CAIRO – 27 September 2017: The Rohingya Muslim minority crisis in Myanmar has been widely aggravated since August 25, as the UN refugee agency called for a redoubling of international aid for the 480,000 refugees -- 60 percent of them children -- who have fled to Bangladesh to escape the violence.
The issue of whether what is happening now in Myanmar to Rohingya Muslims constitutes ethnic cleansing may be viewed on the basis of the United Nations’ definition.
A United Nations Commission of Experts mandated to look into violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia defined ethnic cleansing in its interim report S/25274 as "… rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area."
In its final report S/1994/674, the same Commission described ethnic cleansing as “… a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas,” according to the United Nations Office of Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect.
The Commission of Experts also stated that the coercive practices used to remove the civilian population can include murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, severe physical injury to civilians, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, use of civilians as human shields, destruction of property, robbery of personal property, attacks on hospitals, medical personnel, and locations with the Red Cross/Red Crescent emblem, among others.
Rohingya refugees queue for aid at Cox's Bazar - REUTERS
Myanmar is perpetrating an ethnic cleansing campaign, which, if not stopped, will become the original sin of Myanmar’s new state. The United States, and the world, is sitting on the sidelines watching it happen, Michael H.Fushs wrote for the Foreign Policy website.
Myanmar is committing crimes against humanity in its campaign against Muslim insurgents in Rakhine state, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday, calling for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions and an arms embargo.
A Myanmar government spokesman rejected the accusation of crimes against humanity, saying there was no evidence, Reuters reported.
Rohingya refugees walk to a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh - REUTERS
Violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority has reached the highest peak of inhumanity and cleansing of unarmed civilians who have been suffering persecution and oppression for ages, as violence ranged from extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and burning of Rohingya villages by security forces and non-Rohingya individuals.
However Myanmar has also rejected UN accusations that its forces are engaged in ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in response to coordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents on the security forces on August 25, Reuters reported.
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina headed for the UN General Assembly on Saturday, August 23 to plead for global help coping with the Rohingya crisis, as the refugee deluge escaping a crackdown in Myanmar topped 400,000, AFP reported.
The prime minister left a day after her government summoned the Myanmar envoy for the third time to protest its neighbor’s actions. Hasina will demand more pressure on Myanmar during talks in New York.
Rohingya refugees wait for aid in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh - REUTERS
The Bangladesh government earlier protested to the embassy over the planting of landmines near their border, which have killed several Rohingya, and the treatment of the refugees. UN leader Antonio Guterres has also said Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya could amount to ethnic cleansing, AFP reported.
Most Rohingya, who have spent more than a week trekking cross-country from Rakhine to reach the Bangladesh border, do not have a shelter over their heads and refugees have been fighting for food and water deliveries, according to AFP.
Tensions between the Bengali-speaking Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state have existed for decades—some would say centuries—but the most significant inflection point came in 1982 when Burma’s junta passed a law that identified 135 ethnicities entitled to citizenship. The Rohingya were not among them, though they had enjoyed equal rights since Burma became independent from British rule in 1948. Almost overnight, they were stripped of their citizenship, The Atlantic reported.
Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to the nation over Rakhine and Rohingya situation, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar - REUTERS
In the years since then, the Rohingya were persecuted, steadily lost their rights, and were the victims of violence. The worst of this violence erupted in 2012 following the rape of a Buddhist woman allegedly by Muslim men. The incident prompted massive religious violence against the Rohingya, forcing 140,000 of them into camps for internally displaced people. International pressure resulted in the military government agreeing to grant the Rohingya a reduced form of citizenship if they registered themselves as Bengali—not Rohingya, The Atlantic reported.
Australia is promising thousands of dollars to Rohingya refugees who agree to return to Myanmar, a country that has been accused of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority, The Guardian reported on September 26.
Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court last year ruled the Australian detention center holding roughly 800 people as breaching human rights, illegal and must shut down. Australia has since ratcheted up efforts to clear the center, offering up to A$25,000 to refugees agreeing to go home, The Guardian reported.
Returning Rohingya to their country could put their lives at risk. Myanmar does not recognize the ethnic minority and has conducted military operations in Rohingya villages that the United Nations’ top human rights official branded “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The international community has condemned the violence unleashed by the Burmese military on Rohingya civilians. It has also voiced sharp criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and de-facto Burmese leader, for not doing enough to protect the Rohingya who have been stateless for more than three decades.
But where humanitarian groups and Western nations see the world’s most persecuted minority, the government of Burma (also known as Myanmar) and an overwhelming majority of its people see a foreign group with a separatist agenda, fueled by Islam, and funded from overseas. It’s this difference in perception that will make any resolution of the Rohingya issue extremely difficult, The Atlantic reported.