International outrage after ethnic cleansing in Myanmar

By Olivia Jenkins

Over 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have left Myanmar due to violence in the region of the Rakhine state. The refugees have been fleeing their homes in southwestern part of the country after the Myanmar  military burned and attacked several villages.

The violence started on August 25, when a group of Rohingya militants known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked several police checkpoints, causing the Myanmar military to respond with violence against militant groups and civilians without distinction. Refugees have spoken of their homes being assaulted by helicopters along with troops destroying villages and slaughtering men, women and children.

“On Wednesday they burned our village, so we ran to another. But the next day they burned it, too, so we just kept going until we reached the river,” said Satara Begum, Rohingya refugee whose husband and two children were killed, in an interview with NPR.

The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, called the actions taken by the Myanmar military “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” while addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council. Ethnic cleansing is defined as a systematic effort to eliminate an ethnic group from a territory through the use of violence or the threat of violence. Seen in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990’s, ethnic cleansing has extreme effects on the population and is frequently accompanied by genocide.

Many of those looking to escape the violence in Rakhine have fled to Bangladesh. Most refugees were unable to bring any goods along with them because they were forced to leave immediately. The path to Bangladesh is filled with muddy and dangerous paths and flooded rivers. Refugees who travel by boat often face dangerous waters as reports of capsized boats increase. Human rights groups claim that the military has been placing landmines along pathways into Bangladesh as a way of specifically targeting refugees.

“I have never seen such things in my 33 years of experience, I have never before received so many bullet injuries and bomb blast injuries,” said Mohammed Iqbal Hossain, the director of orthopaedic surgery at Chittagong Hospital in Bangladesh in an interview CNN.

With the large influx of refugees in such a short period of time, refugee camps and hospitals have become overcrowded and supplies are increasingly scarce.

Facing much criticism, the de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has received much attention for refusing to condemn the Army’s actions. Suu Kyi was once praised for leading peaceful demonstrations against the military junta that controlled Myanmar and even received a Nobel Peace Prize for her actions. Now her fellow Peace Prize winners such as Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai have called upon Suu Kyi to stand against the military.

“If the political price of ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep,” said Tutu in an open letter to Suu Kyi he posted on Facebook.  

The history between Rohingya Muslims and the majority Buddhists population has long been one of violence and oppression. In 1982, the military junta passed a law that denied all Rohingya Muslims citizenship. By denying citizenship the Rohingya did not have access to healthcare and schools. The government insisted that the Rohingya were an immigrant population from Bangladesh and that they should be registered as Bengali citizens.

Violent attacks against the Rohingya, similar to today’s, happened five years ago when Buddhist men attacked villages in response to the rape of a Buddhist. Last October, ARSA was founded and started to attack border-post guards resulting in the death of three. These killings led to months of slaughter of Rohingya Muslims carried out by the Myanmar army.

As the refugee and humanitarian crisis continues to grow, the international community has taken action not seen before in regards to Myanmar. The UN Security Council condemned the actions in Myanmar and the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called on Myanmar to stop the violence.

The Myanmar army shows no signs of stopping, allowing the crisis to continue to multiply. As the Myanmar Army continues to attack villages, more Rohingya Muslims will try to flee their homes where they could face flooding, starvation and landmines. While the international community has used words to try to stop the violence, it seems words will not be enough.

Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera

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