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Stop the Genocide in Burma – Rohingyas, the Victims of Sustained Genocidal Persecution for Nearly 40 Years
By Dr. Maung Zarni and Alvin Powell – Harvard Staff Writer & others
This month marks the three-year anniversary of the mass genocidal expulsion of the Rohingya people from their homeland. However, this atrocity is not one of the past. The Burmese military has a monopoly on political power, and it operates as a fascist organization—their grand strategy is to transform all ethnic minorities into Burman under the banner of union.
To this day, Burmese authorities continue to destroy Rohingya villages to make room for military bases, security posts, and massive IDP camps. Discriminatory policies in Burma have not changed since the mass expulsion. Lacking the restoration of their citizenship, Rohingya continue to face severe movement restrictions, as well as little access to education, healthcare, and employment. Moreover, increased fighting between the Arakan and Burmese armies has further put Rohingya at risk.
Access to journalists and humanitarian agencies has long been severely restricted, and an internet shutdown has been in place in parts of Rakhine and Chin states since June 2019. While the COVID 19 contagion steadily increases, this mass displacement increases the risk of hunger and mass fatalities. Moreover, the rainy season has begun.
We cannot trust government claims that a “pathway to citizenship” will restore Rohingya rights; hierarchical systems of ID cards have been designed to divide and control the population, not integrate it as part of a pluralistic society. We cannot trust an organization whose grand strategy is genocide. The Rohingya have suffered greatly, as other ethnic groups in Burma have before them. We call on the world to commit to constructive solutions, not merely repatriation theater driven by political considerations.
Grave atrocities Rohingya people are facing in Myanmar, also known as Burma, is alarming. The Rohingya people numbering 1.3 million is a Muslim minority living in the Arakan state in western Myanmar. Although they are living in the country for generations, they are denied citizenship and basic necessities including basic healthcare, work and schooling. They are primary targets of hate crimes and discrimination amounting to genocide fueled by extremist nationalist Buddhist monks and Thein Sein government. Yet there are notable figures within the country who embrace Rohingya struggle and dares to speak about the condition of Rohingya. Buddhist scholar Dr Maung Zarni, member of the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka and a co-author of The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya (2014) is an outspoken critic of racist nationalism and violence in his native country. As a prominent dissident of semi-military regime of Thein Sein, he has fled from Myanmar due to safety concerns and resides in London. We conducted an interview via email with Dr Zarni offering invaluable insights into the complex sociopolitical situation in Myanmar today.
Both Rohingyas and Rakhines are victims of Burmese oppression. The Rohingyas fare worst as they suffer from double-oppression: the legalized persecution by the Burmese central government since early 1978, and direct and state-organized terror campaigns to drive them out of Burma -on grounds that they pose a “threat to national security” because of their historical and anthropological link with former East Bengal (East Pakistan until 1973 and Bangladesh since Bangladesh’s independence in 1973)- and the racist and majority Buddhist Rakhine who treat them like dirt.
The Rakhines are a colonized people by the Buddhist Burmese since 1785 when their kingdom was decimated by the invading Burmese. The Rakhines outnumber Rohingya by 3/1. Rakhines man local administrative and authority structure, in addition. So, when Rakhines say they are threatened by the Rohingyas, it is really a case of Rakhines scapegoating the Rohingyas for the real oppression, colonial control and economic exploitation by the Burmese and the Burmese military. Because the Burmese military is way too powerful for the Rakhines to rise up against the Rakhine take their rage and grievances out on the most vulnerable but widely disliked Rohingyas in their midst.
The Rohingya population was denied to self-identify in the 2014 nationwide census. What consequences do you foresee?
Not only are they denied the right to self-identity -which is international legal/human rights norm- they are being forced to assume an identity as “Bengali” by their oppressor: both the Burmese regime and the Rakhine and other Buddhists, especially the majority Burmese. The consequences are of genocidal proportions: destruction of the entire ethnic community, both starting and ending with the identity erase.
Myanmar is to hold general elections in 2015.
Regardless of what happened in the elections, whoever wins, there is generally speaking no political class or circle among the pro-democracy, pro-human rights opposition movement or the ruling military regime. They all share common genocidal strain of racism against the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi is no better in this regard, except she is likely to respond more positively to the international pressure than the regime has been.
The military will find ways to control politics and economy -in spite of the elections- as long as the Constitution is not changed significantly, especially the 3 clauses: 1) which legalizes any future coup by the commander in chief; 2) bars any type of judicial persecution against the military oppressors and 3) guarantee 25% of the parliamentary seats.
Burmese intelligence and the entire government of Thein Sein (and before him the now aging despot General Than Shwe) knew all this. But the problem is the military regime agrees with Wirathu’s ideas. Myanmar generals have systematically “cleansed” the armed forces in Burma of all Muslim officers over the past 53 years -as a matter of unstated anti-Muslim policies. In fact, only Buddhists are promoted. Now the military has stopped recruiting any Muslims for any rank, however low in the armed forces.