- March 1, 2021
-- The Myanmar military initiated a coup on February 1st, 2021, ousting their democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and implementing a military dictatorship. What could this mean for the brutally persecuted Rohingya Muslims?
In late 2016, the Myanmar military, the same military that initiated the coup, began a brutal genocide on the Muslim-majority ethnic minority of the Rohingya. Villages were burned, thousands were killed, and hundreds of thousands fled to neighboring Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, they were subject to abject poverty and brutal living conditions inside the largest refugee camps in the world. Many were even sent to live on a completely uninhabited island. The Rohingya who stayed in Myanmar are subject to civil rights abuses and are constantly living in fear. These horrific events were defended by Aung San Suu Kyi and ignored by large parts of the mainstream Myanmarese population.
Since the coup, however, some Myanmarese intellectuals have been expressing cautious optimism for the fate of the Rohingya people. This is because the coup may be acting as a disillusioning force for much of the mainstream Myanmarese population. Since the coup, there have been constant, widespread pro-democracy protests against the military dictatorship. Many protestors have expressed a change of heart when it comes to their military: they are realizing they are not to be trusted. For many, this means rethinking their views on the military's treatment of the Rohingya. Indeed, many protesters held signs expressing regret for not supporting the Rohingya, even apologizing to them. In turn, many Rohingya have expressed support of the pro-democracy movement. Hopefully mainstream Myanmar is learning that their common enemy is the military, not the Rohingya.
Of course, there is far to go in terms of justice of the Rohingya; this is just a potential starting point. For one, there is the issue of repatriation:
the Rohingya's right to return home. This issue is immediately complicated by some burning questions: Do the Rohingya even want to return home, after all that's happened? If not, where could they go? The military is now expressing vague support for repatriation, but they are only using the issue as a political tool. They understand the international community is angry at them for this coup, and they're playing with the idea of repatriation in order to win themselves good favor. Remember, this is the same military that conducted the genocide. Their idea of repatriation so far has no guarantee of safety, of the return of their homes, or of citizenship.
Again, after all the Rohingya people have endured, there is a great distance to go before we reach anything we can call "justice". But perhaps we have arrived at some sort of a turning point. Only time will tell.