By Tin Soe
Chittagong, Bangladesh: The event- London conference on decades of persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya – held at The Shaw library (Founders Room), 6th floor, Old Building, London School of Economics (LSE) on April 28, at 9:00 am, started with a prayer and a minutes silence for genocide victims; from Armenians, Bosnians to Palestinians…and the Rohingyas, said Ahamed Jarmal, General Secretary, Burmese Rohingya Organization UK (BROUK).
The event brings together internationally renowned researchers and activists on Rohingya persecution; concerned academics from the field of international genocide studies and criminology, practitioners with first-hand involvement in previous genocide tribunals such as Yugoslavia, Cambodia, and Rwanda. The speakers and participants had presented their research findings, discuss various international human rights laws, and brainstorm ways to bring an end to one of the world’s longest state-directed persecutions of an ethnic and religious group – Rohingya from Arakan State, Ahmed said.
In the event, more than 33 organizations –non-Rohingya and Rohingya – and 33 concerned Global Citizens had endorsed for calling to end Rohingya genocide including Prudentienne Seward, a survivor of the Rwanda genocide against Tutsis and Founder of PAX (Peace for the African Great Lakes), Professor Noam Chomsky of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University Professor Gayatria Chakravoty Spivak, Oxford University Professor Emeritus and founder of Refugee Studies Barbara Harrell-Bond, London School of Economics Professor Mary Kaldor and Executive Director Youk Chhang of the Documentation Center of Cambodia , Ahmed said.
International legal experts presented definitions of genocide, mechanisms and models for justice. Leading human rights researchers and academics as well as Rohingya refugees offered evidence of decades of systematic persecution of Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar. In Arakan state where most of the Rohingya are living,the aid agencies were forced to halt operations to Rohingyas after hundreds of extremist Buddhists attacked them on March this year. The government is accused of turning a blind eye.
The Muslim Rohingya of Myanmar (officially estimated at more than 1 million) are, decades-long persecution by the successive Myanmar governments since 1978 in fact ‘genocide’? “The crime of genocide” is defined as “the acts (conducts) committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”.
The Rohingyas’ ancestral home straddles the Myanmar/Burma’s strategically important Western region called Arakan (now Rakhine) and the neighboring Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. The Rohingya’s demographic and ethnic history is not different from the histories of the country’s other ‘borderland’ ethnic peoples such as the Kachin, the Chin, the Karen, the Shan, the Wa, the Naga, the Shan Chinese and so on, whose ancestral roots predate the post-World War II emergence of new modern nation-states.
The Rohingya have been subjected to a government-organized systematic campaign of mass killing, terror, torture, attempts to prevent births on the basis of ethnicity, forced labor, severe restrictions on physical movement, large scale internal displacement (estimated at 140,000), sexual violence, arbitrary arrest, summary execution, land-grab and community destruction.
Moreover, the Rohingya are periodically blocked from accessing basic humanitarian assistance provided, for instance, by the Nobel Prize-winning organization Doctors without Borders. Consequently, there have been an unknown number of deaths and large scale exoduses overland and sea to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Australia and Canada.
As early as 1978 the first Myanmar government-organized campaign against the Rohingya was launched, in the guise of an illegal immigration crack-down. Consequently, about 200,000 Rohingya became the first significant exodus/population transfer into newly-independent Bangladesh where they have been equally un-welcome. Even then the Far Eastern Economic Review framed the plight of the Rohingya as “Burma’s Apartheid”. Nearly four decades on, South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, the veteran anti-apartheid campaigner in his homeland, coined the same word, apartheid, to characterize the Rohingya oppression during his visit to Rangoon.
Human Rights Watch, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Irish Human Rights Centre frame the Rohingya persecution as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘crimes against humanity’. This Spring, the University of Washington Law School’s academic journal “Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal” is scheduled to publish a three-year study of Myanmar’s atrocities against the group entitled “The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya“
Misleadingly, international media and foreign governments have characterized the Rohingya persecution as “sectarian” or “communal” largely ignoring the instrumental role Myanmar’s successive governments have played in the death and destruction of the Rohingya as the country’s most vulnerable ethnic group.
The call notes, “Every aspect of their (Rohingya) lives, including marriage, childbirth and ability to work, is severely restricted. Their right to identity and citizenship is officially denied; in other words, they are not recognized as humans before the law… Rohingya are profoundly vulnerable to all forms of oppression and atrocities.” It points out that alone of all the country’s more than 130 ethnic groups, only Rohingya are subjected to a policy of forced population control. By denying the Rohingya legal existence, designing extensive structures of discrimination and depriving a large segment of Rohingya population even basic humanitarian services such as provision of water, food and medicine the Myanmar government and people are destroying an entire people.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Tomás Ojéa Quintana has said “There are elements of genocide in Rakhine with respect to Rohingya. It is crimes against humanity. The possibility of a genocide needs to be discussed. This conference is very important as it does just that,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Tomás Ojéa Quintana.
“Our people have been subject to a national policy of discrimination, persecution and eventual destruction at the hands of security forces and local extremists for the past nearly 40 years. I appeal to the world not to let another Rwanda repeat for Rohingya,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK, which sponsors legislation at the US Congress calling for the end to persecution of Rohingya.
Dr Zarni, chair of the conference and visiting fellow at the LSE, made a case for what he called “the slow burning genocide” of Myanmar’s Rohingya since 1978 based on three years of extensive archival research and interviews with military officers and Rohingya victims.
The conference marked the first time top legal experts, academics and activists have met at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and initiated the public debate on whether the persecution of the Rohingya by Myanmar should be considered genocide under international law which included Professor Daniel Feierstein, President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars; and Professor Gianni Tognoni, General Secretary, Permanent People’s Tribunal, Rome remarked.