In early February, Myanmar’s military coup made international headlines and prompted the ongoing condemnation we see today. But despite the Southeast Asian nation having attracted such robust criticisms, the ongoing genocide of the Rohingya people has not even earned a mention.
The people of Myanmar are currently protesting their country’s military, after it seized control of the country following the arrest of former State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other top politicians. The protests have led to clashes between security forces and the demonstrators, during which at least 2 unarmed civilians have been reportedly killed.
Whilst the protests continue, demanding a return to the country’s quasi-democracy model, the likes of US President Joe Biden and other top State officials have chimed in to threaten Myanmar’s military with consequences for their actions. This is reportedly due to the international community fearing a lack of accountability from, and cooperation with, Myanmar as a result of its military maintaining full control.
Following last years International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling, which urged Myanmar’s military to protect its minority Rohingya Muslim population from military violence, the military coup should now surely be an indication that the regime is not trustworthy of doing as such. What is astounding, however, now that there is such condemnation of the military, is that not a word has been uttered about the ongoing persecution of Rohingya Muslims.
In 2019 Gambia officially brought a case for genocide to the United Nation’s ICJ, stating that the Burmese military aimed to “destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part, by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence.”
In response to the case file submitted to the UN court by Gambia, then Myanmar leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, began to shield the country’s military that she had once worked against. This led to a call for Suu Kyi to be stripped of her previously granted Nobel Peace Prize, a call which fell on the deaf ears of Western leadership.
In 2017 a crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority, residing in the northern State of Rakhine, resulted in 700,000 Rohingya having to flee to neighboring Bangladesh for fear of falling victim to mass murder, rape and torture from the Burmese military. There are said to only be roughly 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar as a result.
On the issue of Burma’s military coup, many have speculated that China is in favor of the move due to the Chinese decision to block a UN statement condemning the takeover. Instead, what the Chinese decision more likely indicates is a bid to win favor with the military, which China has historically found hard to curry favor with.
Such a standoffish military, which according to independent human rights reports continues to be involved in mass rape and massacres against the Rohingya people, proves to be ruthless in its approach to achieve its desired goals.
It did seem for some time that through the democratic system introduced in Myanmar, the United States and other foreign powers could exert enough pressure on the country to keep them on side, despite a breakdown of their alliance in recent years. Although, the usefulness of the civilian government has always been limited, as the democratically elected leader was constitutionally bound to a power-sharing agreement with the military and had little control over it.
Just as with other areas on earth where human suffering is ripe, the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, in Rakhine province, is ignored due to the geopolitically strategic importance of the area overshadowing the value of human life.
Both China and India have interest in Myanmar, specifically with potential trade routes, and seek to utilize Rakhine State for these projects. China had in fact signed an initial deal in January, with former Burmese leader Suu Kyi, on a pipeline project, which was designed to connect a deep water port in Rakhine with the city of Mandalay. For China, one of the usages of Myanmar is a way to create an alternative to having to use the Strait of Malacca, through which the majority of the country’s imports pass. This is likely why China has been hesitant to condemn the Burmese military coup, for fear of losing such a vital deal.
With China being engaged in the ongoing ‘cold war’ (as some have called it) with the United States, it would not come as such a great surprise if the United States may be working through back-channels to undermine this deal. If China has found a viable way to create a second trade corridor, on which they can fall back if the Strait of Malacca is affected during conflict, it is a sure thing that the US will seek to undermine it.
It was under former President Barack Obama that then Vice President Joe Biden presided over the “democratic reforms” that had taken place in Myanmar, so the country is not completely out of their control.
Whilst this mess is ongoing, with the bids of China and Russia to exploit Myanmar, the West is seemingly much more focused on China than the Rohingya people.