Azad Essa: Myanmar's theatre of revenge killings
For more than six weeks, Myanmar’s army has been engaged in a brutal offensive in Rakhine State targeting the Rohingya, writes Azad Essa.
Food and basic supplies have nearly run out, aid agencies and international observers have been refused access, and the military has imposed a devastating lockdown.
This isn’t the battle for Mosul, nor is it the siege of Aleppo.
For more than six weeks, Myanmar’s army has been engaged in a brutal offensive in the Muslim-majority region of Rakhine State targeting the Rohingya.
Helicopter gunships have brought terror from the skies while on the ground, troops have been accused of burning children alive, destroying Mosques and ransacking homes.
Since October, at least 130 men, women and children have been killed; some 30 000 displaced and life-saving aid suspended to more than 160 000 civilians.
The crackdown followed an attack on a border post and the killing of nine Myanmar police officers, blamed on a Rohingya rebel group.
As a consequence, the army moved in and declared the area an “operation zone”.
According to activists and the UN, the military has exercised little restraint. Execution, torture, rapes have become commonplace.
Those who have tried to escape into neighbouring Bangladesh have been shot at by Myanmar troops or refused entry at the border.
A slew of images posted in local and social media show fathers begging Bangladeshi authorities to let their families in.
One young Rohingya Muslim who made it into Bangladesh said he hid under piles of cow dung for hours before sneaking across the border.
On Friday, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee described the lockdown as “not acceptable”.
She also said Myanmar’s government had shown little interest in investigating the multiple allegations of human rights violations in the state.
“I am unaware of any efforts on the part of the government to look into the allegations of human rights violations,” Lee said.
“It would appear, on the contrary, that the government has mostly responded with a blanket denial.”
Unsurprisingly, Nobel Peace laureate and the country’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, dismissed the accusations against the military as “absolutely not true”.
But the latest revelations by Lee are not altogether surprising.
Rohingya Muslims have lived in Rakhine state and other parts of Myanmar for decades, but to the Myanmar government they are imposters.
The move to “label” and “other” the Rohingya has been deliberate and purposeful.
The community has been categorically isolated by the mainstream, stripped of their rights and treated as aliens in a country of their birth.
While the persecution of the Rohingya has gone on for decades - they were stripped off their citizenship in 1982 and all newborns since 1994 are no longer provided birth certificates - their present-day crisis is in part borne out of the reconfiguring of Myanmar’s political and economic agenda.
In mid-October, the International State Crime Initiative said a 12-month investigation found “compelling evidence of state-led policies, laws and strategies of genocidal persecution stretching back over 30 years”.
“We are concerned that these latest developments may represent a new chapter in the persecution of the Rohingya, and a potentially more deadly phase of genocide,” Professor Penny Green, director of the ISCI, said.
Green added that the dehumanisation and stigmatisation was reinforced by segregation and systemic isolation. “The situation is sufficiently desperate to warrant comparisons with Germany in the 1930s and Rwanda in the early 1990s,” she said.
Likewise, author and academic Azeem Ibrahim writes that propaganda by the military has been absorbed into the political culture of Myanmar, “to the point that hostility towards this minority is now democratic consensus - even as the country has now started gaining democratic freedoms”.
Now, more than ever, there is a need for strong international leadership to put an end to this madness.
But no one is willing or likely to come forward. Not the Arab world, not Europe, China, Russia, and certainly not a Trump administration.
While Suu Kyi has refused to call the community by their name “Rohingya”, she did appoint a nine-member- panel in August - headed by Kofi Annan - to search for a way out of the crisis.
The events of the past six weeks certainly do cast a shadow on the impetus behind that move.
And like that, the Rohingya will be murdered.
* Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also the co-founder of The Daily Vox.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.