Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar: The genocide of the Rohingya people
Rohingya ethnic minority members from Myanmar rest after crossing over to the Bangladesh Cox's Bazar's Teknaf area, Sept. 2. | Bernat Armangue / AP

To a certain extent, Aung San Suu Kyi is a false prophet. Glorified by the West for many years, she was made a “democracy icon” because she opposed the same forces in her country, Myanmar, at the time that the U.S.-led Western coalition isolated Rangoon for its alliance with China.

Suu Kyi played her role as expected, winning the approval of the right and the admiration of the left. And for that, she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

The “Lady” of Myanmar’s journey from being a political pariah in her own country, where she was placed under house arrest for 15 years, finally ended in triumph when she became the de facto leader following a multi-party election in 2015.

Since then, she has toured many countries, dined with queens and presidents, given memorable speeches, received awards, while knowingly rebranding the very brutal military that she had opposed throughout the years.

But the great “humanitarian” seems to have run out of integrity as her government, military, and police began conducting a widespread ethnic cleansing operation that targeted one of the most oppressed people on Earth, the Rohingya.

These people have been subjected to a brutal and systematic genocide, conducted through a joint effort by the Myanmar military, police, and majority Buddhist nationalists.

The so-called “cleansing operations” have killed hundreds of Rohingya in recent months, driving over 400,000 crying, frightened, and hungry people to flee for their lives in any way possible. Hundreds more have perished at sea, or been hunted down and killed in jungles.

Stories of murder and mayhem remind one of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people during the Nakba of 1948. It should come as no surprise that Israel is one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to the Myanmar military.

Despite an extended arms embargo on Burma by many countries, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman insists that his country has no intentions of halting its weapons shipments to the despicable regime in Rangoon, which is using these weapons against its own minorities, not only Muslims in the west but also Christians in the north.

One of the Israeli shipments was announced in August 2016 by the Israeli company TAR Ideal Concepts. The company proudly featured that its Corner Shot rifles are already in “operational use” by the Myanmar military.

Israel’s history is rife with examples of backing brutal juntas and authoritarian regimes, but why are those who have positioned themselves as the guardians of democracy still silent about the Rohingya bloodbath?

Over a quarter of the Rohingya population has already been driven out of their homes since October last year. The rest could follow in the near future, thus making the collective crime almost irreversible.

Suu Kyi did not even have the moral courage to say a few words of sympathy to the victims. Instead, she could only express an uncommitted statement: “We have to take care of everybody who is in our country.”

Meanwhile, her spokesperson and other mouthpieces launched a campaign of vilification against the Rohingya, accusing them of burning their own villages, fabricating their own rape stories, while referring to Rohingya who dare to resist as “jihadists,” hoping to link the ongoing genocide with the campaign aimed at vilifying Muslims everywhere.

But well-documented reports give us more than a glimpse of the harrowing reality experienced by the Rohingya.

A recent UN report details the account of one woman, whose husband had been killed by soldiers in what the UN described as “widespread as well as systematic” attacks that meet the criterion of “crimes against humanity.”

“Five of them took off my clothes and raped me,” said the bereaved woman. “My eight-month-old son was crying of hunger when they were in my house because he wanted to breastfeed, so to silence him they killed him with a knife.”

Fleeing refugees who made it to Bangladesh following a nightmarish journey spoke of the murder of children, the rape of women, and the burning of villages. Some of these accounts have been verified through satellite images provided by Human Rights Watch, showing wiped out villages throughout the state.

Certainly, the horrible fate of the Rohingya is not entirely new. But what makes it particularly pressing is that the West is now fully on the side of the very government that is carrying out these atrocious acts. And there is a reason for that: oil.

Massive deposits of oil that have remained untapped due to decades of Western boycotts of the junta government are now available to the highest bidder.

It is a big oil bonanza, and all are invited. Shell, ENI, Total, Chevron and many others are investing large sums to exploit the country’s natural resources, while the Chinese—who dominated Myanmar’s economy for many years—are being slowly pushed out.

Indeed, the rivalry over Burma’s unexploited wealth is at its highest in decades. It is this wealth—and the need to undermine China’s superpower status in Asia—that has brought the West back, installed Suu Kyi as a leader in a country that has never fundamentally changed, but only rebranded itself to pave the road for the return of big oil.

However, the Rohingya are paying the price. Do not let Myanmar’s official propaganda mislead you. The Rohingya are not foreigners, intruders, or immigrants.

Their kingdom of Arakan dates back to the eighth century. In the centuries that followed, the inhabitants of that kingdom learned about Islam from Arab traders and, with time, it became a Muslim-majority region. Arakan is Burma’s modern-day Rakhine state, where most of the country’s estimated 1.2 million Rohingya still live.

The false notion that the Rohingya are outsiders started in 1784 when the Burmese king conquered Arakan and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Many of those who were forced out of their homes to Bengal eventually returned.

Attacks on Rohingya, and constant attempts at driving them out of Rakhine, have been renewed over several periods of history, for example: following the Japanese defeat of British forces stationed in Burma in 1942; in 1948; following the takeover of Burma by the Army in 1962; as a result of so-called “Operation Dragon King” in 1977, where the military junta forcefully drove over 200,000 Rohingya out of their homes to Bangladesh; and so on.

In 1982, the military government passed the Citizenship Law that stripped most Rohingya of their citizenship, declaring them illegal in their own country.

The war on the Rohingya began again in 2012. Every single episode, since then, has followed a typical narrative: communal clashes between Buddhist nationals and Rohingya, often leading to tens of thousands of the latter group being chased out to the Bay of Bengal, to the jungles and, those who survive, to refugee camps.

Amid international silence, only a few respected figures like Pope Francis spoke out in support of the Rohingya in a deeply moving prayer last February.

The Rohingya are “good people,” the Pope said. “They are peaceful people, and they are our brothers and sisters.” His call for justice was never heeded.

Arab and Muslim countries remained largely silent, despite public outcry to do something to end the genocide.

Aung San Suu Kyi. | Mark Schiefelbein / AP

When U.S., European, and Japanese corporations lined up to exploit the treasures of Burma, all they needed was the nod of approval from the U.S. government.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama’s administration hailed Myanmar’s “opening” even before the 2015 elections brought Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy to power.

Since then, the country has become another U.S. “success story,” oblivious, of course, to the fact that a genocide has been under way in that country for years.

The violence in Myanmar is likely to escalate and reach other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, simply because the two main ethnic and religious groups in these countries are dominated by and almost evenly split between Buddhists and Muslims.

The triumphant return of the West to exploit the country’s wealth and the U.S.-Chinese rivalry is likely to complicate the situation even further, if ASEAN does not end its appalling silence and move with a determined strategy to pressure Burma to end its genocide of the Rohingya.

People around the world must take a stand. Religious communities should speak out. Human rights groups should do more to document the crimes of the Myanmar government and hold to account those who supply them with weapons.

Respected South African Bishop Desmond Tutu strongly admonished Suu Kyi for turning a blind eye to the ongoing genocide.

It is the least we expect from the man who stood up to apartheid in his own country, and penned the famous words: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Reposted from Morning Star.


Ramzy Baroud
Ramzy Baroud

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about Palestine, the Middle East, and global issues for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, an editor, an author of several books, and the founder of The Palestine Chronicle. His books include 'The Second Palestinian Intifada', 'My Father Was a Freedom Fighter' and 'The Last Earth.' His latest book is 'These Chains Will Be Broken'. Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter. He is currently a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University.