US has no good reason to stall on Rohingya genocide label
Perhaps the two most egregious human rights crises currently unfolding in the world are the situations of the Uighurs in China and the Rohingya in Myanmar. The US has declared a genocide in the case of the Uighurs. It has so far resisted doing the same for the Rohingya. Why?
To be sure, the two crises are not identical. Both affect Muslim minorities in the western borderlands of their respective countries and both number about 2 million, but beyond that the approach of the two states to these peoples are very different. China wants to keep individual Uighurs within the country, but erase their Uighur identity and subsume them into the Han Chinese majority. It even detains individuals to prevent them from fleeing the country and the Communist Party’s re-education camps. In contrast, Myanmar has already forcefully evicted more than 1 million Rohingya individuals from the country altogether — the vast majority of the group’s numbers — and has no intention of absorbing any of those remaining in internal refugee camps into the wider Burmese population.
One could argue that the Chinese approach is more subtle. And, given the resources the Chinese state is pouring into the project, perhaps it is more likely to succeed in the long run. But no one could argue that the approach taken by Myanmar is not far more violent. Uighurs have the option to comply, or to pretend to comply, with the crazy restrictions imposed on them by the Communist Party. Tens of thousands of Rohingya were never given such an option. They were brutally tortured, raped and murdered in order to scare the rest of their people into fleeing the country.
So why did the US declare the Uighur situation a genocide, but not the Rohingya situation as well? The discrepancy currently has nothing to do with the respective facts of the two cases and everything to do with politics.
There is no technical, factual or political rationale for an administration avowedly dedicated to human rights and international law to drag its feet on this
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
On the available evidence, what the Chinese Communist Party is doing to the Uighurs is a textbook case of genocide — and this is a conclusion that other countries and plenty of independent international observers have arrived at. Beijing’s protests that last January’s declaration of genocide was a cynical political jab by a bitter outgoing administration designed to poison the well on US-China relations ahead of Joe Biden taking office seems fair. But that does not change the fact that China was and continues to perpetrate a genocide against one of its ethnic minorities. The determination of genocide being tainted by politics is regrettable, but that does not make it any less valid or true.
The Biden administration upheld the determination of genocide against China for its treatment of the Uighurs and it was right to do so. But now the question is why is the US, even under President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, resisting calls to make the same determination against Myanmar for its treatment of the Rohingya?
Previously, they might have feared that making such a determination would undermine the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi just as it was wrestling for control with the country’s military, which was carrying out the genocide of its own accord. But since the military coup in Myanmar in February, the very same people who executed the “clearance operations” against the Rohingya in 2016-17 have now taken the reigns of the government by force, have arrested the leaders of the democratically elected civilian government, and have waged war on virtually the entire civilian population to enforce their claim to political office.
There is no technical, factual or political rationale for an administration avowedly dedicated to human rights and international law to drag its feet on this issue. The US must declare the Rohingya situation a genocide, in accordance with the facts.
• Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the Director of Special Initiatives at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington D.C. and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017). Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim