The eyes of the world are on Myanmar’s shocking brutalisation and slaughter of a Muslim minority. Alister McKeith reports from Kuala Lumpur.
The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal has ruled the current Rohingya crisis as unequivocally genocide, denouncing the United Nation’s use of the term ethnic cleansing as a “euphemism” with “no basis in international law.”
After a week-long hearing at the University of Malaya, Judge Daniel Feierstein stated that the Myanmar Government was guilty of “war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide”.
War crimes listed included arbitrary arrest and torture; enforced disappearances; rape; killing; confiscation of property; and internal displacement.
The Tribunal also affirmed that the election of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy had only brought about an “acceleration” of human rights abuses, and in an attempt to turn Myanmar into a “supreme Buddhist entity”.
Throughout the week, expert witnesses and victims of human rights abuses testified to the Peoples’ Tribunal, which began a grass-roots initiative in 1979 to denounce crimes of Latin American dictators.
The Tribunal heard that ongoing human rights abuses have been committed not only against the Rohingya, but also other ethnic and religious minorities, including the Kachin and other Muslim groups.
Testimonies included harrowing eyewitness accounts of mass rape of Rohingya women and the systemic slaughter of Rohingya men and boys. This included the massacre at Tula Toli, a Rohingyan village near the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Razia Sultana, a Rohingyan lawyer based in Chittagong, showed video interviews conducted with women from Tula Toli. In one, a Rohingyan woman tearfully described the massacre, explaining that the villagers were told by authorities not to leave Tula Toli and that they would be safe.
Instead, she describes how the Myanmar Army descended by helicopter and surrounded the village.
They then proceeded to systematically rape the women, killing and burning women, children and men.
“Nothing was left of the women… mutilated bodies were chopped up and set on fire… oh, there was a massacre in Tula Toli,” the woman exclaims.
Tactics such as the promise of safety were also used by Hutu militia in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in order to herd Tutsi people into kill zones such as churches. In fact, parallels between the Rwandan genocide and the current crisis were noted during the Tribunal.
Founder and chairmen of Genocide Watch, Dr Gregory Stanton, explained a 10-stage process of genocide, which includes classification such as the use of ID cards, dehumanisation, preparation and planning, and persecution.
This process, he said, amounted to genocide, which under the Genocide Convention is defined as “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
Evidence of intent included a 1988 policy of the Myanmar Government to deny Rohingya citizenship, and that “any property must be confiscated and redistributed amongst the Buddhist population”.
Dr Stanton explained that the term ethnic cleansing was actually coined by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who faced charges of war crimes in 1999.
Unlike the Genocide Convention, there are no international legal instruments that address ethnic cleansing; as such, use of the term in the international sphere was said to be redundant.
The Tribunal sessions were heavily guarded by Malaysian police, most notably due to the presence of outspoken Burmese activist Dr Maung Zarni.
Dr Zarni’s great-Uncle was a collegiate of Aung San Suu Kyi’s father; he is related to many Burmese currently in positions of power.
Yet due to his outspoken opposition to the regime, he has been labelled a traitor and an enemy of the state.
Dr Zarni reported receiving death threats leading up to the proceedings. However, in his testimony he stated: “I am not the enemy of the state; the state is the enemy of the people.”
The Tribunal concurred, describing how since the military coup in 1962, the government had been “at war with 40 per cent of its population”.
In line with the prosecution process, the Myanmar Government had been invited to make a defence; however, it declined.
Instead, a video of Aung San Suu Kyi’s recent speech was played to the court.
In her speech, Aung San Suu Kyi stated that “we need to find out why this exodus [of Rohingya people]is happening”.
Had the Myanmar Government attended the proceedings, perhaps they would not be asking such an obvious question.
While the judgement passed down from the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is not binding, it is the only official international entity currently defining the current crisis for what it is: genocide.
In his closing statements, the chair of the Malaysian Organizing Committee, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, repeated that oft-cited phrase “never again”.
Yet without immediate intervention and sanctions from influential nations such as Australia – who’s Defence Force has been training with the Myanmar Army – genocide will continue to occur, yet again.
Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing: What’s the Difference?
- The crime of genocide is codified and defined in international law in the 1951 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.
- Genocide refers to the intent to destroy in whole or in part, members of a particular group, and is considered a process, not a result.
- Genocide can occur in a number of ways, including killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction.
- Ethnic cleansing was a term first used in the 1990’s in reference to Slobodan Milosevic’s policy to forcibly remove Bosnian Muslims from ‘greater Serbia’ during the breakup of former Yugoslavia.
- Ethnic cleansing is now generally used to describe the forced displacement of peoples of a particular group.
- Ethnic cleansing is not a crime under international law, although a 2005 UN World Summit included ethnic cleansing as a responsibility states have a duty to protect their populations from.