Burma: the reincarnation of Rwanda?

Burma: the reincarnation of Rwanda?

Burma: the reincarnation of Rwanda?
June 14
17:01 2015

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

The Rwandan Genocide in 1994 is a modern massacre that serves as a chilling and pertinent reminder that humanity can descend into horrifying depths. Although the Rwandan Genocide only occurred twenty-one years ago, the context of the genocide needs to be continually brought to the forefront of public consciousness. In Burma, Rohingya people are experiencing persecution and atrocities that prompt comparisons to Rwanda. Now more than ever, the lessons of Rwanda need to be heeded and the plight of the Rohingya people needs to be addressed.

The brutality and horror of ethnic cleansing in Rwanda

Myths, fears and blatant lies were perpetuated in Rwanda by Hutu political elites in order to turn the majority of Hutus in the country against the minority Tutsis. The Tutsis were subjected to a sustained campaign to demonise and marginalise them; this created an atmosphere that allowed the genocide to be implemented. Indeed, the mass slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis emphasises that powerful political elites can turn swathes of people against their own countrymen and women.

When the Hutu extremists killed and raped Tutsis, the world did not intervene and stop the brutality. It could be argued forcefully that the United States, France, Belgium and, indeed, the United Nations failed to use their influence to circumvent and derail the Rwandan Genocide because it did not satisfy or pique their political interests. When governments and organisations only speak out against injustice and barbarity when a vested interest is involved it leads to the lives of innocent people being destroyed. It is saddening that human lives are not always given equal value. The Rwandan Genocide is a stark and acute reminder that the world stood, deliberated and watched for far too long and then cried later for its inaction.

The former United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan has expressed regret at the organisation’s role in Rwanda: “I believed at that time that I was doing my best. But I realised after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support.” (BBC) Similarly Bill Clinton has conceded that the U.S. under his presidency could have done more to prevent deaths: “I don’t think we could have ended the violence but I think we could have cut it down and I regret it.” (CNN) The “remorse” of both Annan and Clinton cannot undo the horror of the Rwandan Genocide, but the acknowledgement that they could have done more highlights that the U.N. and the U.S. failed to use their power to help the oppressed. If Rwanda had strategic worth would the reaction of the international community have been more commendable and honourable? Thus regrets or mere musings about Rwanda are not enough to honour the victims of the Rwandan massacre. The Rwandan tragedy should make everyone reflect on how the oppression of minorities can lead to inexcusable and despicable actions.

Rohingya people under threat in Burma

“History not used is nothing, for all intellectual life is action, like practical life, and if you don’t use the stuff well, it might as well be dead.” (Arnold J. Toynbee)
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Some people favour starting wars but recoil from denouncing genocides. The persecution of the Rohingya people needs to be denounced by the international community. In Burma, the minority of Rohingya people are facing what the U.S. Holocaust Museum Simon-Skjodt Center For the Prevention of Genocide calls “the first signs of genocide”. The detailed report warns that the Rohingya people are being targeted with horrendous abuse to the extent that they are at “grave risk of additional mass atrocities and even genocide”. This is not scaremongering, but illustrates that the Burmese government is failing to protect the lives of innocent people.

Since 2012, the discrimination against the Rohingya population has intensified. However, despite the concern of human rights organisations, many countries are reluctant to publically condemn the Burmese government. The persecution endured by the Rohingya people is reminiscent of the hate speech that precipitated the mass killings and atrocities in Rwanda against the Tutsis. Just as the Tutsis were blamed for political and social issues, the Rohingya Muslims are subjected to prejudice and hatred. This has resulted in the Rohingya people being segregated and denied freedom. Furthermore, the Rohingya people are overwhelmingly Muslim and thus suffer from perpetual Islamophobia and bigotry.

The fact that the Burmese government promotes policies that discriminate against the Rohingya people is not only worrying but also extremely dangerous. It reinforces that the Rohingya population is under serious threat of ethnic cleansing. When a minority is not protected constitutionally it is especially vulnerable to sustained violence and injustice. It is troubling that the Rohingya people are denied citizenship despite their long-standing roots in Burma. They face accusations that they do not belong in Burma. Hence, they are treated as displaced and unwanted people. This feeds xenophobia, which makes the Rohingya Muslims susceptible to further violence and persecution. Is the world going to stand back and watch yet again?

By Mussarrat Shaheen
© 2015

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  1. Sal
    Sal June 14, 21:56

    Aung San Suu Kyi is a hypocrite for not helping the Rohungya.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Jen
    Jen June 15, 17:24

    We all need to speak out for the rights of the Rohingya people in Burma. We cannot let this be a repeat of Rawanda. Lessons should not only be learnt but they should stop us from making the same mistake twice. Great article!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Hari
    Hari June 18, 18:54

    Thank you for writing this article. Justice for Rohingya

    Reply to this comment
  4. A Naz
    A Naz June 29, 22:00

    I enjoyed reading this article. Thanks for sharing this. :)

    Reply to this comment
  5. ZENIM
    ZENIM July 26, 22:20

    History teaches us many things and in order to look at the present one must understand the background and history of any situation. Lessons are not learnt without looking at past mistakes and learning from them. Our news and educational system are contrived in a manner which encourages one only to look at the present situation and one really could miss great historical lessons if one relied upon these two sources. Is it a deliberate ploy one wanders?

    Reply to this comment

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