Rights group: Act now to avoid Rohingya genocide

Fortify Rights says “systematic violations” have been “overlooked” by Western powers.

A rights group monitoring the welfare of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar have called on the international community to take action in order to prevent a “genocide” from taking place in the country.

The Rohingya, which number about one million among Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist 52 million population, have lived in Myanmar for generations.

However, most people view them as foreign intruders from neighbouring Bangladesh which, while hosting many Rohingya refugees, refuses to recognise them as citizens.

Malaysian TV channel aims to raise awareness of Rohingya plight

Dozens of Rohingya Muslims have been killed since early October, when the army launched a crackdown after an attack killed nine police officers.

According to UN estimates, 30,000 people have fled in the recent violence, and some refugees have accused the Myanmar military of committing rights abuses, including torture, rape and murder.

“I think it is reasonable right now to be talking about genocide prevention in Myanmar,” Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

“We do know that widespread and systematic human rights violations have been perpetrated for a very long time, and there’s been a very grave uptick of those since October.

“We’ve seen genocidal rhetoric coming out of state media in recent weeks. It should spur some action.”

Smith also criticised the Western government’s inaction, saying many are “fairly intoxicated with this narrative of political reform” to the extent that the Rohingya situation is “overlooked”.

His comments came after Al Jazeera learned Bangladesh authorities had been turning back Rohingya men at the border, while allowing in women and children based on their need.

More than 10,000 people have already crossed into Bangladesh in the past two months, a UN report had said. 


Al Jazeera’s Maher Sattar, reporting from Cox’s Bazar near the Myanmar border on Thursday, said that “due to humanitarian concerns, some people are being allowed” in. 

“There is no real criteria, it is more an ad-hoc decision-making process, where border guards see someone, and they feel that this person is really suffering, it’s usually women and children, and they let them through,” he said citing border guards.

“But most of the men get turned back.”

But “on the whole” the Bangladesh government remain “antagonistic” towards Rohingya refugees, pushing them back to Myanmar, he added.

Those who have managed to cross the border into Bangladesh have sought shelter at an unofficial Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, where there are 200,000 Rohingya refugees already.

The situation is being described as dire, as the previous batch of refugees are unable to extend help to those who have just arrived to seek shelter.

“There’s not much to give. They are refugees themselves,” he said.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is leading an advisory commission looking into the ethnic conflict in the Rakhine State [EPA]
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is leading an advisory commission looking into the ethnic conflict in the Rakhine State [EPA]

Across the border, Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi, reporting from Sittwe in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, said some local Rakhine organisations have refused to meet a commission led by Kofi Annan, the former UN secretar-general.

Almost all Rohingya in Myanmar live in Rakhine.

Annan is chairman of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, an initiative launched by Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in August 2016 to identify conflict-prevention measures, facilitate long-term communal reconciliation and address development issues.

Inter-communal riots in Rakhine killed 200 people and displaced another 100,000 in 2012.

Annan’s team was due in Sittwe on Friday and some local organisations said they were unable to meet the commission because they used the term “Rohingya”, which is not an officially recognised minority in the country.

Myanmar under pressure to act on Rohingya plight

On Tuesday, the UN OHCHR said Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya could be tantamount to crimes against humanity, reiterating the findings of a June report.

Habibullah, a Rohingya resident in Sittwe, told Al Jazeera that his family, which was living in another part of Rakhine, were forced to flee after their homes were allegedly burned by soldiers.

He said that he later received reports that his grandfather managed to escape to Bangladesh, while his uncle and cousin are feared to have died.

Authorities have denied the allegations of abuse, but have so far refused access into the area affected by the violence.

Many international aid workers have also had to leave because their travel permits have not been renewed.

Nyi Pu, chief minister of Rakhine, said officials are trying to resolve the situation.

“Our government is handling all of the problems in Rakhine, fiercely and precisely. Precisely means we deal with terrorism, in accordance with the rule of law,” he told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera