As the world stood in shock over the latest ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims by the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government of Myanmar, the time is more than ripe for the United Nations to begin a process of sanctions on the government of Myanmar and for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to begin criminal proceedings against key players in this act of genocide and crimes against humanity.
What was initially reported as satellite images of burnt villages and communities belonging to the Rohingya people, which the Myanmar government initially denied, have now been confirmed by major international human rights bodies including the Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), The Christian Science Monitor and many organs of the United Nations, including the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC).
This latest round of persecution which is coming on the heels of the Kofi Annan report put together at the behest of the Myanmar government on finding a lasting solution to the problems in Rakhine state, represents an unfortunate ploy by the Myanmar government to jettison the content of that report and create a security situation under which the crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing could be perpetuated.
Earlier, the Myanmar government claimed the wide-ranging arson was carried out by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – ARSA- the freedom fighting force on behalf of the persecuted Rohingya people, formed after long years of international neglect. But pieces of evidence of refugees arriving at the Bangladeshi and Thai borders pinned the act on the government.
Rohingya villages and communities have not only been burnt down, but un-armed civilians including children, women, the elderly and the infirm have been indiscriminately killed, while girls and women have been subjected to torture, rape and other forms of abuses. This does not include those who drowned while trying to escape or those who cannot be accounted for –who disappeared.
Myanmar government’s claim that the scorched earth policy being carried out by its military which aimed at the total obliteration of entire Rohingya community was a response to the ARSA’s attack on its Police represents not only the use of disproportionate force but also collective punishment to a people who have long reeled under the oppression of the pro-Buddhist government.
We would recall those notable international institutions and figures such as the UN and former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, have warned about the possibility of radicalisation of the Rohingya due to inhuman treatments from the government and the Buddhist majority.
In the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) report of Feb. 3, 2017 on the plights of the Rohingya Muslims and titled ‘Devastating Cruelty Against Rohingya Children, Women and Men detailed in UN Human Rights Report’, it referred to the Rohingya as ‘the most persecuted people in the world’, with the report concluding that ‘the widespread violations against the Rohingya population indicate the very likely commission of crimes against humanity’. That was way back in February 2017.
Some of the persecutions documented by the UNHRC as suffered by the Rohingya include mass gang rape, brutal beating of children, forced disappearances, torture and killings. Officially in Myanmar, a 1982 Citizenship Law places restrictions on a number of things against the Rohingya, making life not only difficult but almost impossible to live.
These include restrictions on the right of movement, rights to study, work, travel, marry, practice their religion, and access health services. They are equally not allowed a participation in the civic and political processes of the country.
This is apart from failing to develop the state of Rakhine where the Rohingya are heavily concentrated only because of their religion; the Rakhine state, now devastated and impoverished used to be one of the most prosperous rice growing areas from the colonial era.
The submission of the Kofi Annan report was a call for a roll back of all these restrictions and the rapid development of the Rakhine state if peace were to reign. But the Myanmar government knowing fully well what it wanted – a suppressed or ethnically cleansed state – orchestrated this violence to divert attention.
We recall that having refused access to the UN and other human rights groups for an investigation and assessment of the situation of the Rohingya, the Kofi Annan Commission was Aung San Suu Kyi’s preference to any external verification. Even then, the Kofi Annan Commission had no mandate to investigate abuses but to recommend ways of developing the state of Rakhine.
Now that the report of the commission, in its recommendation of remedies against the existing status quo, represented an indirect indictment of the government. Aung’s government now makes a U-turn with this latest round of violence, the magnitude of which is too big to deny or swept under the carpet.
The end game here seemed that the Suu Kyi’s government would only develop Rakhine when it is cleansed of its indigenous Rohingya population.
As we speak, efforts are ongoing in different parts of the world to bring the Suu Kyi-led government to justice over this daylight crime against fellow humans. Notable among such was the petition initiated by the British Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, seeking international prosecution of Counsellor Aung Suu Kyi and her government.
Sequel to other global efforts, aimed at seeking justice for the Rohingya, we at the CGPI, demand addition to the imposition of sanctions and the proceedings of criminal charges by the ICC against the government of Myanmar the following:
- a stripping of the Nobel Laureate for Peace from Aung San Suu Kyi for her ignoble silence, refusal to allow proper investigation and complicity in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people
- a mobilization of UN relief agencies to the Bangladesh and Thailand borders to administer humanitarian aids to arriving refugees
- an activation of the UN Commission of Inquiry to gather available evidence for prosecution.
- the commencement of the implementation of the Kofi Annan report under the auspices of the UN even as the government in Naypyidaw goes on trial.
We call on all well-meaning people of the world irrespective of creed, race or belief to rise up and demand appropriate actions against a government led by someone who can be said to have been awarded a prize for peace out of a mistake.
It amounts to criminal rascality for any government to wake up in a day and declare a people non-citizen where they have lived for centuries and then orchestrate their eradication systemically while shielding the facts away from the concerns of the world. The time to act is now.
By Yekinni Ayinde S, Executive Director, Center for Global Peace Initiative (CGPI)