By Quinlyn Manfull
“There is no ethnic cleansing or genocide in our country,” said U Aung Tun Thet, a Myanmar government official, to the U.N. body just one day after a United Nations expert suggested the government was implicated in “the crime of genocide” against Rohingya Muslims.
This would not be the first time the Myanmar government has rejected allegations of involvement in the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people. The U.N. has cited the Rohingya situation as the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.” Before August of last year there were already over 300,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps, makeshift settlements, and in host communities. That number has more than doubled since then.
Rohingya people are denied the right to free movement, the right to citizenship, have been barred from accessing higher education, and are often subjected to forced labor. Most recently, The Associated Press has found and confirmed at least five mass grave sites.
More than half a million minority Rohingya Muslims have fled an army campaign in just a few weeks, finding refuge in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. Rohingyas have often been called the most persecuted minority in the world, unable to claim citizenship in Myanmar where about 1.1 million of them live.
Not only has the Myanmar government claimed that the Rohingya have burned down their own villages, but they’ve gone as far as to deny vast stories of executions, sexual violence and mass killings by the military.
U Aung Hla Tun, Myanmar’s deputy minister of information, said recently that the mass fleeing of Rohingya to Bangladesh was caused by “panic just after the military operations following the [Rohingya] terrorist attacks, for fear of being arrested for their involvement or on suspicion,” claiming it is the fault of Rohingya people that other Rohingya are fleeing.
The situation surrounding the Rohingya genocide has been reported on international news platforms such as BBC, The Economist, The Guardian, and the New York Times, over the past 4 years. However, little action globally has come from this.
Widespread condemnation of the Myanmar government’s action is present, but little in terms of aid or plans to intervene has been seen. The U.N. Security Council appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence but no sanctions have been imposed. The U.S. urged Myanmar’s troops to “respect the rule of law, stop the violence, and end the displacement of civilians from all communities.” China says the international community “should support the efforts of Myanmar in safeguarding the stability of its national development.” The only aid that has been pledged is Bangladesh pledging build more shelters for refugees and the U.K. has pledged £59 million to support those fleeing to Bangladesh.
Using satellite imagery, Amnesty International has documented new security bases being built on the land that was once home to Rohingya communities, accusing the Myanmar government of “erasing evidence of crimes against humanity.”
The language of genocide is fairly recent in this conflict. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, had previously described these systematic attacks on the Rohingya by Myanmar’s military and civilian militias as ethnic cleansing, and just recently referenced “genocide.”
Adama Dieng, the United Nations Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, spoke on the stories he had heard from Rohingya survivors now taking refuge in Bangladesh. Mr Dieng said that “the intent of the perpetrators was the cleanse northern Rakhine State (where most Rohingya live) of their existence… possibly even to destroy the Rohingya as such, which, if proven, would constitute the crime of genocide.”
Myanmar’s government and officials are standing strong in the idea that “accusations are very easy to make, but [they] are not involved in anything at all,” as said by U Aung Tun Thet. With the U.N. and international community moving more towards narratives of genocide, it will become increasingly difficult for Myanmar to not take responsibility.