The “ethnic cleansing” of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, explained

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There are thousands of refugees entering
Bangladesh every day. They cross the border of Myanmar where the state
military has launched a violent offensive against an ethnic minority
group – the Rohingya. The UN reported that since August 2017 about 400,000
Rohingya men women and children have fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine
State. Reports claimed that the military has been killing and raping the Rohingya
and has set their villages on fire. Satellite imagery showing burned
villages confirms those reports. Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators, the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed
but the situation remains or seems a textbook example of ethnic
cleansing. The term ethnic cleansing has been reserved for some of the worst
atrocities in history. The UN defines it as a purposeful policy designed by one
ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror inspiring means the
civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic
areas. What makes Myanmar a textbook example is that the military has been launching attacks on the Rohingya – a Muslim
minority in a majority Buddhist country. Violent tactics have forced tens of
thousands of Rohingya to flee their homes. While many fled to Malaysia and
Thailand most ended up in Bangladesh. The recent wave of violence is the latest in a pattern of discrimination that started over 50 years ago. In 1962, Myanmar –
then called Burma – was taken over by the military in a coup. They got rid of the
country’s constitution and created a military junta. Like many dictatorships
they promoted fierce nationalism based on the country’s Buddhist identity and
when they needed a common enemy to help unite the population the Rohingya were
singled out as a threat. Tensions between the Burmese Buddhist population and the
Rohingya go back to the Second World War when each group supported opposing sides. The Rohingya sided with the British colonialists who ruled the country and
the Buddhists mostly sided with the Japanese invaders hoping they’d help end
the British rule after the war. But even in modern Myanmar the Rohingya
minority continued to be an easy target. Although their lineage can be traced
back to 15th century Burma, the government has been forcing them out
claiming their illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
It started in 1978 after a massive crackdown called Operation Dragon King
forced about 200,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. The military reportedly used
violence and rape to drive them out. About a hundred and seventy thousand Rohingya reportedly returned to Burma. Then in 1982, the government passed the
Citizenship Act recognizing 135 ethnic groups. The Rohingya, with a population
of about 1 million, were not on the list and became a stateless people. In 1991,
Myanmar’s military launched another campaign literally called “Operation
clean and beautiful nation.” This time about 250,000 Rohingya fled to
Bangladesh. Tensions continued to build against the Rohingya in the 2000s. Violence broke out in 2012 when four Muslim men were accused of
raping and killing a buddhist woman in Rakhine. Buddhist nationalist backed by
security forces attacked Muslim neighborhoods, burned homes displacing
tens of thousands of Rohingya again. Human Rights Watch deemed it an ethnic
cleansing campaign. By this point the Rohingya were persecuted
disenfranchised and stateless. In 2016, a Rohingya militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, emerged and coordinated small-scale attacks on
border police stations. An attack on August 25th 2017 left 12 police officers
dead and sparked the current crisis against Rohingya civilians. A brutal
retaliation by the state security forces has led to about 400 deaths and the mass
exodus of about 400,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. Since the August attack 210
villages have been burned to the ground. The violent campaign has triggered the
fastest growing humanitarian crisis in recent years, but Myanmar’s de facto
leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Ky has barely acknowledged the attacks. More than 50% of the villages of Muslims
are intact they are as they were before the attacks took place. When she says
that, you know, 50% of the Muslim villages are still present in Rakhine State wel,l
I mean, what are we talking about? 50% are gone. 50% are burnt out. You know in any school I went to 50% is a failing grade. Recent
reports claimed that the military has planted landmines along the Bangladesh
border to prevent the Rohingya from returning. Myanmar’s government has systematically driven the Rohingya out of the country.
Over the last five decades it has stripped their citizenship, terrorized
them, and destroyed their homes, and now it wants to keep them from ever coming
back.

 

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