Rohingya: Apartheid in All But Name

September 7, 2017

When it comes to the Rohingya, where is Aung San Suu Kyi?

The Rohingya are one of the world’s most persecuted people. Descendants of Muslim traders, they have lived in Myanmar’s Rakhine State for centuries, yet the Burmese government, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, calls them “illegal immigrants” from neighboring Bangladesh, with officials refusing to acknowledge their very presence in the country. Denied citizenship and access to basic public services, the Rohingya are virtually stateless and impoverished, unwanted by the country of their birth.

Channel 4 News has called the situation “apartheid in all but name.” According to a senior UN official, the Myanmar government wants to ethnically cleanse Myanmar of Rohingya Muslims. In 2015, a report by Yale Law School’s Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic found there was “strong evidence” of genocide in Rakhine State.

Between 2012 and May this year, communal violence in Rakhine State led to at least 168,000 Rohingya civilians fleeing Myanmar, according to the United Nations. In October 2016, nine police officers were killed by militants. The government responded with brute force, leading 87,000 Rohingya to flee the country. According to a UN report released in February, Myanmar’s security forces have waged a campaign of murder, rape and torture.

On August 25, 2017, violence erupted again in northern Rakhine State after Rohingya militants attacked government forces. In response, the government has launched a “clearance operation” to purge the region of what it calls “terrorists.” In the words of one Rohingya refugee, “Vigilantes, soldiers and police surrounded our village. They started shooting at the villagers: men, women, children, even at infants — they didn’t spare anyone. … Many small children went missing. They cut the breasts off some women.”

According to most recent estimates, some 146,000 Rohingya people have fled Myanmar since the latest bout of violence. A further 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in conflict zones. The government has blocked most media access to these regions as well as UN aid convoys.

The question on everyone’s lips is: Where is Aung San Suu Kyi? As the de facto leader of Myanmar and the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, she has been criticized for failing to defend the Rohingya from ethnic cleansing. To date, she has been silent over the latest violence, except for a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in which she dubbed the situation “fake news” that had distorted the events with a “huge iceberg of misinformation.”