The Rohingya deserve peace and justice

Two years after the genocide, the Muslim minority still cannot return to their homeland

Rohingya refugees take part in a prayer as they gather to mark the second anniversary of the exodus at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 25, 2019. REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman
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This month marks the ignominious two-year anniversary of the Rohingya being driven out of their homes in Myanmar in a brutal military crackdown. The Muslim minority group had already faced years of oppression, culminating in an army-led genocide on August 25, 2017, according to a recent UN report. As a result, at least 6,700 people were killed by the military and more than 740,000 had to flee their homeland. They escaped to Cox’s Bazar on the border with neighbouring Bangladesh, where they are still languishing in overcrowded refugee camps, too terrified to go back home without any guarantees of a safe return or protection when they get there.

Two years after the genocide, there is still no end to their suffering in sight. The Rohingya remain stateless and without any promise of justice for their persecutors, who appear to have acted with impunity, thanks to the indifference of Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet a solution must be found, and quickly, as they cannot stay in Bangladesh indefinitely and the longer they stay, the easier it will be for Myanmar officials to absolve themselves of their responsibilities towards their own citizens. The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees is putting pressure on Bangladesh's already stretched resources. Bangladesh has attempted to repatriate families but of the 3,450 people cleared for return, none wanted to take their chances. The Rohingya, who have lived in Myanmar for generations, want full citizenship and guaranteed equal rights and protection, but have been consistently refused either. Discriminatory laws treat them as foreigners in their own country, preventing them from accessing education and health care as well as restricting their freedom of movement.

Despite international outrage, authorities in Myanmar have failed to offer guarantees of a safe return home. Instead, the army has razed and burned abandoned villages, destroying what few possessions the Rohingya have. And rather than citizenship, the government has offered to register them under an identity card upon receipt of documentation – but most Rohingya lost all paperwork in the fires ignited in their deserted homes. Not surprisingly, the Rohingya struggle to trust a government which, in addition to having persecuted them systematically, has persistently denied any wrongdoing and has yet to bring the main perpetrators to account. Myanmar has refused to hold military chiefs accountable for their crimes or acknowledge the ethnic cleansing and genocide laid bare by the UN report, which identified its culprits. They should be brought to face trial on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Rohingya cannot remain in limbo forever. Bangladesh has lent a helping hand to refugees but we cannot expect one of the poorest nations in the world to take on the responsibility that its neighbour refuses to carry. Pressure must be brought to bear on Myanmar to guarantee the Rohingya's safe passage home and full protection and rights when they get there. The longer they are left languishing, the more likely their plight will be forgotten.