As one of the most blatant acts of ethnic cleansing the world has witnessed in recent times is currently unfolding in Myanmar, the 72nd annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, with the theme of “Focusing on people: Striving for peace and a decent life for all on a sustainable planet” has apparently become a defining moment for the international community -- whether or not the member states are committed to ending a crime as despicable as ethnic cleansing.
It has been years since UN agencies and rights groups began campaigning for definitive action to prevent oppression and atrocities against the Rohingya people of Myanmar, an ethnic minority that has been labelled by experts as the most oppressed group of people of the world.
The international community has acknowledged the suffering of the Rohingya and expressed concerns time and time again. But it was never followed by actions to any sufficient degree.
Today, almost 800,000 of a total of 1.2 million Rohingya population are homeless, living the miserable lives of refugees.
Mostly in neighbouring Bangladesh, which itself is a densely populated country, struggling to provide basic needs of its own population.
In the past few weeks, Bangladesh has housed almost 400,000 of the Rohingya refugees, who were forcibly evicted from their homes by Myanmar security forces and local Rakhine militia groups. UN agencies and aid groups have reported Rohingya villages being torched, and consistent accounts of extra-judicial killings, including shooting of fleeing civilians, and placement of mines in a narrow strip of land crucial for border crossing.
The survivors of the atrocities have narrated that the River Naf, which marks the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, is strewn with the carcasses of innocent civilians, including women and children.
Army personnel and thugs of the local militia even gang raped and killed Rohingya women.
In the hope of peace and democracy, the world has given the benefit of the doubt to Myanmar for far too long, which has led us to all the bloodshed being witnessed in Rakhine state
In many cases, the women were raped in the presence of their husband and children, girls were raped in front of their loved ones, and later taken to military camps as sex slaves. Even the children were not spared.
Anas Mia, a 10-year-old Rohingya child, told Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina -- the only world leader to have had the initiative to tackle this crisis -- that he had to witness the murder of his parents by the army when they were on the cusp of fleeing to Bangladesh.
Anas, who was shot in his nose, leg, and one hand, had to learn that three of his siblings were also shot dead by the security forces.
A problem from hell
In the 21st century, no government, no matter how conflicting the situation is or which global power they’re politically backed by, should be allowed to carry out crimes as heinous as ethnic cleansing -- forcing 800,000 people out of homes, mass killing of civilians, and raping of women.
Samantha Power’s A Problem from Hell
sums it up accurately for the world leaders, especially the US: “If the US (or preferably in combination with the other major international powers acting collectively or acting through the UN) has the ability to prevent the systematic killing of an innocent group of civilians, who are being systematically cleansed due to their ethnicity, religion, etc, we have a moral duty to do so.”
Right now, in the camps of Ukhia, hundreds of thousands of people are in dire need of aid. Unless their most basic food, water, and health needs are met urgently, we risk a humanitarian catastrophe.
But, ultimately, the world must confront the evil that is being wrought upon the Rohingya, and must stop appeasing Myanmar.
In the hope of peace and democracy, the world has given the benefit of the doubt to Myanmar for far too long, which has lead us to all the bloodshed being witnessed in Rakhine state.
Ensuring the safety of Rohingya also means ensuring that the members of the Myanmar’s military are brought to justice at the International Criminal Court to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Otherwise, we risk more catastrophes by oppressive governments around the world.
The international community must act now.
The Rohingya can no longer afford errors and misjudgments. Similarly, the international community cannot afford to fail in saving the lives and liberty of an entire ethnic group.
Nur E Emroz Alam Tonoy is a blogger.