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The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya

By Maung Zarni and Alice Cowley

Abstract: Since 1978, the Rohingya, a Muslim minority of Western Burma, have been subject to a state-sponsored process of destruction. The Rohingya have deep historical roots in the borderlands of Rakhine State, Myanmar, and were recognized officially both as citizens and as an ethnic group by three successive governments of post-independence Burma. In 1978, General Ne Win’s socialist military dictatorship launched the first large-scale campaign against the Rohingya in Rakhine State with the intent first of expelling them en masse from Western Burma and subsequently legalizing the systematic erasure of Rohingya group identity and legitimizing their physical destruction. This on-going process has continued to the present day under the civilian-military rule of President Thein Sein’s government. Since 2012, the Rohingya have been subject to renewed waves of hate campaigns and accompanying violence, killings and ostracization that aim both to destroy the Rohingya and to permanently remove them from their ancestral homes in Rakhine State.

Findings from the authors’ three-year research on the plight of the Rohingya lead us to conclude that Rohingya have been subject to a process of slow-burning genocide over the past thirty-five years. The destruction of the Rohingya is carried out both by civilian populations backed by the state and perpetrated directly by state actors and state institutions. Both the State in Burma and the local community have committed four out of five acts of genocide as spelled out by the 1948 Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide. Despite growing evidence of genocide, the international community has so far avoided calling this large scale human suffering genocide because no powerful member states of the UN Security Council have any appetite to forego their commercial and strategic interests in Burma to address the slow-burning Rohingya genocide.

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Rohingya Exodus