A Tragic Tale of Ethnic Cleansing!

Since Aug 25, 2017, Myanmar Muslims or Rohingyas are brutally persecuted and displaced in the name of “clearance operations” carried out by the Myanmar security forces to root out the insurgents from Rakhine state of Myanmar (formerly known as Arakan). It has been reported that present violence began after Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked Myanmar police and paramilitary posts in a response to protect their ethnic minority group from persecution by security forces.

In fact, the illegal and unjustified persecution of poor Rohingyas at the hands of security forces has provoked Rohingyas and led to an armed resistance by Rohingyas and subsequently paved a way for deadly clashes, riots and communal violence. This distressed situation has added Myanmar among countries which justify their discriminatory and violent attitude towards Muslims in the name of retaliation against Islamic radicals, extremists and terrorists. However, the persecution of Rohingyas is not a new phenomenon. While looking at the history, one finds that Rohingyas are the world’s most oppressed and persecuted minority. Since long, these ethnic Muslims are living in a majority Buddhist country in a miserable condition with denial to all basic human rights.

Beginning in the 1970’s, Rohingyas have been tortured by the Myanmar government but after 9/11, the situation has aggravated as Rohingyas are now killed in the name of Islamic extremism. Under such horrendous circumstances, nearly 1.1 million Rohingyas have fled Myanmar due to widespread persecution and have taken shelter in neighbouring countries such as India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh and South East Asian countries. According to BBC, more than 400,000 Muslim Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh under the current turmoil. The migrating Rohingyas have been provided shelter in newly established Rohingyas refugee camps by Bangladesh government but their free movements outside the camps have been restricted with the hope of returning them to Myanmar or even to a third country. According to media reports, despite New Delhi’s support for Rohingyas against the atrocities of Myanmar’s government, the Indian government has declared an intention to deport Rohingya Muslims living in India considering them as a threat to national security and also backed Bangladesh’s stance over the issue.

This clearly indicates the Myanmar’s government intention of ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas, which was highlighted earlier in 2013 by the Human Rights Watch and also by the United Nations (UN) in 2016. In February 2017, a UN report pointed towards Myanmar government troops crimes against humanity in its renewed military crackdowns in 2016. However, the Myanmar government has denied such accusations and maintained deadly silence over the issue of Rohingyas. In a recent interview conducted by the BBC, Aung San Suu Kyi said that the phrase “ethnic cleansing” was too strong to describe the situation in Rakhine state. Her indifferent behaviour towards Rohingyas has undermined her reputation being a noble peace prize laureate and advocate of democracy and human rights. In the present crisis, the Myanmar government has reached its peak of inhumanity by blocking access to journalists and to all UN aid agencies from delivering food, water and medicines to anguished Rohingyas in the Rakhine state which also symbolizes Myanmar’s ruthless efforts for their ethnic cleansing. Under all such circumstances, international pressure has mounted on Myanmar to take immediate action to stop the violence against Rohingyas but no substantial measures have been taken by the Myanmar government. At international level, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Pakistan, Chechnya and other Muslim countries have openly condemned Myanmar’s insensitivity towards Rohingyas and demanded peaceful solution to the crisis.

Therefore at this juncture, practical steps must be taken by UN, OIC and peace activists to raise voices for Rohingyas and to address their decades old grievances. Earlier this year, the former UN Chief Kofi Annan had urged Myanmar government to reconsider the failed programme related to the verification of Rohingyas for Myanmar citizenship and removal of strict restrictions on them but nothing was done. Recently, current UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called Myanmar’s authorities to end ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas and send an official letter to Security Council raising his concerns about the crisis. The Myanmar government should review its policies towards Rohingyas and find strategies for their resettlement and rehabilitation. The neighbouring countries should also accommodate the Rohingya refugees influx in the present scenario to avoid human catastrophe and civil causalities. The international community in consultation with the Myanmar government should find a permanent solution for the Rohingyas identity crisis, settlement rights and their issue of citizenship for the long-term solution of this ongoing crisis that requires an immediate global response.

Article originally published in Pakistan Observer on September 26, 2017.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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About the Author

Ms Aymen Ijaz is Assistant Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). Ms Aymen holds the credit of being awarded “Vice Chancellor’s Medal” for securing top position in M.Phil International Relations from School of Political Science and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad. She has also done her M.Sc IR from QAU. Before joining IPRI, she has worked as a Research Intern with Inter- Services Public Relations (ISPR) and South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI). Ms Aymen has worked as a Project Co-Researcher with the magazine, “The Diplomatic Insight”. She has also taught as a Visiting Faculty at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Islamabad. Ms. Aymen has hosted/co-ordinated number of national and international conferences. She contributes regularly to leading national and international dailies. Ms. Aymen focuses on international and regional issues with particular focus on South Asia. Her areas of interests include nuclear non-proliferation, international security, arms control/disarmament, nuclear and strategic studies. E-mail: research.pak@gmail.com

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