By Christine Coulter, CBC News
Yasmine Ullah says calling the crisis ‘ethnic cleansing’ makes the international community unaccountable
Yasmine Ullah says the current plight of the Rohingya Muslims — which has forced more than 600,000 refugees to flee Myanmar — is genocide and she wants the international community to recognize it.
Ullah, a Rohingya Muslim who left Myanmar at the age of three, lived in Thailand as a refugee before immigrating to Canada six years ago. She now lives in Surrey, B.C., but remains in constant contact with immediate family in her home country.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch accused the Myanmar military of using widespread rape as a systematic tool to attack Rohingya Muslims.
Rohingya Muslims, a minority group in Buddhist majority Myanmar— also known as Burma — have been facing persecution for decades. Since August 25, they have been flooding into neighbouring Bangladesh, creating a humanitarian crisis.
But Ullah believes using those words makes it too easy for the international community to turn away — despite the fact that all the characteristics of genocide according to the United Nations definition are there, she said.
“The word ethnic cleansing, it doesn’t bring about as much responsibility … It doesn’t bring anyone to be accountable for this,” she said.
Ethnic cleansing vs. genocide
Shayna Plaut, an adjunct professor at the school for international studies at Simon Fraser University, says once something is labelled as genocide, there’s an obligation for the international community to intervene.
“The definition of genocide requires that there is intervention,” said Plaut.
Plaut says this is the reason why the United Nations has never called anything a genocide while it occurs.
“So if you want to say something is bad, but you don’t actually want to put your money where your mouth is, then one of the things you could call it would be ethnic cleansing,” Plaut said.
“Ethnic cleansing is something that is recognized by international law as a very bad thing. It is not something that is recognized by international law as requiring an intervention.”
‘They’re finding it hard to survive’
Ullah has been raising money to help people in Myanmar, where part of her family continue to struggle.
“My uncle has just said to my mom last night that the military have come in and tried to take away men in the villages again and two men were incarcerated yesterday without charges.”
The Rohingya have faced segregation, have been denied education and were stripped of their citizenship in 1982. Ullah said that because her people are not considered citizens, they have no rights.
“My cousin, she is just a few years older than me, and she has two very young children. They’re finding it hard to survive in the country now,” she said.
Ullah said her cousin’s husband is incarcerated and has been for months without charges.
“He doesn’t have any rights to fair trial. So it’s either he will be murdered later on or he would be kidnapped. That’s just the plight of the Rohingya,” she said.
Call for help
Ullah will be heading to Ottawa this week in hopes of spurring members of parliament to take action.
“We cannot just say that we’re going to help with humanitarian aid because this is not going to end the issue. This is not going to end the crimes against humanity.”
Ullah plans to go with Maung Zarni, a long-time human rights activist who studies genocide and has been speaking out on the state-sanctioned violence against Rohingya Muslims for decades.
“I’ve lived all my life thinking that I don’t matter,” Ullah explained.
“My peoples’ experience and whatever we have been through is something that’s not right and someone has to take responsibility and someone has to take a stand against all of these atrocities.”