Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

Crisis in Myanmar

THE SCRIPTURES OF JUDAISM, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam condone, justify, and even sometimes encourage the use of violence. In Buddhist texts, it’s just the opposite. Chapter 10 of the Dhammapada reads: “All tremble before violence. All fear death. Having done the same yourself, you should neither harm nor kill.” Another verse reads: “In this world hostilities are never appeased by hostility. But by the absence of hostility are they appeased. This is an interminable truth.” A line from the Metta Sutta reads: “Toward the whole world one should develop loving-kindness, a state of mind without boundaries—above, below, and across—unconfined, without enmity, without adversaries.” This principle of nonviolence, consistent throughout the Pali canon, is partly why many Buddhists are deeply troubled by the current situation in Myanmar—formerly Burma, a majority-Buddhist country—where, particularly in Rakhine State, massive human rights violations are systematically being committed against the Muslim Rohingya people.

Hugging the Bay of Bengal on Myanmar’s western coast, and separated from central Myanmar by the Arakan Mountains, Rakhine State is home to over a million Muslims, most belonging to the Rohingya ethnic group, and over two million Buddhists of the Rakhine ethnic group, who are themselves ethnically distinct from the country’s Bamar majority. The state’s capital is Sittwe, where communal violence erupted in 2012 and relations between Rakhine and Muslims were severed. Things have gotten exponentially worse since then; recent articles published in The New York Times and Al Jazeera exposed mass graves of Rohingya massacred by Burmese troops in September 2017, with acid apparently used to disfigure the bodies beyond recognition. In December 2017, Doctors Without Borders estimated that over 10,000 Rohingya had been killed in the most recent upsurge of violence, and that about 700,000 are living in exile in neighboring Bangladesh and India, causing the UN Human Rights chief to state the situation was “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

For years, there was not enough evidence to declare genocide was occurring, even though there was evidence of systematic rape, forced labor, restrictions of movement, restrictions on marriage and reproduction, and prevention from access to medicine and food rations. International observers said the situation will soon come to genocide if the international community did not immediately intervene. As the Holocaust demonstrated, ethnic cleansing can swiftly become genocide. Prior to 1941, the Nazi effort to expel all Jews from the Reich qualified as ethnic cleansing. The subsequent concentrating and then exterminating of Jews that began in earnest after the US entered the war was clearly genocide. As Penny Green, Director of the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at London’s Queen Mary University, states, “Genocide can begin many years before actual extermination.” In April 2018, Green and the ISCI released a report arguing that the Myanmar government is “guilty of genocidal intent toward the Rohingya.” Then in late August, UN investigators issued a damning report that also concluded Myanmar’s military is guilty of genocidal intent against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, and explicitly called for military officials to face genocide charges.

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