Since August 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar's state forces
While there is a strong accusation by Rohingya refugees that the former Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi lied to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Myanmar's de facto leader seems still unfazed. She, as the world watched on December 11, defended her government at the ICJ and, at least, made an attempt to obfuscate the issue of the atrocities committed by the Myanmar army against Rohingyas.
Her words that sought to defuse The Gambia's allegations were peppered with some specific phraseology. Suu Kyi claimed that the case The Gambia placed paints "regrettably … a misleading and incomplete picture of the situation in Rakhine state," completely denying the ruthless activities and killings of the Rohingya people by the military forces.
Her main argument revolved around the issue of ongoing armed conflicts in her country. She said her country was dealing with an armed conflict in Rakhine that no one talked about during the placement of argument for the case. Referring to the ongoing conflict between the Myanmar army and the Arakan Army while the latter was seeking autonomy or independence for Rakhine, she said that Myanmar have been dealing with armed conflicts for a long time, including that of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army – known as ARSA. She argued at the outset that ARSA was challenging the "sovereignty and security of Myanmar," and defended the military forces by saying that the forces were only responding to "coordinated and targeted" attacks on villages and police outposts from the Rohingya insurgent group.
The former beacon of democracy, wearing traditional Burmese dress and flowers in her hair, said, "Tragically, this armed conflict led to the exodus of several hundred thousand Muslims from the three northernmost townships of Rakhine into Bangladesh – just as the armed conflict in Croatia which led to the massive exodus of first ethnic Croats and later ethnic Serbs."
"There will be no tolerance of human rights violations in Rakhine or elsewhere in Myanmar," she added.
"Please bear in mind this complex situation and the challenge to sovereignty and security in our country when you are assessing the intent of those who attempted to deal with the rebellion."
"Surely under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis."
She also stated that the military forces often conduct "clearance operations" in areas where they feel there are threats against the sovereignty of the nation or in areas where there is a presence of "terrorist activities".
In the Myanmar language, she argued, "nae myay shin lin yeh" which literally means "clearing of locality" – simply means to clear an area of insurgents or terrorists.
Her strategy to uncouple the idea of clearance operation and the word terrorism is symptomatic of all dominant narrative. The imperial ambition of the US showed the world how the word terrorism can be instrumentalised to obfuscate the real issue. Suu Kyi's narrative had nothing exceptional in that sense.
Suu Kyi went on to tell the court that Myanmar's own independent investigators had the capacity to investigate and if war crimes or human rights abuses were committed by the military or civilians, "they will be prosecuted." This, perhaps was the last straw to her barrage of lies that was placed in the form of argument.
How to explain the killing and the influx that had begun in the 70s and only intensified over the last few decades?
Since August 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar's state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA). More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience. Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar army and police, over 1,15,000 Rohingya homes were burned down, and 1,13,000 others vandalised, it added.
Since the current influx began in August 2017, more than seven hundred thousand Rohingyas crossed the border in order to escape persecution by the Myanmar army, according to UNHCR. At the Cox's Bazar camps in Bangladesh, some 1.1 million have found refuge. Way back in the 1990s more than 2,50,000 resided in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.
What forced them to take on such a perilous journey to a neighbour who first gave them a cold shoulder and then failed to take the matter to the international community, since two major allies – India and China – showed little sympathy for the plights of the Rohingyas and the burden that pose on Bangladesh's economy.
The incidents of persecution of minority communities across the subcontinent are nothing new. India has joined the fray with a vengeance lately, Bangladesh too has its own areas of darkness. No one experienced a huge influx of refugees after such incidents, at least not after the 1947 in India and 1971 in East Pakistan, now Bnagladesh.
The question is what prompted them to flee their homeland?
Like the three wise Japanese monkeys Suu Kyi sees no evil, hears no evil, speaks no evil, or so it seems. Her words are not mere words – they are lies that came cloaked in an astute but obviously futile argument. She pointed out, "Can there be genocidal intent on the part of a state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers who are accused of wrongdoing?"
But not seeing the mass exodus as an outcome of the ethnic cleansing that has been going on in her country, her argument hovers over a set of detours. Her line of defence takes on some subtle humanitarian tones. "To conclude, Mr President and members of the court, Rakhine today suffers an internal armed conflict between the Buddhist Arakan Army and Myanmar's Defence Services. Muslims are not a party to this conflict, but may, like other civilians in the conflict area, be affected by security measures that are in place."
She was, like any other astute lawyer, only looking for excuses to get off the hook and save her face in front of the judges. This is exactly why she also stated that this exodus is just like the armed conflict in Croatia. In her equation the word Rohingyas are non-existent, they never occurred except when she referred to ARSA, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
Measuring Suu Kyi against her words
Though Suu Kyi in the ICJ has stated that every child of Rakhine gets a birth certificate the moment they are born but the actual scenario is quite different. The Rohingya people have been denied Burmese citizenship since the Burmese nationality law was enacted back in 1982.
And if we look into the statement about holding the army personnel culpable for their crimes, only seven soldiers have ever been prosecuted on charges for the killing of ten Rohingya men and boys in the village of Inn Din. Though they were initially given a sentence of ten years serving with hard labour in the jail, they actually served less than one year before they were granted freedom by the military!
Dr Lailufar Yasmin, professor of international relations, University of Dhaka says, "Suu Kyi is absolutely driven by her internal compulsion and the policy of her party. Originating from Myanmar, she will act according to the interest of the people of Myanmar. No matter to what extent we think her as a leader of humanity, she is the leader of humanity for Myanmar and not for the world."
"Suu Kyi is driven by the way the history has developed from her perspective. She believes in the history that has been written and the people I have met from Myanmar have also stated that the Rohingya problem has been created by the British colonialists and they are not ready to accept that," added the professor.
In history, Rohingyas were inhabitants of Arakan, Myanmar from a very early age and the term Rohingya has been historically documented prior to the British Raj. The Rohingyas started fleeing from Myanmar to its neighbouring Chittagong region of British Bengal in 1799 to escape persecution by the Bamar and to seek protection under the British Raj.
Later, when the British colonialism started in Myanmar, many people from the Chittagong region went back to Arakan and particularly in Rakhine district to seek jobs. And they might be the same people and the descendants of the people that were deported forcefully in the late 18th century.
According to Jacques Leider, the Rohingya were referred to as "Chittagonians" during the British colonial period, forgetting the history of the existence of Rohingya people in Myanmar. Thus the government of Myanmar and its Bamar people believe that the Rohingya are Bengali and use the term "Muslims of Myanmar" and "Muslims of Rakhine" instead.