BY BRONTE BRECHT ’19
Conflicts between the Myanmar state military and Rohingya groups have escalated this year after Rohingya militants attacked army and police outposts. Reaction from the Myanmar military has been swift and deadly, sparking massive systematic acts of violence against the Rohingya as a group. The New York Times defines the Rohingya as “a Muslim ethnic group that practices a form of Sunni Islam and have lived in Rakhine, one of Myanmar’s poorest states, for generations.” Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country with a population of over 52 million people. The Rohingya population in Myanmar is estimated at 1.1 million.
The Rohingya have faced persecution as a minority for centuries, which has become especially pronounced within the last 50 years. According to Al Jazeera, in 1962, a military coup in Myanmar left the country fragmented. Each citizen was required to carry national identification cards, but the Rohingya were not included in Myanmar’s definition of “citizens.” Instead, they were given foreign identification cards, despite having lived in Myanmar for centuries, placing restrictions on their ability to apply for jobs and educational opportunities, according to Al Jazeera.
In 1982, the Rohingya were rendered stateless again when a law was passed that outlined the 135 ethnic groups living in Myanmar. The Rohingya were not included in this list and, as a result, their right to vote, travel freely, marry, and practice their religion has since been impeded.
A UN official for the country of Bangladesh is expected to speak later this week at a general council meeting and declare the Myanmar government’s actions against the Rohingya people “ethnic cleansing,” an emergency requiring intervention. The UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein agrees, referring to the violence as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
According to The New York Times, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for not doing more in the face of these human rights violations and widespread inequality. Various groups have argued that as a Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist it is her responsibility to crack down when violence is happening in her own country. Aung San Suu Kyi has previously defended the government’s actions towards the Rohingya, and has cancelled a state visit to New York to instead make a television speech from Myanmar.
According to Al Jazeera, many Rohingya have attempted to cross the border into Bangladesh in search of refuge from their government’s indiscriminate violence. At this time, at least 412,000 Rohingya have successfully completed the journey according the New York Times. However, the situation is still very difficult for the Rohingya once they make it to Bangladesh, a country the size of Illinois, which already have a population of over 160 million people. The resource scarcity problem is so dire for the Rohingya who do make it over the border that on Sunday, Sept. 17, a woman and two children were killed in a stampede for food near a refugee camp.
“I am extremely proud of Bangladesh for taking a strong stance against Aung San Suu Kyi’s ethnic cleansing of Rohingya,” said Umama Zillur ’18, who lives in Bangladesh. “I hope now [we] have the support of the international community — both in termsof providing shelter for the refugees, as well as putting pressure on Myanmar to end the inhumane treatment of Rohingas.