Myanmar military shows how long it had planned its genocide

Myanmar military shows how long it had planned its genocide

Myanmar military shows how long it had planned its genocide
Rohingya refugees play football at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, Mar. 27, 2018. (Reuters)
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The military of Myanmar, the Tatmadaw, has long falsely insisted its genocidal actions against the Rohingya were provoked. The generals claim that the military operation that forced 800,000 Rohingya from their homes and from the country in 2017 was preceded by widespread and deadly attacks on military installations by guerrilla forces.
Even at the time, analysts were shocked by the brutality of the Tatmadaw’s actions and wondered why the military chose to overreact so viciously to small-scale trouble from insurgent groups.
We are beginning to know the answer. The genocide, the violence and the criminality — none of it was spontaneous, and it was not in reaction to anything. Instead, the violent campaign against the Rohingya had been meticulously planned and set into motion with premeditated malice.
An investigation by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, an independent war crimes investigator, indicates that documents exist from as far back as 2014 describing a “national project” of demonization and eventual expulsion.
In meetings before the expulsion of the Rohingya from Rakhine state in August 2017, the commission alleges, figures in the Buddhist priesthood and the military hierarchy told non-Rohingya to stay put while the soldiers conducted their ethnic cleansing and drove the Rohingya out. These pogroms are estimated to have involved the direct deaths of up to 10,000 people and led to a million or more fleeing their homes.
The documents allege that, throughout 2017, military commanders planned their future attacks and provocations. They planned to insert saboteurs into villages. And they plotted to convince locals that “Bengalis” — the incorrect term they used for Rohingya — were massing a terrorist army and must therefore be driven out before they could entirely overturn rural society.
And they plotted to hide their own involvement until the last moment, to coordinate their actions and communications with the outside world, in a bid to obscure the genocide entirely or, at best, to present the rest of the world with a violent fait accompli.
Before the operation began, the commission alleges, the army flew in hundreds of additional troops in clear premeditation.
These killings and the expulsions were defended by the civilian leadership of Myanmar at the time, including the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who flatly refused to believe that the army would commit genocide and mass sexual violence against the Rohingya. She even traveled abroad, including to the International Court of Justice, to defend the military against charges of genocide brought by Gambia.
While she was free, Suu Kyi’s reputation never recovered for what she did when she held power. And now she is imprisoned — overthrown in a 2021 coup by the state — many former supporters of the military regime, who acquiesced to the genocide at first, wonder if doing so was worth it. Many of them are now, for the first time, telling advocacy groups and reporters about the things they did.
One soldier told Reuters about the systematic theft and looting of Rohingya property in Rakhine in which he participated in 2017.
More than 400 villages were destroyed during the ethnic cleansing of 2017. Documents collected by the commission list more than 7,000 individual buildings that were burned down between the end of August and the middle of September.
These are significant crimes, planned far in advance.
According to the commission, the Tatmadaw was worried about one thing in particular: The possibility of an international response. Military planners speculated about the possible negative consequences of their actions becoming too widely known and the prospect of some international intervention under the doctrine of the responsibility to protect in cases of genocide and war crimes. In this case, they need not have worried. The outside world was stunned by what happened, but did very little to punish the Tatmadaw’s actions.
The documents allege that many of the officers involved in the massacres have since been promoted.

Documents exist from as far back as 2014 describing a ‘national project’ of demonization and eventual expulsion.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

The commission is not complacent in its outlook. It has dealt with war crimes in Syria and Iraq and understands that dictatorship and corrupt military hierarchies remain in power until they are removed from power. It knows that even well-documented war crimes cannot be prosecuted unless there is the will and the means to do so.
But as it collects data and testimony — and makes the genocide of the Rohingya one of the better-documented events in recent history — there is hope. It is the hope of knowing that the truth can come out, regardless of what those in authority in 2017 and since have said. And knowing that, if other countries can muster the same courage and resolution as those who are campaigning to bring the generals of Myanmar to account at the International Court of Justice, some justice may still be done.

  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the director of special initiatives at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington D.C. and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017). Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim
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