The grace period for Burma is over

Meanwhile, those involved in the expulsions have also reported the atrocities inflicted by the Burmese army on the Rohingya. How many more clues will it take for the international community to act?

The fact that terrible things have happened in western Burma really doesn’t need any more evidence. Almost 700,000 people have left the country for Bangladesh since August 2017. They live there under miserable conditions and without prospects. The testimonies of the predominantly Muslim refugees are known, but that does not make them any less shocking. Everything in Rakhine is happening in the service of security, it was said from Burma’s capital. One must “cleanse” the country of terrorists who attacked and killed security forces. Representatives of the UN and human rights organisations have long used terms such as “systematic expulsion”, “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide”. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is not excessive.

On Friday, the Reuters news agency published the results of extensive research. In it, members of the Buddhist minority in Rakhine report for the first time about the targeted attacks on Rohingya and the mass executions, in which especially Muslim men were massacred with machetes and other weapons. The witnesses, who mainly talk about the events in the village of Inn Din, are not only uninvolved residents. Civilians recruited by the army for the operations told the journalists that they had been ordered by the military leadership to “empty” the villages. In order not to attract attention, they wore civilian clothes. Confronted with the research, the government announced that the accusations were not denied, but they had to be investigated first.

New duty under international law

Not only the Burmese government is called upon, but also the international community. Apart from the United States, which has put a general on a sanctions list, no one has yet ventured out of cover. The UN Security Council has not imposed any sanctions on Burma either. The cruel memories of Rwanda or Srebrenica, where the international community had watched as helplessly as people were slaughtered, have given rise to a relatively new international legal duty for the international community: it must examine coercive measures to protect the population at risk. Whether this is true in the case of the stateless Rohingya is not yet clear; especially since most of them have fled to Bangladesh in the meantime and do not want to return at any price. But in view of the circumstances, one can sense bad things for those who are to be repatriated in the future.

Burma was an isolated country for decades until all sanctions fell in the 2015 elections. In view of the events of recent months, a reassessment is urgently needed. Sanctions do not have to affect the population. Arms embargoes or punitive measures tailored to military leaders would be taken by those responsible for these atrocities: the army – and thus also the government.