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Dr. Maung Zarni holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and MA from the University of California at Davis USA and Alice Cowley is a Consultant Researcher, Equal Rights Trust (ERT), London.

Since 1978, the Rohingya, a Muslim minority of Western Burma, have been subject to a state-sponsored process of destruction. The Rohingya have deep historical roots in the borderlands of Rakhine State, Myanmar, and were recognized officially both as citizens and as an ethnic group by three successive governments of post-independence Burma. In 1978, General Ne Win’s socialist military dictatorship launched the first large-scale campaign against the Rohingya in Rakhine State with the intent first of expelling them en masse from Western Burma and subsequently legalizing the systematic erasure of Rohingya group identity and legitimizing their physical destruction. This on-going process has continued to the present day under the civilian-military rule of President Thein Sein’s government. Since 2012, the Rohingya have been subject to renewed waves of hate campaigns and accompanying violence, killings and ostracization that aim both to destroy the Rohingya and to permanently remove them from their ancestral homes in Rakhine State.

Findings from the authors’ three-year research on the plight of the Rohingya lead us to conclude that Rohingya have been subject to a process of slow-burning genocide over the past thirty-five years. The destruction of the Rohingya is carried out both by civilian populations backed by the state and perpetrated directly by state actors and state institutions. Both the State in Burma and the local community have committed four out of five acts of genocide as spelled out by the 1948 Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide. Despite growing evidence of genocide, the international community has so far avoided calling this large-scale human suffering genocide because no powerful member states of the UN Security Council have any appetite to forego their commercial and strategic interests in Burma to address the slow-burning Rohingya genocide.

“What can we do, Brother, they (the Rohingya) are too many? We can’t kill them all.” Ex-Brigadier General, formerly stationed in Arakan or Rakhine State, and Ambassador to Brunei, Fall, 2012. “How can it be ethnic cleansing? They are not an ethnic group.” Mr. Win Myaing, the official spokesperson of the Rakhine State Government, May 15, 2013. “We do not have the term ‘Rohingya.’” Myanmar President Thein Sein, Chatham House, London, July 17, 2013. “There are elements of genocide in Rakhine with respect to Rohingya . . . . The possibility of a genocide needs to be discussed. I myself do not use the term genocide for strategic reasons.” Tomás Ojéa Quintana, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, London Conference on Decades of State-Sponsored Destruction of Myanmar’s Rohingya, April 28, 2014. Over the past thirty-five years, the State in Myanmar has intentionally formulated, pursued, and executed national and state-level plans aimed at destroying the Rohingya people in Western Myanmar. The evidence of the intent to destroy the Rohingya people over the past thirty-five years through assaults on their identity, killings during multiple pogroms, physical and mental harm, deliberate infliction of conditions of life designed to bring about the group’s destruction, and measures to prevent births, lead the authors to conclude that Myanmar’s Rohingya are the victims of genocide carried out jointly by the central political state and anti-Muslim ultra-nationalists among the Buddhist Rakhine peoples.

Rohingya is an ethno-religious term meaning Muslim people whose ancestral home is Arakan or Rakhine in Myanmar. To date, the total number of Rohingya in Rakhine State are estimated at over one million, the majority of whom live in three townships of North Rakhine State, and the vast majority of whom are stateless. Since the violence of 2012, over 140,000 people remain displaced in seventy-six camps and camp-like settings across Rakhine State, the bulk of which are Rohingya and other Muslim minorities from Rakhine State. Roughly 36,000 Rohingya and other Muslims in communities across Rakhine State are considered by the United Nations (“UN”) to be acutely vulnerable and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

Genocide is defined by Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: [A]ny of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The authors frame the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, within the first four acts of this definition, with a focus on the intention of both the State and the non-state actors in society to bring about the destruction of the Rohingya as an ethno-religious group. This article characterizes the human rights abuses against the Rohingya as a slow-burning genocide—that is, one that has taken place over the past thirty-five years and continues today via similar processes and instruments of terror and destruction. The State has adopted policies and plans designed to cause harm and destruction to the Rohingya in Western Myanmar since the first large scale campaign to illegalize and terrorize the Rohingya in February 1978. Mass killings in the context of

Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Rwanda have taken place within short time frames. However, in the case of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the centrally planned large-scale death and destruction of the Rohingya people has been achieved over a long-term time frame of several decades.


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