I recently met Penny Green to discuss the situation in Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in the perpetration of the horrific crimes carried out against the Rohingya.
A professor of law and globalization and the founding director of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University of London, Green has been closely monitoring the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar for the past five years. In a 2015 report based on 12 months of field work and over 200 interviews, ISCI found ample evidence that the Rohingya have been subjected to systematic and widespread human-rights violations, including killings, torture, and rape; denial of citizenship; destruction of villages; land confiscation; and forced labor. Citing Daniel Feierstein’s Genocide as Social Practice, which outlines six stages leading to genocide, ISCI claimed that the Myanmar regime had already perpetrated four: (1) stigmatization and dehumanization; (2) harassment, violence, and terror; (3) isolation and segregation; and (4) the systematic weakening of the target group. Now the Rohingya potentially face the final two stages of genocide—mass annihilation and erasure of the group from Myanmar’s history.
Neve Gordon: Can you provide some background about the Rohingya’s plight and the processes that have brought us to where we are today?
Penny Green: Burma, known today as Myanmar, received independence in 1948. The country had been part of a vast British colony, and not unlike India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Burma’s borders were determined partly according to religious lines, with the Bengal state being mostly Hindu, Bangladesh mostly Muslim and Burma mostly Buddhist. The Rohingya, who are Muslim, had been living for centuries mostly in what became Rakhine State in the newly established Burma. In 1950, they were issued citizenship identification cards and granted the right to vote under the first post-independence Prime Minister, U Nu. Until the late 1970s, the Rohingya held important government positions as civil servants, the official Burma Broadcasting Service relayed a Rohingya-language radio program three times a week, and the term “Rohingya” was used in school textbooks and official documents.
In the early 1980s, we start to witness the beginning of the process that ultimately aims at erasing the Rohingya from Myanmar’s history and geography. In 1982, the Rohingya were removed from the list of Myanmar’s 135 officially recognized ethnic minorities and stripped of citizenship. A little more than a decade later, the government suddenly refused to issue birth certificates to Rohingya babies. It then began to completely erase the term “Rohingya” from the official texts and even to condemn anyone who uttered the word. After the 2012 government-sanctioned Rakhine violence, the Rohingya were restricted to secure zones, detention camps, ghettos, and prison villages, and were excluded from higher education, all professions, the military and the public service.