Holocaust of Rohingya Muslims

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George Bernard Shaw said and I quote, “History repeats itself, and if the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience”- unquote. The eccentricity of human nature is that it is impervious.  Humans, in the end do whatever they want to do, sometimes ignoring the lessons of the past.

This planet witnessed one of the worst humanitarian crises when 11 million people were tortured and killed on the basis of their religion and ethnicity. This fanaticism of ethnic cleansing which had been instigated by Adolf Hitler was condemned by all. The world was in total chaos after the shameless massacre of two-third European Jews. All world leaders pledged never to let this happen again. Now, these promises are being proved phony because thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being persecuted for this very reason. Pity, we did not learn anything from our past. Apart from mass killings, the crimes that are being committed against them are most sinister of their kind. If this pogrom is not dealt soon with, a population of 1.3 million Rohingyas will be wiped out of Burma.

Humanity and justice is in tatters in Burma. Rohingya Muslims, who are the biggest Muslim community, comprise 4 percent of Myanmar’s population. They have lived there for decades but are still considered as illegal intruders from Bangladesh. Majority of them lives in the Northern state of Rakhine. They are the most persecuted community in the world and the way they are treated in their own country is depressing. Sectarian violence is on its peak in Burma. Ad nuance they have fallen prey to the atrocities of Buddhists and government officials. The official persecution of Rohingyas began in the late 1970s when the Burmese military leadership turned anti-Christian and, more potently anti-Muslim and gained proper momentum in 2012 and is intensifying since then.

Rohingyas have been tortured, killed, raped and robbed frequently. Their properties have been snatched away from them, they have been rendered jobless, their villages have been burnt to the ground, mosques have been destroyed by the government forces, schools have been razed, they have been forced to slavery and unthinkable heinous crimes have been committed against them and are being continued. Due to arson they have been displaced and are forced to live in camps, outside the capital. These camps are equal to Nazi’s concentration camps where basic needs are denied. Due to the deprivation of their basic rights many have taken it to the sea. “Doctors without borders”, which was the main health care provider to the Rohingyas, has been shut down by the government.

A Rohingya in one of those shanty camps gave a startling reason for this menace, “We were educated and used to get better jobs. Our good standard of living was a threat to them so forcefully they took our jobs and made us homeless.”  How insecure of them. They were threatened by a meager number of 4 percent. This part of the world is also scared of Islam. Moreover they can’t marry without special permission and can’t have more than two children.

In spite of living there for ages and being the most prominent Muslim community, in 1982 Rohingyas were stripped off their nationality according to the Citizenship Law then introduced on discriminatory ethnic grounds. In order to get nationality they must provide “conclusive evidence” that their ancestors were settled in Burma before the independence in 1948, which is near to impossible. Official government statements refer to them as “Bengali,” “so-called Rohingya,” or the pejorative “kalar” and they are branded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Humanity was at its lowest when in October 2013 at least 70 Rohingya were killed in a daylong onslaught in Yan Thei village in Mrauk-U Township. Despite advance warning of the attack, only a handful of local police and army soldiers were on duty to provide security. Instead of doing their jobs, they shamelessly assisted the killings. “First the soldiers told us, ‘Do not do anything, we will protect you, we will save you,’ so we trusted them,” a 25-year-old survivor told Human Rights Watch. “But later they broke that promise. The Arakanese beat and killed us very easily. The security did not protect us from them.”

When Human Rights Watch went to Burma to inquire about this genocide, they found three mass graves. Soon after that security forces dug up those graves to demolish the evidence. On 13 June 2013, a government truck dumped 18 naked and half-clothed bodies near a Rohingya displaced person camp outside of Sittwe, the state capital. And the condition in which these bodies were is indescribable. The bodies were dumped outside the camps in which these Rohingyas are forced to live, as a threat that these people should leave immediately or they will also meet the same fate.

According to an article in Bangkok Post, It is estimated that some 140,000 Rohingya have been forced from their homes in Rakhine State due to clashes with Buddhists over the past two years. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 25,000 Rohingya and fled on boats in the first quarter of this year, twice the number last year. Hundreds of them died at sea due to starvation, dehydration and abuse by boat crew.

This ethnic cleansing was initiated by radical Buddhist Monks collectively called Mabatha. The 969 movement, whose origins can be traced to the days of military rule, is at the heart of this religious animosity. Ashin Wirathu, its chief proponent is a major player in this anti-Muslim movement in Burma. He has been nicknamed as “Burmese Bin Laden” and has gone to prison in the past for Anti-Muslim activities. According to a report by Reuters, this 969 movement has the support of government officials and of members of opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

These Buddhists who portray themselves as peace loving people have caused extreme misery to the Rohingyas. They give hate sermons, distribute stickers and pamphlets with anti-Muslim sentiment and have preached hatred far and wide. They have urged to boycott Muslim shops and shunned inter-faith marriages. Mosques have been called “enemy Bases” by them. These Monks have also spread sectarian violence in the past and are responsible for mass killings of thousands of Muslims. They justify these crimes as a necessity in order to ensure safety of their race and religion.

Buddhists Monks have always played an important role in the country’s politics. Government officials back their actions. The silence of government on this issue is the testimony to the vicious intention of getting rid of 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims. The president is not interested in talks, meetings and conferences which include Rohingya issue. In the beginning, actual number of people affected was hidden by the government officials but things came to light as Human Rights Watch, NGOs, journalists and other organizations went there to gain firsthand knowledge.  Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, has ignored this issue since it is maligning to her political interests.

Those Rohingyas, who had the means, escaped by sea in small boats or cargo ships through smugglers. But things didn’t get any better for them, countries (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh) where they sought shelter shunned them away and in some cases crew members of the boats abandoned them. The people stranded are in awful condition of starvation and poor sanitation.

United Nations estimates more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea since ethnic and sectarian violence erupted.  In the beginning Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia provided shelter to these people but the number kept on increasing so they refused to take more refugees. These people have been massively abused by human traffickers in Thailand.

Some fortunate ones who were successful in fleeing Myanmar are living in poor conditions in the neighboring countries of India and Nepal but are quite happy with that. According to a news report, some 60 Rohingya families are living in the slums of Delhi. Similarly Rohingyas that are living in earthquake hit Nepal find it better than sea or Burma. In Nepal they are also living as illegal immigrants and cannot work. They are given a stipend of 42 dollars a month by UNHRC on which they survive, as reported by TIME.

Pakistan has announced to give 5 million dollars in food assistance to those Rohingyas who have taken refuge in the shelter camps of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. US have showed the inclination of taking Rohingya refugees and to support shelter programs by Indonesia and Malaysia. Burma Task Force / Justice for All organized a conference in Oslo, Norway to address this issue. It was attended by human rights activists and researchers to work out a permanent solution for them. Similarly The International Conference on Plight of the Rohingya Part II, which was held in Malaysia, has completed its resolution. Other than this, a number of talks and meeting were conducted to seek a solution for Rohingyas. The world has taken this issue seriously and is working on its solution.

Humanity has suffered enough in the name of ethnic violence. A lot of communities have paid the heavy price of death, agony and misery for following a particular culture or religion. Ethnocentrism needs to be discouraged and cultural relativism needs to be encouraged. In past ethnicities had been completely wiped off or reduced to a handful because of this vice.  Armenians, Jews, Native Americans and many others have experienced what Rohingyas are going through right now. This seems to continue till all men have not killed each other on this planet. Who is next?

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Zahabia is an aspiring journalist pursuing a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Karachi. She tweets @zkmotorwala and can be reached at [email protected]

Discussion1 Comment

  1. So very sad for these people. There needs to be a country created for them and the other refugees. We can’t take them in but take parts of Mexico and create a country. Take the parts controlked by gangs and drug cartels and clean that land for people who deserve a homeland. Now, watch the Mexicans jump up and down but it is what Mexican illegals are doing to the USA.

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