The Rohingya Face Renewed Danger at Home. We Must Not Forget Them

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The minority Muslim group deserves justice for the attacks against them, and protection for the violence it’s facing now.

Hamzah Rifaat

The Rohingya of the Rakhine state in Myanmar continue to be one of the world’s most persecuted and unwanted minorities. They made global headlines in 2012 and 2017 as victims of state-sponsored genocide at the hands of Myanmar’s military junta, and then for becoming refugees while fleeing violence to countries such as Bangladesh.

More than 1.2 million Rohingya now live outside of Myanmar, making them one of the world’s largest stateless populations.

Over the years, their plight has worsened as the stateless, isolated and impoverished group has been unable to return to Myanmar over fears of ethnic cleansing by a ruthless military junta which has gained notoriety for crimes against humanity.

But they must not be forgotten.

Around 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Myanmar are now subject to arson attacks by the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed group representing the Buddhist Rakhine, which is currently fighting the Tatmadaw for greater state autonomy. The Tatmadaw is the Burmese junta ruling the country.

Last week, the Arakan Army asserted greater territorial control by seizing the town of Buthidaung. Its predominantly Rohingya population was again seen fleeing for their lives and are increasingly unsafe.

Given the imminent and renewed threat of genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the international community must act now to protect this vulnerable group.

History of discrimination

What is taking place in Myanmar in 2024 is not the first time the Rohingya have been systematically targeted. This month’s attacks are the product of decades of apartheid-like conditions and statelessness institutionalised by the Bamar/ Buddhist majority and the Burmese government against the Rohingya population.

REUTERSRohingya refugee children eat ice cream to cool themselves during hot weather, as they walk along a road at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, May 2, 2024 (REUTERS/Ro Yassin Abdumonab).

The group is a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who were denied Burmese citizenship in 1982 over a contention by the government that they did not belong to one of the 135 ethnic groups legally recognised by the state.

Instead, they have been constantly referred to as “Bangladeshis.” Their lack of citizenship and identity has made them increasingly vulnerable and subject to systematic targeting and discrimination with regard to accessing education, availing healthcare, having birth rights and seeking legal recourse against ethnic violence.

Amid robust Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar, a chilling and harrowing series of ethnic killings were carried out against the Rohingya during the 2012 riots and the 2017 genocide.

This propelled the group into the international spotlight, with multiple calls from the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United Nations, journalists and governments being made to hold the junta accountable for their crimes.

Since the 2017 violence, at least 25,000 Rohingyas have lost their lives, 18,000 women and children were subjected to sexual violence, 116,000 tortured and over 700,000 have fled Rakhine for neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh.

While the International Court of Justice in 2020 did order the junta to prevent genocidal violence against the Rohingya, no prosecutions have taken place, with the military dominating Myanmar’s politics as a totalitarian and fascist organisation.

Case for intervention

In addition to seeking justice for the ethnic cleansing campaign, the international community must tackle the issue of displaced Rohingya. Since 2017, a significant portion of the Rohingya population have remained as refugees in countries such as Bangladesh with no right to return.

Conditions for refugees are often lacking. In the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh for example, the Rohingya continue to endure chronic malnourishment and poor sanitary conditions. Any attempt to return to their homeland is impeded by the threat of genocidal violence from Myanmar’s military.

Most critically, the world must pay attention to the renewed violence in Myanmar, which would once again spiral into further ethnic cleansing of an already battered population.

This month, the Rohingya accused the Buddhist AA of torching Rohingya villages, shelters, houses, hospitals and schools in the predominantly Buthidaung town. The AA has denied this.

But its desire to gain territorial control over the military in the ongoing battle for state autonomy has previously resulted in the army issuing an ultimatum to Rohingya villagers to vacate the town. This was followed by arson attacks, leaving many internally displaced and in destitution.

Alarm bells over the recent violence are already being rung by human rights organisations such as Fortify Rights and the Special Advisory Council to Myanmar, a group of former United Nations Special Rapporteurs monitoring the situation in the country since the 2021 military coup.

It is high time that institutions such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) act by issuing arrest warrants and initiating criminal proceedings against figureheads in the military and the AA.

Accountability

Thus far, Rohingya who have suffered war crimes have not seen justice, despite the fact that in 2019, ICC judges approved a full investigation into crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar’s military. However, no arrest warrants have been issued since.

Ths is in part due to a lack of access for ICC prosecutors, as the military regime in Myanmar impedes investigations into war crimes. Also, Myanmar is not party to the Rome Statute, which prevents criminal proceedings from being pursued against the junta.

But there are ways in which prosecutions and arrest warrants can be issued.

Put simply, ICC member states need to invoke Article 14 of the Rome Statute to ensure that countries such as Myanmar who are not party to the statute can be held accountable.

Invoking Article 14 gives the ICC broad jurisdiction to prosecute figureheads of regimes not party to the statute, such as the military, through the issuance of arrest warrants and criminal proceedings. Failure to pursue this strategy means running the risk of allowing the junta to continue its genocidal proclivities with impunity.

Opportunity opens

There is precedent for this action.

Just last week, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan announced arrest warrants for Israeli war cabinet members – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant – over their role in perpetuating the genocide in Gaza.

Khan said the ICC’s jurisdiction over Israel’s actions relates to the Rome Statute, which forbids the starvation and extermination of Palestinian civilians.

Given its involvement in crimes against humanity, the military in Myanmar should encounter the same fate as the one awaiting Israel. Arrest warrants have been sought before by organisations such as the Burmese Rohingya Organization of the United Kingdom.

But it is critical that the ICC itself seeks arrest warrants for the leader of the military, including Min Aung Liang and his cohorts, over their unabashed killing sprees and genocidal intent against a persecuted minority which includes summary executions, infanticides, arson and forced expulsion.

This would be an important first step.

APA Rohingya refugee sits by the charred remains after a fire broke out in Nayapara Camp in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh, destroying hundreds of homes and shops on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 (AP /Mohammed Faisal).

There is no guarantee that Myanmar – or Israel – would present themselves to the ICC to face criminal proceedings. After all, the Tatmadaw is as defiant as Tel Aviv on international prosecutions.

But the court can still set an important precedent by taking into account the historical neglect of the Rohingya population with an affirmation that crimes against humanity will not go unaccounted for.

The junta’s impunity has had a damaging effect on the Rohingya population.

Amid the history of persecutions, the scale of the genocide committed against them and their current plight in 2024, we should not forget them.

Courtesy: TRT World

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