Sir Geoggrey Nice and Francis Wade in Foreign Policy (photo Andre Malerba/Getty Images):
In conflicts that have potential to produce the worst of human atrocities, states and international actors must take action to identify the precursors of mass killing and stop it from ever happening. That's precisely what is needed now in western Burma, where the Rohingya minority faces attacks so violent that state crime experts fear a full-on genocide is in the making. The Muslim minority, numbering around 1 million, shares the state with Rakhine Buddhists, who consider them to be illegal Bengali immigrants. The Burmese government, which shares this view, denies them citizenship as well as limiting their access to education and healthcare. Organized mob violence in late March, which wrecked the entire aid infrastructure serving 140,000 displaced Rohingya, was only the latest in a series of incidents in recent months that qualify as one of five commonly accepted indicators of a genocide.
The Burmese government's apparent reluctance to intervene in the situation — it took the state three weeks and persistent warnings to allow some aid groups to return — should be of pressing international concern. It signals a disregard for the lives of hundreds of thousands of people that can only be influenced by strong global condemnation.
The violence of late March was clearly planned, as were the resultant effects: The mobs effectively cut off access to life-saving medicine, destroyed warehouses storing food donations, and dismantled boats and vehicles used to transport those donations to Rohingya camps. The attackers clearly intended to sever the assistance on which displaced Rohingya rely. In the aftermath, aid workers have reported dozens of preventable deaths just three weeks after the attack, showing that victims of persecution can be made to suffer as effectively by indirect assaults on the support systems as by direct physical attack. (The photo above shows an injured Rohingya woman whose doctor is unable to help her due to a lack of medicine and medical equipment.)
For the Rohingya, deprivation of food and aid, rendered more powerful by isolation, has received little domestic sympathy. But this attack marks the start of a dangerous process: Those Rakhine complicit in the violence have signaled that Rohingya aren't worthy of the essential support mechanisms that a highly vulnerable population requires for its survival.