This book argues that the reality facing the Rohingyas, a Muslim confessional ethnic group living in Rakhine province in western Myanmar, is the threat of genocide. Ever since Burma became independent in 1948 they have been targeted whenever ambitious (or desperate) politicians need to deflect attention from other matters. Both government officials and party leaders have called for their expulsion from their homeland, and the main opposition ignores their plight. The build-up to the elections in late 2015 witnessed the final destruction of their civic rights in Myanmar (completing a process that began with the 1947 Constitution) and increasingly they are detained in what are now permanent internal refugee camps, where they are denied food, work and medical care.
If the regime fails to reign in the persecution of the Rohingyas (which only sustained international pressure will achieve) we will see a repeat of the by-now-familiar refugee crises, as the Rohingyas flee oppression. Moreover, it is almost inevitable that there will be further inter-communal violence, aimed at forcing the remaining Rohingyas either to run away or succumb to mass murder. The charge of genocide is a serious one to make; the current situation in Myanmar fully justifies the use of this word.
Till recently the Rohingyas had attracted relatively little attention from the international press, even in the critical period leading up to only the third round of parliamentary elections to be held since 1990. If there is a common narrative it is that Burma (the name ‘Myanmar’ was adopted as part of a new set of laws in 1989) was a closed country of little direct interest to the world; that Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), having endured years of house arrest, is fully committed to a democratic future for all of Myanmar’s ethnic and religious groups; and that instances of inter-ethnic or inter-confessional violence are to be expected in a country making the difficult transition from authoritarian military rule to democracy. The problem is that all three of these beliefs are false.