Myanmar Stands Accused of Ethnic Cleansing. Here’s Why

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said Monday that recent violence committed by the state against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority appears to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” The Rohingya, a stateless Muslim group in a predominantly Buddhist country, have been subjected to decades of persecution. The emergence last year of an insurgent Rohingya army has further deepened their misery; two separate and fatal attacks on state security forces — on Oct. 9, 2016 and Aug. 25, 2017 — each triggered devastating military reprisals characterized by extrajudicial killing, torture and mass displacement of innocent civilians.

Since the Aug. 25 attacks, more than 370,000 Rohingya and other villagers have fled across Myanmar’s western border by land and water seeking sanctuary in Bangladesh. Arrivals say the military, and some armed civilians empowered by security forces, continue to burn down Rohingya villages and kill indiscriminately. Thousands more Rohingya are arriving each day at overcrowded refugee camps and new, informal settlements near Cox’s Bazaar, where they scramble for meager food rations and a place to sleep. They are exhausted after days of walking barefoot over mountains and across rivers; many have bullet wounds and injuries from arson attacks. New reports claim the Myanmar military has begun laying landmines along the border, and that soldiers have been shooting unarmed civilians even as they try to flee.

The recent exodus is just the latest in several waves of mass migration over the past four decades, and by most measures it is the worst. The Myanmar government has said about 400 people died during the renewed conflict; Bangladeshi officials claim the number of dead has exceeded 3,000. Countless others are now at risk of preventable deaths in refugee settlements and remote areas unreachable by humanitarian aid workers. The total number of Rohingya now sheltering in camps in Bangladesh has reached about 700,000, with new arrivals joining the hundreds of thousands who fled violence in previous years. The exact Rohingya population is unknown (the group was excluded from Myanmar’s 2014 census, the country’s first count in more than three decades), but the number of people displaced over the past three weeks alone could represent more than a third of the estimated 1.1 million believed to reside in Myanmar.

Who Are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority that mostly resides in Rakhine, an…

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