The Secret Genocide



We like to think of genocides as a thing of the past.  When most people are asked about it, chances are they think that the Bosnian Genocide of the 1990s is the most recent example.  However, this assumption is far from the grim reality of our world; as of a report from the Human Rights Watch, Myanmar’s relentlessly brutal ethnic cleansing campaign has evolved into something much worse.  As you read this, countless refugees of leader Aung San Suu Kyi are fleeing their homes in fear for their lives.  Her country, Myanmar, has been conducting a silent genocide of the Rohingya Muslim people for around half of a decade while ensuring that little information about what is actually going on reaches the outside world. [1]

Tensions with the Rohingya ethnic class and other groups in the Burmese state have been mounting for decades but reached a breaking point when a small insurgent terrorist group of Rohingyans attacked a series of military and police posts[2].  Since then, the entire class has been relentlessly persecuted for the actions of the few, resulting in the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees and the deaths of over 10,000 innocents.

According to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust[3], there are ten steps of genocide: classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, persecution, extermination, and denial.  The Myanma have now at least partially completed each level.   

        The first step is classification.  More specifically, the creation of a popular “us versus them” mentality through exclusion and/or degrading treatment in the eyes of the law.  This is found in the abhorrent Myanma police practice of forcing Muslim women to remove their traditional veils.  There are even reports of officers forcing men to shave, and, if they refuse, forcibly tugging and pulling the hair out[4].  The horrifying treatment has created a sense of inequality and legal superiority in non-Rohingyan natives of the country.  The second step, symbolization, builds on the foundation of the first and is sometimes considered a subset of it.  The government has refused to acknowledge that the Rohingya minority exist at all, and has not included them in the census[5], falsely portraying to the public that they are an illegitimate group that does not merit recognition and is using valuable resources.  Through this, they have been stripped of their legitimacy and rights, and wrongfully symbolized as all-but enemies of the state.

        Third, discrimination.  The horrible mistreatment of the Burmese ethnic group are too extensive to explain individually, so this article will highlight only a few of the many actions against them.  The Rohingya have been officially stripped of their rights to movement, must acquire government permission in order to marry, are legally denied basic services, and are not allowed to have more than two children[6].  They are turned away[7] from the best hospitals in Myanmar and have only been allowed to access the medical treatments there in a handful of extreme situations.

        The fourth level is dehumanization(furthered by step two, symbolization, which will not be explained in this article due to similarities in findings and analysis.).  The Genocide Watch[8] describes this stage best when it says that this stage occurs when “Members of [a marginalized group] are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases”, the most prominent example is found in World War II-era Nazi propaganda portraying Jewish men and women as rats.  A frightening similarity can be found in the new preachings of several extremist Myanmar Buddhist monks, who actually encourage the slaughter of the Rohingya through the justification that it is the “pest control” of those who they see as “reincarnated… snakes or insects”[9].

        And that’s only half of the story.  The fifth step is organization, which happens when the offending government plans (often decentralized)action and group identification, which is then executed through the employment of militant groups.  For Burma, this stage was completed in 2012 when the ruthless “mob justice”[10] against the religious minority led to uncontrolled bloodbaths of which the government did nothing to stop, but is continued to this day through their military’s torture, mass rape, and murder of isolated Rohingyan groups.  There are reports of soldiers "forced[ing civilians] into burning houses, or locked into buildings set on fire"[11] and destroying entire villages.

        The next step is polarization.  To simplify, polarization is when the government and extremist groups exacerbate the hateful foundation set and explained in step four(dehumanization).

        Step Seven: preparation.  If they have not already fled, the Burmese government has herded Rohingyans into segregated “ethnic enclaves” that they are not allowed to leave.  These slums are often described as “squalid”[12] and desolate places that are not suitable for human habitation.  They are overcrowded, with little food or water[13], and malnutrition and disease run rampant.

Eight and Nine: Persecution and Extermination.  This stage is composed of the deportation, starvation, and massacring of a persecuted group.  Each of these have happened in Burma to the Rohingya, but it is imperative to highlight the death this genocide has caused.  Conservative estimates have put the toll as being around 10,000 men, women, and children[14]; but the real number is likely to be much higher.  Over 6,700 people died[15] between August 25th and September 24th of 2017 alone as a result of Myanma military action.  There is no exact figure for the true amount of fatalities, but it will almost definitely make the 10,000 innocent lives lost pale in comparison.

Finally, there is Denial.  The Burmese government has been extensively denying that any wrongdoing is taking place in their country, going so far as to imply that a majority of the violence is “Muslims killing Muslims” and that her government is not at fault[16].  Their leader’s only concession [17]is that the crisis “could have been handled better”, speaking of the genocide in the past tense to give the impression that it is over when in reality the problem has been by no means solved.  After the first few weeks of the crisis, press attention faded, and even as the situation got worse, the world was silent.

These terrifying policies must end.  No man, woman, or child should have to endure what these people have gone through.  But nothing will change if we do nothing to stop it.  It is time for everyone to stand up for what is right and call for justice for the thousands of lives lost in genocide in Myanmar.