Silence on a Genocide

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The deadly attacks on Myanmar's Rohingya, the world’s most persecuted minority, is believed to be deeply rooted in certain Western countries’ muted response to the atrocities.

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Narration: Described as the world’s most persecuted minority, the plight of more than one million Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar has gone unnoticed for decades.

The final months of 2016 witnessed under-reported devastation of the isolated minority group. Back in December 2016, this gruesome footage went viral.

The appalling footage depicted Myanmar’s police officers beating, slapping and kicking Rohingya villagers.

Myanmar’s volatile Rakhine state, home to almost all of Myanmar’s stateless Rohingya Muslims, has been scene of a fresh round of violence against the minority group.

The latest round of attacks broke out shortly after the killing of 9 border guards in an attack by unidentified gunmen back in October.

The deadly incident sparked a heavy handed crackdown on Rohingya Muslims who have already been the target of decades of systematic discrimination and persecution.

According to the Human Rights Watch, a fresh wave of destruction has already started in Rohingya villages.

New satellite imagery published by the Human Rights Watch indicated that some 1250 buildings including several mosques have been razed in Rohingya villages in Rakhine state between November 10-18.

The United Nations says at least 65,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh during the past several months.

This is in addition to thousands already killed and up to 500,000 Rohingya previously displaced in earlier waves of violence.

But what is the root cause of the crackdown on Rohingyas?

This can be traced back to Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law.

A decree issued by the ruling Junta which recognizes 135 ethnic groups within Myanmar’s borders.

Notably, the law excluded Rohingyas from the list of Myanmar’s ethnic groups. Despite living in Myanmar for generations, Rohingyas have been deprived of their basic rights including citizenship, free movement, and access to education, healthcare, land ownership and job opportunities. They have even been described as the people who must not be named.

Myanmar’s so-called democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi has already called on foreign diplomats not to use the term Rohingya to describe the Muslim population that has been living in Myanmar for generation.

SOUNDBITE [English] Arzu Merali, Head of Research, Islamic Human Rights Commission: “Ultimately, Aung Sang Suu Kyi has been deeply embedded in this xenophobia. I first met Rohingya activists in around 1996, over 20 years ago and at that time, they told me that they have been meetings with Aung Sang Suu Kyi once she was under house arrest, being lauded and celebrated as a great democrat struggling against the radical regime. That was at least the impression we had in the west. And they had asked to specifically include the plight of the Rohingya who were already deeply persecuted at the time, as part of her agenda for reform. And she turned around at that time, according to them and said she doesn’t recognize the Rohingya. And her position hasn’t changed. She is very much embedded in her rhetoric of anti-Rohingya. This also has implications for other Muslim minorities that reach more than 30 in Myanmar as well as other ethnicities and religious minorities. She is really wedded now because of her actions to strange ideas of Burmese nationalism.”

Narration: The Nobel Peace laureate has come under increasing fire over her muted response to the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

There have been growing calls for stripping the Western-backed figure of the Nobel Prize given her silence on the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims

The extent of violence against Rohingya Muslims has led to the speculations that a systematic ethnic cleaning of the minority group tops the agenda of Myanmar’s government.

The recent spike in violence is seen as part of a renewed campaign to force the Muslim minority group flee from Myanmar.

Back in November, John McKissick, a representative of the U.N. refugee agency announced that Myanmar’s security forces have been “killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women and burning houses of Rohingyas.”

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Narration: Meanwhile, Amnesty International has accused Myanmar’s authorities of inflicting collective punishment on the Rohingya.

The London-based human rights group says it has obtained first-hand accounts of security forces “firing at villagers from helicopter gunships, torching hundreds of homes, carrying out arbitrary arrests, and raping women and girls.”

The United Nations has called for an independent investigation into allegations of abuse against Rohingyas.

In August 2016, an international commission was formed to solve the Rohingya crisis. Headed by former UN secretary General Kofi Anan, the nine-member commission has been tasked with investigating the recent wave of violence against Rohingya Muslims.

But no effective action is expected unless the Western countries including the US, which have brokered close financial ties with Myanmar’s government in recent years, pile up pressure on Myanmar to stop crimes against Rohingyas.

SOUNDBITE [English] Arzu Merali, Head of Research, Islamic Human Rights Commission: “There is an aspect of the trade agreements that countries like the US, UK, etc, had with Myanmar that causes their silence. But I think there is a much more significant underlying factor with regards to both the geopolitics but also an ideological level. Ultimately, Myanmar is placed within the ASEAN region. It is a key player there. If there is a fight in that space between the US and the Western bloc and China, to be closing up to Myanmar, for America and Western government, unfortunately, [it] makes sense.”

Narration: Some analysts believe thanks to its rich mineral resource, Myanmar’s dismal rights record has gone unnoticed.

Myanmar is estimated to produce some 90% of the world’s ruby supply. Here is Mogok, a region in central Myanmar, home to nearly 1000 ruby mines. Some of the world’s rarest and most luxurious rubies have been unearthed in the green valley. The valley of rubies has already lured Western companies which are after discovering the charming gems.

In October 2016, the US lifted sanctions barring imports of the rubies despite the flagrant rights violations in the Asian country. Myanmar opened in 2012 to foreign investment along with a transitional government.

According to the US State Department American companies, such as Caterpillar and Coca-Cola, committed investments of $612 million for Myanmar from 2012 to 2014.

Other Western investors eye Myanmar’s untapped natural resources as well as its lucrative market. Foreign direct investment in Myanmar during the fiscal year that ended in March 2016 totaled $9.4 billion. Foreign companies invested in some 217 projects Myanmar also received $8 billion in foreign investment in the fiscal year of 2015, compared with $4.1 billion in the previous year. Oil and gas sector attracted the bulk of the foreign investments.

SOUNDBITE [English] Riaz Karim, Co-founder, Mona Relief Charity: “When it suits the US, they will withhold criticism in order to further their agenda and in this case, some are making money. Because, you know, they have investments there, and Myanmar is a rich country in terms of natural resources, hydrocarbons, and everything else. So, you know, it is a game, sort of in line with policies that goes with the Middle East.”

Narration: The persecution of Rohingya Muslims which has already sparked international outcry, has so far failed to deter lofty foreign investments in Myanmar.

Some observers believe the Western countries close financial ties with Myanmar are behind the silence of the international community on the massacre of Rohingyas in Myanmar The fate of over one million Rohingya Muslims is still shrouded in uncertainty.

There is no end in sight to the plight of the most persecuted minority group in the world as long as there remains little political will among the supporters of the ruling regime in Myanmar to avert the bloodshed in Rakhine state.

Many still wonder why certain foreign countries including the United States which are infamous for imposing sanctions against other nations under the pretext of human rights violations have kept silent in this regard.

It seems to be the case that economic interests which come at the cost of the persecution of defenseless Rohingyas are much more important than settling the crisis in Myanmar.


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