Saturday, March 23

UCLA hosts panel discussing Rohingya crisis in Myanmar

A panel of law and sociology professors talked about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar during an event Wednesday.  (Quanzhao "Ari" He/Daily Bruin)

A panel of law and sociology professors talked about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar during an event Wednesday. (Quanzhao "Ari" He/Daily Bruin)

UCLA experts in human rights and mass violence drew parallels between the ethnic cleansing currently occurring in Myanmar with past events, such as the Holocaust, at an event Wednesday.

The UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies hosted a panel about violence against the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar. The event, which about 100 people attended, featured panelists including law and sociology professors who said the ethnic cleansing occurring in Myanmar could be categorized as a genocide.

The Rohingya are a majority Muslim indigenous group in Myanmar, the Buddhist-majority country formerly known as Burma.

Geoffrey Robinson, a Southeast Asian history professor, said about 700,000 Rohingya have been displaced to Bangladesh and other nations in the last year.

“Impartial observers will say it has all the hallmarks of a genocide, and it’s definitely an ethnic cleansing,” he said.

The group has been targeted by the Burmese military since the end of British colonization in the 1950s, and has been especially targeted in the past two years, according to the Burkle cCenter.

Ko Ko Naing, a founding member of the Los Angeles Rohingya Society and panelist at the event, said the Rohingya, who primarily live in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, are restricted from worshipping, traveling, marrying and pursuing an education.

“According to the Burmese government, I don’t exist. Growing up in Rakhine is like segregation,” Naing said. “My uncle and cousin had to do forced labor in concentration camps.”

Amjad Mahmood Khan, a panelist and UCLA law professor who specializes in asylum and refugee law, said he thinks it is difficult to prosecute Myanmar officials who engaged in ethnic cleansing against Rohingya people because their actions are not currently considered genocide.

“The word ethnic cleansing has no meaning under international law, only rhetorical force. Many have called (the violence against the Rohingya group) ethnic cleansing, but that is not a crime under international law,” he said. “Whether you call it a genocide – which the U.S. hasn’t, by the way – it is a crime against humanity, and it is the largest forcible deportation of a population since Rwanda.”

Robinson added that whether the Myanmar government’s action is considered a genocide is contested because the definition of genocide is vague.

“The reason for this contention is the definition is difficult to nail down,” he said. “Regardless of what the legal definition says, the term is usually invoked when vast numbers are killed.”

Khan said he thinks by removing economic sanctions on Myanmar, the United States has worsened the situation by emboldening the government to crack down on Rohingya villages.

The United States imposed a ban on exports from and imports to Myanmar from 2003 to 2016, when former President Barack Obama lifted the sanctions.

He added that because the Rohingya people are of a different ethnic group than the majority of the Myanmar population, the government thinks they should not be citizens.

Aliza Luft, an assistant professor of sociology and panelist, said her grandparents were all Holocaust concentration camp survivors. She added her background motivated her work to study genocide and ethnic cleansing in places like Myanmar and Rwanda.

“My family history alerted me to complicated decisions like why people assist genocide or how they resist it,” she said. “I’ve been fascinated with exploring why people choose assisting or resisting ever since.”

Luft said she thinks citizens should stop supporting corporations that do business in Myanmar, such as Chevron Corp. and Bulgari Diamonds.

Naing said he thinks the General Assembly of the United Nations must act to protect the group by sending a peacekeeping force to guard the Rakhine state. He added the Myanmar regime is surviving because it conducts trade with China, Singapore and Russia.

Robinson said he thinks people should not be divided on whether the number of Rohingya deaths has reached the threshold of being defined as a genocide, but must instead raise awareness about the growing violence and call on international governments to intervene.

“One other way to look at (the situation) is as a rare moment when we know enough in time to do something,” he said.

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Assistant News Editor

Sekar is the 2018-2019 assistant news editor for the national and higher education beat. She was previously a news contributor. Sekar is a second-year political science and economics student and enjoys dogs, dancing, and dessert.


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  • Thein Maung

    genocide in the region is what happened in Bangladesh, when the Urdu Speaking Muslims SLAUGHTERED more than 2 million Bengali Speaking Muslims, one might even use the term FRATRICIDE.
    What one must always bear in mind Cause & Effects – 1946 when the Bengali Muslim (so called Rohingyas) leadership in Yakhine State petitioned Mr Ali Jinnah of Pakistan to incorporate portions of Yakhine State into the then East Pakistan (Bangladesh) – TO BE WITH THEIR MUSLIM BROTHERS, to the credit of Mr Jinnah, the petition was refused – failing on this divisive ploy, the Mujahideen Insurgency as instigated by the Bengali Muslim (Rohingya) leadership, supported by the Muslims. K K Naing has very conveniently kept the experts ignorant of the facts.
    Myanmar has applied it’s rights to protect their sovereignty and any as a consequence of loss of lives – to borrow a US phrase ” COLLATERAL DAMAGE” must be expected.


      I wonder where you’re actually getting your sources from? Did you even know that Rohingya leaders tried convincing the rebels(whom you’re nicely trying to portray the Rohingyas to be) to end the. Rebellion. You have not a clue at all what you’re saying. These rebels were an assortment of individuals from all over. The majority of the Arkan Muslims at that time( Many of them Rohingya) not only refrained from supporting the rebellions, but they themselves in fact were victims of the rebel too. So it really puzzles me how you could claim that the Mujahideen insurgency was instigated by the Rohingyas. Furthermore, it was indeed the Rohingya leaders who in 1948 demanded that President U Nu provide them with arms to fight the rebels instead. The demand was repeated in 1950 and 1951 but their plea went unheeded. Nonetheless, why is the Burmese government cracking down on Rohingyas so hard in this 21st century. There can never ever be any justifications on the mass atrocities being inflicted upon the Rohingyas. I believe you’re a Buddhist Mr thein maung, and no way ever will the teachings of Buddhism condone whatever your military has been putting the Rohingyas to for decades. These are all human lives we’re talking about here. Do you seriously think it is right for babies to be killed, women to be raped, men to be killed just because of their religion and ethnicity. This is crazy. The masses in Burma have been heavily brainwashed by the Burmese government and sadly you fall under one of them sheeps. Do some proper research before spouting nonsense and look for credible scholarly sources. This genocide has got to end. Whether you like it or not Rohingyas are humans and the Burmese government has to recognize their existence. In this modern day where technology is so advanced, the whole world is getting more aware of what’s going on. Be a normal human being and stop turning a blind eye to injustice occurring.