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Rohingya: The next ethnic cleansing you're not hearing about

FAMSI/Javier Arcenillas CC

John Burger - published on 12/03/16

Reports of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations against religious minority in Myanmar

Is ethnic cleansing in progress right under everyone’s nose? Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan aimed to find out as he heads to Myanmar this week.

Myanmar’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, appointed Annan to head an advisory panel to find lasting solutions to the conflict in the Western Burmese state of Rakhine. It’s the site of clashes between the Burmese government and the Muslim minority known as Rohingya. Some go as far as saying it’s an ethnic cleansing-in-progress.

The Associated Press reported that the U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, on Tuesday expressed concern about reports of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations against civilians, particularly Rohingya, including allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture, rape and the destruction of religious property.

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FAMSI/Javier Arcenillas CC

There are about 1 million Rohingya among Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist 52 million people, and though they have lived in Myanmar for generations, most people view them as foreign intruders from neighboring Bangladesh, AP explained.

Bangladesh, which hosts many Rohingya refugees, also refuses to recognize them as citizens. “The Rohingya are probably the most friendless people in the world. They just have no one advocating for them at all,” Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in 2009.

The Rohingya were in the news in early 2015, when tens of thousands of them were migrating by sea. Later in the year, Pope Francis said that Burmese treatment of them constituted war.

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FAMSI/Javier Arcenillas CC

“Let’s think of those brothers of ours of the Rohingya,” the Pope said. “They were chased from one country and from another and from another,” Francis said. “When they arrived at a port or a beach, they gave them a bit of water or a bit to eat and were there chased out to the sea.”

But they dropped off most people’s radar until recently. In October, unknown attackers killed nine police officers in attacks on posts along the border with Bangladesh. Rohingya villagers armed with homemade weapons resisted troops. An unknown number of villagers, along with a handful of soldiers and officials, died in subsequent clashes between villagers and Burmese troops. AP reports:

Rohingya solidarity groups say several hundred civilians have been killed since October. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says satellite imagery shows 1,250 houses and other structures have been burned down. In 2012, violence between Rohingya and the Buddhist community killed hundreds and forced about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — to flee their homes to camps for the internally displaced. About 100,000 remain in the squalid camps and dependent on charity.

“There are allegations of serious abuses by Burma’s security forces, including arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, and rape,” Human Rights Watch says. “Much of the impacted areas remain sealed to international aid organizations.”

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FAMSI/Javier Arcenillas CC

In a mid-November statement, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, said that peace is the “supreme good for all citizens and all communities in Myanmar.”

“Democracy is in its early days,” the cardinal said. But “the nightmare of war continues. There are more than 200,000 internally displaced people. New conflicts are added to old ones. The presence of refugees proliferates the human trafficking, the phenomenon of drugs and violence threatens to explode in communities.”

The cardinal appealed to political leaders, military chiefs, leaders of armed groups, ethnic political parties and civil society groups to “explore a common policy for conflict resolution. We call on all the religious leaders so that they are an instrument of peace.”

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