In My Words: After five long years, the Rohingya people continue to seek justice

In this column distributed by the Elon University Writers Syndicate, Professor of Sociology Tom Arcaro writes about the Rohingya people seeking justice five years after they were victims of a genocide by the military junta controlling Myanmar. The column was published by the Greensboro News & Record, The Fayetteville Observer, The Wilson Times, the Johnstonian News and other media outlets.

by Tom Arcaro 

We recently marked the five-year anniversary of the start of the Rohingya genocide. This ethnic and religious minority has spent five long years seeking justice.

Tom Arcaro, professor of sociology

The facts are both clear and stark. Five years ago the Rohingya people became the victims of a genocide by the military junta controlling Myanmar. Since the start of the genocide in Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 800,000 Rohingya have now fled into Bangladesh. In addition, some 140,000 Rohingyas were internally displaced in the melee and herded into camps within their home country, where they have remained ever since.

Though the Rohingya diaspora is nearly global in reach, most are concentrated in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and India, with the vast majority of these genocide victims residing for the last five years in the largest refugee camp in the world in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

I hope you care enough to act in partnership with the Rohingya people, the people of Bangladesh and many around the globe who seek a world characterized by justice, freedom and dignity for all.

Five years is a long time to live as a refugee, to have lives, careers, education and hopes put on hold or severely restricted. Five years seeking justice is too long.
Here are more facts that speak to the injustice the Rohingya people have endured, and the challenges that must be overcome to restore their freedom.

The Bangladeshi government, with support from the United Nations and the humanitarian sector, has hosted nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees for the last five years, an incredible hardship on a nation already burdened with economic, political and climate-related issues.

The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, has provided preliminary statements and rulings indicating that indeed a genocide occurred. Most in the global community agree, including the U.S. Department of State.

Violence against both the Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar persists. An 18-month struggle by grassroots organizations against the ruling military junta perpetuating the genocide continues to unfold. A broad alliance of people and organizations is seeking democracy and freedom from the brutal and bloody autocratic military rule. More international support is needed.

International efforts to address the genocide have so far been unsuccessful. The geopolitics are complex and involve major world powers including India, China, Japan, the U.S. and Russia. The U.N. has struggled to navigate the complex and sometimes confrontational negotiations among the many stakeholders in the region, and progress is slow to nonexistent.

Myanmar itself is a victim of past colonial oppression. The country’s military leaders appear more committed to themselves and to the wishes of external governments than to their own people. The government of Myanmar historically has segregated and discriminated against religious and ethnic minorities, none more so than the Rohingya, whose right to citizenship was stripped in 1982.

The U.S. has joined the growing chorus of nations condemning the government of Myanmar for its actions against the Rohingya and calling it exactly what it is: a genocide. Economic sanctions, both unilateral and multilateral, have had only a limited impact on the political situation in Myanmar.

What do the Rohingya want? The vast majority of Rohingya simply want to be safely repatriated back to Myanmar, a goal shared by the Bangladeshi government. They seek to move back with full citizenship, with real and assured safety, and with full rights, a goal with broad support.

The current military government in Myanmar appears to be the only group to reject this goal. Progress toward a political situation in Myanmar that would allow for appropriate repatriation has moved at a glacial pace.

Ignoring the situation is not an option, especially for those who have the luxury of power. As Edmund Burke told us long ago, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (people) to do nothing.”

That said, what is there to do? Tell your political representatives that enough is enough. Use your voice to join others in renouncing the government of Myanmar and encouraging deeper and more effective sanctions against its ruling military leadership. Our actions can make an impact.

There is a line between those who care and those who care enough to act. For the last five years, nearly 1 million Rohingya have suffered the long-term impacts of this genocide. They deserve reparations to make their lives whole and to finally have the right to go home and live with freedom.

Views expressed in this column are the author’s own and not necessarily those of Elon University.