• Monday, Jul 06, 2020
  • Last Update : 12:48 am

One year into tragedy

  • Published at 04:28 pm July 20th, 2018
Over 700,000 Rohingyas entered Bangaldesh fleeing the violence which erupted in Myanmar on August 25, 2017 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

For the Rohingya, there may never be a homeland

The Myanmar government, and in particular its military leaders, have committed genocide against the Rohingya Muslims. 

As an act of state policy, a clearly defined group -- the Muslim Rohingya -- was subjected to murder, rape, destruction of property, robbery. Some 700,000 persons were driven out of Myanmar after August 2017, while at least 50,000 were murdered. The Myanmar government has denied this, maintaining a great lie.

The OECD countries have failed to provide sufficient financial support to cover short-term needs of the Rohingya refugees. We hear words of support, but a pathetic response to funding needs. We are more than half way through 2018, but only 26% of the UN’s required resources have been provided by early July.

The OECD countries have failed to face up to the long-term problems of the future of these refugees and by neglect, shifted the responsibility to Bangladesh. Only Canada has committed to taking some Rohingya as refugees. 

The Chinese government follows a duplicitous policy, pretending to want to help Bangladesh, while in fact, actually protecting the Myanmar government and its generals from being held to account for their genocide. The Chinese government has actively supported the cleansing of the Rakhine state as part of their infrastructure programs in Myanmar.

The Bangladesh government, under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, has made a monumental effort to provide sanctuary and to manage the Rohingya influx, while the military has successfully constructed residential camps and maintained security.  

The UN and many NGOs have made great efforts to bring resources and support the efforts to maintain a tolerable level of food supply, shelter, clean water, and medical care. The OECD countries, particularly the United States, are making serious efforts to establish criminal cases against the guilty parties in Myanmar.

What happened?

In August 2017, the Myanmar intelligence service encouraged an uprising by some elements of the ARSA. Using this as an excuse, the Myanmar military forced at least 700,000 Rohingya out of Myanmar, killing thousands in the process, mixed with widespread violence against women and children.  

This is the latest and most vicious of a protracted effort over the past 40 years by Myanmar to drive the Muslim Rohingya out of Rakhine. Myanmar is putting out the story that the Rohingya are Islamic terrorists, justifying repression and violence. 

The violence and cruelty of these actions have been recorded in hundreds of witness reports, photographs, and films. The US is collecting detailed information on the crimes committed by the Myanmar government by obtaining eye-witness testimony linked to location from the refugees in the camps. The first report will be made public soon, according to a recent testimony by the American secretary of state.

Estimates of violent deaths remain tentative, but almost certainly murders total at least 50,000. The Rakhine state has been largely cleared of Muslim Rohingya, driving them into Bangladesh with no realistic prospect of return. 

The refugees themselves remain frightened and unwilling to return to their former homes unless conditions are much better and improvements are guaranteed. Here, international guarantees will be needed. 

What awaits those who do return is the Myanmar version of concentration camps. The Myanmar people seem united and determined to defend and support this terrible crime.  

An admirable but unrealistic concept is having the Rohingya return to areas where there would be United Nations supervision. This has been promoted by Bangladesh and the US Senate. While managing the return of the Rohingya in a humanitarian way is desirable, there is no reason to believe any of these ideas will ever be accepted by the Myanmar government.  

The OECD countries have shown only superficial interest, have not yet pledged the funds necessary for the maintenance of the Rohingya and moderating the impact of these refugees on the local communities which have welcomed them. 

The UN estimates almost a billion dollars is needed for the period ending 2018, which has not yet been met with donor interest, with less than 30% pledged.

There are, however, other forces at work. It should surprise no one that Rohingya youth are full of bitterness and many are prepared to take up arms against the Myanmar army. 

India, and to some extent, Bangladesh authorities, are suspicious of the ARSA as a manifestation of Islamic political terrorism. The leader reportedly resides in Pakistan, while others are in Malaysia; there is a peace wing and a war wing in a struggle for future direction.  

The Bangladesh government is worried that Islamic groups such as the Hefazat are going further than just providing care for the Rohingya, and leading them towards fundamentalist beliefs. 

There are other religious groups at work: The Myanmar Buddhists are encouraging Buddhists living within Bangladesh to move to Myanmar, and more than 4,000 have done so. Reports say Christian missionaries active in the area are promising to bring the Rohingya to the West if they convert.  

These religious and political groups point towards a dark future. The OECD countries should recognize that continued neglect of the Rohingya will lead to what all fear: The emergence of a violent, Islamic fundamentalist movement fuelling terrorism.


The Myanmar government, supported by China and Russia, is engaged in a campaign of denial. The great lie is repeated over and over, claiming that such crimes did not take place. This is a well practiced technique that communist and fascist states have mastered.

Myanmar is unwilling to take back significant numbers of Rohingya and treat them as human beings. There is a deep psychological mystery here as to how one group of people can dehumanize another group.  

The UN remains the force standing for principle and action. But the UN requires resources and political determination to find a realistic path forward. There is no resolution or solution to this dreadful situation, but with political and financial support, the UN can help Bangladesh manage the fate of a million people and provide some hope for the cursed Rohingya.


Future historians will tell this tale of destruction of the Muslim Rohingya and hold guilty those in Myanmar who carried out these acts, but also those who failed to punish perpetrators of genocide and those who failed to provide resources for the victims. 

We have heard endless words from international leaders but these words will not lessen the verdict of history. 

For the Rohingya, there will be a diaspora, but never a homeland. Due to the low education levels and high poverty levels, the failure of the OECD nations to assist Bangladesh will cause much misery and exploitation. The future looks grim for the Rohingya. 

“When we are born, we cry, that we are come to this great stage of fools” -- King Lear, Shakespeare. 

Mahboob ul Alam is a retired Major General, and Forrest Cookson is an American economist.

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