The Genocide Convention was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 and entered into force in 1951. It declares that genocide is a crime under international law.
Article II of the Genocide Convention defines genocide as: any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Genocide is a serious crime that cannot be used lightly. It is the ultimate denial of the right to existence of an entire group of human beings. As such, it is the quintessential human rights crime because it denies its victims’ very humanity.
In the last eight months, since August 2017, some 700,000 natives of Arakan (or the Rakhine state) – the Rohingya Muslims and Hindus – have been forced to leave their ancestral homes to settle in Bangladesh as refugees. They left behind everything that was once important to them and even family members – as their properties were looted before being burned down with living family members inside. The International Rescue Committee estimated that there were 75,000 victims of gender-based violence (meaning rape), and that 45% of the Rohingya women attending safe spaces in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh had reported such attacks. Thousands of men and women were killed as part of a very sinister national campaign that was planned and executed by the Myanmar (formerly Burma) government and its partners-in-crime amongst the Buddhist people, esp. within the Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state.
Do the Rohingyas qualify as victims of genocide? Let’s look at the issue seriously.
Genocide experts tell us that genocide is a process that usually goes through several stages. The first four of the five stages are the early warnings:
- Classification and Symbolization
- Dehumanization and Discrimination
- Organization and Polarization
1. Classification is a primary method of dividing a society or polity into heterogeneous groups and symbolization is often used to cement divisive identities between groups, which is then used to justify crimes against the targeted group.
a.i. Rakhine Buddhists vs. Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar is a clear case where the Muslim minority is distinguished based on its ethnicity, race and religion. They are derogatorily called the Kala or Kalar people (synonymous to the English word ‘nigger’).
a.ii. In spite of their long history of existence in Arakan, the Rohingyas of Myanmar are accused of being “Bengalis” or “Chittagonians” (even ‘terrorists’) who had intruded illegally into Myanmar who want to “Islamize” the “Buddhist” Myanmar.
a.iii. As a high-profile refugee case highlighted the plight of the Rohingya, Ye Myint Aung, the Burmese Consulate-General in Hong Kong, wrote to foreign missions in Hong Kong in Feb. 2009 insisting that the Rohingyas should not be described as being from Burma, the South China Morning Post reported. He said that the Rohingyas are of ‘dark brown’ complexion and ‘ugly as ogres’ compared to ‘fair and soft skin’ people of Burma.
2. The dominant group uses either political power or muscle, laws and regulations to deny rights of the targeted group to further discriminate and persecute it. Then it robs the victim’s humanity by comparing it with animals, parasites, insects, diseases or ‘virus’. When a group of people is thought of as “less than human” it is easier for the dominant group to murder them. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to make the victims seem like villains. Dehumanization of the targeted group is used as the sufficient rationale to justify discriminatory laws and practices.
a.i. Rohingyas were declared non-citizens via the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law, effectively making them stateless. The legal experts contend that 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
a.ii. Rohingyas are denied all and everyone of the 30 basic human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). They are denied access to public schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and medical centers, government jobs, etc.; even their movement inside the country and the Rakhine state is restricted.
a.iii. Rakhine extremists and intellectuals (like Dr. Aye Chan) depicted the Rohingya people as ‘influx viruses’ – the ‘illegal Muslims of Arakan’ that needed to be eliminated. [Influx Viruses: The Illegal Muslims in Arakan By U Shw zan and Dr. Aye Chan]
a.iv. Another Buddhist extremist, Khin Maung Saw depicts Rohingyas as the camel in a Burmese fable that dislodged its owner from his tent, warning fellow Arakanese Buddhists against the Rohingyas whom he calls as “Chittagonian Bengalis” – “the guest who want to kick out the Host from his own house”.
3. Genocide is a group crime. Thus, it always needs organized efforts, usually by the state and sometimes by the non-state actors. Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for ‘final solution’ or genocidal killings. Extremist hate groups drive the groups apart; they are tolerated and encouraged to polarize and terrorize the targeted victims. Laws are formulated to forbid social and economic interactions with the targeted victims. Public demonstrations are held against the targeted group.
a.i. The Rohingyas have been depicted as a demographic “bomb” for Myanmar.
a.ii. The elimination of the Rohingya and other Muslims has been a national project, since at least General Ne Win’s time (1962-88).
a.iii. Genocidal crimes against the Rohingya people have been planned and executed by the Burmese governments since Ne Win’s time, enjoying extensive support and active participation from the Buddhist community – politicians, academics, monks and the public alike, let alone the members of the state apparatus at both central (Myanmar) and local (Rakhine state) levels, esp. the police and security forces. At least 18 military operations (excluding the NaSaKa operations between 1992-2012) were carried out against the Rohingya people since Burma had won its independence from the Great Britain in 1948 in which more than a million Rohingyas were forced to become refugees in many parts of the world, esp. Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Gulf States.
a.iv. Scores of government-sponsored public demonstrations (including those organized by Buddhist monks) were held since the transfer of power from military regimes to Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian/military regime and the current Suu Kyi’s government demanding strong actions – including deportation and/or elimination of the Rohingya and other Muslims in Myanmar.
4. Preparation is made to eliminate or exterminate the targeted group. It often uses euphemisms to cloak their sinister intentions, such as referring to their goals as “isolation,” ‘surgical operations,’ “ethnic cleansing,” “purification,” or “counter-terrorism.” They indoctrinate the populace with fear of the victim group. Leaders often claim, “If we don’t kill them, they will kill us.” Attacks are often staged and blamed on targeted groups. Victims’ properties are destroyed or confiscated. They are forced to leave their homes and/or encamped in concentration camps.
a.i. The genocidal pogroms of 2012, depicted as ‘race riots’ by the regime, were prompted by the false rumor – planted by the security forces – that two ‘Rohingya’ youths had killed a Rakhine woman – Thida Htwe – after raping her.
a.ii. In the so-called race riots of 2012, some 140,000 Rohingyas were displaced from their homes, which were burned down by joint operations of the security-cum-Buddhist mon-cum-Rakhine mobs in the Rakhine state. Internally displaced Rohingyas were forced to live in ‘concentration-like’ camps with little or no medical assistance.
a.iii. Thousands of Rohingyas are feared dead trying to flee Myanmar since 2012.
a.iv. More than two-thirds of the Rohingya (i.e., estimated at 2 million) were pushed out of Myanmar before the latest genocidal crimes of 2017.
a.v. Muslim owned homes, businesses and offices (including madrasa and mosques) were destroyed.
a.vi. The rape of Rohingya females, a crime that was to continue until now, was used as a weapon of war to terrorize the community.
5. Execution of the plan begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing or elimination of the targeted group, which is legally called “genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human (see dehumanization). When it is sponsored by the government, the armed forces often work with private armies or militia to do the killing. Destruction of cultural and religious property is employed to annihilate the group’s existence from history. All men of fighting age are murdered wherever possible. Execution is always followed by denial of the crimes by the perpetrators – both during and after genocide. International press and investigative teams are barred from visiting the affected area and talk to the victims. Eye-witnesses or whistle-blowers are killed or ‘disappear’. Evidences of genocide are destroyed.
a.i. Despite credible mounting evidences, which were termed either as ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘genocidal’, Suu Kyi’s government denied such accusations. “I don’t think there is ethnic cleaning going on,” Suu Kyi told the BBC, April 2017.
a.ii. “It’s Muslims killing Muslims as well, if they think that they are collaborating with authorities … It’s a matter of people on different sides of a divide.” – Suu Kyi said, ibid.
a.iii. “No one can fully understand the situation of our country the way we do”. – Suu Kyi said
a.iv. Suu Kyi said the army was “not free to rape, pillage and torture”.
a.v. Myanmar’s army released a report that found “no deaths of innocent people” (11/2017)
As the short analysis above shows, there is no doubt that Rohingyas are victims of state-sponsored genocide. The findings from dozens of respectable institutions around our globe also concur. Human rights activists and genocide experts have been calling the Rohingyas the victims of Genocide. For instance, Dr. Maung Zarni and Alice Cowley in their seminal work “The slow-burning genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya”, noted that both the State in Myanmar and the local community have committed four out of five acts of genocide as spelled out by the 1948 Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide. Dr. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the departing chief of the UNHRC, said that genocide against Rohingya Muslims by state forces in Myanmar cannot be ruled out.
What is worse, the Rohingyas are victims of Myanmarism, a toxic cocktail of ultra-nationalism (Bama supremacy) and religious (Theravada Buddhism) fanaticism that draws its inspiration from Laukathara – a popular literary work of the early 14th century. In this ugly ideology in which religion and race mingle to define how Buddhists in Myanmar should behave and conduct their affairs, there is no place for non-Buddhists to live. Nurtured by the military generals, who saw themselves as reincarnation of the 11th century warrior-king, it’s simply the worst of all forms of extremism that the world has ever seen since at least the rise and fall of German/Italian Nazism/fascism. And yet, sadly, it is the least known evil. It needs to be defeated before the Rohingyas become an extinct race.
I often question what is the basis for a nation’s claim to independence or self-determination? Must a people wander in the wilderness for two millennia and suffer repeated persecution, humiliation and genocide to qualify? Until now, history’s answer to the question has been pragmatic and brutal – a nation is a people tough enough to grab the land it wants and hangs onto it. Period!
How about the rights of a minority community to survive with its culture and traditions intact? Do the victims need to be ‘children’ of a ‘higher’ God or follow Judeo-Christian morality to qualify? What makes the children of a ‘lesser’ God to be forgotten and denied the same treatment and privilege that was granted hitherto to the people of East Timor and South Sudan? Could not a U.N.-sponsored plebiscite determine the fate of the Rohingyas of our time to decide for themselves what is best for them – whether they need a protected homeland of theirs in the northern Arakan or they want to remain as full citizens of Myanmar with all their alienable rights granted and protected under the UDHR?
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rightly noted last December (2017), “Genocide does not happen by accident; it is deliberate, with warning signs and precursors.” “Often it is the culmination of years of exclusion, denial of human rights and other wrongs.”
Surely, the genocide of the Rohingyas of Myanmar is not happening by accident; it’s a deliberate act – albeit slowly but steadily – by successive murderous regimes providing enough warning signs for the world community to stop this monumental crime. The 1982 Citizenship Law provided the very justification for the Myanmar regime towards the elimination of the minority races like the Rohingya. It was no accident that Myanmar had witnessed, since 2012, a series of genocidal pogroms, mostly directed against the minority Rohingya and other Muslims. The terrorist monk Wirathu, who heads the fascist organization Ma Ba Tha, became the Buddhist face of terrorism, xenophobia, intolerance, and hatred. In the name of protecting Buddhism nearly a million Muslims have been violently displaced or uprooted from their homes all over Myanmar; thousands were killed. The eliminationist policy of genocide – endorsed from the top and preached and justified by Buddhist monks – became THE national project inside Myanmar, enjoying moral and material support at every level of the Buddhist society.
I often ponder: how will our generation be judged by our posterity for letting the genocide of the Rohingya to continue for this long? Shame on us if we fail to stop Rohingya genocide!
[Speech delivered at Arakan Conference on Rohingya Crisis and Solution in Cologne, Germany, May 2, 2018.]