Despite the U.S.-led rolling back of economic sanctions and internationally backed national elections taking place early next month, more than a million people in Burma are facing state-sponsored genocide, according to a new report.
The Rohingya Muslim community of the military-dominated Southeast Asian nation, which is now officially known as Myanmar, has been systematically persecuted and expunged from the national narrative — often at the behest of powerful extremist groups from the country’s majority Buddhist population and even government authorities — to the point where complete extermination is a possibility, according to a damning new study by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at the Queen Mary University of London.
“The Rohingya face the final stages of genocide,” concludes the report.
ISCI uses noted genocide expert Daniel Feierstein’s framework of the six stages of genocide, outlined in his 2014 book Genocide as Social Practice, as a lens through which to view Burma. Through interviews with stakeholders on both sides of what it describes as ethnic cleansing, as well as media reports and leaked government documents, the report enumerates how the Rohingya have undergone the first four stages — stigmatization and dehumanization; harassment, violence and terror; isolation and segregation; systematic weakening — and are on the verge of “mass annihilation.” The sixth stage, which involves the “removal of the victim group from collective history,” is already under way in many respects, the report says.
The report documents a systematic deterioration of the Rohingya’s situation since communal violence broke out in June 2012 in Burma’s Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state.
Although the Burmese government has painted the strife — which saw hundreds of people, mainly Muslims, slaughtered during two main waves of violence that June and October — as a spontaneous outbreak of long-mounting religious tensions following the reported rape of a Buddhist woman, the ISCI report presents compelling evidence that the attacks were premeditated and possibly even organized by local authorities.
Interviews with some of the perpetrators — none of whom have been prosecuted because of a supposed lack of concrete evidence — reveal that they were bused into Rakhine state’s capital city Sittwe from nearby villages, provided two free meals a day and told it was their “duty as Rakhine to participate in an attack on the Muslim population.”
There are also strong indications that the government not only allowed the violence to take place unabated for almost a week, but that police, military and other state security forces participated in the attacks themselves, the report says.
Since then, close to 140,000 Rohingya have been sequestered in squalid camps outside the state’s capital, heavily guarded and prevented from leaving by security forces. The 4,500 that remain in Sittwe reside in a run-down ghetto with similar restrictions on movement. A majority of the Rohingya, numbering about 800,000, are spread out across two townships in northern Rakhine state — another region completely blocked off from the outside world by the military.
A lot of the food rations sent by international aid organizations never make it to the Rohingya camps, and denial of access to adequate health care have turned them into hotbeds for malnutrition and disease. As a result of the apartheid-like conditions, the inhabitants of these camps are also largely prevented from receiving an education and earning any sort of livelihood.
“The abuses that the Rohingya are experiencing are at a level and scale that we have not seen elsewhere in Southeast Asia,” Matthew Smith, the founder and executive director of Bangkok-based nonprofit Fortify Rights, tells TIME. The human-rights organization has been documenting abuses in Burma, and Smith echoes the assertion that there is a strong reason to believe state-enabled ethnic cleansing is taking place in the country.
“The Rohingya don’t have to be annihilated for someone to be held responsible for the crime of genocide,” he says. “They [Burmese authorities] are creating conditions of life for over a million people that are designed to be destructive.”
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