Slowly but surely, the world is taking notice of the crisis affecting Myanmar’s Rohingya population, a mostly Muslim minority who have lived in the country for hundreds of years.
International say the situation could be considered genocide.
At least a million Rohingya reside in largely Buddhist Myanmar, which has marginalized the ethnic group for decades, in large part by refusing to officially recognize them.
“There is a long history of [an] apartheid state in Myanmar, said Yusuf Iqbal, founder of Americans for Rohingyas. He said the Muslim minority is frequently “used as a pretext for military aggression.”
Amid the crisis, many international observers have criticized Myanmar’s leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to halt the violence. That pressure intensified last month, after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the violence ethnic cleansing.
“Myanmar is not a trustworthy partner in this negotiation,” Adem Caroll, director for the nonprofit advocacy group Burma Task Force, told CNBC recently. “It is troubling because the Myanmar government officials have said on the record that they will not take back the displaced people of Rakhine state.”
With the U.S. and the international community appearing to be on the same page, a number of questions about the festering crisis remain unclear. History suggests that when “ethic cleansing” and “genocide” are invoked, such as in Bosnia and Sudan, it is usually accompanied by a worldwide call to action.
The plight of the Muslim minority has been magnified by the behavior of Myanmar’s military. A recent Human Rights Watch report documented evidence of mass rape by the military as part of what the organization called a “mass campaign of ethnic cleansing.”
“‘Ethnic cleansing’ is not really a legal term, but regardless of the term we give it, there needs to be international action, concrete actions against the atrocities committed,” said Richard Weir, Asia fellow at Human Rights Watch.