Last Thursday was beautiful. As I walked across the quad in the unusually warm weather for February, I felt sick. I was listening to the NPR “Up First” podcast. This segment detailed the recent discovery of the sites of mass graves in Myanmar. Evidence for these graves came from over three dozen witness accounts, as well as the video footage that one survivor managed to smuggle out of Myanmar and give to an Associated Press reporter in Bangladesh. The video footage depicts mass graves containing half-buried bodies. It appears as if acid was used disfigure the victims’ faces and obscure their identities. This discovery was evidence of the atrocities that the Myanmar Army is committing against the Rohingya people. So why are people not talking about this more? Today, a genocide is occurring, and no major world powers are doing anything.
To give a brief recap, the Rohingya are faction of Muslims who have been persecuted for decades. In August, a group of Rohingya rebels attacked several police and army positions, which resulted in the deaths of 12 officers. In response, the Myanmar Army launched a vicious offensive against first the rebels, but then against Rohingya civilians. Approximately 700,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee to refugee camps in nations bordering Myanmar. A Human Rights Watch analysis found that over 345 villages have been torched by the Myanmar Army. The nation’s leader, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, claims that she does not have authority over the Myanmar Army, or their attacks on the Rohingya. Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize, has been sharply criticized in the humanitarian sphere for refusing to oppose military leaders, and barring human rights groups, U.N. officials and reporters access to regions where the Rohingya used to live. When local Reuters journalists attempted to examine a reported mass grave, they were jailed.
Although former United Nations general Romeo Dallaire declared that the mass atrocities in Myanmar qualify as a “very deliberate genocide,” the international community has done little to stop it. In a recent article for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote, “The global and American responses have been feeble, so Myanmar is getting away with murder and rape intended to change the country’s demography. The lesson that the world’s complacency sends to other countries is that this is an ideal time to eradicate a vexing ethnic group.”
Kristof highlights a dangerous point. Many experts have stated that the Myanmar’s mass abuses and executions of the Rohingya qualifies as genocide, but the United Nations has not intervened, as they would be compelled to do if the UN determined genocide was occurring. Myanmar is not the first of its kind. The Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda has a permanent exhibition called “Wasted Lives.” It pays tribute to mass atrocities – such as those in Namibia, Armenia, Cambodia and the Balkans – that were not classified as genocide under international law. We do not want this to happen in Myanmar. The international community’s refusal to intervene could signal to other regimes that world powers are so caught up in other issues that mass atrocities may be ignored for the time being.
In the United States, for example, politicians are currently largely focused on passing a government spending bill. Though immigration is a controversial issue, the current debate mainly concerns modifying U.S. policies and developing protections for Dreamers. Immigration as it concerns the Rohingya people’s forced displacement was not a subject of Nancy Pelosi’s eight-hour floor speech. It seems as if in the age of Trump, domestic politics have almost entirely consumed our newsfeeds and our thoughts. Though permanent protections for Dreamers are essential, there should more more space for international news, especially on topics of human rights violations.
If you ask most members of the Stanford community, they will likely have strong opinions and firm general knowledge about a slew of domestic issues such as the recent government shutdown, DACA, President Trump and the Nunes Memo. Especially with technology, our society is inundated with constant breaking news updates. Twitter can be a great resource to stay up to date on developing crises and whatever absurd statements President Trump has recently released, but it also can provide a very narrow scope. Even Trending Topics are now specifically tailored based on who you follow and your location. Slower developing crises, especially those without clear U.S. foreign interests, as in Myanmar, don’t always receive the same traction on Twitter. Today, there was more coverage of the Olympics and Elon Musk’s space flight than the genocide in Myanmar.
On Twitter, it’s easy to read about Trump’s recent “assaults on democracy,” how Congressmen are voting, updates from athletes at the Olympics in Pyeongchang and news about the recent stock market downturn. With greater numbers of people leaning on Twitter as the primary source of news, it is quite problematic.
It’s wonderful that people do care so much about domestic issues. Especially in light of our current political climate, it is essential to continue to fight for issues of civil rights and to never become complacent. Yet, domestic politics are only one facet of the news. It is exhausting to keep up with the constant flood of news, especially through social media, but let us not forget that there are other global crises that escape breaking news filters. The genocide in Myanmar is just one example. There are other slow-building crises such as rising sea levels and drought due to climate change that don’t garner breaking news updates right now. In several years it will be too late to create the international frameworks needed to combat these issues. Instead, we will be stuck with a slew of breaking news alerts as cities flood and run out of water.
Across the world, mass atrocities occur too frequently. The voices of people such as the Rohingya are being silenced. World leaders must be held accountable for their inaction. As citizens, we should advocate against human rights abuses, whether they are occurring here, or 7,800 miles away.