By Rahul Gupta
In a rare interview with the BBC, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Premiere of Myanmar said that “ethnic cleansing” was too strong a term to describe the situation in Rakhine. The leader acknowledged the hostilities: “it is Muslims killing Muslims as well, if they think they are co-operating with the authorities”. She went on to claim that “it is a matter of people on different sides of the divide”.
Another exodus, another war crime
The Rohingya people are a Muslim minority in the otherwise Buddhist majority Myanmar. They are concentrated in the western Rakine state. In the recent months, tens of thousands of Rohingya have crossed the border to Bangladesh. This exodus is linked with the escalation of the “crackdown” by the security forces. The crackdown was in response to a spate of attacks against police and security personnel in Rakine last year. The crackdown has resulted, according to a report viewed by Reuters, around 423 arrests and 1000 deaths. Based on refugee accounts, International observers have accused the government of committing war crimes. The United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights described this as a hellish situation. They concluded that the acts of the security forces were likely to constitute crimes against humanity.
The violence against the Rohingya community is not new. For generations, they have lived in apartheid like conditions. The government does not provide them with citizenship and their movements are severally curtailed. A majority of the Burmese people think of them as illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. The reported rhetoric indicates that such divisive narratives are at play. A UN special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar has stated that the government may be looking to “expel” all ethnic Rohingya’s from its territory.
What Myanmar needs
Myanmar’s first election in 25 years catapulted Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi into a difficult and complicated democracy. The constitution provides 25% of the legislatives seats to the Armed forces. All security decisions are exclusively the domain of the forces and Ms Suu Kyi has no effective control on the military. Despite this, her inaction and deafening silence has stunned the world and has drawn sharp criticism for Ms Suu Kyi. Even if her direct control over the situation is limited, her role could still be crucial. Recognising the violence as ethnically linked can at least allow discourse to move forward. In Myanmar, the claims of these atrocities are often brushed aside and trivialised. The prevailing prejudice against Muslims allows for this. Ms Suu Kyi has the ability to shape people’s opinions on this and her failure to do this is unfortunate.
With over 70,000 displaced, 1000 dead and reports of torture, rape and murder against a particular ethnic group– oppressed and systematically deprived of rights. Ms Suu Kyi’s claim that the ethnic cleansing is not taking place is depressingly hollow. The violence is at the very least ethnically motivated. Recognising this would at least open the door to a lasting solution. The leaders of Myanmar should recognise this. As Kofi Annan has noted, the violence in Rakhine has the potential to drag the country back to instability.
Featured image source: victorbostinaru.ro
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