News World The Rohingya genocide: A crisis we’ve stopped talking about
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The Rohingya genocide: A crisis we’ve stopped talking about

Thousands of Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Getty
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As the West argues over Brexit, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, a deadly humanitarian crisis continues to rage in a lesser-known country, in southeast Asia.

Myanmar, formerly called Burma, is known for its bustling markets, picturesque countryside and exotic cats.

It’s also become synonymous with mass killings and some of the most awful human rights abuses the world has ever seen.

The target of these atrocities is the Rohingya people.

The United Nations has called them “the most persecuted minority in the world”, and is now mounting a case to charge Myanmar’s military with war crimes.

But the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi has dismissed reports of a Rohingya genocide.

Speaking to a panel of 17 judges at the UN’s highest court on Wednesday, Ms Suu Kyi slammed the case for giving an “incomplete and misleading factual picture” of the situation in Myanmar.

On the final day of the hearing on Friday, she asked the court to remove the case from its list altogether.

Human rights groups aren’t buying it.

Aung San Suu Kyi defending Myanmar against accusations of a Rohingya genocide at the top UN court. Photo: Getty

Unlike most people in Myanmar, where Buddhism is the main religion, the Rohingya people are an ethnic group mostly made up of Muslims and a small number of Hindus. The majority of them live in the poverty-stricken state of Rakhine on the country’s western coast.

Despite living in Myanmar for centuries, the Rohingya have long been treated as outcasts in their own country.

The government has denied them citizenship, instead branding them as illegal immigrants or terrorists from Bangladesh.

About one million Rohingya used to live in Myanmar, but since the military launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing in 2017, more than 742,000 women, men and children have fled to Bangladesh.

Thousands of Rohingya traumatised by mass killings and rape are living in squalid refugee camps along the border, unable to return home.

Rohingya children queue for a blanket in a Bangladeshi refugee camp. Photo: Getty

Conditions remain horrific for the estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Rohingya left behind, where more than a fifth remain locked up in detention camps.

Myanmar’s soldiers have also been accused of routinely using brutal sexual violence to terrorise them, including the gang rape of young Muslim girls.

Entire villages have been razed.

But despite the country’s enormous refugee crisis, Ms Suu Kyi tried to assure the International Court of Justice that it wasn’t the result of genocide.

Instead, the 74-year-old blamed the mass exodus of Rohingya on an armed internal conflict.

“The situation in Rakhine is complex and not easy to fathom,” Ms Suu Kyi told the ICJ at The Hague.

The case was filed by the Republic of Gambia, a small Muslim-majority country in west Africa, with the support of dozens of other Muslim nations.

Ms Suu Kyi admitted the military may have used “disproportionate force” during the conflict, but said the Myanmar government could be trusted to investigate its own possible war crimes.

The Nobel peace prize Laureate, once heralded as a human rights champion, also said the government was working to boost “social cohesion” between the Rohingya people and the rest of the country.

“Mr President, how can there be an ongoing genocide or genocidal intent when these concrete steps are being taken in Rakhine?” she said.

Human rights groups have refuted Ms Suu Kyi’s version of events.

The Global Justice Centre slammed her picture of an internal military conflict with “no genocidal intent” against the Rohingya as “completely false”.

For many Rohingya stuck in nearby refugee camps, life is about to get worse.

The Bangladeshi government is planning to move thousands out of their makeshift tents along the border to a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.

The muddy, uninhabited island emerged from the sea only about two decades ago and there are fears it won’t be able to withstand violent storms during monsoon season.

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