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Genocide against Rohingya - the Holocaust is recurring

By Aslam Abd Jalil
November 23, 2015

The recent report entitled Countdown to Annihilation: Genocide in Myanmar by the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), Queen Mary University of London, has identified that Rohingya in the Rakhine state of Myanmar have been subjected to genocide based on Nazism ideology.

The term ‘genocide’ sounds very controversial and many parties may be reluctant to make such a strong and serious allegation. The conventional definition of genocide usually involves mass killing committed by the state. However, ISCI investigation shows that the persecution of Rohingya has developed into genocidal practice based on the historic and current conditions. In other words, the genocide is underway in Myanmar.

This claim of genocide was also supported by a Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School which found that there was strong evidence of state crimes committed against Rohingya.

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya community mostly live in the state of Rakhine or its former name Arakan in the north-western part of Myanmar. Rakhine state, which is inhabited by mainly Buddhist community and Rohingya Muslims, is the second poorest state in Myanmar. Rohingya are often referred to as ‘illegal Bengali immigrants’ who came from Bangladesh by the state and in public discourse.

Atrocities facing the Rohingya

In a book entitled ‘Genocide as Social Practice: Reorganising Society under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas’, Daniel Feierstein outlined six stages of genocide.

ISCI identified that the first four stages have been and still occurring to the Rohingya which are 1) stigmatisation and dehumanisation; 2) harassment, violence and terror; 3) isolation and segregation; and 4) the systematic weakening of the target group. ISCI claimed that the Rohingya potentially face the final two stages of genocide which are 5) mass annihilation and eventually 6) erasure of the group from Myanmar’s history.

There are countless records and witnesses to prove the genocidal process towards Rohingya. These include organised massacre in 2012 and systematic discriminatory policies. For examples, Rohingya need approval to get out from their camps to get medical treatment and they need to pay an exorbitant amount of money just to get marriage approval from the authorities.

Due to the oppressive livelihoods, many Rohingya decided to flee their ‘home country’.

What are the challenges to address Rohingya issues?

No recognition of Rohingya in Myanmar

The fact that there was not a single Muslim candidate (let alone Rohingya who could not even vote in the election) in the recent November 2015 election showed that there is a strong discrimination happening towards the Muslims in the country.

The pro-military junta accused the National League for Democracy (NLD) as a sympathiser of the Muslims and NLD tried to prove otherwise to secure the public votes. Aung San Suu Kyi stated that every individual in the country should be treated in accordance with the law when being asked about the suffering of Rohingya. She also asked the world community not to exaggerate the problems facing Myanmar.

There is a fundamental flaw to her claim of treating everyone according to the law. This is because the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law did not recognize Rohingya as citizens. Therefore, as non-citizens and stateless, Rohingya are not entitled to be protected under the law.

My view is that, there could be two reasons why Aung San Suu Kyi or her party did not want to acknowledge the Rohingya issues - either they thought that it was not politically correct because this would anger the public or they could really believe that the Rohingya were illegal immigrants. This was proven when Aung San Suu Kyi’s aide mentioned that the Rohingya are not the priority as they were all illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

One of the refugees from Myanmar whom I talked to also said that he did not know how to distinguish between a Rohingya and a Bangladeshi when I asked about the integration among refugees from Myanmar in Malaysia. This proved that the stigmatisation against Rohingya has permeated every strata of the Burmese society either in Myanmar or abroad as they have been isolated for many decades.

Hypothetically, even if Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD addressed the Rohingya issues, there was nothing much could be done as they had no leverage. Although NLD won a landslide majority in the recent election, 25 percent of the parliamentary seats are reserved for the military. In fact, the public machineries or proxies have been manipulated systematically to commit violence against Rohingya such as Ma Ba Tha.

The reform, if there is any, by the newly-elected government towards Rohingya, will be very unlikely to take place instantly.

Asean’s lack of strong leadership and institutions

Most people argued that Asean should play a bigger role in this matter especially during theboat crisis early this year. However, it is easier said than done. Non-interference principle is uniquely Asean Way in practicing regionalism although it is no longer relevant.

Despite efforts to give pressure on Myanmar to improve its human rights records especially in treating the Rohingya, these efforts lack of concrete and consolidated plans. This is due to the lack of strong leadership and institutions within Asean itself. I believe that at the ‘regional’ level, only Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia tried to address the plight of Rohingya on the grounds of different independent individual states and not on the platform of Asean.

Just because the other Asean member states were not directly affected, they abide to the Asean Way norm and it is not surprising that Myanmar kept a deaf ear on this. This kind of negotiation gave less pressure than it could be if all Asean members were united with one voice to condemn Myanmar.

Asean also has its own Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights but this commission does not play a significant role in addressing human rights issues in the region. Even though the Asean Human Rights Declaration is a good step to make Asean more than just an economic bloc, the member states have no obligation to abide to this.

A declaration is not similar to a convention which requires state parties to make their commitments to follow the guidelines and rules agreed upon. It is a great shame that all of the great human rights aspirations aimed by the member states are merely rhetoric in the Declaration.

Even though Article 16 of the declaration clearly states that “every person has the right to seek and receive asylum in another State”, we could see that Thailand, Indonesia and including the chairperson of Asean, Malaysia were very reluctant to rescue the Rohingya at sea in the recent boat crisis.

On Nov 21, Asean countries including Myanmar adopted the Asean Convention on Trafficking in Persons (ACTIP). It is hoped that at least the issues of Rohingya who are also being trafficked are addressed to some extent even if not significant.


As humans we do not want to look back and regret in the future for not stopping the genocide occurring in front of our eyes at the moment. Just because the Rohingya are not in the final stage of genocidal practice, it does not give any excuse at all for the world community to wait and see. Practical solutions need to be taken immediately while the Holocaust is recurring in Myanmar now.

ASLAM ABD JALIL is a A Master of Public Policy student at Universiti Malaya.

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