A recent report from Amnesty International highlights heightened persecution against Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in Burma. The report claims that activities carried out by Burmese security forces against Rohingya may amount to crimes against humanity. As violence continues, the international community should carefully examine whether the attacks rise to the level of genocide.
Burma, a majority Buddhist country, discriminates against Rohingya primarily on the basis of religion, but recent persecution is also political. Many Rohingya have roots in Burma tracing as far back as the 19th century, when their ancestors emigrated from Bangladesh. Yet the Burmese government does not consider Rohingya to be citizens. Instead, they are stateless – denied the right to vote and limited in educational opportunities and access to food and medical care. Today, nearly 140,000 Rohingya are corralled in 40 internment camps established by the Burmese authorities in the Rakhine state where most Rohingya reside. Conditions in the camps are deplorable with limited access to food, water, and medical care.
The situation facing Rohingya worsened in 2015 after the government revoked their temporary identification cards and excluded them from voting in the historic election that brought to power the National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by Nobel-laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Despite Burma’s transition to relative democracy, the situation facing Rohingya continues to deteriorate. Suu Kyi has been unusually quiet on their plight. Her leadership on this issue, however, is critical to it gaining political traction and legitimacy in Burma.
The Genocide Convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Among these “acts” are killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, attempting to destroy an entire group, and transferring children from one group to another.
A U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) report sounded the alarm in 2015, indicating that there were already early warning signs of genocide in Burma. The report listed physical violence against Rohingya, segregation, blockages of humanitarian assistance, and denial of citizenship as just a few of the early indicators of genocide – all of which continue today.
Rohingya have unquestionably experienced extrajudicial killings and bodily or mental harm targeting them specifically because of their ethnicity and religion. According to Matt Smith, a Burma watcher and founder and CEO of Fortify Rights, extrajudicial killings and mass rape of Rohingya women and girls is occurring today. And satellite imagery from Human Rights Watch provides evidence of government forces torching as many as 1,500 homes in Rakhine State.
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This piece originally appeared in Forbes.