History will not look kindly upon those who fail to protect the Rohingya from genocide, writes Rushanara Ali
The Rohingya people, currently seeking refuge in the south eastern Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar, are in a state of uncertainty. Following failed plans of repatriation from Bangladesh to Myanmar, their future remains unknown.
I visited Cox’s Bazar in July, where over 700,000 Rohingya refugees are crammed into an area of only five square miles. They were forced to relocate there after fleeing a brutal crackdown by Myanmar’s military in August last year, which was described by a United Nations fact-finding mission as a genocide.
During my visit, I heard terrifying stories that were difficult to even comprehend: families being separated, daughters being raped and killed, children being burnt alive.
The attacks by the military came after a lengthy online campaign initiated by those in power to demonise the Rohingya people. Hidden behind fake accounts, officers exploited the wide reach of social media to promote their divisive rhetoric and create a culture of suspicion and anger.
Whilst social media platforms cannot be wholly blamed, the UN fact-finding mission singled out Facebook as a tool used to disseminate hate speech and concluded that it played a ‘determining role’ in inciting violence against the Rohingya.
There are no easy solutions to this crisis. But, we must do everything possible to seek justice and accountability for the Rohingya. For many years, I have campaigned against the persecution of the Rohingya, and other minorities, who have been subject to horrific acts of violence by Myanmar’s military. Earlier this year over 160 Parliamentarians urged the UK government to refer the military to the International Criminal Court, a recommendation put forward by the UN fact-finding mission in August this year.
These are particularly turbulent times for the Rohingya people, as only a few weeks ago, in the run-up to the planned repatriation date, there were reports of an increased military presence in the camp, which, according to the UN high commissioner for human rights has caused a state of ‘terror and panic’ in the camp.
All of the families placed on a list for repatriation refused to return to Myanmar, as they were too afraid of the current conditions. It is imperative that any return is safe, dignified and crucially, voluntary.
It will never be safe as long as Myanmar’s military believes the international community will allow them to get away with the slaughter, rape, torture and displacement of the Rohingya people on such a scale that it constitutes genocide.
The international community must ensure that people in positions of responsibility are held to account for their actions before any repatriation can take place, or a cycle of violence and acts of genocide will continue.
It is time for the global community to do everything it can to support the Rohingya and hold those responsible for this disaster to account.
Rushanara Ali is the member of parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow. She tweets @rushanaraali
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