Baroness Kinnock: Much more must be done to stop the 'genocidal policies' which threaten the Rohingya
The Rohingya people are suffering appalling persecution. International pressure has to be imposed on the Burmese military – and Aung San Suu Kyi – to halt these crimes, writes Baroness Kinnock.
It is 25 years since I visited Burma to meet Aung San Su Kyi while she suffered house arrest. Tragically, since that time there have been sustained military offensives against ethnic civilians and countless other acts of oppression. But we have never seen a crisis that compares with what is happening in Burma today.
The UN estimates that in past weeks nearly half a million Rohingya people – half of them children – have been forced to flee their homes because of Burmese military attacks.
More than 2,000 people have been killed, and over 22,000 homes destroyed. The military are brutally clearing Rohingya people out of the areas in which they have lived for generations, driving the terrified population over the land-mined border into impoverished Bangladesh or onto the sea in pitifully inadequate boats.
Those who have escaped describe the military opening fire on villagers, shooting into crowds as they run and committing unspeakable atrocities against women and children. Those captured are lined up and executed by shooting or beheading, or held in homes which are then set on fire so they are burned alive.
Clearly, the head of Burma’s military, Min Aung Hlaing, thinks he can pursue his cruelties with impunity. His forces now make the excuse that they are combatting Muslim Rohingya “terrorists”, never recognising that armed resistance to military atrocities is a relatively recent response after peaceful protest and appeals for change have had no moderating effect.
The Rohingya people have suffered appalling oppression under a ruthless military dictatorship for decades. Now, shamefully, that despotism continues under the new National League for Democracy government led, since 2015, by Aung San Suu Kyi.
Rohingya people are denied citizenship and all travel, higher education ,and civil rights. They have endured forced labour, sexual violence, extortion and, since 2012, attacks that are unequalled in violence and extent. These wretched people are teeming out of their homelands into a hell of no food, shelter, care or security. Human Rights Watch says they are “the most persecuted minority in the World”. They are victims, reports the UN, of “textbook ethnic cleansing”.
These atrocities must be stopped. Sustained and strong international pressure has to be imposed on the Burmese military to halt the persecution.
Last month, after atrocities had worsened to unprecedented levels, Britain halted the military training given to Burmese forces and officials called on Aung San Suu Kyi to “take urgent action to end the suffering of the Rohingya people”. Much more can and must be done.
European companies are supplying Burma with military equipment. India and China are heavily involved in mineral extraction. Belgium, Italy, Austria and Germany give red carpet treatment to Burma’s military leaders. With the lifting of sanctions since 2012, commercial exploitation of Burma’s reserves of oil, natural gas, jade, gems, minerals and timber has hugely increased. That has enriched companies and the corrupt, controlling military whilst still leaving the country and its people among the poorest in the World.
In these conditions, there must be full restoration of the comprehensive international sanctions and global arms embargo which helped to push Burma to what we hoped was substantive change in 2011. Such actions need to be imposed now. The British government should take the lead in building support for that.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been condemned by fellow Nobel Laureates for the contempt she shows to the Rohingya. She must also be told that her government can only get support from the international community if they end the genocidal policies and laws which threaten to exterminate Burma’s Rohingya.
For too long the international community has tolerated the intolerable. Burmese leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, are culpable. In the name of humanity it is time to show them that crimes against humanity cannot be tolerated any longer.
Baroness Kinnock is a Labour peer in the House of Lords.
This article first ran in The House magazine.