2015, Burmese voters elected their first democratic government in half a century. That inspired hope that the country’s long history of violence and oppression was finally taking a turn from the better. Now, just one year later, that promise has given way to dread. In a small pocket of western Burma, a new phase has begun in what threatens to become the genocide of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented Rohingya already live in Bangladesh, having fled there over many decades…
Azeem Ibrahim’s The Rohingyas documents the slow-motion genocide of the Muslim Rohingyas and exposes the culpability of the Buddhist clergy in fomenting the religious cleansing of Myanmar. This exposé of the plight of the Rohingyas is sure to gain widespread attention. Ibrahim makes a strong case for naming the situation facing the Rohingya a genocide and convincingly shows the urgent need for immediate action to alleviate ongoing suffering as well as to arrest any escalation. He does an excellent job of dismantling the arguments made by some commentators that the Rohingya, as a group, did not exist in Myanmar in the past.
Dismantling the arguments that the Rohingya, as a group, did not exist in Myanmar in the past
The Rohingya are a Muslim group who live in Rakhine state (formerly Arakan state) in western Myanmar (Burma), a majority Buddhist country. According to the United Nations, they are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. They suffer routine discrimination at the hands of neighboring Buddhist Rakhine groups, but international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have also accused Myanmar’s authorities of being complicit in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslims. The Rohingya face regular violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion, and other abuses, a situation that has been particularly acute since 2012 in the wake of a serious wave of sectarian violence. Islam is practiced by around 4% of the population of Myanmar, and most Muslims also identify as Rohingya. Yet the authorities refuse to recognize this group as one of the 135 ethnic groups or ‘national races’ making up Myanmar’s population. On this basis, Rohingya individuals are denied citizenship rights in the country of their birth, and face severe limitations on many aspects of an ordinary life, such as marriage or movement around the country.
Horrifying stories of rapes, killings and house burnings
The new democratically-elected Government, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as State Counsellor, took over in Myanmar in April 2016, ushering in a new period of optimism in the country and internationally. As the country continues its democratic transition and its political and economic reforms, it is encouraging to see progress being made on a many fronts. The Government moved quickly to convene a “21st Century Panglong” peace conference in line with its stated commitment to advancing the peace process. It also demonstrated its willingness to tackle some of the difficult unresolved issues in the country by establishing bodies such as the Advisory Commission on Rakhine, led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Despite these positive developments, the country continues to face many challenges. Rejected by the country they call home and unwanted by its neighbours, the Rohingya are impoverished, virtually stateless and have been fleeing Myanmar in droves and for decades. In recent months, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh amid a military crackdown on insurgents in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state. They have told horrifying stories of rapes, killings and house burnings. Activists have condemned the lack of a firm international response. Some have described the situation as South East Asia’s Srebrenica, referring to the July 1995 massacre of more than 8000 Bosnian Muslims who were meant to be under UN protection – a dark stain on Europe’s human rights record. About 218,000 people – of whom about 80 percent are women and children – remain internally displaced in camps and host villages in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states as a result of conflict, violence and intercommunal tensions.
Azeem Ibrahim has a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He has been a Research Fellow with the International Security Program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, a World Fellow at Yale, Fellow and member of the board of directors at the Institute for Social Policy Understanding, and an Adjunct Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He founded and chairs a private grant-giving foundation (www.ibrahimfoundation. com) focusing on innovative community projects, and served as a reservist in the UK’s 4th Battalion Parachute Regiment.
Publication date: March 2016
ISBN: 9781849046237 / € 17,00 paperback
Bib details: 160pp / 225mm x 145mm