World’s Most Neglected Genocide Finally Gets Washington’s Attention
By Fatimah Mazhar
May 27, 2014
It looks like the United States has finally woken up and started paying attention towards what is perhaps the most neglected ongoing genocide in the world. But will the supposed world champion of human rights do more than just paying lip-service to widespread abuses?
Ever since the genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (Burma) started almost two years ago, not much has been said or done by the local or international community to put an end to the bloodshed.
The violence began when a so-called influential Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu initiated a nationalist campaign called the “969 Movement” against Islam’s expansion in a predominantly Buddhist country.
President Thein Sein, also a former military commander, made matters worse when he suggested the world body resettle ethnic Rohingyas abroad because they didn’t belong in Myanmar – despite living there for hundreds of years.
Around 300 Rohingya Muslims have been ruthlessly killed and up to 140,000 displaced in the South Asian country, according to data provided by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Human Rights Watch reported that tens of thousands of the displaced people have been denied access to humanitarian aid and are unable to return home.
However, it’s not just extremist Buddhists and the military junta trying to exterminate and/or expel the Rohingya Muslims.
The inexplicable silence and inaction over the genocide from world leaders, human rights organization and Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is far more frustrating than the perpetrators’ crimes.
Suu Kyi, it seems, has decided to avoid the issue and take a neutral stance over the blatant violation of human rights.
For instance, on her first trip to the U.S. in 2012, she remained curiously silent on the plight of the Rohingya people. Similarly during her visit to the United Kingdom last year, she repeatedly avoided giving an unequivocal condemnation of the anti-Muslim violence that is engulfing her country.
But this year, as far as the U.S. is concerned, the situation has been slightly better in terms of acknowledging and highlighting the violence.
During his Asian tour earlier in April, U.S. President Barack Obama warned that Myanmar would not be able to progress if its Muslims remained oppressed. He even extended economic sanctions against the country almost two weeks ago, citing concerns over “ongoing conflict and human rights abuses in ethnic minority areas, particularly in Rakhine State.”
On April 30, U.S. lawmakers urged the Obama administration to take measures against countries not doing enough to fight human trafficking, including Thailand, Malaysia, and especially Myanmar, where the government has done too little to protect a persecuted religious minority.
"Rohingya are leaving Burma by the thousands to escape religious persecution," said Republican Representative Chris Smith at a subcommittee hearing on the U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report.
Last week, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee urged the Burmese authorities to take immediate and effective steps to put an end to the widespread human rights abuses.
The committee’s chairman, Robert Menendez, in a letter to Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, reiterated previous concerns over Myanmar’s persecution of its Muslims and how it could affect the relations between the countries.
“I urgently request that your government take immediate steps to end the persecution of the Rohingya, ensure the security of international aid groups and facilitate their immediate access to Rakhine state,” Menendez wrote.
He added the Rohingyas were not just facing massacres but also the destruction of their villages and homes and confinement in “squalid camps that essentially function as detention facilities.”
Moreover, the United Nations also raised alarm over the issue last month after an envoy referred to it as "crimes against humanity".
Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana revealed that Rohingya Muslims faced severe shortages of food, water and medical care in the western parts of the country.
With the much-needed increase in condemnation from the international community, especially from the U.S., one wonders if Aung San Suu Kyi and Thein Sein will further be able to avoid addressing and acknowledging the genocide right under their noses.