Interethnic divisions in a young democracy cannot be downplayed or wished away, and it’s time Myanmar’s government and the international community acknowledge strong evidence that genocide is being perpetrated against the Rohingya and act to end it, Katherine Southwick writes.
Violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State escalated after a 9 October attack on border guard posts, leaving nine officers dead. Humanitarian assistance and media access to the area have been cut off for weeks while the Myanmar authorities conduct a counterinsurgency operation against allegedly Rohingya assailants. Responsibility for the initial attack remains unclear, however. More than a hundred people are thought to have died already, with 30,000 internally displaced adding to the 160,000 people who have been subsisting in squalid displacement camps since previous outbreaks of violence in 2012 and 2013. Human Rights Watch has released satellite imagery showing that over 1,200 buildings in Rohingya villages have been razed in the past month. Government soldiers have reportedly gang-raped Rohingya women and girls.
Bangladesh, which for 30 years has permitted more than 230,000 registered and unregistered Rohingya refugees to shelter in its territory, has been turning people back who seek refuge across the border. Thousands have already crossed and continue to gather at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.
These events mark a dramatic deterioration in what has long been a desperate situation for a minority that many have identified as among the most persecuted in the world. Most of them are stateless, with the government designating them as “Bengalis” or “illegal immigrants,” despite many having had citizenship in the past and having lived in the region for generations. They have been subjected to forced labour and confined to displacement camps where they do not receive adequate food and medical care, leaving pregnant women and children particularly at risk of agonising illness and death. Read more