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The atrocities against Rohingya do not stop

The ethnic minority forgotten by Human Rights

Rohingya girls in the Muslim ghetto of Sittwe, Rakhine State.

Rohingya girls in the Muslim ghetto of Sittwe, Rakhine State. photo by Andrew Stanbridge

After the 27 august Angelus in St. Peter's Square, the Pope expressed his closeness to “our Rohingya brothers”, the ethnic group of Myanmar stripped of its rights. “We all ask God to save them and lead men and women of goodwill in their help”, these are the words of the pontiff.

But who are the Rohingya? How are we acting about them?

The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minority in the world. Of Muslim ethnicity, their language is the Rohingya, an Indo-European language of the branch of the Indo-Aryans. They have a very discussed origin: some consider them indigenous of the Rakhine State (also known as Arakan o Rohang in Rohingya language) in Burma, others claim they are Muslim immigrants that moved from Bangladesh to Burma during the British rule. This population is, in fact, “without State”, because it is not included in the ethnic group officially recognised in Myanmar, where they are considered illegal immigrants. Even Bangladesh does not recognize their citizenship and it is no longer able to welcome them. To be part of the Rohingya minority means a series of strong discriminations and individual liberty violations: they need a special permission for marrying, travelling, working, going to the doctor, attending a funeral; the right to education is not guaranteed, they are subject to goods confiscation, discriminating taxation, forced labor, and every kind of physical and psychological violence. Also the Buddhist monks play a role in this segregation: some of them consider the Rohingya as a threat to the Buddhist religious purity, they do not allow mixed marriages, boycott their stores, incite hatred.

In 2012 the Rohingya issue caught the international attention for the outbreak of violent clashes and the starting of a real wave of violence against this Muslim minority because of the rape of a young Buddhist woman. There were 600 dead and thousands of missing people, in addition to the destruction of many villages. After that, the Rohingya escape has intensified, reaching the peak in 2015, when about 25,000 refugees left the Gulf of Bengal, launching a migratory emergency exacerbated by the closure attitude of neighboring countries.

At the moment there are about a million Rohingya in Myanmar, many have been relegated to ghettos or they are fled to refugees camps in Bangladesh and in the border area with Thailand. More than 150 000 are stucked in refugees camps, because the authorities deny them to leave.

Moreover, from three and half a month, in the north of the Rakhine State they are subjected to a fierce military repression. Many claim that birmans are doing an act of ethnic cleansing or a real genocide, but the Myanmar Army and the councilor Aung San Suu Kyi - Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 - reject the allegations, by defining what is happening like an antiterrorist operation for capturing Rohingya militants who have attacked police outposts.

"The Lady," as the councilor is famous, is showing a contradictory relationship with the media and does not give interviews. When the BBC was allowed to go to the places of the conflict, San Suu Kyi immediately revoked the permission. The attitude of many Burmese is to define allegations of occurrences (rapes, bodies of dead children in the streets, piles of burnt skulls) as "just rumors"; but this thesis does not support the appearance of many videos and photos published by the Rohingya themselves, who are forced to build their testimony their own because of the absence of journalists and humanitarian aid. The non-conviction of one of the representatives of human rights defenders - which defines the controversy over the issue as a huge iceberg of misinformation - and the bizarre propaganda in progress drags a series of perplexities. The statement of San Suu kyi in one of his famous texts - "The fear of losing power corrupts those who hold it" - seems to come back prophetically today, as a test to overcome.

Under international pressures, San Suu Kyi has in recent days given way to a commission on the ongoing abuses (chaired by vice-president and former general Mynt Swe). Indonesia has headed a protest movement against the ongoing violence and Turkish President Erdogan - who in recent days spoke of "genocide" - called in a phone call to the councilor to stop this carnage and has offered help to Bangladesh, where most refugees are heading. At the same time, Pakistan urged the intervention of the Islamic Conference Organization and Malayisia - the first nation to have used the term "genocide" for Rohingya - will host a session of the Permanent People's Tribunal in mid-September, which will deal with the violences against minorities committed by Myanmar.

In this very serious picture, the arrival of international relief is certainly crucial, as it is particularly evident for the deadly exodus that is occurring at the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. As announced in a September 4 press release, the MOAS ship, Phoenix, has also moved from the Mediterranean - where it will continue to observe migratory routes - to the Gulf of Bengal to distribute aid and assist people who have been affected by violence.

International action will have a key role in managing this "genocide risk", in spite of the fact that there is a lack of transparency in what is happening in northern Rakhine.

12 September 2017

Crimes of genocide and against the humankind

the denial of the individual's value

The first legal definition in the domain of mass persecution dates back to 1915 and concerns the massacres of the Armenian populations perpetrated by the Turks, which were followed by the trials of the perpetrators before the Martial Court. In the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 the Great Powers use the terms "crimes against civilization" and "crimes of lèse-humanity". In the aftermath of Second World War, face the Holocaust tragedy, the Military Tribunal of the Nurnberger Trials against Nazi officials started the proceeding by stating the crimes on which it was competent... On 9 December 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations unanimously approved the Convention for the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, which is considered as the most heinous crime against Humanity. 

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Lydia Cacho

journalist and women’s rights activist