Tragedy ignored


INTERNATIONAL news coverage is like a carnival parade. Loud trumpets and vivid displays pass by quickly then the noise and spectacle fade into the distance. So it is with appalling stories of tragedy around the world, including the shocking fate of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya people. They were driven from their homes by genocidal Buddhist monks, actively assisted by police and military and condoned by the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman who has brought shame to the Nobel Peace Laureate that she holds.

Despite damning reports and international protests at the savage butchery that caused a tidal wave of 700,000 refugees to flee into neighboring Bangladesh, the Myanmar government has suffered no consequences whatsoever for its reprehensible behavior. It has survived with nothing more than censure thanks to a combination of geopolitics and greed. The politics are clear. If Washington leads its allies into action including sanctions, the vacuum is sure to be filled by Beijing. As demonstrated by its vicious treatment of its own Uighur Muslim minority, a million of whom have been rounded up into so-called “re-education camps” the Chinese government cares nothing for human rights. Moreover, Western companies are busy exploiting the considerable commercial opportunities that opened up after the Myanmar military retreated to the shadows three years ago, allowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy to take partial power.

The misery of the Rohingya and the way in which they were ethnically-cleansed from their homeland in Rakhine Province was conveniently forgotten. And this amnesia continues. This month devastating monsoon rains battered the crowded camps in Bangladesh where the refugees have found a welcome from a fellow Muslim community that itself can hardly afford such generosity. Torrential rain and gales have brought ruinous flooding to camps that have been carved out of hills and jungle. Mudslides have added to the chaos and hampered relief efforts. So far there have only been two reported deaths, but around three thousand people have lost their flimsy shelters. Around 120 make-shift schools have been wrecked and part of the system of latrines established by aid workers has been washed away.

With the 500 millimeters of rain that fell in just three days has come the renewed risk of disease as polluted mud and water swill around the refugee communities. This is a disaster on top of a disaster, another deep wound on top of an already deep gash and a further trauma for a wretched refugees community that has not yet recovered from its traumatic treatment by the cynical and Islamophobic regime of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Yet where are the screaming international headlines about these new horrors? Where is the global media pack of broadcasters and pressmen? And where indeed is the call worldwide for aid and money to ease the new tragedy to which the Rohingya refugees are now subject? The reality is that the once-front page Rohingya genocide story, like a Fourth of July parade, has moved on. Foreign editors always need to interest their audience. Once wall-to-wall coverage of recurring African famines receded because it was believed people were tired of the endless bad news story. In Bosnia the international community acted decisively in the face of a far smaller genocide. But for the Rohingya there is nothing, but a few fine words.