Suu Kyi has not even had the moral courage to utter a few words of sympathy for the victims. Instead, she could only say: “We have to take care of everybody who is in our country.”
Meanwhile, her spokesman and other mouthpieces launched a campaign of vilification against the Rohingya, accusing them of burning their own villages and fabricating their own rape stories.
But well documented reports give us more than a glimpse of the harrowing reality experienced by the Rohingya. Fleeing refugees who made it to Bangladesh after a nightmarish journey spoke of the murder of children, the rape of women and the burning of villages. Some of these accounts have been verified through satellite images provided by Human Rights Watch, showing wiped out villages throughout the state.
Certainly, the fate of the Rohingya is not entirely new. But what makes it particularity pressing is that the West is now fully on the side of the very government that is carrying out these atrocious acts. And there is a reason for that: Oil.
Massive deposits untapped because of the Western boycott of Myanmar’s junta are now available to the highest bidder. It is a bonanza, and all are invited. Shell, ENI, Total, Chevron and many others are investing large sums, while the Chinese — who dominated Myanmar’s economy for many years — are being slowly pushed out.
It is this wealth, and the need to undermine China’s superpower status in Asia, that has brought the West back and installed Suu Kyi as leader in a country that has never fundamentally changed, but only rebranded itself to pave the road for the return of ‘Big Oil.’
However, the Rohingya are paying the price. Do not let Myanmar’s official propaganda mislead you. The Rohingya are not foreigners, intruders or immigrants. Their kingdom of Arakan dates from the 8th century. They learned about Islam from Arab traders and, with time, it became a Muslim-majority region.
Arakan is Myanmar’s modern-day Rakhine state, where most of the estimated 1.2 million Rohingya still live. The false notion that the Rohingya are outsiders started in 1784 when the King conquered Arakan and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.
Attacks on Rohingya, and constant attempts at driving them out of Rakhine, have continued. This happened after the Japanese defeat of British forces in Burma in 1942; in 1948; after the military takeover in 1962; and in 1977, when the junta drove over 200,000 Rohingya out of their homes to Bangladesh.
In 1982, the junta passed a law that stripped most Rohingya of their citizenship, declaring them illegal in their own country.
The silence of Western countries on the genocide of the Rohingya is a direct result of their rivalry over the country’s unexploited wealth.
The war on the Rohingya began again in 2012. Every single episode, since then, has followed a typical narrative: Clashes between Buddhist nationalists and Rohingya, often leading to tens of thousands of the latter being chased out to the Bay of Bengal, to the jungles and, those who survive, to refugee camps.
Amid international silence, only a few respected figures such as Pope Francis spoke out in support of the Rohingya. They are good people, the Pope said in a deeply moving prayer last February. “They are peaceful people, and they are our brothers and sisters.” His call for justice was never heeded.
Meanwhile Arab and Muslim countries remained largely silent, despite a public outcry to do something to end the genocide. With access to the reality through their many emissaries on the ground, Western governments know only too well about the indisputable facts, but ignore them anyway. When US, European and Japanese corporations lined up to exploit the treasures of Myanmar, all they needed was the nod of approval from the US government. The Barack Obama administration hailed Myanmar’s opportunities even before the 2015 elections brought Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy to power. After that date, Myanmar became another American success story, oblivious, of course, to the facts that genocide has been underway there for years.
The violence in Myanmar is likely to escalate and reach other ASEAN countries, simply because the two main ethnic and religious groups in these countries are dominated and almost evenly split between Buddhists and Muslims.
The triumphant return of the West to exploit Myanmar’s wealth and the US-Chinese rivalries are likely to complicate the situation even further, if ASEAN does not end its appalling silence and move with a determined strategy to pressure the Myanmar government to end its genocide of the Rohingya.
People around the world must take a stand. Religious communities should speak out. Human rights groups should do more to document the crimes of the Myanmar government and hold to account those who supply them with weapons.
Respected South African Bishop Desmond Tutu had strongly admonished Suu Kyi for turning a blind eye to the ongoing genocide.
It is the least we expect from the man who stood up to apartheid in his own country, and wrote the famous words: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
• Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California. Visit his website: www.ramzybaroud.net.