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Waves of Genocidal Terror against Rohingyas by Myanmar and the Resultant Exodus Since 1978
Written by Dr. Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham > November 14, 2017 — Burma’s Ethnic Cleansing in the Social Media
In the age of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, netizens around the world view on their mobile phones and tablets the deeply disturbing images of Rohingyas, children, elderly men and women, filing out of Western Burma (or Myanmar) as the result of Burma military’s “clearance operations” at the rate of 100,000 per week for 6 weeks. The power of such imagery has so moved national politicians and senior officials from such world bodies as UN and EU that they have publicly used such evocative, if non-legal term as “ethnic cleansing”.
Gregory Stanton, the renowned American genocide scholar and former U.S. State Department official, who heads the Genocide Watch, has gone so far as to say Myanmar is committing the crime of all crimes, namely a genocide. Stanton states that he is avoiding purposefully the journalistic “ethnic cleansing.” For he views rightly the now popular terminology as Milosevic’s “euphemism,” which is not considered punishable crime in international law. Ethnic cleansing is a deplorable act committed by a U.N. Member State and its collaborating non-state actors in society, involving violent expulsion of a target population with their distinct ethnic and racial identity from a particular geographic region within the nation’s national boundaries. Burma’s latest round (each marked by its distinctive methods of expulsion and justificatory ideologies) in what has become a decades-old pattern or cycle of targeted violence and destruction against Rohingyas, is typically accompanied by their displacement and flight from the country.
This essay aims to highlight the scope and rhythmic nature of Burma’s persecution of Rohingyas the devastating impact on the Rohingya population. First, it sets out to describe and help readers understand the evolving pretexts given by the successive Burmese governments and the methods of group destruction and resultant waves — five in total — of the outflow of Rohingyas in large number. Then it attempts to offer an interpretive framework within which this cycle of violence-exodus lull is best understood.
This pattern of slaughter, structures of severe repression, intervals of lull becomes cyclical since the military-controlled state developed the threat perception regarding the Rohingya population as demographic force of Islamic faith that pose a twofold threat to the country’s predominantly Buddhist character and as a proxy for terrorist groups such as ISIS.
Two striking features of the diagram are the fixed and instrumental role of the Burmese military as the most powerful perpetrator and the shifting nature of the pretexts on which the operations of violent expulsion (which force large numbers of Rohingyas to flee their homes on the Burmese soil) have been based. In the first large-scale “terror,” as the then Hong Kong based Fast Eastern Economic Review (July 14, 1978) put it, the campaign that was centrally organized and carried out by the military government of ex-General Ne Win resulted in the exodus of over 280,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh.
Then as now, such large volumes of terror-fleeing Rohingyas forced their way into the neighbouring Muslim country within a short period of about eight weeks. The ostensible pretext of this campaign named “King Dragon Operation” was the “illegal immigration check” of Chittagongnians, that is, Muslim residents of Bangladesh’s Chittagong region that had illegally crossed the 170-miles-long, porous Burmese-Bangladeshi borders and settled in Western Burmese state of Rakhine.
Amid the strong protests and the veiled threat of arming Rohingya refugees by the then military government of Brigadier Zia Rahman in Dhaka, the exodus ended and the Myanmar side agreed to the U.N.H.C.R.-facilitated repatriation. Rangoon took back 180,000-190,000 of the total estimated number of refugees in the same year while many other Rohingya refugees found their way to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.