Ethnic Cleansing In Myanmar Forces Thousands Of Muslims To Flee To Bangladesh

Bangladeshi border guards on the bank of the Naf river watch for the illegal entry of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar. Credit – The Guardian / Rehman Asad / Barcroft Images

The Rohingya Muslims, known as “the most persecuted minority in the world”, are facing unimaginable violence at the hands of the Myanmar army, police and ultra-nationalist Buddhists. The Rohingya, who occupy Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, are being denied citizenship and have been subjected to confinement in military camps and outright brutality, drawing accusations that the violence against them constitutes ethnic cleansing. On Feb. 3rd, 2017, the United Nation’s Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner released a 43-page report that detailed the unimaginable horrors suffered by the Rohingya people from a survey and interviews with over 200 displaced Rohingya Muslims.

The UN report estimated that 66,000 of the 1.1 million Rohingya have fled Myanmar and are now living in makeshift camps and temporary settlements in Bangladesh. Myanmar (Republic of the Union of Myanmar), formerly known as Burma, has long been the scene of intense internal conflict. Although there are 135 recognized ethnic groups living in Myanmar, the Rohingya are not one of them, as many Burmese continue to insist that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The Rohingya claim they are indigenous to Rakhine, as descendants of Arab traders and other groups who have inhabited the region for generations. According to the UN, the Rakhine State is “one of the poorest states in Myanmar, with limited access to basic services and few livelihood opportunities for the entire population.” The stateless group has historically been unable to thrive, given severe restrictions that limit movement, property rights, education and employment.

The recent surge of persecution started on early last October when a group of armed insurgents, thought to be connected with the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation, attacked and killed nine border police. This incited an extreme crackdown throughout the Rakhine state, prompting a massive exodus as many Rohingya crossed the Bay of Bengal to Bangladesh. Almost all the UN’s interviewees had fled from the “lockdown zone” or “area clearance operation zone” within Myanmar. Interviews revealed mass murder, the burning and looting of homes and community buildings, random arrests, bullet and knife wounds, beatings and psychological torture. Children, the elderly, pregnant women and disabled people have all been among those targeted. Over half of the women interviewed by the U.N. reported having been raped or sexually assaulted in some way. The traumatized Rohingya also frequently expressed desperation to find their missing family members.

The silence of Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has surprised many given the severity of the crisis. A recipient of the Nobel-Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi is now being criticized for her failure to defend the Rohingya or acknowledge the gravity of the human rights violations. Following the release of the UN report, presidential spokesman Zaw Htay of Yangon came forward with the statement, “These are extremely serious allegations, and we are deeply concerned. We will be immediately investigating these allegations through the investigation commission led by Vice-President U Myint Swe  […] Where there is clear evidence of abuses and violations, we will take all necessary action.” The UN has estimated that over 22,000 remain internally displaced, detained or held in army encampments where they are living in extremely poor conditions.

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