Ro­hingya geno­cide planned long be­fore ARSA at­tacks

The Nation - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

The Myan­mar gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing its de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has re­peat­edly said that at­tacks by the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army (ARSA) forced the mil­i­tary (Tat­madaw) to launch a crack­down in Rakhine state.

This week a UN fact-find­ing mis­sion con­cluded the crack­down was geno­cide, adding that the ARSA at­tacks and en­su­ing “clear­ance op­er­a­tions” did not oc­cur in a vac­uum: “They were fore­see­able and planned.”

Be­tween May and July last year, ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist Bud­dhist monk Wi­rathu vis­ited north­ern Rakhine twice to con­duct ser­mons. The Ro­hingya vil­lage of Zay Di Pyin (Rathedaung Town­ship) was be­sieged by Rakhine vil­lagers and se­cu­rity forces through­out Au­gust, the UN re­port said.

Amid height­ened ten­sion be­fore Au­gust 25, Myan­mar me­dia in­creas­ingly re­ported on al­leged ARSA ac­tiv­ity in a sen­sa­tion­alised and in­flam­ma­tory man­ner while state-spon­sored hate speech tar­get­ing the Ro­hingya con­tin­ued, it added.

A build-up of troops and mil­i­tary equip­ment across north­ern Rakhine be­gan ear­lier that month, fol­low­ing a meet­ing be­tween Rakhine politi­cians and the Tat­madaw com­man­der-inchief.

Sol­diers from the 33rd and 99th Light In­fantry Di­vi­sions were air­lifted into Rakhine along with ad­di­tional mil­i­tary equip­ment.

“The in­creased pres­ence was ev­i­dent,” the UN re­port says.

Sol­diers took over Bor­der Guard Po­lice posts. Rakhine men were re­cruited into the se­cu­rity forces. There was fast-track re­cruit­ment into the po­lice. Lo­cal Rakhine men were mo­bilised and armed, the re­port says.

This build-up re­quired lo­gis­ti­cal plan­ning and time to im­ple­ment and in­di­cated that the sub­se­quent op­er­a­tions were fore­seen and planned.

The UN re­port also con­tains rec­om­men­da­tions of the mis­sion on Myan­mar.

The three-mem­ber mis­sion, es­tab­lished by the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil last year, metic­u­lously as­sem­bled hun­dreds of ac­counts of dis­placed Ro­hingya, along with re­search, anal­y­sis, satel­lite footage and other in­for­ma­tion to pre­pare the re­port.

While Myan­mar claimed its “clear­ance op­er­a­tions” ended on Septem­ber 5 last year, the UN probe found mil­i­tary en­gage­ment con­tin­ued well into Oc­to­ber. Free­dom of move­ment was fur­ther con­strained, re­strict­ing re­main­ing Ro­hingya to their houses, with lim­ited ac­cess to mar­kets and liveli­hoods and ex­ac­er­bat­ing mal­nu­tri­tion.

“Hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess was se­verely re­stricted or blocked. Con­versely, no pro­tec­tion was pro­vided to Ro­hingya against vig­i­lante at­tacks and the theft of prop­erty, live­stock and other pos­ses­sions by civil­ians of other eth­nic groups. Spo­radic at­tacks, in­clud­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence, con­tin­ued. These fac­tors forced more Ro­hingya to Bangladesh, an av­er­age rate of 1,733 per month since the be­gin­ning of 2018.”

The mass dis­place­ment and burn­ing of Ro­hingya vil­lages was fol­lowed by sys­tem­atic ap­pro­pri­a­tion of emp­tied land. Bull­doz­ers flat­tened, burned and dam­aged even sur­viv­ing struc­tures to erase trace of the Ro­hingya and de­stroy crim­i­nal ev­i­dence.

In the place of Ro­hingya vil­lages, new struc­tures for se­cu­rity forces and new hous­ing for other eth­nic groups were built.

While Myan­mar’s gov­ern­ment has, in prin­ci­ple, com­mit­ted to Ro­hingya repa­tri­a­tion, noth­ing thus far in­di­cates this will be in a man­ner en­sur­ing re­spect for hu­man rights, es­sen­tial for a safe, dig­ni­fied and sus­tain­able re­turn of the refugees from Bangladesh.

“The root causes of the ex­o­dus, in­clud­ing state-sanc­tioned op­pres­sion and an ex­clu­sion­ary and di­vi­sive rhetoric, are de­nied and con­tinue un­abated.”

What hap­pened on Au­gust 25?

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, ARSA in the early hours launched co­or­di­nated at­tacks on a mil­i­tary base and up to 30 se­cu­rity force out­posts across north­ern Rakhine state, in an ap­par­ent re­sponse to in­creased pres­sure on Ro­hingya com­mu­ni­ties and with the goal of global at­ten­tion.

A small num­ber of poor­ly­trained lead­ers had guns, and a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of un­trained vil­lagers wielded sticks and knives. Some had im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices. Twelve se­cu­rity per­son­nel were killed.

The se­cu­rity forces’ re­sponse, start­ing within hours, was im­me­di­ate, bru­tal and grossly dis­pro­por­tion­ate. Os­ten­si­bly to elim­i­nate the “ter­ror­ist threat” posed by ARSA, in the days and weeks that fol­lowed, it en­com­passed hun­dreds of vil­lages across Maung­daw, Buthi­daung and Rathedaung. The op­er­a­tions tar­geted and ter­rorised the en­tire Ro­hingya pop­u­la­tion.

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