On Monday, UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein, described the brutal persecution of the Rohingya of Burma as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
The title of ‘the most persecuted people in the world’, also from the United Nations, is an acknowledgment of the gross injustice that has become the reality of Rohingya Muslims.
Myanmar’s Muslim minority of Rakhine have not only been disenfranchised but also attacked for decades with impunity, and forced to flee from their homes. In episodes of flare ups in sustained violent campaigns at the hands of the army and vigilante militia groups, supported by nationalist monks, political leaders and powerful members of the military, the Rohingya have been abused and marginalised for over 40 years.
In 2015, a team of legal analysts at the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human rights Clinic of the Yale Law School, had looked into the question of whether genocide was taking place in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The authors of the report entitled ‘Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims’ looked at aspects such as denial of citizenship; forced displacement; forced labour; religious persecution; marriage restrictions and population control, in the period from independence up to the year 2011.
The coverage of the legal analysis report over the period of Thein Sein’s administration also examined the denial of freedom of movement and the wide scale use of sexual violence against the Rohingya women, routinely held as sex slaves in military camps.
The conclusion of this legal analysis could neither be inconclusive nor surprising. The systematic persecution of the Rohingya, rendered stateless by a denial of citizenship by the military junta in Yangon is well-known and stark. Hence, the authors of the report easily found ‘strong evidence’ of a genocide to be underway in Rakhine state.
Notable world leaders and international human rights groups such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are among those that have condemned the atrocious Myanmar regime and her poor record of human rights, that is no less than ethnic cleansing and genocidal.
The latest crackdown against the Muslim minority is reported to have been triggered by the 25 August attack by a Rohingya insurgent group on more than twenty security sites that killed 12 people.
However, the context of this most recent drive to push the Rohingya out of Myanmar towards resource-challenged and populous Bangladesh is as opportunistic as it is consistent with the decades-long policies of the government in Yangon.
The response to the attacks, or ‘clearance operations’ as the government forces have termed the onslaught, has been massive and indiscriminate, pushing well over 310,000 Rohingya-Muslims across the border into uncertain future, starvation and wholesale indignity. Tens of thousands more are internally displaced.
The laying of land-mines along the Myanmar-Bangladeshi border, at the crossings used by refugees is more evidence that the Myanmar government is determined to make the ‘clearance’ of a people, the Rohingya Muslims, permanent.
The mined fields have caused fatal and horrific injuries on victims who have lost limbs, opening yet another grim chapter of the deepening suffering of the Rohingya.
The global outlook towards Burma, after the year 2010, was generally that of optimism. It was around this time that some signs of a democratic transition were showing, with the prospect of Aung San Suu Kyi ascendancy. By 2012, the violence against the Rohingya in the on-going pogroms against them, were largely greeted by non-resistance.
It is now very clear that the Nobel peace laureate, a supposedly secular saint of sorts, sold her voice of conscience and has become intrinsically inseparable from the brutal military generals and their allies in the Buddhist nationalist project.
However, it is lamentable that Aung San Suu Kyi has lost her way in the manner she has. She recently made remarks that suggested that if she was not offering justification for the regime’s extra-judicial and brutal actions, then she saw a moral symmetry between the persecutors and the resistance.
Maybe too much hope was placed in one person… Aung San Suu Kyi now refuses even to mention the Rohingya, a stance that is akin to the denial of their existence. She specifically requested Mr Kofi Annan not to mention the Rohingya in his recently released report of the situation in Rakhine state.
While it is necessary to acknowledge the existence of the Rohingya, it is not a sufficient condition that would ease their plight. It is for this reason that we will be joining those expressing solidarity with the downtrodden Rohingya, human and civil rights activists, religious leaders and political campaigners on Friday 15th September, in Pretoria, where we will protest and petition the Myanmar government, through their diplomatic mission, to end their primitive demographic policies and yield to genuine and inclusive democratic change.
The Rohingya are a people without rights. For generations, they have known only restrictions. The Myanmar regime should begin to dismantle all laws that have become instruments of ethnic cleansing.
The consensus of legal experts, human rights groups and world leaders should not be only an artefact for historical record. We therefore call upon world leaders to stop watching over a genocide and pressure Yangon to end her crimes against humanity and bring all perpetrators to book.
Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi have invariably, cast her as helpless leader, a victim of circumstances or a player of a long game. This attitude effectively absolves her of notable Islamophobic tendencies. It remains with her to prove her worth of a place in history of truly moral leaders among whom she was widely been purported to be.
We should not allow persecutors to appropriate the language of self-defence or victimhood in order to justify their nefarious reign of terror over women, children and the aged just because they are ethnically or religiously different.
Ebrahim I Bham (Moulana) is the Secretary General of the Council of Muslim Theologians in Johannesburg and also the Imam at Hamidia Mosque in Newtown. The council supports the #SA4Rohingya campaign