A report on the actions of the Myanmar security forces against the Rohingya people compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been released this week. The report outlines the destructive and violent acts carried not only to drive Rohingya out of Myanmar but as a deliberate strategy, spreading such a state of devastation that the Rohingya people would be prevented from returning to their homes in Rakhine State.
Between the 13th and 24th of September in the refugee camps of Cox’ Bazar, OHCHR staff conducted a large number of interviews of those who have lived through the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military. Prior to being shot at point blank, witnesses heard announcements via megaphone calling out statements such as, “you don’t belong here – go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you”. UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has condemned the actions of the military as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Notably, the statement made by Myanmar State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi’s on the 19th of September, that no further “clearance operations” were carried out after the 5th of September by the military, is directly refuted in the report and further underlines not only the State Councillor’s failure to protect her own people, but her contradictory and compromised leadership in the shadow of the Myanmar military apparatus.
As time goes on, the more accounts we hear of brutality against civilians unable to defend themselves and their homes. Now it is clear that the murder, rape and torture of civilians was carried out while systematically burning entire villages to the ground, destroying farms and livestock and annihilating cultural, educational and religious sites and landmarks as soldiers advance through Rakhine State.
There are now over 500,000 Rohingya who have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh since the end of August. Yet, the Rohingya people have suffered ethnic and racial discrimination and violence at the hands of the Government and military for some time, and a report released by the OHCHR in February this year bears a striking resemblance to the mid-September fact-finding mission, describing similarly brutal and violent acts carried out by the military against women and children.
As abhorrent as the events of the last two months are, it is all the more concerning that the international community still seems to be asleep behind the wheel in coming to a solution. Take for example that only in the last week, nearly two months after the attacks began, did the European Union cutting its ties to the Myanmar military in protest of the “disproportionate use of force” against the Rohingya. In Australia, a nation considered to have one of the most influential ties to Myanmar due to its proximity, the Department of Defence will continue its $300,000 cooperation and training programs with the Myanmar military in the hope that it can somehow influence events and actions of Myanmar officers internally, according to ABC news.
It seems that the world is in a state of shock that violent, forced displacement can occur on such a massive scale. Indeed, it is the only plausible excuse for why the international community has been so slow to act decisively. While this report helps to reveal the extend of the violence and may create the potential to lead to recriminations of specific perpetrators, the damage is already done for the thousands of refugees and victims. Any sense of safety and community that the Rohingya felt in Rakhine State has been all but obliterated in just over one month and it will take many years of rebuilding and reconciliation for these to be reestablished.
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