As absurd as it may seem, genocides are not a thing of the past. At this very moment, as you are reading this, Rohingya Muslims continue to flee the dangers of Myanmar under what many say is quickly becoming a genocide and has been classified as an ethnic cleansing by the United Nations.
The Rohingya Muslims are considered the “world’s most persecuted minority” due to the extremities of this situation. Over 400,000 have fled the Rakhine state to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, making this refugee crisis one of the most accelerated. As of October 2017, there are approximately 800 000 Rohingya Muslims currently taking refuge in Bangladesh. Out of this quick-growing number of refugees, 240,000 are children. This situation has quickly become one of a devastating magnitude. Despite the substantial effects seen simply from looking at the situation from a statistical perspective, the Myanmar government has denied that Rohingya Muslims have been discriminated against and mistreated, as well as denied the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims under the Myanmar government at the hands of the army. However, for the first time ever, Myanmar soldiers have admitted to wrongfully killing 10 Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.
Last month, the military said it would look into a mass grave with 10 skeletons in Inndin Village Cemetery.
The results were published on the military’s Facebook page on Jan. 10, which said, “In the incident, some villagers from Inndin Village and members of security forces confessed it is true they killed 10 Bengali terrorists.” The post describes the situation as 200 “Bengali terrorists” having hit soldiers with sticks near Inndin Village on Sep. 1, 2017 and the military shooting into the sky to cease the attack and capturing 10 “Bengali terrorists.” The next day, villagers marched the men out to Peyon Cemetery and dug a pit for the men to go in to. A few villagers went inside the pit to hurt the 10 men with swords after which a small fight broke out. The 10 men were killed in Peyon Cemetery.
Journalists and other forms of media are denied access to Rakhine State for investigation unless on tours heavily supervised by military. U.N. Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee was banned from entering the country in December 2017 after being accused by the government of not being “impartial and objective”. Lee regarded the ban as a sign of “something terribly awful” happening in Rakhine.
The violence that ensues currently stems from Myanmar’s animosity towards the Rohingya. In 2012, there was conflict between the Rohingya and Myanmar, leading to tens of thousands of Rohingya fleeing to Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Thailand. The attacks in October 2016 were a tipping point for Myanmar in which 9 Myanmar border police were killed and the blame landed on the government-deemed “terrorist group” Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Although the Rohingya tend to abstain from violence, the ARSA have a different approach. Then came a crackdown from government troops, random shootings of Rohingya and the burnings of their villages.
Aug. 25, 2017 marks the beginning of the most recent exodus influx. The same group, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, attacked Myanmar police and military troops. 12 police officers and 59 militants were killed, according to the office of Aung San Suu Kyi. Al Jazeera reports that residents told them the army responded by burning down masses of Rohingya homes and villages in search of the attackers and shooting down those who flee. While the army puts the death toll at 400, residents say it truly lies at over 1000 people. The Myanmar government reports that 175 villages, which totals to 30% of Rohingya villages, are now devoid. Many believe that what the army is doing is an “ethnic cleansing” as their measures have been excessive and indiscriminate considering they are searching solely for a small group of attackers.
Amnesty International regional director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, James Gomez, says,
“However, it is only the tip of the iceberg and warrants serious independent investigation into what other atrocities were committed amid the ethnic cleansing campaign that has forced out more than 655,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State since last August.”
Despite the blatant seriousness of the situation in Rakhine State, the Myanmar government had yet to admit to their participation in the ethnic cleansing, persecution and killings of Rohingya Muslims, until this confession. The confession is small and still refers to the Rohingya Muslims as Bengalis, implying that they are “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh and not natives to Myanmar and calling them terrorists connotes that Rohingya Muslims as a whole are involved in mass murder and destruction. It can easily become meaningless when considering the overall situation and the large number of Rohingya Muslims who have had to become refugees and flee their own country, but it is still important to take this confession as a significant aspect of this situation. As stated by Gomez, it implies that there have been other horrendous acts done to harm Rohingya Muslims that are yet to be confessed by the Myanmar army and government. Although it has already been reported that Rohingya Muslims have been victims of killings, rape and other forms of torture, as well as being persecuted and facing an ethnic cleansing, these need to be acknowledged by the Myanmar government for change to begin, reparations to be paid and justice to be given to the Rohingya Muslims.