Earlier this week, The Independent reported that 21,000 Rohingya Muslims fled “potential genocide” at the hands of Myanmar’s government from October 9 to December 2, 2016.
Prior reports have also pointed to strong evidence of genocide against the Rohingya. Despite this, little has been done to assist this stateless Muslim population, which has received very little attention from the international community.
Regarded as the world’s most persecuted minority, the Rohingya make up 1 million of Myanmar’s population of 50 million. The oppression they face is both systematic and historically-rooted. When Myanmar, then known as Burma, gained its independence from the British in 1948, the Union Citizenship Act granted full citizenship to the Rohingya. The community experienced a short period of calm until 1962, when a coup d’état transformed the country from a burgeoning democracy into a military dictatorship run by Officer Ne Win.
After consolidating power through force, Ne Win propagated a platform of national sovereignty and cohesion that was supposed to bring stability and prosperity to the country. But, in reality, Ne Win’s ultranationalist rule created an atmosphere in which the Rohingya were dehumanized and excluded, as so-called foreigners. These efforts set the stage for the Rohingya’s repression, deprivation of their civil and human rights, and the seizure of their property.
In the decades following his takeover, Ne Win and his successors launched several campaigns against the Rohingya. In 1978, he launched “Operation Nagamin,” a military campaign that was supposedly intended to purge insurgents attempting to build an Islamic state in the northern province of Rakhine. As human rights groups have claimed, however, the operation was aimed at cleansing the Rohingya from the region. As a result of the purge, over 200,000 Rohingya fled for Bangladesh, where they lived in abysmal conditions in refugee camps. Those who returned to Burma faced even worse torment from Burmese authorities.
Then came the Burma Citizenship Law of 1982, which completely deprived the Rohingya of all citizenship rights, thereby cementing their status as stateless, “foreign” residents. Another military operation was launched in 1991, with the same official justification as Nagamin, which resulted in the displacement of another 200,000. This operation was called Pyi Thaya, or Operation Beautiful Country.
Most recently in 2012, violence reached a tipping point after reports claimed that a Buddhist woman had been raped and murdered by a Rohingya. In response, members of the government, alongside Buddhist monks and local leaders, began to mobilize large groups to target – and collectively punish – Rohingya Muslims. Over 100,000 were displaced. Human Rights Watch condemned this act of collective punishment, accusing its perpetrators of ethnic cleansing.
At the same time, the Bangladeshi government declared it would no longer accept Rohingya refugees and turned many away. Stuck between a home country aiming to cleanse them, and a host country refusing to accept them, the Rohingya are left with no place to go today.
The Rohingya have experienced unimaginable horrors with no reprieve in sight. This is a stain on the world. The international community must act now, before it is too late.