Face facts: Genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar is complete

Face facts: Genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar is complete

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As recently as two weeks ago, some of the few Rohingya remaining in Myanmar were still trying to make their way across the border to the relative safety of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. This comes 16 months after the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed Rohingya who had previously fled Myanmar would be helped to return to the country of their birth, and over two months since the International Court of Justice ruled that Myanmar must take a number of steps to protect the Rohingya, who it judged as “at risk of genocide.”

It therefore seems that fears for the safety of the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar were, unfortunately, well founded. And those who made it to the border were some of the luckier ones. The situation is probably even more precarious for the majority of those still in the country, who find themselves in internally displaced people’s camps in Myanmar under the direct supervision and “protection” of the Myanmar military, who orchestrated the “clearance operations” against them in the first place.

As if the background situation of the ethnic cleansing, plus the intrusion the COVID-19 pandemic, were not enough, the Myanmar military has once again ramped up attacks against insurgent groups, and any civilian who belongs to the same ethnic group as the insurgents. Presumably the calculation was that the pandemic might make the insurgent groups less organized and more vulnerable to attack. If that was the case, then it would appear that calculation was wrong.

In any event, as is always the case, it is the most vulnerable who are caught in the middle and suffer the most. In this instance, most of those killed and injured have been women and children, as the military in particular continues to practice their usual tactics of carpet shelling civilian settlements.

Most of us observing the Rohingya crisis over the past decade from a point of humanitarian concern already knew that Myanmar continued to be a live threat to the Rohingya, even after the ICJ ruling. These recent developments should make it clear to everyone that this remains the case. Not even the humiliation of Aung San Suu Kyi before the ICJ managed to impose some degree of moderation on the excesses of the Myanmar military, and we simply do not see how the Rohingya could possibly return home and be safe while the country continues to be governed by the unholy alliance between the nationalist military establishment that used to rule Myanmar and the “pro-democracy” movement led by Suu Kyi.

Despite recent moves made, it seems that fears for the safety of the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar were, unfortunately, well founded.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

The antipathy of the old military establishment toward all the non-Bamar, border ethnic groups in general, and against the Muslim Rohingya in particular, remains a key motivating force in the government of Myanmar. Meanwhile, the old power elite seems to have entirely co-opted Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy movement, although the latter carry with them the support of ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks who are even more extreme in their hatred of the Rohingya than even the old-guard generals.

All in all, we find ourselves, once again, calling upon the international community to acknowledge the unfortunate but unavoidable facts: There is no going back to Myanmar for the Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh. As much as all of us would want to see the Rohingya restored to their rightful place in the land of their ancestors, there is no point in pretending that Cox’s Bazaar is only a temporary home to the nearly 1 million people who fled there. This situation should be accepted as permanent, with virtually no chance of redress short of a revolution and overthrow of the state in Myanmar. The genocide of the Rohingya within Myanmar is virtually complete. It is too late to pretend otherwise.

If the international community wants to help, it must help Bangladesh and the Rohingya make Cox’s Bazar a liveable place, and help the community of Cox’s Bazar integrate economically with Bangladesh, so as they can contribute back to the people and society of Bangladesh as much as the latter have contributed to the safety of the Rohingya. We must still, of course, seek justice at the ICJ for what happened to the Rohingya. But our priority at the moment should be to ensure that they survive and can live with dignity where they are now.

  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a director at the Center for Global Policy and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017). Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim​
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