When Rohingya Muslims began fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh a year ago, the
cause was obvious: the army had gone on the rampage. But the Burmese government
maintained that the mass exodus from Rakhine state—723,000 people, by the UN’s
count—stemmed from a simple misunderstanding. The army, it insisted, was just
searching for Rohingya militants who had attacked police posts. It was only because of
false rumors of military abuses, officials blithely declared, that villagers had taken fright
and headed for the border.
On August 24th the UN’s Human Rights Council delivered its official response to this
drivel. After a year’s research, including 875 individual interviews, it published a report
which affirms that the army led a pogrom that claimed the lives of more than 10,000
Rohingyas (see article). Most damningly, the report finds evidence that the violence was
premeditated and amounted to genocide. Senior generals, the report concludes, should
be put on trial for war crimes.
It is an indictment of the world that the Burmese army is, thus far, getting away with
mass murder. Myanmar’s rulers have responded with “denial, normalcy, and impunity”.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, has set up worthless committees to
investigate. China and Russia defend Myanmar; Western governments have been
feeble in their response.
Apologists for the Burmese government insist that it is almost impossible for anyone,
foreign or local, to do much about this since the Burmese army is a law unto itself. It
made way for a civilian government only two years ago, after imposing a constitution
that gives it complete control over its own affairs and all matters of security. What is
more, ordinary Burmese tend to view Rohingyas, most of whom are Muslim, as a threat
to Buddhism, the religion of the majority, should the West take Myanmar too strongly to
task for the army’s conduct, it would imperil the fragile democracy for which it and Ms
. Suu Kyi fought for so long. It would also, the theory goes, drive Myanmar into the arms
These arguments are not only an affront to justice-they are also wrong.
There is a reason to believe that the generals will respond to pressure. International
ostracism and sanctions played a part in their decision to retreat from a government in
If a democracy can be preserved only by turning a blind eye to genocide, then it is not
worthy of the name, much less the world’s protection.
Extract from The Economist, September 1, 2018.