Why the term ‘genocide’ avoided for Rohingyas

Rohingya refugees carrying their belongings after fleeing Myanmar, as they walk on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River, Bangladesh October 2, 2017 Photo : Reuters
Rohingya refugees carrying their belongings after fleeing Myanmar, as they walk on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River, Bangladesh October 2, 2017 Photo : Reuters

Despite Myanmar’s orchestrated military campaign to eliminate Rohingyas from their motherland, the world has mostly avoided calling the atrocities as genocide.

This attitude, two globally reputed legal experts say, is because the use of the word ‘genocide’ might compel the world leaders to take military action against the Myanmar authorities.

Why leaders of different nations refrained from calling it genocide has been reflected in Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s apology to Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi after the former said a genocide was taking place in the latter’s country.

To refer to the Rohingya killing that led to displacement of more than 700,000 Myanmar nationals, some UN officials and global leaders are generally using ethnic cleansing, a term which, the experts pointed out, does not involve legal action.

“The UN avoids the word ‘genocide’ because world leaders avoid military action to stop it,” said Gregory Stanton, founding chairman of Genocide Watch and the Alliance Against Genocide.

Also a research professor of Genocide Prevention at George Mason University in USA, he told Prothom Alo in an email interview that the term ethnic cleaning is an insidious term because there is no international treaty law to address it, whereas there are international laws to deal with forced displacement and genocide.

He insisted that the Rohingya persecution be called genocide.

Also, Thomas MacManus, a researcher with International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, observed that the Rohingyas are facing genocide.

"The Rohingya are undoubtedly facing genocide and we have been warning governments of this fact since 2014. The international community appears to be avoiding using the term 'genocide' in public in order to avoid the legal obligations to prevent it under the Genocide Treaty," he said to Prothom Alo in an email interview sent on Sunday.

The researchers regret that by avoiding the word genocide, the world leaders are in a way helping the perpetrators to continue the genocide.

About 22,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed in attacks in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since 25 August 2017, according to an estimate by International State Crime Initiative.

Most of the Rohingya Muslims who have taken shelter in Bangladesh since then were found to be injured or traumatised. With the latest number, more than a million Rohingyas have come to Bangladesh over the past two decades to escape Myanmar persecution.

Professor Stanton said, “A systematic campaign of mass murder and destruction is surely enough proof of specific intent to destroy part of the Rohingya people.”

Joined by three epidemiologists, he studied the impact of using the words “ethnic cleansing” rather than “genocide” in four genocides: Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Darfur.

Stanton pointed out that “ethnic cleansing” is not a crime in the Rome Treaty of the International Criminal Court.

The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, covers within its definition, killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

In Myanmar, the first four stages of genocide were already present in Rakhine state while the Rohingya were facing the final two stages of genocide, reads a research report by Thomas MacManus and two other researchers published recently.

Maung Zarni , a Burmese human rights activist and  an adviser to the European Centre for the Study of Extremism based in UK, told Prothom Alo that Rohingyas are facing genocide and the genocide did not begin when 700,000 Rohingyas fled terror but it was conceived and launched 40 years ago.

Also, Nobel peace laureates Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman, in an article published in a Canadian newspaper ‘The Globe and Mail’ on Thursday termed the Rohingya persecution as genocide.