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The Rohingya Crisis and the Meaning of Genocide

Despite evidence of systematic violence against the Rohingya, countries remain reluctant to classify the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State as genocide.

Interview by Camilla Siazon
Kate Cronin-Furman, Interviewee

Human rights groups and UN leaders have condemned the violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority as bearing the “hallmarks of genocide.” Nearly 680,000 Rohingya await their fate in neighboring Bangladesh’s refugee settlements, overextending the country’s already strained resources. Countries have so far done little to alleviate the crisis, and they are reluctant to classify the atrocities as genocide, says Kate Cronin-Furman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. While no intervention is imminent, she says, there are immediate steps countries can take to help Bangladesh bear the refugee burden.

Does the situation in Myanmar fit the legal parameters of genocide?

The crime of genocide requires the intent on the perpetrator’s part to wipe out a group, either in whole or in part. That can be a national group, an ethnic group, or a religious group. What we’re seeing in terms of the Burmese military’s so-called counterinsurgency campaign is behavior that looks like evidence of such intent. There is a bit of a controversy about whether this is ethnic cleansing—whether they are just trying to get them out or they are actually trying to eradicate them. For my money, particularly the especially brutal forms of sexual violence and the targeted attacks on very young children and babies, these are the hallmarks of a genocidal campaign.

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