“Warning signs” are in place for a genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, an Al Jazeera investigation has been told by a leading expert in the field.
According to Professor William Schabas, until recently President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the findings of an Al Jazeera documentary reveal that “we’re moving into a zone where the word can be used”.
In June, Myanmar state media reported 78 deaths during sectarian violence between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities. The Al Jazeera team discovered that official statements provided only a small part of what took place.
Instead, Rohingya testify suffering systematic torture, ethnic cleansing and execution-style killings. The program found evidence of at least two mass graves and the deliberate murder of minors, some of whom were burnt alive. The program includes eyewitness accounts of the extra-judicial killings of more than 200 people during five days in June.
The Hidden Genocide also provides compelling evidence that the killings were at times carried out with the support and participation of the Myanmar military, state security forces and local government officials.
Amongst the findings are:
- The location of a mass grave of 35 people, 25 of them children. Most had been shot as they fled by soldiers from Myanmar’s national army as well as paramilitaries from a border security force, known as NaSaKa.
- An eyewitness watched as around 100 bodies were dumped from a truck and buried in marshland by security services.
- Accounts describe security forces travelling through Rohingya districts throwing bottles of gasoline onto houses and setting them alight.
- One man described how up to 40 religious scholars were brought to the yard of a mosque and summarily executed. They were accused of being ‘troublemakers’.
- A 12-year old girl watched as 5 of her cousins - all younger than her - were picked up by security forces and thrown into large fires.
- There is evidence of torture and arbitrary arrest. One man who was severely beaten saw six corpses in the local police station.
- Rape was systematically used by Rakhine State security services. Al Jazeera spoke to one woman who was raped (according to medical records) by more than 20 men from the NaSaKa, Luntin (paramilitary police) and regular police. She has since died of her injuries.
The Hidden Genocide discovers a secret memorandum written in 1988 by Rakhine nationalists. It sets out policies aimed at restricting the ability of the Rohingya to travel freely, to prevent their access to tertiary education and for controlling their birth rate. There are today obstacles to prevent marriage within the ethnic group, including the requirement of a large payment to allow a legal marriage or be threatened with five years’ imprisonment.
The election in 2010 of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) has placed in the state government a leadership that denies the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group. The party leader, Dr Aye Maung, has repeatedly said that the people who call themselves Rohingya should be deported from the land of their birth to third countries.
Dr Aye Chan, a Rakhine historian based in Japan has returned for the first time to Myanmar since 1988 and is at the forefront of a body of quasi-academic material that denies the existence of the Rohingya race, claiming they are ‘a fabricated people’.
According to Prof. Schabas, one of the foremost experts on international criminal law, “We’re moving into a zone where the word can be used (in the case of the Rohingya). When you see measures preventing births, trying to deny the identity of the people, hoping to see that they really are eventually, that they no longer exist, denying their history, denying the legitimacy of the right to live where they live, these are all warning signs that mean that it’s not frivolous to envisage the use of the term genocide.”