It is the world’s most silent genocide. So silent, in fact, that even in the unlikely event you have heard about it, it’s more than likely you know only its foggiest details.
Under the UN Geneva Convention, the definition of genocide describes both a mental and physical element: “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such,” and includes killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
In every sense of the definition, the government of Myanmar is carrying out genocide against its 1.3 million Rohingya Muslim population – one that is being ignored, in the most part, by the international community, despite acknowledgement by the United Nations that mass killings, disappearances, torture, gang rapes, brutal beatings, property dispossession, and forced deportations are occurring in increasing frequency and ferocity.
The UN’s 2017 report into Myanmar’s savage “crackdown” on the country’s northern Rakhine state described the violence as likely “crimes against humanity,” and that “the gravity and scale of these allegations begs the robust reaction of the international community,” but the international community, particularly Western leaders and media continues to ignore Myanmar’s systematic extermination of Rohingya Muslims.
“The devastating cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable – what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother’s milk. And for the mother to witness this murder while she is being gang-raped by the very security forces who should be protecting her,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
The cruelty inflicted upon these people by the state obligated to protect their security is on a par with the level of depraved barbarism carried out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, but whereas the terrorist group’s psychopathic violence attracts global headlines, the cruelty mete out by Myanmar’s security forces goes largely unknown.
Cruelty that includes the slaughter of babies and young children with knives; deliberate destruction of food supplies, and the burning and looting of entire villages. Of 101 Rohingya Muslim women interviewed by the UN, more than half said they had been raped or sexually assaulted.
Sattar Islam Nirob is a 28-year-old Rohingya Muslim refugee in one of the three refugee camps set up inside the Bangladesh border. He and his family have taken refuge in Kutapalong refugee camps, which now holds 13,766 Rohingya Muslim refugees alongside another more than 65,000 held in a neighboring “make shift camp,” Nirob told me.
Nirob said that fresh assaults carried out by Myanmar’s security forces are pushing a rapidly increasing number of Rohingya Muslims towards the Bangladeshi border. Yesterday he estimated there to be more than 3000 waiting, more like pleading, for refugee status, while he estimated a further 1,200 had been arrested by Bangladeshi border patrol officers for trying to cross without a permit.
Yesterday, Bangladeshi security forces forcibly sent back 90 Rohingya Muslims trying to flee Myanmar, and then began firing mortars and machine guns at them, according to Al Jazeera.
But even when the “fortunate” few of the likely hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Rohingya Muslims make it safely into neighboring Bangladesh, the refugee camps that await them can only be described as horrific.
He described to me conditions inside Kutapalong camp; breaking down in tears as he recounted witnessing babies starving and dehydrating to death due to a lack of water and emergency milk supplies. Others have described pathways “paved with sewage,” and a “claustrophobic crush of mud huts and tents packed so tightly together that they looked like they were built on top of each other.” This has been Nirob’s home for the past two years. Too afraid to return to Myanmar in the knowledge he’d face certain death, torture, or imprisonment.
When I asked Nirob if he felt his situation was hopeless, he said he had not abandoned hope in the international community, saying, “If the US government and United Nations can work together to pressure the Myanmar government, it will greatly improve the situation for all Rohingya refugees.”
Despite Nirob’s continued optimism in the face of such indescribable adversary, efforts to pressure Myanmar’s de facto leader, San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, have fallen short. Not only has she blocked the UN from investigating Myanmar’s human rights violations, but also she maligned Rohingya Muslims as “terrorists” and/or supporters of terrorism.
Clearly, the international community must do more to halt Myanmar’s systematic extermination and expulsion of Rohingya Muslims. To do nothing is to provide the Muslim world of yet another clear example of the West’s refusal to intervene when Muslim lives are endangered.