Rohingya Refugees Mark One Year Since The Crisis
Rohingya women and children wait in line for food in Bangladesh on Aug. 26, 2018. A year ago, Myanmar’s military crackdown on the ethnic Muslim minority forced more than 700,000 to flee to Bangladesh from violence and torture, according to the U.N. Human Rights Council. (Paula Bronstein/Getty)
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Governments in two countries, Myanmar and China, face allegations of persecuting minority Muslim populations. The mistreatment is different in each situation but the reports are credible and the oppression is grievous.
In Myanmar, military leaders of the Buddhist-majority nation consider Rohingya Muslims to be interlopers and enemies. Brutal attacks by security forces on Rohingya villages last year amounted to ethnic cleansing and could meet the definition of genocide, according to United Nations investigators. A new U.N. report describes mass killings, the destruction of villages and gang rapes of Rohingya women and children — crimes that were “shocking for their horrifying nature and ubiquity,” the U.N. report says. The death toll could exceed 10,000.
In China, the communist government views with suspicion the Muslim Uighur population concentrated in the far west. Officials tightly control religious practice and show no tolerance for political dissent. A crackdown on Uighurs underway since 2017 has developed into a campaign of mass arrests. There are as many as 1 million people in detention, according to U.N. officials. Yes, 1 million people. Chinese authorities have created “something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy,” said Gay McDougall, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
We write of these incidents together not to suggest that slaughter and internment are equivalent but to cast a light on two undemocratic governments, each accused of horrific human rights abuses against vulnerable minorities. The governments of Myanmar and China both should be held answerable for their actions.
The situation in Myanmar: Investigators for the U.N.’s Human Rights Council compiled eyewitness accounts of the atrocities and abuses that compelled more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh. The investigative panel says the country’s military leaders, including army commander Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, are responsible. There were previous attacks on the Rohingya in 2012 and 2016.
The panel says the brutality was systemic and “undoubtedly” represents “the gravest crimes under international law.” The country’s top generals should be prosecuted for genocide by the International Criminal Court or a special tribunal, the panel says. Myanmar, which did not cooperate in the investigation, has blamed Rohingya militants for the violence, but the U.N. panel says Myanmar’s response was “grossly disproportionate” to any security threat. We agree: Myanmar’s contemptible leadership should be punished. The U.S. has imposed sanctions.
Given the terrible violence, you may wonder about the role played by Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former dissident. True, the military doesn’t answer to her, but the U.N. report makes clear she failed her moral obligation to try to stop the generals. Therefore, Suu Kyi and other civilian authorities “contributed” to the persecution.
A crackdown on the press in Myanmar has thwarted the free flow of information about the abuses. This month two Reuters journalists were sentenced to seven years in prison for violating a colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The pair had been reporting on a Rohingya village massacre when they apparently were set up by the police. It was a “warning” against news coverage of the Rohingya, said the Myanmar Press Council, an independent group. The pair should never have faced charges. They should be released.
The situation in China: Chinese authorities don’t trust Uighurs and fear they may have ties to international terrorism because they are practicing Muslims with their own culture. There is a small Uighur separatist movement, but the government treats all Chinese Uighurs as enemies.
The Wall Street Journal reports that China’s sprawling internment system — visible in satellite photos — functions as a detention and re-education program designed to break down Uighur identity and denigrate Islam. In one instance, detainees were bound to chairs, deprived of adequate food and told “there is no such thing as religion.” The Chinese government has denied the mass detention of dissidents, describing the facilities as re-education or vocational training centers for petty criminals.
The U.S. State Department has said it is troubled by reports of the arbitrary detention of possibly more than 1 million Uighurs and has called for the release of anyone arbitrarily held in custody. The Trump administration may impose sanctions against high-ranking Chinese officials and companies. If China doesn’t relent, the U.S. should take action. China’s cruel treatment of Uighurs is well documented.
Two appalling situations in two countries: Myanmar and China want to be players on the world stage. But the governments of the U.S. and other influential nations should highlight the abominable behavior of these two countries at every turn. Sanctions and condemnation from Washington and other world capitals may not rescue these Muslim minorities. But they’re worth a try. Robust and consistent attention from the United Nations is a must.