July 23, 2019 | 73° F

DEANGELO: People must not forget struggles of Myanmar's Rohingya

Opinions Column: All That Fits


The world is in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century, and yet there has been echoing silence. 

As of January, an estimated 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled their home villages in Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh to escape the treacherous campaign of violence brought on by the military. It is thought that 9,000 Rohingya have died between Aug. 25 and Sept. 24 of 2017, with the vast majority falling victim to brutal and inhumane acts. The United Nations named the crisis as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” and has recently raised the potential to call it genocide. 

A 20-year-old Rohingya, Rajuma is one of many who was held at gunpoint chest-deep in a river during a military raid. She told The New York Times that soldiers ripped her 18-month-old baby from her arms and threw him into a fire. Military personnel then dragged her into a house and proceeded to rape her and kill her entire family. She was the only one to somehow escape, but that does not mean her struggle to survive is over. With her future at bay, Rajuma reached the end of her testimony and sobbed so hard she could barely breathe.

Known as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, the Rohingya have been oppressed in majority Buddhist Myanmar for hundreds of years. Before the massacre that began in August, members of the ethnic group lived in slum-like camps that lacked basic resources. Rohingya have been repeatedly denied proper citizenship, which left them stateless and unable leave the country without government permission. To the Burmese, or people of Myanmar, they are not people.

What is so chilling about the recent ethnic cleansing is that the efforts are not the first. The Burmese military has made attempts to annihilate the Rohingya, whom they call “terrorists,” before in 2013 and 2016. But, the government has repeatedly denied these attempts and posed sanctions to prevent reporters and humanitarian groups from interfering. It seems that the Rohingya have been stripped of their human rights and subject to extrajudicial killing, rape and arson time and time again with no active defense.

This was until a few days ago when The Associated Press released a graphic report about several mass graves withholding the bodies of Rohingya that were disfigured to the point of unrecognizability. It is one of the first records of atrocities backed with hard-core evidence. According to videos the news-wire service obtained, there were “blue-green puddles of acid sludge” that ate at corpses without heads and torsos that “jut into the air.” The AP says many of these bodies, which are probably in the hundreds, lie half-buried if not buried at all. 

The Burmese government has, of course, denied the existence of these shallow graves, claiming the investigation as false. They have made efforts to bar reporters from entering affected areas, in order to create confusion around the situation. It is hard to tell what is truly happening in Myanmar when stories only come from survivors who have experienced traumatic events. But, the AP's and other organization’s efforts to uncover the truth is the beginning of finding out the extent of this massacre.

Many have argued that although the plight of the Rohingya is tragic, it does not necessarily concern us. But, we must not distance ourselves from the terror in Myanmar. This world has learned its lesson in ignorance after the mass slaughter in Rwanda, where upward of a million people were killed in a lull. The Rohingya’s persecution is severe, and people across the globe should not stand with caution. A genocide of this scale is the responsibility of all humanity, not just those who live in the general vicinity.

Undoubtedly, the United States has extended a sympathetic hand promising to send $32 million in refugee aid. The money makes up approximately one-fourth of what is needed to address the crisis, with the hopes that the rest will be covered by other countries. But, we ought to do more. The United States has the ability to re-impose trade sanctions against Myanmar and pressure other nations to do the same. It will not directly stop the militarized state, but it can slow the exchange of weaponry and send a message that says the world is watching. 

It goes without saying that individuals here have no direct access to stop what is happening in Myanmar. But, words and education hold a significant amount of power. If there is a consistent conversation about the Rohingya refugee and humanitarian crisis, we may be able to put a stop to the travesty. 

As fellow humans, we cannot and must not forget the Rohingya.

Julia Deangelo is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. Her column, "All That Fits," runs on alternate Thursdays. 


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Julia Deangelo

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