Little more than a week before national elections in Myanmar, a new report documents what it says was the country’s military-controlled government’s collaboration to exterminate the country’s Rohingya, a minority Muslim group that has been persecuted for decades.
The 78-page legal analysis, prepared by Yale Law School and released Thursday, concludes that the government of Myanmar, previously known as Burma, worked with extremist Buddhist groups in 2012 to attack and drive Rohingya out of the country. It calls on the U.N. Human Rights Council to immediately launch a commission of inquiry into whether the government and its allies are engaged in genocide.
“This paper finds persuasive evidence that the crime of genocide has been committed against Rohingya Muslims,” the report says. “The legal analysis highlights the urgent need for a full and independent investigation and heightened protection for Rohingya Muslims.”
More than 1 million Rohingya live in Rakhine state on Myanmar’s western coast. Myanmar’s Buddhist-dominated government has denied them citizenship since 1982, taking the position is that Rohingya are illegal immigrants who came from Bengal to Burma during British rule. Many scholars dispute that, saying Muslims have lived in what is now western Myanmar for centuries.
In recent years, thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh and other countries. Many have died at sea trying to emigrate. More than 100,000 live in makeshift camps outside of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, with armed guards preventing them from leaving.
On Nov. 8, Myanmar, once called Burma, will hold its first general election since 2010. Last time, Rohingya were allowed to vote. This time, they won’t be.
In its legal analysis, Yale Law School details evidence that officials in the Myanmar government, in league with Buddhist extremist groups, worked to terrorize and kill Rohingya with the intent to destroy the ethnic group “in whole or in part.”
“These actors have perpetrated violence against Rohingya, claiming thousands of lives,” the analysis says. “Hundreds more Rohingya have been the victims of torture, arbitrary detention, rape, and other forms of serious physical and mental harm.”
Thursday’s report was commissioned by Fortify Rights, a group that has spent the last three years documenting Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya. It hired the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School to examine the treatment of the Rohingya situation under international law aimed at preventing genocide.
Under international law, a tribunal must make three findings to conclude that genocide is taking place: Those being attacked must be part of a distinct group, defined by nationality, race or religion; there must be is widespread killing of that group; and those carrying out the violence intend to destroy the group, as the Nazis attempted during World War II against European Jews.
Thursday’s report concludes there is sufficient evidence of all three conditions for the U.N. Human Rights Council to launch a formal inquiry.
Composed of 47 member states, the Human Rights Council is rife with political divisions, many of them involving support or opposition to Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. Even so, advocates for the Rohingya think there is a chance the council might launch a formal inquiry.
“Based on conversations with certain U.N. officials, the likelihood of seeing a (commission of inquiry) for the Rohingya is not as improbable as it maybe once was,” Matthew Smith, director of Fortify Rights, said in an email.
Attempts to get comment from Myanmar officials Thursday was unsuccessful. Recently, government spokesman have refused to even acknowledge there is an ethnic group called Rohingya and have castigated groups advocated on their behalf.
On Nov. 8, Myanmar will hold its first general election since 2010, when former commander Thein Sein was elected president after decades of military rule. Unlike in 2010, Rohingya will not be allowed to vote. Human rights groups have pressed Aung San Suu Kyi – leader of the opposition party – to speak up on their behalf, but so far the Nobel Peace Prize winner has declined to do so.
Even so, Myanmar’s treatment of Muslims continues to receive international attention. This week, the International State Crime Initiative, a unit of Queen Mary University of London, released a report concluding that Rohingya were in the “final stages of genocide.”
On Monday, Al Jazeera, the satellite news channel, released a documentary, “Genocide Agenda,” that graphically depicts treatment of Rohingya.
Stuart Leavenworth: @sleavenworth