I’m on my annual “win-a-trip” journey, in which I take a university student — this year it’s Nicole Sganga of Notre Dame — on a reporting trip (she’s blogging at nytimes.com/ontheground). We’ve found dangerous tension and some malnutrition, but by far the biggest problem is medical care. More than 1 million Rohingya are getting little if any health care, and some are dying as a result.
President Barack Obama, in his address a few days ago at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, cited Myanmar as one of the administration’s diplomatic successes. It’s true that Myanmar has made tremendous political gains in recent years — the permission I received to report here is testimony to that — and there is much to admire about the country’s progress toward democracy. But let’s not make excuses for a 21st-century apartheid worse even than the system once enforced in South Africa. As Human Rights Watch has documented, what has unfolded here constitutes ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Likewise, another watchdog group, Fortify Rights, cites internal Myanmar documents and argues that a pattern over the years of killings, torture, rape and other repression amounts to crimes against humanity under international law. Weighed against such abuses, Obama’s criticisms of Myanmar have been pathetically timid.
I’ve seen greater malnutrition and disease over the years — in South Sudan, Niger, Congo, Guinea — but what’s odious about what is happening here is that the suffering is deliberately inflicted as government policy. The authorities are stripping members of one ethnic group of citizenship, then interning them in camps or villages, depriving them of education, refusing them medical care, and even expelling humanitarians who seek to save their lives.
That’s not a tragedy for one obscure ethnic group; it’s an affront to civilization. Please, President Obama, find your voice.