THE US decision to formally recognise the brutalities inflicted on the Burmese Rohingya as genocide is a small but welcome step towards getting justice for what has been described by the UN as the most persecuted minority in the world. The brutalisation of this community has been a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. Survivors have recounted that, amidst the worst of it, they were pulled from their homes, mutilated, raped and forced to witness children thrown into fires — the inhuman violence begotten by hateful propaganda painting the Rohingya as sub-human ‘intruders’ from Bangladesh. The violence was then normalised through victim-blaming commentary shared widely by bigots on social media, especially Facebook, which did little to stem its spread. Yet, both the Myanmar military and the government denied the atrocities committed against a largely defenceless people and refused accountability. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, then the leader of Myanmar, even travelled to The Hague to rebut charges of genocide brought against her country in a case still ongoing at the UN’s top court.
So insatiable was the fire of hate unleashed in 2017 that it eventually burnt even those who had refused to condemn it. When the Myanmar military toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in 2021 through a coup d’état, it took a leaf from its Rohingya playbook to violently subjugate critics and dissidents engaged in peaceful protests. The junta has since killed more than 1,500 citizens for civil disobedience. This worrying state of affairs is mentioned in the US statement on Myanmar’s 2017 genocide, which warns that the Myanmar military may continue deploying the same tactics against anyone it sees as undermining its rule. It is time now for the global community to act. While the UN’s highest court hears a case pertaining to the genocide, the world must hold Myanmar authorities accountable for their crimes against humanity. Myanmar’s elite must be sanctioned in the strongest possible ways to warn imitators that severe brutalities will be met with severe penalties.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2022