“There We Are Nothing, Here We Are Nothing!”—The Enduring Effects of the Rohingya Genocide
2. Genocide as a Social Process
In genocides, survivors experience a social death, to a degree and for a time. Some later become revitalized in new ways; others do not. Descendants of genocide survivors, like descendants of slaves who were kidnapped, may be “natally alienated”, no longer able to pass along and build upon the traditions, cultural developments (including languages), and projects of earlier generations.
The domestic courts’ interpretation of “intent to destroy a group” as not necessitating a physical destruction of the group, which has also been adopted by a number of scholars…[and] is therefore covered by the wording, read in its context, of the crime of genocide in the [German] Criminal Code and does not appear unreasonable.9
domestic courts did not construe the scope of that offence narrowly. They considered that the “intent to destroy” a group within the meaning of Article 220a of the Criminal Code, as interpreted also in the light of Article II of the Genocide Convention, did not necessitate an intent to destroy that group in a physical or biological sense. It was sufficient that the perpetrator aimed at destroying the group in question as a social unit.10
3. Genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar
And the people are not in peace. (…) they’re thinking about food all the time. I don’t know whether I will be killed today, whether I will be arrested or I can eat food twice… So, this happens since 1942, the genocide started since 1942. So now it’s almost after 60 years, the whole nation became so uneducated not even 1% of the entire nation is educated. And they just think of the food, they just think of the protection. So, the women also became like that. Even if we ask any woman, any Rohingya refugees, if you ask why you came to Malaysia? You know what they will say? “Because we’re not getting food.” They will say that because they don’t know, they’re so innocent that they don’t know why they’re persecuted. This is the main problem.(Interview with 23-year-old Rohingya woman in Malaysia, 2017)
4. Rohingya in Malaysia
It’s just that when you are in another country… people of the society, the police, everyone will make you feel that you’re a refugee and you don’t have any dignity. Something like that. I felt that personally.(Interview with Rohingya woman in Malaysia, 2016)
5. Loss of Rohingya Identity in Malaysia
Thank God, I felt the urge of learning Malay language. Otherwise, friends and neighbours would tease me and think bad of me. My life was difficult when I was small. But I was determined. My parents advised me that we are staying in another people’s country, which means we need to be better …(Interview with Rohingya community leader in Malaysia, 2016)
because Burmese authorities supplied our cows, our land to Rakhine people and there is no justice for us and we are now recognized us foreigners, as Bengali and not recognized as citizens of Burma. After passing standard ten there is no work for us.(Interview with Rohingya elder in Malaysia, 2012)
You know I don’t want my people to be Malaysian. I don’t want my people to practice Malaysian culture. I want my people to practice our own culture our own way, traditional things. I don’t want us to totally become Malaysians or western. I want us to be Rohingyas. I want people to know and call us, recognize us as Rohingya. That’s the thing in me. So people always ask me—Sharifah, people always say that they’re in Malaysia, they have to behave like Malaysian they have to dress up like Malaysian.(Interview with Rohingya community organiser in Malaysia, 2017)
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See the Verbatim records 2019/19 (11 December 2019) and 2019/21 (12 December 2019), The Gambia v Myanmar, https://www.icj-cij.org/en/case/178.
For a discussion of the framework of genocide in the Rohingya context, see (Van Schaack 2019)
University of Queensland Ethics Approval No. 2015000349, granted April 2015. To protect the identity and safety of interview subjects, research data are not shared.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, opened for signature December 9, 1948, 78 U.N.T.S. 277 (Genocide Convention), art II; Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, opened for signature 17 July 1998, 2187 U.N.T.S. 90 (Rome Statute), art 6
For a discussion of ‘groups’ in the purview of genocide, see (Schabas 2009).
Prosecutor v Krstić, Case No IT-98-33-A, Appeals Judgment (23 April 2004), https://www.icty.org/x/cases/krstic/acjug/en/krs-aj040419e.pdf, .
Jorgić, Bundesverfassungsgericht [BVerfG] [Federal Constitutional Court] 2 BvR 1290/99, 30 April 1999, .
Jorgić v Germany, 2007-III Eur. Ct. H.R. 263 .
Jorgić v Germany, .
Lemkin wrote that “[p]hysical and biological genocide are always preceded by cultural genocide…”; Raphael Lemkin, ‘Memorandum on the Genocide Convention’, AHJS, P-154, Box 6, Folder 5, cited in (Moses 2010), p. 34.
For further discussion on treaty interpretation in the context of the crime of genocide, see (Novic 2015).
Prosecutor v Krajišnik (Trial Judgment), International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia, Trial Chamber I, Case No IT-00-39-T, 27 September 2006) , footnote 1701. See also (Quigley 2006) (John Quigley, The Genocide Convention: An International Law Analysis (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), pp. 103–5. for other cases referring to destruction of a group as a social entity.
The OHCHR has noted the discrimination and persecution as ethnic and religious: “The information gathered by OHCHR indicates that the victims of killings, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention, torture, beatings and other violations outlined in this report, were targeted based on their belonging to a particular ethnicity and religion” (OHCHR 2017).
As Malaysia is not a party to the Refugee Convention or Protocol, the UNHCR is solely responsible for refugee status determination and support. However, due to budget constraints, the UNHCR does not provide the kind of support camp-based refugees generally receive and the UNHCR strategy has been to support refugee communities in gaining self-sufficiency and governance to some degree. By now most refugee communities in Malaysia are self-governing and self-sufficient. Rohingya have had more struggles than most others in establishing trusted and well-managed refugee community organisations, see (Hoffstaedter 2015).
For more context about why Malaysia has provided sanctuary to some refugees and not others and the role of religion and culture in this, see (Hoffstaedter 2017).
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature 18 July 1951, 189 U.N.T.S. 137 (Refugee Convention).
The short lived Malaysian Pakatan Harapan government included accession to the Refugee Convention in its 2018 election manifesto, but never made any concrete actions to either ratify or even begin discussions on how the government could safeguard refugee protection in (Fortify Rights 2018).
Corroborating findings and for a report that details more issues in detention facilities in Malaysia, see also (SUHAKAM 2018).
Malkki describes the way camp-based refugees constructed a strong nationalist community identity based on a mythical past and in opposition to the camp administrators, see (Malkki 1995).
This is a pseudonym to protect the identity of this Rohingya refugee.
The issue of schooling and education more broadly is also an issue for camp-based refugees where a loss of cultural identity is linked to language and educational institutions; see (Bakali and Wasty 2020). That said, there are programs running in the refugee camps in Bangladesh that specifically focus on the reclaiming of Rohingya culture; for example, women’s sewing, in The Quilt of Memory and Hope program run by Asia Justice and Rights, https://asia-ajar.org/quiltofmemoryandhope/.
The case brought by The Gambia in the ICJ is an example of a state exercising their obligations under the Genocide Convention. (O’Brien 2020).
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O’Brien, M.; Hoffstaedter, G. “There We Are Nothing, Here We Are Nothing!”—The Enduring Effects of the Rohingya Genocide. Soc. Sci. 2020, 9, 209. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9110209
O’Brien M, Hoffstaedter G. “There We Are Nothing, Here We Are Nothing!”—The Enduring Effects of the Rohingya Genocide. Social Sciences. 2020; 9(11):209. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9110209Chicago/Turabian Style
O’Brien, Melanie, and Gerhard Hoffstaedter. 2020. "“There We Are Nothing, Here We Are Nothing!”—The Enduring Effects of the Rohingya Genocide" Social Sciences 9, no. 11: 209. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9110209