By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela
Bangkok, Aug 25 (EFE).- Myanmar is a prison for Rohingya Muslims who live in fear and without rights under the same generals who five years ago launched a military crackdown against them and who remain under investigation for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide in international courts.
State-owned media outlet Global New Light of Myanmar made no mention of the fifth anniversary of the military crackdown orchestrated by general Min Aung Hlaing, who in February 2021 spearheaded a successful coup in the nation.
The military coup d’état has plunged the country into a serious economic crisis and spiral of violence, while the Rohingya have become more isolated in displacement camps and areas that are guarded and even fenced in with barbed wire.
Around 600,000 Rohingya who remain in the country after the mass exodus to Bangladesh caused by the 2017 military crackdown do not have freedom of movement and are not recognized as citizens. They are detained when they try to flee the country.
“Life is really difficult to survive, for me, here. Freedom of movement for Rohingya people from (one) place to another is strictly restricted by the military junta,” a Rohingya man told Efe in an email from a village in northern Rakhine, the home state of this community in the west of the country.
Around 120,000 Rohingya have been living in displacement camps in Rakhine since episodes of sectarian violence in 2012, but restrictions on access to health, education and work also affect those in villages.
“After the military coup, the situation in Rakhine for Rohingya and other people as well is getting worse and worse day by day. The price of commodities and food is skyrocketing,” he says.
The Rohingya have been discriminated against for decades in Myanmar, but the brutal crackdown of August 25, 2017, marked a before and after for this community, one of the most persecuted in the world.
The operation, launched in response to an attack by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents on police posts, caused the exodus of nearly 774,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Investigations by the UN and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that soldiers raped and murdered adults and children and burned villages, causing around 10,000 deaths.
Then de-facto leader of Myanmar and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi denied the atrocities of the soldiers and even led the defense of her country at the International Court of Justice in 2019, where the military is accused of “acts of genocide.”
Despite condemnation by much of the international community, Myanmar’s Buddhist majority expressed no sympathy for the Rohingya and considered them foreigners, calling them “Bengalis.”
However, many people changed their perception of the Rohingya after last year’s coup, when the military led by Min Aung Hlaing began using the same abuses of killing, raping and burning houses against other communities in the country.
Min Aung Hlaing was the architect of the 2017 military crackdown, as well as similar ones in 2016. Suu Kyi, meanwhile, is in jail, sentenced to 17 years in prison for crimes that she denies.
Now the alternative civilian National Unity Government, made up of pro-democracy politicians and activists, has pledged to accept the Rohingya as citizens.
Tun Khin, a well-known Rohingya activist living in London, tells Efe that the international court processes, including one for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, are progressing very slowly or delayed due to objections from Myanmar.
“For the Rohingya, the situation in Rakhine State is still terrible. Policies designed to make life unbearable for Rohingya to drive us out are all still in place. It fits the definition of apartheid and it’s part of the ongoing genocide against my people,” Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization United Kingdom, says in an email. The activist is also not optimistic about the possibility of repatriation of the Rohingya from Bangladesh after the failed attempts in 2018 and 2019.
“It is impossible to guarantee the safety of anyone who returns — the same military which carried out the genocidal attacks in 2016 and 2017 is now in charge of the country and slaughtering civilians every day,” he says. EFE