The United Nations must establish an independent investigation into government-sponsored genocide against ethnic Rohingyas in Myanmar, a rights group said Thursday, drawing pushback from politicians in the Southeast Asian nation who called the allegations “baseless.”
Rohingyas are protected under the U.N.’s Genocide Convention and have suffered acts intended to destroy their ethnic group in whole or in part, according to a legal analysis prepared by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School for the NGO Fortify Rights.
Based on three years of research and documentation gathered by Fortify Rights, the legal analysis—entitled “Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims”—says there is “strong evidence” that the government is carrying out genocide against the ethnic group based in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“Allegations of genocide should not be taken lightly,” Fortify Rights executive director Matthew Smith said in a statement.
“Rohingya face existential threats and their situation is worsening. Domestic remedies have failed. It’s time for the international community to act.”
Myanmar’s government has attempted to prevent Rohingya births through legislation, denies more than one million Rohingyas freedom of movement, and has confined at least 140,000 Rohingyas displaced by communal violence to more than 60 internment camps in Rakhine, Fortify Rights said.
The government is responsible for denying Rohingyas access to adequate humanitarian aid, sanitation, and food, which has led to avoidable deaths, it added, saying Rohingyas have been effectively forced to take deadly journeys by sea to seek better living conditions.
Conditions have been particularly severe since 2012, when communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state left more than 200 dead, the group said. Rights groups say Rohingyas bore the brunt of violence during riots in the region.
The legal analysis specifically pointed to state actors—including Myanmar’s military, police and the now-disbanded Nasaka border security force—as responsible for acts that could constitute genocide, and claims to draw links between perpetrators and the central government.
Fortify Rights and the Lowenstein Clinic called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to urgently adopt a resolution mandating an international Commission of Inquiry to assess the situation in Rakhine state, including human rights violations against Rohingyas and Rakhine Buddhists.
“The U.N. should truly put human rights up front in Myanmar,” Smith said.
“U.N. member states should stop tolerating these abuses and take action.”
Political leaders in Myanmar flatly denied that a campaign of genocide is underway to eradicate the Rohingyas, who the government views as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refers to as “Bengalis,” although many have lived there for generations.
Ye Htut, Information Minister and spokesman for the President's Office, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the government was unwilling to accept what he called “baseless” allegations.
“They took [data] from places nobody knows and used facts based on the word of people we can’t confirm,” he said.
“They are attacking us politically as the [Nov. 8 general] election draws near. Our country's image … might be harmed, but in Myanmar, the government's standing is firmer than ever and the people won't accept such kinds of accusations.”
Ko Ko Gyi, a leader of the 88 Generation student democracy group, said that Myanmar has faced many difficulties as it transitions to a democracy from a military regime under President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government.
“The word ‘genocide’ can harm a country’s dignity,” he said.
“During this difficult time, [representatives of] foreign nations shouldn’t say these kinds of irresponsible things. It is not helpful to our country.”
Other politicians also dismissed allegations of genocide in Myanmar, though they acknowledged that society should be more tolerant of the Rohingyas.
“We have no genocide here, but we have to improve the situation,” said Naing Ngwe Thein, leader of the All Mon Region Democracy Party.
“We need to treat Muslims fairly, especially when they are forced out of their homes [by violence].”
"No genocide" in Myanmar
Tin Oo, a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, stated firmly that “we have no genocide” in Myanmar.
“But I know that people who came to Myanmar from Bangladesh endure some restrictions which I don’t agree with.”
Prominent Muslims also shied away from using the term genocide, though they expressed concerns over the treatment of adherents to their faith in Myanmar, who account for around 4 percent of the country’s roughly 60 million people.
“I am sure we don’t have mass murder or massacres in our country that we can call ‘genocide,’” said Al Haj U Aye Lwin, chief convener of the Islamic Centre of Myanmar, while addressing the Interfaith Academic Conference for Security, Peace and Co-existence Thursday.
“But according to definitions from some academics, destroying the lives and futures of a group of people is also genocide. What I know for sure if that we Muslims endure difficulties getting IDs and finding jobs in Myanmar.”
Win Nyein, chief editor of Shwe Amutay—a magazine dealing with Muslim issues in Myanmar—said he wants people in the country to separate religion and nationality when identifying others.
“We have many Muslims who are working for [bettering] Myanmar, so there shouldn’t be any discrimination against Muslims in this country,” he said.
“I don’t see any genocide with my eyes in this country, but a mob came and stopped Muslim’s prayers at mosques, some destroyed houses and mosques, and authorities didn’t take any action against this mob,” added Win Nyein.
Reported by Khet Mar and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.