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Why Burma could become another Rwanda

Ahamed Jarmal

14br-ures-of-the-ye-008.jpg

Rohingya Muslims seeking to cross the Naf river into Bangladesh are turned away by border guards. Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images


Burma is ethnically cleansing the Rohingya people. When David Cameron meets the Burmese president tomorrow he must call for it to stop


July 14, 2103

After the genocide that tore apart a nation and killed 800,000 in Rwanda, the world said never again. But nearly 20 years later, we find ourselves on the brink of another campaign of destruction against an entire people. Yet once again it is being greeted with silence.

In Burma, ethnic cleansing is happening. We have seen more human rights violations and attacks on Rohingya minorities in the past two years than in the last 20. Organised in monasteries and on Facebook, a wave of hate is being broadcast against the Muslim Rohingya community in Burma and a new apartheid system is being introduced.

My family regularly get called "dogs" or worse when they walk down the street. The government continues to deny us citizenship, telling us this isn't our home. We can't marry the people we love and are told we're only allowed to have two children per family. We can't travel from one village to another without permission. No other minority in the world faces such extreme and vicious treatment. We are being treated as criminals simply because we exist.

But now the situation is getting really desperate. Mobs have attacked our villages, driving us from our homes, children have been hacked to death, and hundreds of my people have been killed by members of the majority. Thugs are distributing leaflets threatening to "wipe us out" and children in schools are being taught that the Rohingya are different.

Everyone from our community is affected. I was lucky enough to flee 10 years ago when it was simply discrimination, but last year the rising violence forced my brother to flee to Bangladesh. Many people I know have faced appalling abuse and torture in a country they used to call home.

If this sounds all too familiar, that is because it is. This is the same type of racist incitement used to such devastating effect in Rwanda against the Tutsis in 1994. All signs are pointing to a coming horror. Yet the government has not just failed to stop these brutal attacks but is participating in it by inciting violence and fuelling hate.

The Burmese government knows this is happening. The same old generals are still in charge. They may have changed their clothes but their hearts and minds are still the same. We had higher hopes for Aung San Suu Kyi, who may have condemned the violence but still hasn't spoken out in favour of the Rohingya. With the elections just two years away, this is an issue that she won't take on.

Burmese president Thein Sein wants to "harmonise" the country and make it pure. He says "there are no Rohingya among the races" and wants us out of our homes and settled in camps run by the UN so that they can look after us. In the past year, more than 140,000 of us have been forced to live in squalid conditions, yet our government has denied us access to aid and many are desperately trying to flee.

In 10 years' time, it is very possible that my community of 800,000 people will be decimated to little more than 50,000 scattered in pockets, living in fear across the country.

On Monday, Thein Sein will arrive in London to meet David Cameron, then on to Paris to see President Hollande. He will sell his country's transition from international pariah to poster boy for democratic change, trade and investment. He'll also talk trade, with an auction for lucrative mineral contracts up for grabs, and a beauty parade leading to heads of state doing all they can to impress.

Before Cameron and Hollande sign commercial contracts we need them to push the generals to show they will stop the Rohingya being wiped off the map in Burma. Over 1 million people have joined this request, signing an Avaaz campaign to get world leaders to take concrete, accountable steps to stop the violence spreading against my people. The attacks on the Rohingya must be independently investigated, new laws supporting our citizenship must be passed and full humanitarian access is urgently needed to awful camps that are home to thousands of Rohingya.

The only way to stop genocide is to prevent it from happening in the first place. World leaders failed to act 20 years ago in Rwanda, then promised they would never let such horrors happen again. My people are praying they meant it.



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