The rising tide of hate against the Rohingya
Evidence is beginning to emerge that the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw, is once again instigating a campaign of propaganda against the Rohingya. Observers on the ground are convinced that violence will surely follow once again.
Of the 1 million Rohingya who were in Myanmar in 2016, about two-thirds were pushed over the border to Bangladesh during the military’s “clearing operations” in 2017 and 2018. It was an act of genocide that is being prosecuted in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Most of those who remained were already in camps for internally displaced people as a consequence of communal violence in 2012 and 2013 or, for some, even earlier. Indeed, the main reason why there are still so many Rohingya in Myanmar at all is because those in the camps could not easily flee.
Now it appears that the federal authorities in Myanmar are intent on finishing what they started. The Rohingya are once again portrayed as a threat, which is an absurd charge given that hardly any remain free in society at large, even in their former Rakhine state heartland, and that those held in the internal camps are largely cut off from any interaction with the rest of the country. Occasionally, some manage to escape from the camps — but the first thing they do is try is to find a way out of the country.
But the mentality that drives a genocide such as this is not bound by reality any more than it is bound by compassion and humanity. A genocide is almost always also a ritual of “purification.” Merely reducing a people to non-relevance is not enough: They must be destroyed and removed entirely, otherwise the “purification” will have failed.
For that reason, the handful of Rohingya remaining free in Myanmar — and certainly the hundreds of thousands effectively imprisoned in “refugee” camps — remain an affront to the project of “purification” pursued by the military. At the very least, it is unfinished business. More likely, it is perceived as an infuriating act of defiance that must be crushed.
Unfortunately, it appears that even the ICJ trial has not succeeded in deterring further hostility toward the Rohingya. The more optimistic observers had hoped the legal action would be the first step toward redress for the Rohingya and might, in the longer term, mean that they could return to the land of their birth. The most that can be said of the trial now is that it might have slightly delayed the final act of the genocide.
It seems the Tatmadaw are once again getting restless and that they no longer appear to feel in any way restrained by global opinion or the censure of international law.
Perhaps they believe that all the reputational and economic damage they might have feared as a consequence of the genocide has already happened, and so no practical impediment remains to them finishing what they started. Or perhaps they feel that reigniting this issue might help them entrench themselves in an election year by providing them with a bit more power in the ongoing tug of war they have with the civilian government.
It seems the Myanmar military is once again getting restless and that it no longer appears to feel in any way restrained by global opinion or the censure of international law.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Whatever the case may be, the only thing that can prevent this situation from escalating and resulting in another wave of refugees, or even mass murder, is a robust and proactive response from the international community. And, once again, such a response is unlikely to be forthcoming.
There are only three international powers that have the clout to intervene and stop what is coming: The UN, the US and China. It is more likely China would veto any UN action on the genocide.
That leaves the US, which might have intervened in the halcyon days of the 1990s — but now is a country entirely consumed by internal instability in the wake of a bitterly divided and fraught election.
Once again the world can see a genocide coming. And once again, the world is failing to do anything about it.
- Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is a director at the Center for Global Policy in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim