Entire villages of Rohingya Muslims in the Buddhist-controlled country of Myanmar have been wiped out, with survivors reporting incidents of “government soldiers stabbing babies, cutting off boys’ heads, gang-raping girls, shooting 40-millimeter grenades into houses, burning entire families to death, and rounding up dozens of unarmed male villagers and summarily executing them,” according to the New York Times.
Reporting from a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Jeffrey Gettleman tells the harrowing story of Rajuma, a 20-year-old woman who escaped Myanmar after being raped and seeing her whole family murdered in an attack on her village.
In Tula Toli, Rajuma fought as hard as she could to hold onto her baby, Muhammad Sadeque, about 18 months old.
But one soldier grabbed her hands, another grabbed her body, and another slugged her in the face with a club. A jagged scar now runs along her jaw.
The child was lifted away from her, his legs wiggling in the air.
“They threw my baby into a fire — they just flung him,” she said.
She was then dragged into her home where she, along with her sisters were repeatedly sexually assaulted by soldiers. Her sisters, brother, and mother were all murdered and she lost consciousness, waking up later to find the house on fire and fleeing naked into the woods.
Azeem Ibrahim, a Scottish academic who recently wrote a book on the Rohingya, explained that much of the animosity could be traced to World War II, when the Rohingya fought on the British side and many Buddhists in Rakhine fought for the occupying Japanese. Both sides massacred civilians.
After the Allies won, the Rohingya hoped to win independence or join East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh), which was also majority Muslim and ethnically similar to the Rohingya. But the British, eager to appease Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, decreed that the Rohingya areas would become part of newly independent Myanmar (then called Burma), setting the Rohingya up for decades of discrimination.
Myanmar’s leaders soon began stripping their rights and blaming them for the country’s shortcomings, claiming the Rohingya were illegal migrants from Bangladesh who had stolen good land.
“Year after year, they were demonized,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
The Buddhist government of Myanmar claims that they are only going after insurgents, retaliation for a series of attacks on government outposts on August 25, however reports from the ground, like the one from Rajuma, show that the soldiers are killing civilian men, women, and children with impunity—the most devastating massacre occurring in multiple villages between August 25 and September 1. “Some influential Buddhist monks said the Rohingya were the reincarnation of snakes and insects and should be exterminated, like vermin,” says the Times.
Currently, the U.N. has been denied entry into the country. One official has dubbed the slaughter a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”