The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in its ethnic persecution of the Tutsi minority by the Hutu majority. The genocide lies now as a symbol of the failure of humanity to mobilize in time to rescue its citizens. Western nations have since been condemned for blatant complicity and inaction despite the intelligence and means to intervene. And now, after a mere twenty-three years, we are repeating that cruel mistake in the wake of the Rohingya Crisis.
The Rohingya Crisis in happening now, under the complicity of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who stood for a democratic Myanmar during its regime change in the late 1900’s and is now silent in the face of ethnic persecution in her own state. The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, totaling about 1 million people. In a Buddhist Myanmar, the Rohingya are an ethnic and religious minority who are not even part of the 135 recognized ethnic groups in the country.
Despite their roots being tied to the country and many Rohingya knowing no other home, many are slurred with the tag of being illegal immigrants due to their practice of Islam. Many citizens and government officials in Myanmar believe that the Rohingya have immigrated from East Bengal, a neighboring Muslim majority state. The government has always discriminated against them severely by enacting laws that limit the community’s ability to attain education, property, and employment. But now the state is choosing to stand silent as the Rohingya are being persecuted by the animosity of the military and citizenry of the fledgling democracy.
In August of 2017, after a clash between the Rohingya militant group known as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and the military, Myanmar’s government officially declared them a terrorist organization. Using the entirety of the Rohingya population as scapegoats for the incident, the military mounted a cruel campaign in which they killed Rohingyas, raped women, destroyed homes, and stole property. To flee persecution, more than six hundred thousand Rohingya have fled the country while faced with the threats of open fires, landmines, and animal attacks, planted by the military to deter those crossing the borders.
The military in Myanmar, a powerful political entity still yielding power from its previous rule, is rarely questioned by the democratic state led by Suu Kyi. It is, perhaps, horrific irony to see her failure to condemn and act against the persecution, as she herself was once persecuted for fighting to establish a democracy in the former state of military-ruled Burma.And yet, in the face of the genocide of the 21st century, she stands still for perhaps the sake of her political image in the country, as any action for the Rohingya is widely unpopular.
But it is important to remember that this is, in fact, a genocide. “Omission” from the United States and other Western countries is a profound action– one that signals that we do not intend to fix our mistakes with Rwanda. As such, we must urge our congressional representatives and senators to push for sanctions against Myanmar immediately. Our inaction in the face of this atrocity will go down in history forever as yet another act of cruelty and complacency by humanity unless we choose to act this time around.