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The plight of the Rohingya shows how 'never again' happens again and again: Azeezah Kanji

For years, human rights groups sounded alarms about the slow-burning genocide in Myanmar, but the world refused to heed them seriously until the flames of ethnic cleansing erupted into a conflagration.

For years, human rights groups sounded alarms about the slow-burning genocide in Myanmar, but the world refused to heed them seriously, writes Azeezah Kanji.

Dar Yasin / AP

For years, human rights groups sounded alarms about the slow-burning genocide in Myanmar, but the world refused to heed them seriously, writes Azeezah Kanji.

More than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled death and torture in Myanmar (also known as Burma) over the last three weeks.

The current desperate mass exodus of Rohingya may seem sudden, but this is only because Canadian media has largely neglected their plight for so long. Myanmar’s anti-Rohingya atrocities did not begin on Aug. 25 — as a “crackdown on Rohingya militants,” as news media reported — but are the perpetuation of decades of persecution, marginalization, segregation, expulsion, and eradication.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were driven off land they had lived on for generations by bloody military campaigns in 1978 and 1991. They were stripped of citizenship in 1982, leaving them without civil rights — one of the largest stateless populations in the world. Since 1994, the government has refused to issue birth certificates for Rohingya babies.

The Rohingya were erased from the national census in 2014, and prohibited from voting or running for office in the elections in 2015. They have been tortured, assaulted, and killed with impunity; legally restricted from marrying and having children, including through federal “Race and Religion Protection Laws” passed in 2015; and imprisoned in “internally displaced person” camps, where they are deprived of food, water, and medical care, and are not permitted to leave (in 2014, Save the Children reported that some Rohingya were resorting to eating glue).

“If the international community can’t help us, please drop a bomb on us and kill all of us,” one woman living in a camp pled to a group of British researchers in 2014.

The recent intensification of violence against the Rohingya is a continuation of “unfinished business,” Myanmarese army commander Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing told the media earlier this month.

“This turn of events … was predicted and could have been prevented,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

For years, human rights groups sounded alarms about the slow-burning genocide in Myanmar, but the world refused to heed them seriously until the flames of ethnic cleansing erupted into a conflagration.

In April 2013, a Human Rights Watch report determined that the “Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya” in 2012.

In March 2014, American organization United to End Genocide warned that “nowhere in the world are there more known precursors to genocide than in Burma today.”

In October 2015, a study by Yale Law School found “strong evidence that genocide is being committed against Rohingya,” and a report based on on-the-ground research from the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London concluded that “Rohingya face the final stages of genocide.”

The International Alliance to End Genocide issued genocide emergency alerts for the Rohingya in 2012, 2013, and 2015.

Groups of Nobel laureates condemned Myanmar’s project of ethnic cleansing in May 2015 and December 2016.

In December 2016 and February 2017, reports by Amnesty International and the United Nations documented crimes against humanity, collective punishment, and ethnic cleansing committed against the Rohingya by Myanmar’s security forces starting in October 2016.

One woman interviewed by the UN recalled: “They held me tight and I was raped by one of them. My 5-year-old daughter tried to protect me, she was screaming, one of the men took out a long knife and killed her by slitting her throat.” Another recounted: “The military dragged my grandmother and grandfather out of their house. First they were severely beaten, then tied to a tree. The military then put dried grass, woods around them and set them on fire.”

These reports received minimal coverage in Canadian media, and were commonly treated as minor footnotes to the triumphal story of Myanmar’s supposed return to democracy with the victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in the November 2015 elections.

Last year, the Canadian government rejected a Parliamentary committee’s recommendation that Canada “reassess its sanctions against Myanmar” to address violations against the Rohingya; the government asserted that “the objective [behind the original imposition of sanctions] has now largely been achieved.”

In June this year, just four months after the UN accused Myanmar of crimes against humanity, Aung San Suu Kyi (who is an honorary Canadian citizen) visited Canada; she received a hero’s welcome at Toronto City Hall, while Prime Minister Trudeau failed to mention the Rohingya crisis in his public remarks to her.

This is how a genocide proceeds hidden in plain sight. This is how “never again” happens again and again.

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