MYNAMAR MILITARY FIGURES ACCUSED OF GENOCIDE AGAINST ROHINGYA

Rohingya

By Cherolyn Amery

A UN report has said top military figures in Myanmar must be investigated for genocide in Rakhine state and crimes against humanity in other areas. The report, based on hundreds of interviews, is the strongest condemnation from the UN so far of violence against the Rohingya. The army’s tactics are “consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats”, it says. It names six senior military figures it believes should go on trial. It is also fiercely critical of Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to intervene to stop the violence. The report calls for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The government has consistently said its operations targeted militant or insurgent threats. But the report says the crimes it has documented are “shocking for the level of denial, normalcy and impunity that is attached to them”. (BBC News)

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya, a minority Muslim group living in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, has suffered discrimination for decades. In the eyes of the Myanmar citizens, the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and they are denied citizenship by the government. The Rohingya have no voting rights, no freedom of movement within Myanmar, and no access to basic services. They also have a history of being targeted by waves of violence, and the military carried out brutal campaigns against them in the late 1970s and again in the early 1990s.

On 25 August 2017, the Myanmar military began targeting the Rohingya in Rakhine State, reportedly killing thousands, torching villages and driving more than 700,000 to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. On the surface, the campaign began in response to an attack the day before on 30 police and border guard posts by Rohingya militants (the self-declared Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army), who killed 12 officers. However, the Bangkok-based Fortify Rights group suggests that the violent campaign had been premeditated. Eli Meixler, writing for TIME Magazine, described the “ferocious counterinsurgency campaign” launched by the military as “[making] no effort to distinguish between civilians and insurgents”. He says, “At least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in one month, according to Médecins Sans Frontièrs (MSF), a number the group called both ‘staggering’ and ‘an underestimation’.”

Accusations of genocide

According to Jonathan Head, the Southeast Asia correspondent for the BBC, “genocide is the most serious charge that can be made against a government and is rarely proposed by UN investigators”. The recently published UN report calling for an investigation of genocide as well as crimes against humanity conducted by Myanmar’s military leaders is therefore a big deal. The UN fact-finding mission, established by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017, reported that the actions of the Myanmar military “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law”.

The report was based on 875 interviews with witnesses and victims, as well as satellite imagery, photos and videos. It stated that the military’s actions “are consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats” and that their “contempt for human life, integrity and freedom, and for international law generally, should be a cause for concern for the entire population”.

Much has also been made of the lack of response by Myanmar’s top leadership. The report says: “The State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has not used her de facto position as Head of Government, nor her moral authority, to stem or prevent the unfolding events in Rakhine State.” Many had hoped Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for her past resistance against oppression, would improve the position of the Rohingya within Myanmar when she came to power, but instead she has had a number of human rights awards rescinded as a result of her denial of abuses and her stance of siding with the military.

While many Rohingya refugees would be willing to return from Bangladesh to their former homes in Myanmar, there is a widespread fear that nothing will have changed, despite the government’s insistence that the Rohingya can return and that there are a series of camps that have been built to accommodate them. The refugees say that they will only return if they are guaranteed citizenship and other basic rights within their own country. Meanwhile, they continue surviving in extreme conditions within Bangladesh, that is home to the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camp. UNICEF recently warned of the “lost generation” of Rohingya children at risk of growing up in the camps without education.

Refugee and international response

While many Rohingya refugees would be willing to return from Bangladesh to their former homes in Myanmar, there is a widespread fear that nothing will have changed, despite the government’s insistence that the Rohingya can return and that there are a series of camps that have been built to accommodate them. The refugees say that they will only return if they are guaranteed citizenship and other basic rights within their own country. Meanwhile, they continue surviving in extreme conditions within Bangladesh, that is home to the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camp. UNICEF recently warned of the “lost generation” of Rohingya children at risk of growing up in the camps without education.

There are calls from both human rights groups and the affected Rohingya for the international community to exert enough pressure on Myanmar’s leadership in order to bring about significant change. The US Treasury Department, as well as Canada and the EU, has imposed sanctions on a few military officers connected with the violence, but a number of US Senators have called on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to implement urgent further urgent action, saying that the “United States government must do more”. Over 130 lawmakers from five Southeast Asian countries have also been demanding that the Myanmar government and military be held accountable.

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

Psalm 89:14 says: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; love and faithfulness go before You.” Justice is one of God’s attributes and flows out of His faithful love for His creation, and it is a virtue that every follower of Christ should strive for. Amos 5 is a clear warning that worship without justice is offensive to God: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to Me…  Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21, 23-24). 

It is therefore a divine commission that Christians be concerned about injustice as a principle, and not just when fellow believers are persecuted. The Rohingya are no less important in the Lord’s sight than the refugees in the Middle East, and as His people, His concerns become ours. While most believers may not be in a position to fight for the Rohingya in the political arena, some are able to physically reach out to the refugees in the camps in Bangladesh, and all are able to pray for breakthrough in the situation and, above all, for hearts to turn to the Lord.

 

PRAY

  • For justice and resolution – that the Rohingya may safely return to their homes
  • For people to reach out to the Rohingya with love and compassion
  • For the Rohingya to encounter Christ

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