Small World: Genocide in Myanmar

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I want to preface this article by warning that it contains heavy content, specifically the discussion of ethnic persecution.

On February 1 of this year, the democratically elected government of a Southeast Asian country called Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — was put under arrest and imprisoned by the country’s powerful military in a maneuver that’s known as a coup. You can actually see footage of the coup happening live; there’s a viral video of an aerobics instructor teaching a Zoom class while military vehicles occupy the parliament just behind her. 

The current military dictatorship is truly horrendous; stifling opposition, and cracking down on protests in the classic style of tyrants. But Myanmar’s atrocities far predate its new military government, and the inaction of the international community makes us truly complicit. Myanmar is 89.8 percent Buddhist, but a minority population called the Rohingya follows Islam. Since the 1970s, the Rohingya have been systematically persecuted and the actions of Myanmar’s government have lined up with behaviors of genocide. 

In 1978, Myanmar’s military carried out Operation Dragon King, a government program designed to forcefully drive Rohingya people out of the country. The Rohingya had been stripped of citizenship and the rights it entailed the year before, and military forces were free to ravage Muslim communities. The Rohingya people were forcibly evicted from their homes, shuttled to “internal displacement camps,” where they were forced into hard labor, and Myanmar’s military carried out extrajudicial killings. Some 250,000 Rohingya people were forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, until later that year Bangladesh forced 180,000 of the refugees back into Burmese persecution. 

The Rohingya genocide continued unabated and unchecked by the nations of the world, but with the arrival of an activist named Aung San Suu Kyi things were expected to change. Suu Kyi studied abroad in India and the United States during her earlier years, and returned to Myanmar in 1988 to help spearhead mass protests against the Burmese government. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for her advocacy of non-violent protest, and in 2015, with the help of the United Nations, she was elected to the office of state counsellor, the highest position in Myanmar’s government. But the violence and hatred against the Rohingya never ceased. 

Myanmar continued to deny internal atrocities, and the countries of the world were satisfied enough with her presence in government — and concerned enough about their international alliances with Myanmar — to turn a blind eye to the Rohingya genocide, which continues to this day. When a national government preys on its minority populations through intimidation and violence, it needs to be called out, regardless of political alliances or convenient short term “solutions.”