The denial of the Rohingya genocide by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate is an attack against peace and progress for the world.
Image Credit: National Public Radio
Why is it happening ?
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group residing in Myanmar among a majority Buddhist population. In contrast to the other 135 ethnic groups composing Myanmar, the Rohingya are denied the right to citizenship. In 1982, a new citizenship law rendered the Rohingya stateless, categorizing them as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. They have no access to healthcare, education, marriage, or politics, despite the fact that Myanmar has been their home for centuries.
Daily persecution, lack of access to basic needs and threats from the military forced many to leave their homes. Myanmar has always known a large outflow of Rohingya refugees looking for shelter in neighbouring countries, almost 1 million since 1972. However, since August 2017, the military has reinforced violent crackdowns on the villages where Rohingya live, claiming to target terrorists. The government accuses Rohingya insurgents of attacking police posts and a military base. Since then, more than 400,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. As a result of reported detentions, assassinations and forced repatriations, the United Nations claims the situation in Myanmar is akin to ethnic cleansing.
Why does it matter?
Civilians are under attack. But there is a particular irony in this case. Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, received a Nobel Peace prize in 1991 for her ‘non-violent struggle for democracy’ in the late 1980s. Back then, she was already ignoring violence against minorities. This undermines the reputation of this Nobel prize and its many deserving laureates, like Malala Yousafzai who already condemned the violence.
The denial of the persecution of Rohingyas is also a case of manipulation and misinformation, notably using the ‘fight against terrorism’ rhetoric. Ms Suu Kyi denies any violence in the villages, and restricts access to independent press and UN investigators. The lack of impartial information and variety in the media can explain the amount of domestic supporters who stand behind her. Additionally, Ms Suu Kyi might try to avoid a deterioration of her party’s relations with the military, that has a high level of political control and is responsible for the violence against the Rohingya. In the end, political games and internal power struggles render millions of civilians refugees.
This is a tragedy for the present and the future. For now, it is a humanitarian disaster: reports of the persecutions are terrifying, refugees live in precarious conditions, children suffer from malnutrition and lack education. Moreover, past examples of minority struggles in Kurdistan, Palestine, and Kashmir show that retaliation often follows on after oppression. The consequences might be even more disastrous for the next generations in Myanmar.
Finally, it is the duty of every legitimate government to protect its people. If an established state is unable to live up to the most basic standards, it can encourage rogue regimes and failed states to carry out similar atrocities against minorities without any retorsion. The neglect of the humanitarian crisis on the international scale sets yet another precedent when support stands idle and help never arrives.
What can you do about it?
For now, the most important is to not let this issue die out as irremediable. Technology is our best weapon to advocate for such issues. Read more and share the story of the Rohingya with the #Rohingya on Facebook or Twitter.
Supporting relief organizations like Muslim Aid, Partner, UNHCR, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), or the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is crucial and saves lives. Make a real impact on the ground and help displaced people to access to medical services, clean water, food, and shelter. Relief organizations are seeking $434m over the next 6 months to meet $1.2m basic needs.
Robert Kennedy once said: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Pascale Budzinski briefs from Brussels, Belgium. She holds a Master of Arts in Translation, specialized in International Affairs from the Université catholique de Louvain.
Connect with her via LinkedIn.