Is Myanmar approaching genocide?
This was the question, and in fact the headline haunting my google news feed for much of the month of May. A report from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum suggests that it very well might be (you can read the full report here). It has been over a year since I have written about the Rohingya people of Burma. But that is not because they have seen improving conditions. In fact, things have deteriorated dramatically for many there, living in guarded encampments, fearing violence if they venture out of narrowly delineated zones.
Last year the prominent Burmese scholar Maung Zarni said of the situation:
“The question of the Rohingya is the central most existential challenge to me: both as a Burmese and as a Buddhist. Because, on the question of the persecution of the Rohingya we as Buddhist Burmese people who claim to subscribe to the Buddhist philosophy of Loving-Kindness, are violating the very principle on which our collective identity as Buddhist Burmese people … This is not simply a research work, that I pursue professionally. This is an existential challenge. So therefore, I throw my lot in with the Rohingya, who I consider Myanmar  and my own kind.”
Adding to this, I wrote:
Coming just off the heals of the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, we are called ever more clearly to understand conflicts in the world that might lead to such horrors. What is happening in Burma today eerily reflects the ethnic divides and hateful rhetoric that precipitated the murder of over 800,000 Rwandans (primarily ethnic Tutsis) in 1994.
Recently, mass graves filled with the bodies of Rohingya who had become victims of human trafficking in Thailand were discovered in grizzly conditions. This week Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, demanded action by ASEAN countries. As of now, though, no help is in site. Today, the U.S. Campaign for Burma has issued a request for signatures demanding that President Obama to search out and save those on the boats today.
Thousands of ethnic Rohingya from Burma are now adrift at sea without supplies, ridden with disease, and subject to human trafficking. Many have died as a result. Since 2012, the Rohingya have been fleeing ethnic cleansing from western Arakan state in Burma. Last week, neighboring countries Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand refused several boatloads with hundreds of starving Rohingya, turning them back to the sea.
On Friday, May 15, 2015 President Obama announced his renewal of sanctions on Burma with specific reference to the Burmese government’s repression of the Rohingya.
Tell President Obama that, while we welcome his renewal of sanctions on Burma, the United States must immediately deploy its naval and air forces in the region to locate, rescue, and provide humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya refugees. President Obama must also hold the Burmese government accountable and demand President Thein Sein restore their legal status.
In February 2015, Burmese President Thein Sein revoked the “white cards” of the Rohingya rendering them effectively stateless and without claim to their home in Burma where they have lived for generations.
Click here to sign the U.S. Campaign for Burma’s letter to the president.