Rohingya: the world's most persecuted minority
Aung San Suu Kyi and her government do not recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group and have blamed violence in Rakhine, and subsequent military crackdowns, on those they call "terrorists". The Nobel Peace Prize laureate does not have control over the military but has been criticised for her failure to condemn the indiscriminate use of force by troops, as well as to stand up for the rights of the over one million Rohingya in Myanmar. The government has also repeatedly rejected accusations of abuses.
On the contrary, the Rohingya are often described as "the world's most persecuted minority" by the international community. The UN, as well as several rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have consistently decried the treatment of the Rohingya by Myanmar and neighbouring countries.
The UN has said that it is "very likely" that the military committed grave human rights abuses in Rakhine that may amount to war crimes. In response to the latest round of violence, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of the risk of ethnic cleansing, calling on Aung San Suu Kyi and the country's security forces to end the violence.
Reacting to the UN’s claim that Myanmar is continuing its campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya including through “forced starvation”, James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said: The Myanmar authorities must end all operations aimed at forcing Rohingya out of their homeland, whether at gunpoint or through starvation. It is also high time the international community took meaningful action, including by imposing an arms embargo and targeted sanctions. He continued: The UN’s findings sadly echo our own – there is no question that the Myanmar authorities’ vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya is still ongoing. Fleeing Rohingya told us how they are still being forcibly starved in a bid to quietly squeeze them out of the country.
UN human rights chief Zeid bin Ra'ad al-Hussein urged Myanmar to end its "brutal security operation" against the Rohingya in Rakhine, calling it a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".
In analysing this violence, we must consider vested political and economic interests as contributing factors to forced displacement in Myanmar, not just of the Rohingya people but of other minorities. It seems that besides Aung San Suu Kyi , “international arms trade” is fueling “genocide” against the Rohingya Muslims, giving Myanmar’s military all the weapons it needs to engage in the “ethnic cleansing” of the minority group. Also land grabbing and confiscation in Myanmar are widespread. Land has often been acquired for “development” projects and these developments has forcibly displaced thousands of people—both internally and across borders. Meanwhile, the government of Myanmar established several laws relating to the management and distribution of farmlands.
Moreover, Myanmar is positioned between countries that have long eyed its resources, such as China and India. In Rakhine State, Chinese and Indian interests are part of the broader China-India relations. These interests revolve principally around the construction of infrastructure and pipelines in the region. Such projects claim to guarantee employment, transit fees, and oil and gas revenues for the whole of Myanmar. In fact, the pipelines put local communities at risk. There is significant local tension related to land seizures, insufficient compensation for damages, environmental degradation, and an influx of foreign workers rather than increased local employment opportunities.
Coastal areas of Rakhine State are clearly of strategic importance to both India and China. The government of Myanmar, therefore, has vested interests in clearing land to prepare for further development and to boost its already rapid economic growth.
All of this takes place within the wider context of geopolitical maneuvering. The role of Bangladesh in fuelling ethnic tensions is also hotly contested. In such power struggles, the human cost is terribly high.
In Myanmar, the groups that fall victim to land grabbing have often started in an extremely vulnerable state and are left even worse off. The treatment of the Rohingya in Rakhine State is the highest profile example of broader expulsion that is inflicted on minorities. When a group is marginalised and oppressed it is difficult to reduce their vulnerability and protect their rights. In the case of the Rohingya, their ability to protect their homes was decimated through the revocation of their Burmese citizenship.
Since the late 1970s, around a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar to escape persecution. Tragically, they are often marginalised in their host countries. The tragedy of the Rohingya is part of a bigger picture which sees the oppression and displacement of minorities across Myanmar and into neighbouring countries.
The relevance and complexity of religious and ethnic issues in Myanmar are undeniable. But we cannot ignore the political and economic context and the root causes of displacement that often go undetected.