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Reflections on the Rohingya Genocide: Advancing International Solidarity Three Years Later

UUSC's founding during the Holocaust drives our support for the human rights and dignity of the Rohingya people.

By UUSC Staff on September 2, 2020

Header Photo: Malaysia-based organization Elom Empowerment, a Rohingya-led community center, conducts youth capacity building trainings and facilitates food distribution for Rohingya refugees in and around Kuala Lumpur. Photo Credit: Elom Empowerment

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Upcoming Event: On Thursday, September 24 at 7 pm (EST), UUSC will host an engaging learning session on the Rohingya genocide, also known as the genocide of the 21st century. This will be a thought-provoking discussion on what we can do to support the Rohingya, and the conversation will draw deep parallels to the Holocaust 80 years ago. It includes an interactive online exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (which should be viewed prior to the event) walking us through the lived experience of the Rohingya, and Burma’s systematic attack on the Rohingya people that lead to the devastating genocide that took countless lives and displaced well over half a million Rohingya. Please join us on September 24 to learn more and engage in a discussion around how to best support the Rohingya: register here.

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August 25 was the three-year mark of what has come to be known across the world as Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day. In a global show of solidarity and to build a greater awareness of the ongoing human rights disaster that the Rohingya community is facing, Rohingya grassroots activists, human rights organizations, and international NGOs held an array of virtual events to commemorate the still untold number of lives lost and the more than 730,000 who were violently expelled by the Burmese military in 2017 from their homes in Burma.

Last week’s commemorations were notably different from those of previous years. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, communities were limited to virtual gatherings, and in-person rallies like the one last year which attracted more than 100,000 Rohingya refugees in the sprawling Bangladesh-based camps—the world’s largest—were ruled out due to social restrictions and an ongoing, government-enforced internet blackout. Despite the limitations of social distancing, however, many of UUSC’s grassroots Rohingya partners and other allied organizations in the diaspora were able to convene discussions and solidarity events harnessing internet conference technologies to bring together community members who had often been siloed or separated.

For example, leaders from the Malaysia-based Rohingya Women Development Network (RWDN) held a Rohingya-language discussion entitled, “Rohingya Women Speak: Genocide and their Experience,” which brought together six prominent Rohingya women leaders and attracted more than 61,000 viewers. Earlier in the month, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation—UK (BROUK) organized a learning trip for UK-based Rohingya youth to visit the Nazi-era Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland to learn about the genocide perpetrated during the Holocaust. Last week, those youth led a webinar to share their personal impressions from Auschwitz and to build awareness among other Rohingya youth about learning from the past to stand up against injustice today.

In addition to sharing experiences and building solidarity, the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) released a critical new human rights report to coincide with the genocide commemorations. In a virtual press conference that included journalist and human rights activist allies, a Rohingya researcher, and community leader, BHRN exposed critical new data and analysis uncovering the ongoing persecution of Rohingya in Burma as it relates to the Freedom of Movement and the weaponization of policies and laws against the minority community even as the genocide case against the Burmese government proceeds at the International Court of Justice.

Perhaps what is most inspiring and notably different during this year’s commemoration—the first since the prospects for international justice have gained traction across various international courts and legal mechanisms—is that a wide range of Rohingya activists from around the world are taking the lead to develop their own platforms for community mobilization and international engagement.

Given its founding as a rescue organization during the Holocaust, UUSC is resolute in its commitment to stand with and support Rohingya grassroots activists and leaders in their pursuit of human rights, justice, and accountability for the genocidal crimes being committed against the Rohingya people. As a U.S.-based human rights organization, there are multiple ways to advance solidarity and build greater support for the Rohingya cause. In addition to its general funding support for grassroots human rights organizations, UUSC recently joined a campaign among NGOs to pressure the U.S. State Department to make a formal legal determination of genocide as it relates to the Burmese government’s violent actions and policies against the Rohingya. Such a determination would further advance the international work of our grassroots human rights partners and pave the way for more coordinated international action and multilateral support for the ongoing justice processes occurring at the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, among others.

To further build awareness of the Rohingya genocide among the UU community, as well as promote ways that individuals and congregations can help to make a difference, UUSC has also created a unique resource and discussion guide that pairs with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s new online Rohingya exhibit, “Burma’s Path to Genocide.” This guide will help inform the discussion for our online panel on September 24.

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About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

Photo Credit: Elom Empowerment

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