,000 Rohingya in the U.S. since October 2014.

Other recent atrocities, such as the persecution of the Yazidis in Iraq, drew immediate international condemnation and unified action by international actors under the banner of religious freedom. Yet, the moment that an even greater amount of violence is committed in a less “vital” part of the world against a Muslim minority, whom few have heard of or care about, the banner is dropped and the discrimination accepted. International sanctions, which should have been tightened in response, have been curtailed, countries neighboring Burma have began rescinding asylum rights, and most major media sources have focused on other news stories.

Are willing to sit by and be complicit in the wake of another potential genocide? We have the ability to stop this chain of events from escalating into a mindless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

This crisis has been escalating for the past three years without any regard from the international community. It’s time we change that before it’s too late.

Contact your members of Congress to demand that greater pressure be applied to the Burmese government to end their systematic persecution against the Rohingya.

Visit the Burma Taskforce USA website to educate yourself, spread awareness and advocate for the Rohingya people.



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