On August 27, 2018, just two days after Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day, the United Nations issued a scathing report, accusing Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, of committing crimes against humanity, including murder on a massive scale, torture, rape, enforced disappearance, imprisonment, and sexual slavery.
The report, issued by the three-member Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, also includes the following bombshell allegation, after noting that the “critical element” in determining whether genocide has in fact taken place is whether “genocidal intent” can be established:
The Mission concluded, given these considerations on the inference of genocidal intent, that there is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State.
While different NGOs and genocide study organizations came to the same conclusion well before the UN did, until now that body and world leaders have been reluctant to use the term. On August 25, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo accused Myanmar’s security forces of carrying out “ethnic cleansing.” There is very little doubt that the regime has been practicing ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, but ethnic cleansing and genocide are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, confining the issue to one of ethnic cleansing not only evades the much more serious charge of genocide; in the case of the Rohingya, it does something more. For the Myanmar government has insisted that the Rohingya are in fact not an ethnic group, but rather “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh.
Militant Buddhist groups such as the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party voice the dominant anti-Rohingya sentiment. One of its leaders, U Shwe Mg, asserts: “the so-called Rohingya are just illegal immigrants. We allowed them to settle down here because we are generous people and we thought they would just stay a while. But the Bengali had a lot of children, paid Buddhist women to convert to Islam and marry them, stole our land, squeezed our resources, and now they demand equal rights and citizenship. It can’t be.” This is patent nonsense—it is an established historical fact that the Rohingya have lived in what is now called Myanmar for centuries. Furthermore, their right to identify as an ethnic group is secured by international human-rights discourse and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.