Mass Atrocities against Rohingya: Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide


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Mass Atrocities against Rohingya: Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide
By  Prethee Majbahin  –  Department of Criminology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

 The horrific mass atrocities against Myanmar’s Muslim-minority Rohingyas has stunned the whole world. The Burmese Government has carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing and committed atrocities including mass killings, arson, extortion, harassment, torture, rape and other forms of sexual abuse. The people of Rakhine state have been subjected to denial of identity and rights. They have been rootless and victims of calculated cruelty. Decades of dehumanization and state-sponsored systematic segregation resulted in more than half a million Rohingya to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh. The world has encountered one of the vicious examples of human rights violation and refugee exodus. This paper aims to reflect on the massive acts of violence and atrocities against the Rohingya population. Besides, this study will briefly discuss the reasons, why these actions should be considered not only as ethnic cleansing but also genocide. A ten-stage model of the processes that lead to genocide will be used to examine the atrocities against Rohingya by Myanmar which will help to understand the early warning signs of genocide. Though the international community has emphasized on the word ’’ethnic cleansing’’ to describe the crimes against Rohingya, we should by now be able to recognize the unannounced and accelerating pulse of genocide.

Myanmar has ethnic diversity. This country is the home to 135 officially recognized races and a few more unrecognized ethnic and religious minority groups like the Rohingya. Burmans, who make up 68% of the population, is the majority ethnic group. Other ethnic groups are Rakhine, Kachin, Chin, Shan and so on. In 1885, Burma was colonized by the British and gained independence in 1948. The colonial era created discrimination and divisions between Burmans and other ethnic groups. The mistrust between government and ethnic groups has been in effect since colonial times. So, the effects of colonialism are still there in Myanmar. Fear of foreign control over the country is deeply implanted into their consciousness. The Government fears that the ethnic groups will create violence by destabilizing the Union of Myanmar. And so, the government considers these ethnic groups as a military problem and military begin ruling ethnic groups by force. It was claimed that the government uses tension with the Rohingya to justify its control over the country. The military argues that if it removes itself from politics, violence and instability will emerge among the Rohingya and other ethnic groups. And so, the government has an inducement to fuel atrocities. conflicts with several ethnic groups ( Karen, Kachin, and Shan) and then with the Rohingya to keep up the parody of  mass atrocities.

ROOTS OF ROHINGYA CRISIS — A widely cited study from 1799 described that the ‘Rohingya’ is a term used by the Muslims of Burman Empire which signifies ‘natives of Arakan’. Although Rohingyas claim that they are a distinct ethnic and cultural community who had their roots in Rakhine state before 1823, the use of the term ‘Rohingya’ is highly disputed in Myanmar as majority of Myanmar’s population refers them as illegal Bengali migrants because Bangladesh and Rakhaine state contain populations who have similar culture and also crossed the border several times in Burma’s pre-colonial era.

An estimated one million Rohingya live in Rakhine, formerly known as Arakan. Rakhine state is located between South Asia and Southeast Asia which makes it a ‘frontier culture’ of the Muslim and Buddhist communities. According to an 1826 report, about 30 percent of the population of the Rakhine region was Muslim. The Rohingyas are the descendants of Arab Muslim traders who came to settle in Rakhine state as early as the seven century. Despite sharing the same territory, Rohingya and the Buddhist Rakhine people differ from each other in culture, language, and heritage. There were several religious conflicts between the Muslims and the Buddhist communities from the year of 1826 to 1948.  A coup was led by General Ne Win, which instigates an oppressive military rule over the Rohingya.  The autonomy of the Rakhine state was abolished in that time. Since 1962, Burma’s all actions against Rohingya ensured the systematical deprivation of their political rights and the history of this discrimination is marked by a couple of destructive massacres and 1982 citizenship act. The first atrocity against Rohingya occurred in 1978 in the regime of military government General Ne Win. Estimated more than two hundred thousand Rohingyas were forced to flee to Bangladesh and ten thousand Rohingyas were killed when the Burmese military launched an

operation named ‘Dragon King’. Following international outcry at the brutality of the Burmese military, many Rohingya villagers could return to their territory. Then in 1982, Burma passed the Citizenship Law with an intention to establish a legal basis for the exclusion of the Rohingya population. The citizenship law states that only those 135 national groups who lived in Burma before 1823 were granted citizenship. Though Rohingyas had their root in Rakhine state far before that time, they didn’t have any document to prove their residency before 1823 as the first-ever printing press arrived in British Burma in 1870’s. Also, the idea of documenting one’s residency was unprecedented.  The second exodus of Rohingya people took place in 1991. Approximately 2,60,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh as wide-spread aggression against Rohingya and forced labor demands made their life miserable.  Following the large expulsion of Rohingya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriated around 200,000 of the refugees to Burma from 1992 – 1999.

The plight of the Rohingya from 1962 to 1999 set horrific examples for their treatment in the 2000s to the present days. The acts against Rohingya from 2000 to the present day show a pattern of human rights violation. The 2012 ethnic riots at the time of the quasi-civilian government represent an expansion of atrocities followed by long-standing ethnic cleansing policies to those of genocide. More than 240 Rohingya, including children and women, were killed in the massacres that year. 225,000 people ran away from Myanmar to Bangladesh. According to Refugees International, from October 2012 to July 2013 immediately following the sectarian violence, an estimated 785 Rohingya drowned at sea in an attempt to reach safety in Myanmar’s neighboring states, compared to 140 in 2011. More recently, in August 2017, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked Myanmar’s police posts and they killed around 30 police officials. This attack had turned the one- sided aggression against a particular ethnic group into a two-sided civil war. Such attribution of evil intent to the victims is called ‘mirroring’ by genocide scholars.  United Nations sources indicate that more than 5,82,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since then.


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