The official news out of Myanmar has slowed to a trickle, but the torrent of human desperation rushing over the border keeps swelling, as the persecution of Muslim Rohingya minority communities has erupted into mass bloodshed.
A vaguely defined rogue insurgency has been blamed for instigating the violence by attacking local police. But the more than 120,000 refugees who have crossed over to neighboring Bangladesh since August 25 tell a very different story of genocidal violence, military impunity, and relentless intercommunal conflict. The aggression, say human-rights observers, is rooted in a systemic pattern of ethnic cleansing perpetrated against people the country has never accepted as citizens, even as it claims to be democratizing society.
In response, the United Nations has condemned the carnage, while the UN special rapporteur on the human-rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, accused the government of multiple human-rights violations against the Rohingya over recent months, urging it to “ensure that security forces exercise restraint in all circumstances.”
Restraint isn’t what comes to mind when Maung Zarni thinks about the exodus from his homeland. The London-based academic and dissident describes the crisis as a generations-old “double crime” against the Rohingya: institutionalized ethnic hatred and scars of past sectarian conflict, combined with the community’s ongoing disenfranchisement under successive repressive governments. The official narrative, bolstered with a humanitarian and media blockade in the Rakhine state, obscures the government’s role in what he sees as “the slow death” of the Rohingya “on their own home land,” spurred by periodic crackdowns by government forces and perpetuated through communal conflict with a militarized Buddhist majority.
At the same time, Rohingya refugees have been met with hostility from border authorities. Makeshift encampments on the outskirts of Bangladesh have already filled and the influx is now spilling into local roadsides, apparently forcing the Bangladeshi government to loosen its border controls somewhat. As the need for emergency aid explodes, international humanitarian authorities predict catastrophe if Myanmar’s government fails to stem the displacement and work toward reconciliation.