2017 marked the 70th anniversary of the partition of the Indian subcontinent. For a period over the summer, you couldn’t turn on the BBC without a programme commemorating the division and condemning the bloodshed that accompanied it. Yet the world is allowing history to repeat itself as we ignore the similar type of division along religious and racial grounds that is causing a humanitarian crisis in Burma.
The parallels to history are remarkable. Like in 1946-47, it’s not just the murder of innocent people that is being committed by the military forces. Women are being subjected to brutal rapes, over 400,000 children are suffering from disease and 600,000 Rohingyas have been made refugees and require food aid. It’s hard to accept that in the modern day events like this are still allowed to happen.
Aung San Suu Kyi, once a heroine of democracy, is now a figure of mistrust, and it must now be questioned whether she is allowing the most heinous of crimes – ethnic cleansing – to happen right under her nose. She has previously refused to acknowledge the existence of the Rohingya people, preferring like most in Myanmar to see them as immigrants from Bangladesh. On the 5th September she declared that military operations against Rohingya villages had ceased, yet the number of people fleeing is steadily rising.
Most people have seen the images on the news. The crying women, the starving children, the condemnation of Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet, despite the fact that a crisis point was reached with the deaths of at least 400 Rohingya Muslims in August and September, no solution has been found. Burma has recently refused to grant a visa to the UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee, who was scheduled to visit in January and report on human rights issues across the country. So far, the response from the world has been weak despite the crisis in Burma reaching an unprecedented scale. The Western world is offering little more than a stern word when in reality, economic aid and political pressure is desperately needed in order to bring peace between the political leaders.
It’s said that we don’t learn from history, and as we approach a new year all indicators point to that being true. World leaders have seemingly learnt little from the slaughters during division of India, the genocide in Rwanda, or the political persecution in Uganda. These are all stand-out moments in history which with hindsight we’re all so quick to condemn. Will 2017 also be remembered as a year where the world stood by?