Are Rohingya Muslims Facing Genocide?

26 April 2017

Olivia Anderson Junior Essay Entry – 3rd Place

It can be stated that Rohingya Muslims, who reside in Burma (Ali, 2016b), are facing a genocide. Genocide can be defined as the systematic slaughter of a people, such as a minority. It is evident that the persecution of the Rohingya has recently become more acute, leading to the consideration of whether the group is facing a genocide. The question as to whether or not the apparent persecution can be characterised as the precursor to a mass annihilation will be examined with respect to the five stages of genocide, as stated by The Economist (2015b) in Figure 1.

Figure 1
The five stages of genocide with respect to the Rohingya people (The Economist, 2015b).

It can be argued that the concept of stigmatisation has been evident in Burma for many years. Stigmatisation can be defined as the withdrawal of rights such as “citizenship” (Ali, 2016b). This is not a recent development; arguably, the denunciation of the minority began in 1982, upon the implementation of the Burma Citizenship Law (Constantine, 2012); the Law did not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, leaving them ‘stateless’. The denial of citizenship catalysed the mistreatment of the Rohingya – Constantine (2012) states that:

The Rohingya of Burma face severe restrictions on the right to marry; they are subjected to forced labor and arbitrary land seizure; they endure excessive taxes and they are denied the right to travel freely.

Evidently the Law accelerated the persecution of the minority. Furthermore, according to the terms of the Law, the Rohingya are not considered as ‘one of Myanmar’s [Burma] official ethnic groups’, but are instead called ‘Bengalis’ (The Economist, 2015b). Hence, it is evident that the stigmatisation of the Rohingya people effectively began upon the decision to deny them citizenship. This is an important factor in the consideration as to whether the Rohingya people are facing genocide.

Following the apparent stigmatisation of the minority, the second stage of genocide (The Economist, 2015b), must be examined. The harassment of the Rohingya has become apparent in terms of the worsening persecution the group faces. The Economist (2015b) likens harassment to ‘religious persecution’ as well as ‘attacks by state security’, both of which have become increasingly frequent occurrences. To elaborate upon this statement, it has been reported that Burma’s military forces have been ‘carrying out “arbitrary arrests”’ and sexually abusing Rohingya women and girls (Ali, 2016b). Sim (2017b) refers to ‘extra-judicial killing’ on the part of the Burmese military, and of the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people. Perhaps the severest aspect of this harassment is the rape of Rohingya women and girls by the military and state security services; Sim (2017b) draws upon numerous accounts from Rohingya women of the unspeakable suffering they have experienced at the hands of those whose duty should be to protect the population. Kentish (2017a) succinctly asserts that the Rohingya have been subjected to ‘murder, rape and arson at the hands of the Burmese military.’ Furthermore, Murdoch (2016a) states that the Burmese army have ‘burnt the Koran’; this indisputably constitutes ‘religious persecution’ (The Economist, 2015b). Burma is a predominantly Buddhist state (Ali, 2016b), thus it is possible to assume that one of the most significant factors contributing to the maltreatment of the Rohingya is the perceived disparity between Buddhism and Islam. The persecution examined above is evidently emblematic of the harassment the minority face, and in this way it can be argued that the second stage of genocide (The Economist, 2015b), has already been realised.

Upon consideration of the question posed above, the third and fourth stages of genocide, namely isolation and systematic weakening, must be investigated. A report by the Sydney Morning Herald (Murdoch, 2015c) likens the treatment of the Rohingya to that of minorities under the Nazi regime during World War II, given the hatred shown to the minority; furthermore, many journalists have attributed the title of the most persecuted minority in the world to the Rohingya, in the face of overwhelming evidence indicative of the beginning of a genocide. Furthermore, it Daniel Feirestein (cited by Green, 2015a), an expert in the field of genocide, asserts that ‘systematic weakening’ is ‘the genocidal stage before annihilation’. Green (2015a) elucidates the situation of the Rohingya:

Those who do not flee suffer destitution, malnutrition and starvation, severe physical and mental illness, restrictions on movement, education, marriage, childbirth, livelihood and the ever present threat of violence and corruption. The Rohingya have been physically and mentally weakened

Green’s (2015a) declaration furthers the perception that the Rohingya are experiencing systematic weakening, through the reference to their loss of fundamental rights and liberties. Furthermore, the ubiquitous oppression the minority is subjected to has prompted a mass exodus of Rohingya to flee to neighbouring states such as Bangladesh (Ali, 2016b), Malaysia and Thailand, in an attempt to escape the appalling mistreatment they experience in their home country. These journeys are extremely perilous – Ali (2016b) asserts that the journey across the Bay of Bengal is ‘three times more deadly … than the Mediterranean’. The fact that the tremendous risks involved with these voyages are preferable, for a considerable proportion of the group, to remaining in Burma, gives a significant insight into the extent of the maltreatment the Rohingya are experiencing. In this way, it is indisputable that the minority are undergoing isolation and systematic weakening in Burma.

Upon conclusion, it is apparent that the Rohingya are, in fact, facing genocide. This claim is supported with reference to Figure 1 and the five stages of genocide; it is evident that these phases have already begun to take place in Burma. The final phase has not yet been actualised, but given the gradual intensification of violence, it is extremely likely that the persecution will reach its climax in the form of genocide, especially when seen in conjunction with the relatively apathetic stance of the Burmese government. Thus, it can be stated that Rohingya Muslims are facing genocide.




Reference List

ALI, R. (2016). ‘Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are suffering. The world mustn’t look away’ The Independent. [online]. 23rd December. Available from: [Accessed 12/01/17]

CONSTANTINE, G. (2012). ‘Between Burma and Bangladesh: Rohingya, a Stateless People’. Pulitzer Center. [online]. 18th April. Available from: [Accessed 18/01/17]

THE ECONOMIST (2015). ‘The most persecuted people on Earth? The Economist. [online]. 13th June. Available from: [Accessed 12/01/17]

GREEN, P. (2015). ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the genocide of Rohingya Muslims is tantamount to complicity’. The Independent. [online]. 20th May. Available from: [Accessed: 12/01/17]

KENTISH, B. (2017). ‘Burma: More than 65,000 Muslims flee alleged persecution in Rakhine state’. The Independent. [online]. 12th January. Available from: [Accessed 18/01/17]

MURDOCH, L. (2015). ‘‘Dehumanisation and stigmatisation’ of Rohingya Muslims based on Nazism: report’. The Sydney Morning Herald. [online]. 29th October. Available from: [Accessed: 18/01/17]

MURDOCH, L. (2016). ‘Rohingya women raped, homes destroyed as Myanmar cracks down on militants.’ The Sydney Morning Herald. [online]. 29th October. Available from: [Accessed: 18/01/17]

SIM, D. (2017). ‘The harrowing stories of Rohingya  women who were raped by Myanmar military’. International Business Times. [online]. 24th January. Available from: [Accessed 19/01/17]

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