By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Genocide is a serious matter and not a term that can be bandied around willy-nilly. Recently the museum staff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum from Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide investigated the threats facing the Rohingya people. They visited internment camps in the Rakhine state and spoke with some of the people living in the ghettos, separated from their Buddhist neighbors. They said, “We left Burma deeply concerned that so many preconditions for genocide are already in place. With a recent history of mass atrocities and within a pervasive climate of hatred and fear, the Rohingya may once again become the target of mass atrocities, including genocide.”
I am not surprised by the center’s findings. After all, having studied the subject of genocide quite thoroughly in the last few years I have been stating unambiguously that what the Rohingyas of Myanmar are facing is nothing short of genocide. Consider, for instance, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s book, Worse than War, in which the author mentions that genocide consists of five principal forms of elimination: transformation, repression, expulsion, prevention of reproduction, or extermination. All these forms of elimination have been practiced and going on for a number of years, esp. since 2012 against the Rohingyas of Burma. Let me explain each of these features to show how these apply to the Rohingya case.
1. Transformation is the destruction of a group’s essential and defining political, social, or cultural identities, in order to neuter its members’ alleged noxious qualities.
The Rohingya case: In spite of being the first settler to the land of Arakan (now called Rakhine state) of Burma, the Rohingya people are described as outsiders simply because of their race and religion. They are denied political identity and have no say within today’s Myanmar. All their historical ties to the land are demolished one after another as part of a very sinister plan so as to make them appear as outsiders, mostly from nearly Bangladesh. The historical name of Arakan has been changed to Rakhine state to reflect its majority Buddhist ethnic group. The capital city Akyab (a Persian name given by the Muslims) has been changed to Sittwe. Many such changes have been taking place to alter and distort its rich historical past as a region of inclusiveness, multi-culture and plurality. Centuries-old mosques continue to be destroyed and/or demolished as part of this concerted criminal ploy to obliterate or tarnish Arakan’s rich past and transform its present.
One of the most egregious crimes is to deny a people the right to self-identify of which the Myanmar people and the government, esp. the Rakhine community, are guilty of. The Rohingya people are denied their right to self-identity and are forced to say that they are ‘Bengalis’, in spite of overwhelming evidence showing that their origin to the soil of Arakan – the northern Rakhine State of Myanmar – predates those of the majority Buddhist Rakhines. Their identity cards from the British era have long been confiscated and even the military era White Cards are forcibly confiscated in recent months by the Myanmar government to worsen their legal status in their own country. Lest we forget, the 2014 census, Myanmar’s first in more than 30 years, largely excluded Rohingya Muslims if they identified their ethnicity as Rohingya.
2. Repression entails keeping the hated, deprecated, or feared people within territorial reach and reducing, with violent domination, their ability to inflict real or imagined harm upon others. Its most extreme form is enslavement, which does have sources besides the desire to reduce a threat.
The Rohingya case: Denied any of the 30 basic human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is not a single group of people in our time who are repressed worse than the Rohingya people. The UN has described them as the ‘most persecuted’ people in our planet. Denied citizenship via a military-era 1982 Citizenship Law, they have been rendered stateless in their own country of birth. As has been repeatedly noted by legal experts the Burmese Citizenship Law violates several fundamental principles of international customary law standards, offends the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and leaves Rohingyas exposed to no legal protection of their rights.
In its investigation the Fortify Group, an international human rights group, have found serious incriminatory evidences against the Myanmar government. It says Myanmar government’s policies “appear to be designed to make life so intolerable for Rohingya that they will leave the country.” Fortify Rights says a series of leaked government documents reveal severe human rights violations against Rohingya in western Rakhine state, including restrictions on freedom of movement, marriage, and childbirth. Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, told VOA the leaked documents and a review of public records showed the government’s “active role” in both planning and implementing these abuses. “What we’re saying essentially is that we’ve got enough evidence to make an allegation that state and central government authorities are implicated in the crime against humanity of persecution,” Smith said. “The Rohingya have been singled out because they are Rohingya. We’ve documented how these abuses are both widespread and systematic, and we’ve also demonstrated a certain level of knowledge, which is required under the Rome Statute which lays out the element of crimes against humanity.”
The other major human rights groups like the Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International have long known of and accused the Myanmar government of committing crimes against humanity.
3. Expulsion, often called deportation, is a third eliminationist option. It removes ‘unwanted’ people more thoroughly, by driving them beyond a country’s borders, or from one region of a country to another, or compelling them en masse into camps.
The Rohingya case: Since the days of General Ne Win in the early 1960s, Burma’s government policy has included forced expulsion of the Rohingya people. They are depicted as an ‘unwanted’ group. This xenophobic policy has resulted in more than half the population, nearly 2 million Rohingya to live as unwanted refugees outside Myanmar. I have documented 27 such operations to expel the Rohingya since Burma achieved her independence in 1948. Until the current genocidal campaigns were unleashed, the Naga-Min (King Dragon) Operation – February 1978-79 (resulting in exodus of some 300,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh), the Pyi Thaya Operation – July 1991-92 (resulting in exodus of 250,877 Rohingyas to Bangladesh) were two such major operations to expel the Rohingya people. After Thein Sein’s so-called reform minded government, comprising mostly former generals, came to power the Myanmar government has repeatedly said that the UN or other international agencies should find a home for the Rohingya people in another country since they have no place inside Buddhist Myanmar. It was a clear warning of what was in the making for the Rohingya.
The latest joint government and Buddhist extremist campaign against Muslims (dating back to June 2012 when 10 Muslims were lynched to death) has repeatedly shown the hidden hands of Thein Sein’s government. Almost all such campaigns were scripted, directed and guided by the local and central government, enjoying vast support from racist politicians and Buddhist extremist monks. Such well-planned war crimes have resulted in ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people from many parts of Myanmar, esp. Arakan, where they once lived.
These genocidal activities have resulted in the deaths of countless number of Rohingyas and imprisonment of many others on false charges. Myanmar’s justice, as is often the case, has betrayed these unfortunate victims of gross prejudice and intolerance. As a result of on-going elimination policy, more than 140,000 Rohingyas are forced to live in Nazi-like concentration camps, the so called IDP camps, where they are often denied humanitarian aid simply because of their race and religion. Life is dangerous in these camps, and many have died for lack of basic essentials for their survival. Like the Jews of Hitler-era Germany, many Rohingyas are being physically segregated in ghettos or internment camps after being violently displaced by the racist Buddhists.
During the 2012 anti-Rohingya/Muslim pogroms, according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), a total of 2,558 destroyed and severely damaged buildings were identified within the city of Sittwe (via satellite imagery recorded on morning of 31 October 2012), a total of 492 destroyed buildings were identified in two areas of the town of Pauktaw in Pauktaw township (via satellite imagery recorded on morning of 8 November 2012), a total of 657 destroyed and severely damaged buildings were identified within the village of Myebon in Myebon Township (via satellite imagery recorded on morning of 3 November 2012), and a total of 344 destroyed and severely damaged buildings were identified within the village of Yan Thei in Mrauk-U township (via satellite imagery recorded on morning of 3 November 2012). In Oct. 2012 Muslim villages and towns in Kyaukpyu were totally burned down. [HRW released satellite pictures, taken in October 2012, showing hundreds of buildings in the town of Kyaukpyu that were destroyed. Senior Burma director of HRW, Phil Robertson, told the BBC the entire area had been “burned out, presumably by arson.”]
In the last 34 months more than 100,000 Rohingyas have been pushed to the sea, many of whom have died during their risky voyages and many others have ended up in slave camps in various parts of our world.
4. Prevention of reproduction is the fourth eliminationist act. It is the least frequently used, and when employed, it is usually in conjunction with others. For varying reasons, those wishing to eliminate a group in whole or in part can seek to diminish its numbers by interrupting normal biological reproduction. They sterilize them. They systematically rape women.
The Rohingya case: In his black and white photography book titled “Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya” US photographer Greg Constantine tells the story of a 20-year-old Rohingya woman, named Kashida, who had to “flee to Bangladesh with her husband. The Burmese authorities had denied her permission to get married, but when they discovered she had married in secret and was pregnant they took away all her family’s money and cows and goats. They forced Kashida to have an abortion, telling her: “This is not your country; you don’t have the right to reproduce here.” Kashida’s story is not an exception but part of the norm as a result of a very sinister plan of the Myanmar government, which wants to depopulate the Rohingya people one way or another.
Myanmar government agencies have routinely denied marriage registration to the Rohingya couples unless highly bribed. The regular channels to get married and reproduce are highly restricted to them. It is worth recalling that at the prompting of ultra-chauvinist Buddhists and with the support of the central government, Myanmar’s 2015 session of parliament opened with consideration of a package of four race and religion bills that would further restrict religious freedom and discriminate against all minority faiths in matters of conversions, marriages, and births, mostly to restrict the rights of Rohingya and other Muslims. The Rohingya can face long prison terms for having more than two children. Such restrictions on child-birth against the Muslim population epitomize discrimination, and have been much condemned by the rights groups throughout the world.
As I have noted many times, rape has been and continues to be used by the regime as a weapon of war against the Rohingya and other vulnerable minorities. It is also exploited to start racial and religious riots against Muslims inside Myanmar.
5. Extermination is the fifth eliminationist act. Radical as it is, killing often logically follows beliefs deeming others to be a great, even mortal threat. It promises not an interim, not a piecemeal, not only a probable, but a “final solution” to the putative problem.
The Rohingya case: Since the lynching death of ten Muslims (which included 8 Muslim Tablighi pilgrims along with a Muslim lady) in Taungup in the Rakhine state around 3:00 p.m. on June 3, 2012 by a gang of hundreds of Buddhist Rakhines, thousands of Rohingyas remain unaccounted for. Thousands of others have been imprisoned and some executed in a clear case of targeted murder of the Rohingya minority people by Rakhine and Buddhist vigilantes and government security forces. The elimiantionist policy inside Myanmar against the Muslims, in general, and the Rohingya people, in particular, has become a national project that enjoys wide support from top to bottom – from President Thein Sein to members of his armed forces and parliament to politicians like Suu Kyi of the opposition NLD to government officials to local thugs and Buddhist monks. It is no accident that the Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi kept silent when asked about the tragedy faced by the Rohingya people, and had no qualms in firing her party members that challenged Bamar supremacy or showed slight bit of empathy for the plight of the Rohingya people.
All these decades, the Buddhist people of Myanmar have been brainwashed to think the worst of the Rohingya and other minorities, preparing them well for the last phase of genocidal activities that were enlisted since 2012. So complete is this indoctrinated intolerance that – to most Buddhists of Myanmar – Muslims and surely the Rohingya, have no place in today’s Myanmar. They must go or be forced to go, or else be killed. The recently published Newsweek paints a grim reminder again of the genocide that is taking place inside Myanmar. It reported the chilling words of a young Rakhine refugee. ‘I want to kill the Muslims,’ said Aung Ko Naing. ‘Many feel like me… I want to get rid of them all.’
Genocide experts have concurred that when a state government decides to commit genocide and plans to allow its people to kill on a massive scale, it prepares them well. It does so by first making it plausible for political leaders, and even for common people, to imagine massive exterminationist projects and to imagine them in a new way, as something doable. A reading of various Rakhine and Burmese websites and writings of their hate provocateurs is sufficient to demonstrate that the Rakhine and Burmese Buddhists have been sufficiently programmed to that monstrous evil and the words of Aung Ko Naing, reported above, is no accident.
Dr. Greg Stanton, founder and president of the Genocide Watch, who is a foremost authority on genocide, says, “Genocide is a process that develops in ten stages that are predictable but not inexorable. At each stage, preventive measures can stop it. The process is not linear. Stages may occur simultaneously. Logically, later stages must be preceded by earlier stages. But all stages continue to operate throughout the process.” He has also argued that Rohingyas are facing genocide. There is no escaping from such a harsh conclusion.
Genocide Watch has issued a Genocide Emergency Alert for the Rohingya people of Myanmar for quite some time. It has recommended that:
• The Myanmar Parliament should pass legislation that grants full citizenship to the Rohingya, with all rights of citizens of Myanmar, including the right to hold land titles, travel, and other rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
• Plan measures to dissolve Rohingya displaced persons’ camps with international assistance, especially from countries in ASEAN;
• Myanmar authorities should cease human rights violations against the Rohingya;
• Bangladesh should adhere to its obligations under the UN Convention on the Protection of Refugees, by accepting boats of Rohingya refugees, permitting them to settle in refugee camps until they can be repatriated with full citizenship rights in Myanmar.
In my speeches and writings, I have repeatedly made the case that the international community can still stop this genocide, if it is serious. Outside pressure from the rich and powerful nations can create the impetus for the Myanmar government to take corrective steps, especially if it fears losing the foreign investment and political legitimacy it craves. These powerful nations can go beyond the usual banality about welcoming reform and demand tangible results, failing which they can punish the pariah state for its nonconformance including bringing these war criminals to trial in the Hague.
It goes without saying that the world community needs to take urgent action to address the warning signs that have repeatedly emerged from Myanmar and prevent future atrocities, including genocide, from occurring against the Rohingya and other Muslims. Just saying ‘never again’ is not sufficient to stop this greatest tragedy of our time!