Tens of thousands of Rohingya are fleeing for their lives as the Burmese military engages in a scorched earth policy against Rohingya civilians. My organisation, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, has confirmed more than 1,000 deaths so far, but the figure is probably much higher. More than 10,000 homes have been burned or destroyed, as have shops and businesses. The military is systematically going from village to village, looting and destroying everything. They leave nothing behind. There is nothing for Rohingya to return to.
The question I am asked over and over again by my Rohingya brothers and sisters in Burma is, how can this be allowed to happen again?
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has described what is happening now in Rakhine State, Burma as predicted and preventable. History is repeating itself, but on a more horrific scale.
Last October, attacks on police stations by a new armed Rohingya organisation, now calling itself the Arakan (Arakan is another name used for Rakhine State) Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), triggered a major military operation in which hundreds were killed, villages were destroyed, and mass rape of Rohingya women took place. The United Nations described what took place as possible crimes against humanity, and the Human Rights Council established a Fact Finding Mission to investigate. The government of Burma is refusing to allow them into the country.
It was always feared that more attacks by ARSA would lead to a new offensive by the military, and that is what happened on August 25. As in 2016, the military offensive is not targeting ARSA, it is targeting civilians, with mass killings of civilians and destruction of civilian property.
We had hope that when a new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in 2016, things would change. Instead, she kept all the laws and policies which oppress us in place. She even kept in place restrictions on aid to Rohingya living in camps since their homes were destroyed by attacks in 2012. Those restrictions kill children and leave others stunted and malnourished.
One positive step by the government was the establishment of a commission chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. However, it excluded any Rohingya from being members and had a limited mandate, not being allowed to look at human rights violations last week. At times, it seemed like a delaying tactic and was used as an excuse by the government for delays in changing policy and refusing to allow in the UN investigators. Last week, it did put forward some positive proposals, which the government accepted.
However, at the same time as Aung San Suu Kyi was talking about implementing the recommendations, her office and government were doing the opposite of what the report recommended, using social media and state media to whip up fears and tensions against Rohingya.
Her government has even gone so far as to imply the UN and other international aid agencies are helping what the government called ‘extremist Bengali terrorists’. Stirring up pre-existing allegations some Rakhine nationalists have made in this way puts aid workers at risk of attacks and risks stopping delivery of life-saving aid to vulnerable people, including tens of thousands of children.
When the military launched its operation against us in October 2016 instead of trying to protect us, Aung San Suu Kyi’s government launched a propaganda offensive defending the military and denying human rights violations were happening. Flashing ‘Fake Rape’ signs were on her Facebook page and website. The UN later confirmed the most horrific details of mass rape of Rohingya women.
Aung San Suu Kyi used to be our only hope for changing policies and attitudes towards the Rohingya. With that hope gone, we looked towards the international community for help, but they also failed us.
Despite the establishment in March of the investigation by the UN into possible crimes against humanity committed by the Burmese military against Rohingya, and possible crimes against humanity and war crimes against other ethnic groups, no pressure has been put on the military. In fact, the opposite has happened.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Only international pressure can save Rohingya now’.