Genocide in Myanmar?

Yale law students examine the evidence.

In a grim exercise of students’ analytical skills, the Law School human rights clinic has found “strong evidence” of genocide against the Rohingya people of Myanmar.

“There are massive human rights atrocities occurring against the Rohingya,” says Tasnim Motala ’12, ’16JD, coauthor of a report released in October 2015. Because “the evidence indicates genocide,” the report recommends that the United Nations establish a commission of inquiry to make a determination. “This is a situation that the world needs to pay serious attention to,” says Professor Jim Silk ’89JD, director of the human rights clinic.

The estimated 1 million Rohingya are a Muslim minority in mostly Buddhist Myanmar. The Law School report, drawing on existing evidence, notes abuses including murder, torture, rape, detention, and forced labor. In 2012, violence drove an estimated 80,000 Rohingya from their homes.

The abuses were well known when a group called Fortify Rights approached the Law School’s Lowenstein Law Clinic for International Human Rights, asking whether the persecution meets the legal definition of genocide under the UN’s Genocide Convention of 1948.

“The factual findings didn’t surprise anybody,” Motala says. “Our value-add was the legal analysis.”

The 1948 convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” On the question of whether the Rohingya constitute such a “group,” the clinic team—Alina Lindblom ’17JD, Katherine Munyan ’17JD, Elizabeth Marsh ’17JD, and Motala—write that they “fit squarely within the ambit of protection,” because they have “a common history, culture, and language.”

The many prohibited “acts” against the Rohingya are well documented, the report says. That leaves the question of “intent to destroy.” Citing the mass scale of atrocities, “pervasive, derogatory rhetoric,” and targeting of the group, the report finds “strong evidence to inference” of intent. Neither the outgoing government’s US embassy nor Aung San Suu Kyi’s incoming National League for Democracy responded to e-mails seeking comment.

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