Chittagong, Bangladesh: Al Jazeera is reacting to the preemptive Burmese foreign affairs ministry press release criticizing, Al Jazeera’s film – The Hidden Genocide- about the violence in Arakan State this year, the network encouraged viewers to watch the film this weekend and make up their own mind, according to Al Jazeera press office.
The statement come out today after Burmese foreign affairs ministry press release issued on December 6, about Al Jazeera will be airing a documentary relating to so-called “Rohingyas” from Dec. 8 to 12 in Arabic and from Dec. 9 to 13 in English languages which was published in the New Light of Myanmar today.
“The documentary will include accusation of genocide against the so-called ‘Rohingyas’,” read the statement. “The Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar [Burma] strongly opposes and rejects the attempt made by Al Jazeera to broadcast the documentary by exaggerating and fabricating the incidents in Rakhine [Arakan] State.”
The Burmese foreign affairs ministry press release also mentioned that the documentary will include accusation of genocide against the so-called “Rohingyas.”
But, the filmmaker Phil Rees said that the strong evidence in the documentary was gathered despite the challenges in getting access to refugee camps and areas cut off from the outside world:
“We made this film – The Hidden Genocide – because the events that took place needed a forensic unpicking. We made sure that we took first hand testimony from people affected rather than relying on hearsay. I hope viewers find it informative.”
In the Burmese foreign affairs ministry’s seven-point statement, the government asserted that it had provided “shelter, relocation and rehabilitation of the homeless victims of the conflict” and had taken action to prevent the outbreak of further violence and enforced the rule of law in the restive state.
But, BBC’s correspondent Jonah Fisher stated on December 5, “Camp on the peninsula of Myebon, exclusively for Rakhine Buddhists, had smart tents, working sanitation and a regular delivery of food and medical supplies, but, some 4,000 Rohingya Muslims live crammed together on a fetid pile of mud, surrounded by streams of water filled with sewage. There are Burmese security guards on all sides to stop Rohingyas leaving the camp. Rakhine Buddhists control all the land around the Rohingya camp and bringing help for Rohingya, is almost impossible. More than 135,000 people displaced during six months of ethnic conflict are living in camps in the state, the vast majority are Rohingyas.”
The exchange between Al Jazeera and the Burmese government comes as UN humanitarian coordinator Valerie Amos is in the country describing the situation in the refugee camps as “dire”.
In the statement, the ministry used the heavily stigmatized term “Bangalis” to refer to the Rohingya, which implies the ethnic group are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
“It’s deplorable the ministry would once again release a public statement failing to recognize the Rohingya by name, implicitly denying their existence as a group,” said Matthew F. Smith, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.
“The government has discriminated against the Rohingya as a matter of state policy for decades, security forces have in fact been involved in attacks since June, and humanitarian aid to the Rohingya population has in some ways been gravely restricted.”
In June, Myanmar state media reported 78 deaths during sectarian violence between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities. The Al Jazeera team discovered that official statements provided only a small part of what took place, according to Al Jazeera press office.
“Instead, Rohingya testify suffering systematic torture, ethnic cleansing and execution-style killings. The program found evidence of at least two mass graves and the deliberate murder of minors, some of whom were burnt alive. The program includes eyewitness accounts of the extra-judicial killings of more than 200 people during five days in June.”
The Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) leader, Dr Aye Maung, has repeatedly said that the people who call themselves Rohingya should be deported from the land of their birth to third countries, according to several news report and interview.
Dr Aye Chan, a Rakhine historian based in Japan has returned for the first time to Myanmar since 1988 and is at the forefront of a body of quasi-academic material that denies the existence of the Rohingya race, claiming they are ‘a fabricated people’.
The UN have described the Rohingya as ‘the most persecuted community in the world’ and have referenced the Rohingya as the Palestine of Asia. It is reported that the Rohingya have been living in Burma from as far back as the 8th Century, yet in 1962, the Burmese military junta began a programme of ethnic cleansing. Starting by denying birth certificates and citizenship to the Rohingya, right now, the community are in a perilous situation where they are being targeted because they are not of the same race and religion of the Buddhist majority Rakhine. Looking darker and closer to the South Asian race as opposed to the more oriental looking majority, and being Muslims as opposed to Buddhist, the Rohingya are being targeted by state sponsored ethnic cleansing.
“Warning signs” are in place for a genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, an Al Jazeera investigation has been told by a leading expert in the field.
According to Prof. Schabas, one of the foremost experts on international criminal law, “We’re moving into a zone where the word can be used (in the case of the Rohingya). When you see measures preventing births, trying to deny the identity of the people, hoping to see that they really are eventually, that they no longer exist, denying their history, denying the legitimacy of the right to live where they live, these are all warning signs that mean that it’s not frivolous to envisage the use of the term genocide.”