The world must act now to protect the Rohingya, one of its most vulnerable populationsby Schona Jolly / October 26, 2017 / Leave a comment
As each day passes, new reports emerge of violent, depraved atrocities committed against the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar by the country’s military. Babies tossed into fires, savage gang rapes, beheadings, villages razed by fire, destroying tens of thousands of homes and cold-blooded machete massacres, including of children. Meanwhile, the outside world stumbles over what steps to take, and what name they should give this devastating violence. Is it genocide, or should the UN High Commissioner’s declaration of “ethnic cleansing” be enough to prompt an international response?
The military in Myanmar cynically labels the violence “clearance operations,” pointing to attacks on police and army posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army as the trigger. But the response has been extreme and grotesquely disproportionate. The multiple accounts of events in the last eight weeks gathered by NGOs, a UN rapid response mission and journalists gathering in the camps on the Myanmar-Bangladesh borders suggest a systematic, well-planned and co-ordinated attack on an entire population. The UN High Commissioner’s Office has highlighted a strategy “to instil deep and widespread fear and trauma—physical, emotional and psychological” amongst the Rohingya population. And yet, the world has sat on its hands, waiting and watching to see what unfolds as it grapples with how to label the crisis—and how to act.
A global response is required to such egregious human rights violations. Signs are beginning to emerge that the international community is being shaken out of its stupor. The US State Department issued a press statement indicating that it is ramping up its response by considering alternative mechanisms on accountability and targeted sanctions. A donor conference took place in Geneva raising a sizable, though still insufficient, sum of money. The British substantive response so far has been weak, although its aid pledge is significant. Speaking at the UN last month, Theresa May eventually stated that the UK was “going to stop all defence engagement and training of the Burmese military by the Ministry of Defence until this issue is resolved.” But what does “resolved” look like in the current reality?
The number of Rohingya refugees—surpassing 600,000 since August 25th—keeps growing. Reports continue to filter through that Rohingya homes, fields, crops, fields and livestock have been targeted in northern Rakhine state, effectively making a return to their…