Rohingya need international protection from ongoing genocide
16 August 2021
On January 23, 2020, the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) issued an order in the case of The Gambia v. Myanmar requiring Myanmar to take measures to prevent the risk or possible recurrence of genocide against the Rohingya people and to preserve evidence of the 2017 attacks (“Order”). Myanmar is required to report periodically on the measures it has taken to comply with the Order.
Myanmar’s two reports filed to date have been classified confidential, available only to the ICJ and The Gambia, thus keeping the international community as a whole, including the Rohingya as victims and survivors, in the dark. Such an approach prevents them to see, assess and draw conclusions on any measures which Myanmar has (or has not) taken.
Despite the requirements of the Order, Myanmar is continuing to fail in its obligations to take any of the prescribed genocide against the Rohingya people (as a protected group) although it has power to do so. The same conditions that existed in the Arakan/Rakhine state have not changed since the order for provisional measures. The Rohingya in Arakan are subject to “oppressive and systematic restrictions” on freedom of movement, education, marriage, childbirth, access to food, health care, and humanitarian assistance with several thousand people being held in highly discriminatory circumstances (in possible apartheid like conditions) including in arbitrary detention centres in Sittwe (Akyab) and the southern towns for 10 years with little access to land, livelihood, appropriate food and water.
Those not being arbitrarily incarcerated in detention facilities, are forced to live in ghettos and encircled/confined villages. The land and jungles are riddled with landmines presenting a danger to villagers and to those who may farm or collect firewood. The Covid-19 outbreak has substantially affected the people in northern Arakan. Rohingya patients are neither receiving proper treatment nor a vaccine or oxygen. They are rarely allowed to the hospital. All these may be further indicative of the military regime’s intent to destroy the group in whole or in part.
There is no evidence that Myanmar has even considered – let alone – started – cancellation or changes in the highly discriminatory oppressive laws, including the most controversial citizenship law of 1982. It has continued its ill-conceived idea of providing the Rohingya “National Verification Cards” and asking that Rohingya people erase their identity in order to come back home.
In 2017, the military carried a campaign of murder, burnings, lootings, sexual violence, and the destruction of homes. Many bodies were dumped in mass graves which (to date) the ICJ has not precisely outlined measures of how evidence of such possible crimes may be preserved. The victims have not been identified or given an appropriate burial. The location of mass graves and exhumation of the bodies will be a critical step in identifying the manner and causes of death.
Myanmar has continued to drag its feet with regard to repatriation. It has done nothing to prepare the Arakan for the return of the Rohingya refugees. On the contrary, Myanmar is trying to erase the Rohingya identity; and Rohingya villages are being erased from existence and renamed with Burmese names as if to indicate the Rohingya never had an existence in the Arakan.
On the other hand, the harassment of the Buddhist Rakhine armed group, with the blessing of the military administration, brings the Rohingya people to an unbearable situation, particularly in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships. They are progressively making demographic changes by settling hundreds of Buddhist families on the Rohingya land for reengineering the Rohingya Homeland of North Arakan. These Rakhine armed group has already taken over more than 10,000 acres of Rohingya land from the villages of Thapetaw, Thazaw, Thangana, Attenat, Auknat, Chaung, Nilambow, Belamin, Zedibyin in Rathedaung township. They are renting out these intruded lands seasonally to the Buddhist cultivators at the rate of 100 baskets of paddy per 6.40 acres. With the financial support of the Rakhine businesspersons, they allure them (landgrabbers) with incentives, including agricultural machinery, and assure them of ownership of the land if they use it for two years.
There are occasional reports of abduction, extortion, killing, human trafficking of Rohingya and rape of Rohingya women and girls by them. At the outcry of the people, recently five people have reportedly been arrested by Arakan Army (AA) in connection with rapes.
It may be recalled, from 21 July, just before the Eidul Adha Muslim religious festival, the soldiers of the AA have created a hellish situation in the Lat Ma village under Minbya township, harassing, torturing and detaining the villagers in the village mosque/madrasa for alleged non-compliance (by a few villagers) with their order to pay them money, meat and hides of the sacrificed animals (cows) on the occasion of Eidul Adha. For many days the village was under siege and arrested more than one hundred villagers, who included women and religious persons. Even an infant was separated from the mother. Now AA is forcing the Rohingya villagers into making statement(s) that AA did no wrong to them.
The Rohingya people always aspire to “peaceful co-existence” with their Rakhine compatriots. They have never expected such a treatment from AA. It is all the more essential to revive the traditional relation between our two sister communities of Rohingya and Rakhine in Arakan. Together we can achieve much, together we can achieve our eventual objective. “United we stand, divided we fall”. To this fact, we invite the attention of the Rakhine people.
The coup d’état of February 1, 2021 has changed the circumstances of the case, increasing the risk for the Rohingya and causing greater confusion as to intentions of the military junta with the real prospect that the junta will be shielded through confidentiality while the States parties and the victims remain in the dark. It is, therefore, all the more critical that Myanmar’s reports be made public without delay by the ICJ.
Rohingya in Arakan face an increasing and continuing danger without any protection. We urge the international community to increase pressure so that realistic and tangible solutions are provided to stop the ongoing Rohingya genocide and another generation of Rohingya people can live. The international community has an ongoing and mandatory duty to prevent genocide and use all means reasonably available for doing so. Furthermore, there should be no solutions to the Rohingya repatriation without appropriate Rohingya representation and meaningful engagement by the Rohingya people in the process.
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