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Rohingya Remain at Risk of Genocide on Fourth Anniversary of Military’s Attacks

A man stands outside of Sittwe, in Rakhine State, Myanmar, near camps for internally displaced Rohingya. —Photo courtesy of Paula Bronstein Getty Images Reportage for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum solemnly recognizes the fourth anniversary of the Burmese military’s genocidal attacks on the Rohingya population and urges the world not to forget the victims and survivors. Impunity for the genocide has emboldened the military, known as the Tatmadaw, which has now taken control of the country and poses grave risks to the Rohingya and other vulnerable groups.

On August 25, 2017, the Tatmadaw launched attacks on Rohingya villages in Rakhine State, Burma, killing thousands and forcing an estimated 700,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Prior to these attacks, Rohingya civilians—who are ethnic and religious minorities in the country—experienced mass violence and persecution for decades.

As part of an effort to document these crimes, provide a platform for Rohingya survivors to share their stories, and educate the public about the genocide the Rohingya have faced, the Museum launched a new exhibition, Burma’s Path to Genocide. The exhibition explains how the Rohingya went from citizens to outsiders to victims of genocide, and focuses on the experience of Rohingya civilians in the village of Maung Nu, which was attacked by the Tatmadaw on August 27, 2017. “The exhibition is one way we can encourage people to ask how genocide was allowed to unfold, given the evident early warning signs,” said Naomi Kikoler, director of the Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. 

While we can no longer prevent the 2017 attacks, governments can still act now. Acknowledging these crimes as genocide and crimes against humanity would help set a historical record and counter rampant genocide denial, and demonstrate international resolve to prevent attacks in the future and enhance support for the victims, including with the pursuit of accountability. Time is of the esssence as those responsible for the genocide have reinserted themselves at the helm of the country.

Almost seven months ago, the Tatmadaw overthrew Burma’s elected civilian government and ever since have brutally repressed any form of opposition. Peaceful protesters and others face extrajudicial killing, arbitrary arrest, and torture, and the current environment leaves the Rohingya at heightened risk of mass atrocities. At a time when the US and other governments need to shift their policies toward Burma to counter an emboldened Tatmadaw, policymakers also need to watch risks facing the Rohingya and other minority groups and refocus efforts to constrain the Tatmadaw’s capacity to commit genocide and related crimes against humanity in the future.