With an aim to collect the narratives of atrocity that the Rohingya people started facing after the 25th of August, 2017 in the Northern Rakhine State of Myanmar, a team of young researchers from the Center for the Study of Genocide and Justice (CSGJ) of Liberation War Museum visited Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar on 13-14 October 2017. After visiting a total of eight camp sites, the team collected testimonies of discriminations and atrocities from the Rohingya survivors, victims and eyewitnesses who recently fled violence to Bangladesh.
Based on the field visits to refugee camps, the CSGJ in November published ‘The Testimony of Sixty on the Crisis of the Rohingyas in Myanmar’ as a sequel to Oxfam’s 1971 publication titled ‘The Testimony of Sixty on the Crisis in Bengal’. In the context of humanitarian crisis and genocide in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), Oxfam published ‘The Testimony of Sixty on the Crisis in Bengal’ in order to draw the attention of the global community and gather public opinion in favour of Bangladesh’s cause of independence.
The atrocities against Rohingyas is nothing new. Historically, they have been targeted, persecuted and forced to flee genocidal violence. But the authoritarian regime including the present one of Suu Kyi time and again denies the fact of Rohingya genocide. In the words of survivors, witnesses, aid-workers and journalists, the present Testimony of Sixty intends to give a message to the world community that the ‘hidden genocide’ in Rakhine should widely be investigated into and immediately be stopped, and the world community specially the United Nations and neighbouring countries have significant and crucial roles to work together towards ending the ongoing genocide in Rakhine. All the testimonies, both in the form of statement and photography, give the glimpses about the extent of the Rohingya genocide and great human suffering of present time. It is a unique contribution from a research institution to give voices to the voiceless Rohingya population.
One of the objectives of CSGJ’s research has been to find out the elements of international crimes if committed and genocidal element if any from the testimonies of Rohingya survivors and victims. It also focuses on legal analysis of those testimonies as per international legal framework on the crime of genocide.
Major findings of this research suggest that Rohingyas are historically and systematically deprived of fundamental human rights under the legal framework of Myanmar. Discrimination and deprivation includes, among others, the denial of citizenship/national identity, limited access to education and public heath service, controlled access to market, limited right to land/property, controlled freedom of religion and association, restriction upon marriage and family, less support from police during and post violence. The differential treatment of Rohingyas as against Burmese populations is well reflected in one testimony of Hamid Hossain who is from Chakaiya, Mundumoron, Myanmar: “Most of the Chairmen (local representatives) were Maghs, hardly any Chairman was from Muslim community. They would meet the government officials every month and receive leaflets stating ‘new’ rules for the Rohingya Muslims to follow. It was their duty to make sure all Rohingyas were following the rules. The leaflets were also distributed in the locality sometimes. The leaflets were in Burmese language and stated rules about banning them from talking in groups of more than two, restricted movement after 8 PM and banned religious practices like ‘namaz’ and ‘tabliq’.”
The research also finds that Myanmar’s Military Force, in collaboration with local ultra-nationalists and extremists (specially the Maghs), has been committing international crime of genocide such as: (a) mass killing in the way of gunning, slaughtering and burning alive; (b) arbitrary arrest and detention in concentration camps; (c) torture and rape and other forms of sexual violence; (d) killing and burning children; (f) forced displacement of Rohingya population; (g) enforced disappearances of right-conscious Rohingyas; and (h) arson, plundering and destruction of villages as well as religiously significant places.
The following testimony of Rafiq from Charukomba, Rakhine, shows as to how the present atrocities is rendering the possibility of the Rohingya returning to normal lives and livelihoods in the future almost impossible: “We have been forcibly displaced and we are being asked if we burnt our own house down. They threatened to kill us if we didn’t put our own house on fire. They even took picture of it. After we did so, we are asked to run, and then they fired bullets at us. Fearing for our lives we fled from our homeland and crossed the Teknaf Border.”
The important elements of genocide under the UN Genocide Convention are present here. The ongoing atrocities are taking place as a systematic attack on Rohingya people, not because they have been targeted as an individual, but because they are members of a particular group. The group identity is dual here, namely ethnic identity as Rohingya and religious identity as Muslim, and it is sufficient to establish that the Rohingyas are targeted and persecuted because of their group identity. Further, the intent of the perpetrators is to wholly and permanently erase the name ‘Rohingya’ from the social, cultural and political landscape of Burma’s history. All these prove that the atrocities in Rakhine are as brutal as a clear case of genocide under the legal framework of international criminal law.
The writer is a Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Genocide and Justice, Liberation War Museum.