A new UN report reveals the shocking persecution faced by the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma.
The abuses documented show a scorched earth policy of ethnic cleansing in the western Rakhine state aimed at forcing the Rohingya population across the border into Bangladesh.
The situation for Rohingya has deteriorated since October last year after Rohingya insurgents killed nine Burmese border guards. Since then an estimated 60,000 Rohingya have fled across the border, adding to the tens of thousands already stuck in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
In “area clearance operations” the army and allied militias have killed over 1000 Rohingya, including babies whose throats were slit in front of their mothers.
The report describes widespread rape of women and the torching of entire Rohingya villages, with authorities locking residents inside houses before burning them to death.
One Rohingya eyewitness told the investigators, “The army set fire to my house, burning my elderly mother-in-law and a sister-in-law, who was mentally disabled, alive.”
Mosques and homes belonging to Muslims were burned, while those belonging to Buddhist neighbours were spared. The army is undermining the Muslim community’s ability to continue living in Rakhine state. The operations have targeted food supplies, destroying crops and killing livestock.
Aung San Suu Kyi, recently elected leader of Burma and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has disgracefully refused to condemn the persecution or even acknowledge the Rohingya’s existence. She is desperate to avoid antagonising the still influential military and fears an electoral backlash in the Buddhist-majority nation.
Suu Kyi’s State Counsellor Office issued a press release refuting what it called “rumours” of “fake rape.”
The government has referred the allegations to a commission headed by a retired general which is likely to be a whitewash. According to UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee, “the government’s response to all of these problems seems to currently be to defend, dismiss and deny.”
The Burmese government refuses to recognise Rohingya as citizens and calls them Bengalis or “illegal immigrants,” despite Rohingya having lived there for generations.
Their freedom of movement is severely restricted due to curfews and they require certificates to move between villages. Since 2012 increased attacks have displaced 140,000 people.
In the face of international outcry, Julie Bishop has expressed concern about the Rohingya’s treatment. But this is coming very late in the game.
In May 2015 close to 90,000 Rohingya fled by boat for Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Their boats were turned back and stuck at sea, starving and dehydrated, for months. Many died.
Then Prime Minister Tony Abbott led by example in turning back boats and when asked if he would assist the Rohingya stranded at sea replied, “nope, nope, nope.”
Australia has still resettled only 37 Rohingya refugees since 2013.This could only be seen in Burma as a signal that Australia would turn a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing.
By Lachlan Marshall