SAU Buzz

Myanmar: Ethnic Cleansing or Genocide?

by Beth Ann Koustas
Posted on Sep 21, 2017

On September 11, the United Nations accused Myanmar of carrying out a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims. Clashes between the Rohingya Muslims and the army of Myanmar have been going on for years. According to the New York Times, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have crossed the border into Bangladesh since August in attempt to escape the military crackdown.

AlJazeera reported that the Rohingya are often called “the world’s most persecuted minority.” They are an ethnic group and are majority Muslim. Currently around 1.1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar. They are not recognized by the government as an ethnic group and have been denied citizenship since 1982. However, they have historically been in Myanmar since as early as the 12th century. Since they are not citizens, the government has restricted their rights and they must receive permission to study, work, travel, seek health care and marry in addition to practicing their religion.

According to AlJazeera, there are reports of troops firing indiscriminately, even at children. Human Rights groups have documented fires in many Rohingya villages. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has reported that more than 370,000 people have fled the violence, with many stuck between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Reuters reported that Bangladesh has complained about Myanmar placing landmines between the borders in attempts to prevent the Rohingya from fleeing. The Myanmar government has denied claims of an ethnic cleansing and said the landmines were laid along the border in the 1990s to prevent trespassing.

Myanmar and its army are predominantly Theravada Buddhist. St. Ambrose University professor Matthew Coomber said the military action goes against Buddhist teachings. He did Graduate Study at Naropa University in Buddhist Studies.

“In Buddhism, you’re looking for peace and harmony,” Coomber said. who did Graduate Study in Buddhist Studies at Naropa University

He said the situation needs to be watched closely, as ethnic cleansing can move into genocide.  Ethnic cleansing is the forced deportation of a group, whereas genocide is the intentional murder of a particular group based on their ethnic, religious or national background.

Coomber said there are ways to help the Rohingya people.

“We’re citizens of the most powerful nation in the world,” he said. “There’s a moral responsibility to at least be contacting our representatives.”

He said it’s important to express your concerns.

“It can seem really little to give a call or write a letter,” he said, “but it really adds up and means a lot.”

To contact Iowa’s senators to express concern on this issue or any other issue, letters or phone calls are an option.

Letters to Joni Ernst can be sent to 111 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510. She can also be reached by phone at (202) 224-3254.

Letters to Chuck Grassley can be sent to 135 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510. He can also be reached by phone at (202) 224-3744