The Rohingya’s dark anniversary must spur global action
It is not enough to end the violence against the Rohingya. Far more must be done to ensure their safety in Myanmar.
By: Tun Khin
It was exactly one year ago, on 25 August 2017, that the Myanmar military launched a murderous “clearance operation” in Rakhine State. In the space of a few months, the security forces and their proxies killed thousands of Rohingya people, torched scores of villages to the ground, engaged in widespread sexual violence, and drove more than 700,000 women, men and children to flee into Bangladesh.
For us Rohingya people, August 25 marks a dark anniversary – it is an anniversary that must finally spur the international community into action. While the events of the past year might have sprung the Rohingya’s suffering into the global consciousness, it is really only the latest chapter in a long story of abuse.
Myanmar has for decades pursued its genocidal policies against Rohingya, and the violence that started last year merely echoes similarly brutal military campaigns in the late 1970s and early 1990s. The world must act now to break this cycle of violence.
Key to preventing history from repeating itself will be ensuring accountability for Myanmar’s atrocities. Despite international human rights groups and others collecting overwhelming evidence that the Myanmar military has been responsible for crimes against humanity, none of those responsible have been meaningfully brought to justice.
While Myanmar has announced a “commission of inquiry” into the violence in Rakhine State, this is just another smokescreen for the international community. Myanmar has a long track record of establishing similar bodies which have never led to anything but whitewashes of its crimes.
The Myanmar military hardly has any incentive to investigate itself. While hopes were high on the civilian government – led by Aung San Suu Kyi – to improve the situation of Rohingya, the past year has shown that such hopes have been completely misplaced.
Aung San Suu Kyi has not only failed to condemn the military’s atrocities, but even flat-out denied that they are taking place. In a rare public appearance in Singapore last week, “the Lady” gave a typically tone-deaf speech, and even called members of the military in her cabinet “rather sweet”.
Sadly, there are still governments in the West who cling to the belief that Aung San Suu Kyi somehow represents the last hope for both a democratic Myanmar and the Rohingya. As someone who once campaigned for her release from house arrest, it has been painful to realise that this is not the case.
Aung San Suu Kyi has shown a callous indifference to the plight of the Rohingya, and has become complicit in the military’s genocide herself. Her government’s focus on the refugee repatriation process is nothing but a diversionary tactic to deflect attention from the military’s crimes and the need for accountability.
It is clear that the international community must step in to provide justice. Increasingly, the International Criminal Court in the Hague is looking like the Rohingya’s best hope to achieve this.
Since Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute, members of the UN Security Council need to refer the situation in Rakhine State to trigger a comprehensive investigation.
Predictably, political power plays have prevented this from happening so far. For us Rohingya, it is shocking to watch how world powers are standing idly by on the sidelines while we as a people are quite literally being wiped out.
Global actors must also push Myanmar to not just end all violence against Rohingya, but also its discriminatory policies. For decades, Rohingya have been kept in a virtual open-air prison in Rakhine State, where all aspects of their lives are tightly controlled.
Severe restrictions on freedom of movement and denial of citizenship rights mean that making a living, going to the hospital, gaining an education, or even leaving their village is impossible for many Rohingya. This state-sanctioned segregation must end immediately, in particular before any process of repatriating refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar starts. Those Rohingya still left in Myanmar also need international protection and cannot be left at the mercy of the Myanmar security forces.
For many of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled into Bangladesh, life remains a daily struggle for survival. Despite the generosity of the Bangladeshi government in opening its borders and the heroic efforts of aid groups, refugees still largely live in squalid conditions in overcrowded camps.
The Bangladeshi authorities have also imposed tight restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement and ability to access basic services like schooling. We urge Bangladesh to lift these restrictions and to fully respect the human rights of those Rohingya inside its borders.
To mark this dark anniversary today, thousands of Rohingya across the globe will gather today to remember friends and relatives who have lost their lives. From London to the refugee camps in Bangladesh and many other places in the world, Rohingya will hold candlelit vigils, inter-communal prayers and other events on what we have termed Genocide Remembrance Day.
We are not just gathering to mourn, however, but also to ensure that the world does not forget our plight, and to call on international leaders to move beyond empty rhetoric and take genuine action to ensure that Myanmar’s genocide ends. A year from now, I hope that we won’t have our hopes dashed and will be able to look back on some genuine progress.