The break of dawn on August 25, 2017 marked the start of the one of the largest and fastest movements of humanity in modern times. A campaign of terror in the guise of ‘clearance operations’ by Myanmar’s military forced more than two-thirds of the country’s Rohingya population to cross the border and enter Bangladesh. By the end of that year, an incredible exodus of 745,000 Rohingya would contribute to the creation of the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.
Surveys conducted by Doctors Without Borders (MSF, by its French acronym) in the refugee camps in Bangladesh estimated that at least 9,000 Rohingya died in Myanmar between August 25 and September 24, 2017. At least 6,500 of these are thought to have been killed, including at least 730 children below the age of five. At least 288 villages were partially or totally destroyed by fire in northern Rakhine state after August 2017, according to analysis of satellite imagery by Human Rights Watch. The UN would go on to describe the military’s ‘clearance operations’ as ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’
However, this wasn’t a one-off incident. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been fleeing to neighbouring countries by land and sea over the course of many decades. Bangladeshis have a special responsibility to bear witness to the atrocities. In October 2016, a previous outbreak of violence forced 60,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. It was in the wake of that much smaller exodus that Dhaka Courier called out what was happening in Myanmar as a decades-long ‘stop-start genocide’. Following the events of 2017, many voices from around the world have rallied to the cause of recognising the Rohingya Genocide.
On behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, The Gambia took Myanmar to the World Court, as the International Court of Justice in The Hague is less formally known, calling for emergency measures to be taken against the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military are known. No less a figure than Aung San Suu Kyi, in her role as state counsellor, would represent the Myanmarese side, and reject all the allegations against her country’s military. Though the merits are yet to be argued, in January 2020, the ICJ in its preliminary ruling ordered Myanmar to take emergency measures to protect the Rohingya from being persecuted and killed. Just 13 months later, as she stood on the cusp of assuming power with the kind of thumping majority in parliament that could threaten to diminish the military’s role in society, they placed her under arrest once again. Only this time, few shed any tears for the fallen icon.
Although the Myanmarese people did rise up, the crackdown against them has been nothing short of brutal, even judging from the little that outsiders manage to glean of the situation. Earlier this month, a rights group said at least 1001 people have been killed by security forces in the first six months since the military seized power. Outside forces have appeared helpless to sway the powers that be in Naypwidaw, and the Rohingya - well, they have never appeared further from emancipation, with even their hosts’ patience starting to wear thin. But humanity cannot come with a sell-by date. If it does, we must question what was offered in the first place.