A genocide is taking place against the Rohingyas of Myanmar. It is not a new one in this Buddhist-majority country and has been an on-going ethnic cleansing national program to erase Muslim presence since Burma emerged as an independent state.
After General Ne Win took power in 1962 in a military coup, the status of Rohingya further deteriorated. His military junta adopted a policy of “Myanmarisation”, which was an ultra-nationalist ideology based on the racial purity of the Myanma (or more properly Bama) ethnicity and its Buddhist faith.
By 1977, the Rohingyas had witnessed at least 13 pogroms. Their condition turned worse in 1978 when the Naga Min or King Dragon Operation started on February 6 from the biggest Muslim village of Sakkipara in Akyab (now called Sittwe). The purpose of this operation was to scrutinize each individual within the state as either a citizen or alleged “illegal immigrant”. It sent shock waves over the whole region within a short time. The news of mass arrest of Muslims, male and female, young and old, torture, rape and killing in Akyab panicked Muslims greatly in other towns of North Arakan (now called the Rakhine state).
In March 1978 the operation reached Buthidaung and Maungdaw (close to the border with Bangladesh). Hundreds of Muslim men and women were thrown into the jail and many of them were tortured and killed. Muslim women were raped freely in the detention centers. Terrified by the utter ferocity and ruthlessness of the operation and total uncertainty of their life, property, honor and dignity, a large number Rohingya Muslims left their homes to cross the Burma-Bangladesh border. Within 3 months nearly a quarter million Rohingyas took shelter in makeshift camps erected by Bangladesh Government.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognized them as genuine refugees and started relief operations. Many of the refugees were later repatriated to Myanmar where they faced further torture, rape, jail and death.
To justify the on-going ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the Burma Citizenship Law (1982), co-authored by a wicked Rakhine academic Aye Kyaw, was passed during the Ne Win era. The Rohingyas were not listed as one of the country’s 135 “national races” entitled to Burmese citizenship, effectively making them a people without a state — even after living for generations in Arakan. They became the most persecuted people in our planet.
“Stripped officially of their citizenship, the Rohingya found their lives in limbo: prohibited from the right to own land or property, barred from travelling outside their villages, repairing their decaying places of worship, receiving an education in any language or even marrying and having children without rarely granted government permission. The Rohingya have also been subjected to modern-day slavery, forced to work on infrastructure projects, such as constructing ‘model villages’ to house the Myanmar settlers intended to displace them, reminiscent of their treatment at the hands of the Burmese kings of history,” Professor Akbar Ahmed observes.
To further terrorize the already marginalized Rohingya people, the Pyi Thaya Operation (or Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation) was launched by the military in July 1991. This major pogrom lasting for nearly a year resulted in the exodus of some 268,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh. The United Nations Refugee Agency referred to those operations as “ethnic cleansing campaigns led by the military junta itself.”
Dr. Michael W. Charney, a University of London scholar who specializes in South East Asian studies, wrote in his paper Buddhism in Arakan: Theory and Historiography of the Religious Basis of the Ethnonym that the “Rohingya […] are compelled to thrive under really testing conditions where even their personal lives are under strict state scrutiny. Whatever property they inherited from their ancestors have been forcefully taken away from them, and granted to the Buddhist majority under the banner of different national schemes that served to institutionalize and hence legitimize racist discrimination of Rohingya”.
Benjamin Zawacki, Senior Legal Advisor for Southeast Asia at the International Commission of Jurists, in his article Defining Myanmar’s “Rohingya Problem,” this is “a political, social, and economic system – manifested in law, policy, and practice – designed to discriminate against this ethnic and religious minority [which] makes such direct violence against the Rohingya far more possible and likely than it would be otherwise”.
In spite of murderous activities of the junta and their henchmen, the Rohingyas of Arakan refused to vanish from the Mogher Mulluk of Burma. So, the military junta come with a new program, no less sinister than the previous ones.
NaSaKa (Nay-Sat Kut-kwey Ye), a border security/military force, was create in 1992 to terrorize the Rohingyas of Arakan on a daily basis. It was to be found only in North Arakan (Rakhine) state, where they became the main perpetrators of human rights abuse against the Rohingya. The day-to-day lives of the Rohingya took a dramatic turn for the worse. They faced severe restrictions on their movement and were subjected to forced labor and arbitrary land seizure and forced displacement, and endured excessive taxes and extortion. Since 1994, it has been illegal for married Rohingya to have more than two children. In the words of Pulitzer-winning journalist and photographer Greg Constantine “almost all aspects of their lives in North Rakhine are controlled or exploited by NaSaKa.”
The persecution and abuses of power by the NaSaKa, terrorizing the Rohingya, continued unabated for decades until it was disbanded with the advent of a so-called reform government that was led by Thein Sein, an ex-military general. He promised democracy and opened the doors of Myanmar for foreign investment. The gesture was reciprocated by the West by withdrawing its economic and military sanctions against the once-pariah government. During Thein Sein’s time, the old IDs and national cards were all seized from the Rohingya people who were also banned from participating in the general elections. What is worse, his regime empowered Buddhist terrorist monks who through popular religio-fascist organizations like the MaBaTha continued to spread hate crimes and prepare the groundwork for the latest genocidal crimes against all Muslims, esp. the Rohingyas of Arakan. The latter were falsely portrayed as ‘illegals’ from nearby Bangladesh who are’ threatening’ the Buddhist identity of the country through ‘high birth rates’. Deliberately omitted in such narratives was the mere fact that the percentage of Muslims have been declining since Burma won independence from Britain.
Shwe Maung, a Rakhine politician, told The Economist that “[Rohingyas] are trying to Islamize us through their terrible birth rate.” Wirathu, the terrorist Buddhist monk, mentioned to Global Post “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent. They eat their own kind.” Finally, President Thein Sein reiterated that, for the government, “the Rohingya were not citizens of Myanmar” and that he wished to “hand over the entire ethnic group to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in order to settle them in a different country.”
It was in this highly poisonous environment that the 2012 genocidal campaigns against the Rohingya was unleashed. Within weeks in June nearly a quarter million Muslims were internally displaced inside Myanmar in an orgy of Buddhist violence that was participated from top to bottom, enjoying full support from the government, politicians and the Buddhist monks. It was Rwanda all over again in this genocidal crime against the Muslims, esp. the Rohingyas, of Myanmar.
And I am not alone when I state that the Rohingyas are victims of genocide. From the Human Rights Watch to the academic experts on genocide concur. Phil Robertson, Asia director for Humans Right Watch, wrote nearly four years ago that “the Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today”. Professor William Schabas, former President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, went a step further and cautioned, “we’re moving into a zone where the [genocide] word can be used.”
Whatever doubt, if any, against the use of the term ‘genocide’ have to be shelved after October 9 of this year (2016) when the Myanmar security forces attacked Rohingya villages, ethnically cleansing these. According to ARNO, more than 500 innocent Rohingya civilians were killed, many hundreds of women raped, about 3,500 houses were burned down, unknown number of people arrested and involuntarily disappeared, and at least 40,000 internally displaced, in addition to systematic destruction of rice, paddy and food products. About 10,000 people had also fled to Bangladesh. Regular humanitarian assistance has been disrupted for many weeks, putting at risk over 150,000 vulnerable people. Reports indicate a marked deterioration of the human rights situation in northern Rakhine State. And yet, Suu Kyi remains nonchalant by such gross violations of her security forces. Like a sly politician who is more interested in solidifying her hold to power, she seems approving of the war crimes of her murderous military who continues to use her as a pawn to carry out their religio-fascist Myanmarism.
The Rohingya predicament underlines a paradox for Buddhism, which emphasizes compassion and kindness and yet, we see little evidence of this in its dealings with the Rohingya people.
Will our generation ever see the end of this monstrous crime? I simply don’t know the answer. And yet, like many other well-wishers of the persecuted peoples in our planet, I would like to see a quick end to this shameful event. The sooner the better!