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Why is Rohingya crisis not classed as genocide?

A man holds his child as he swims across the Bangladesh border
Image: A Rohingya refugee holds his child as he swims to cross the Myanmar-Bangladesh border

Sam Kiley

Foreign Affairs Editor

Sam Kiley

The Rohingya crisis “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, according to the United Nations’ human rights chief.

But it is not yet officially genocide.

:: Babies dumped and left to die in Rohingya crisis

Rohingya children are packed on to a boat heading for Bangladesh

One can only wonder why not, given the definition of the crime in Article II of the UN’s Genocide Convention.

It states that genocide is any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:

(A) Killing members of the group;
(B) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(C) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(D) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(E) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

  1. A child refugee is temporarily detained by the border guard in Bangladesh
    Image: More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh since late August
  2. Rohingya refugees cross the Naf river on an improvised raft
    Image: In desperation, refugees are building makeshift rafts to try to cross the Bangladesh-Myanmar border
  3. More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August
    Image: Young children and the elderly struggle to cope with the lack of food and water, and poor conditions
  4. A mother and father with their two young children
    Image: A mother and father hold their two young children, ahead of the crossing
  5. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingya driven from their homes
    Image: Driven from their homes after a military crackdown, many have lost everything they own
  6. A Rohingya refugee boy cries after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border
    Image: A young Rohingya boy cries as he disembarks from the crossing
  7. Refugees on foot at Sabrang near Teknaf, Bangladesh
    Image: After the perilous raft journey, refugees continue their journey on foot
  8. A girl carries all her possessions on her head
    Image: A girl carries all her possessions on her head as she walks to a refugee camp
  9. A young boy peeps through a bamboo barricade at the Thankhali refugee camp, Bangladesh
    Image: A young boy peeps through a bamboo barricade at a Bangladesh refugee camp
  10. A little girl makes her way towards a makeshift camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
    Image: The Rohingya are regarded as illegal immigrants in Myanmar and most are stateless

Myanmar’s government seems to have met at least A-C of the above criteria. So why the reluctance to call the mass killings and forced deportations genocide?

:: The Rohingya crisis explained

To answer that we must look to Article I of the same convention.

It says: “The contracting parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.”

That’s why the word isn’t being used.

Defining events like this as genocide requires the 147 nations that have signed up to the convention to stop it – by force if necessary.

Rohingya boys reach for humanitarian aid as the Bangladesh military keeps things under control
Image: Many Rohingya have fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh

That’s why back in 1994 the US State Department was swiftly gagged by its own lawyers during the mid-stages of the Rwandan genocide.

:: Geldof handing back Freedom of Dublin in Myanmar protest

They pointed out that if the US accepted that the mass murder of around one million was state-sponsored and ethnically-based then there was an obligation to invade the central African nation.

Instead, the US, UK, and every other country wrinkled their noses at the mass murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus until it was all over and any effort to prevent the slaughter would have been too late.

There’s no appetite to invade Myanmar. Not least because its leader Aung San Suu Kyi is a Nobel peace laureate.

And so the Rohingya, a Muslim population in a largely Buddhist nation, are being “ethnically cleansed” not subjected to genocide – not that they would be able to tell the difference.

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    Louise and David Turpin appear in court for her arraignment in Riverside
    Image: David and Louise Turpin face 94 years in prison if convicted of the alleged torture and abuse

    The parents of 13 children have appeared in court accused of abusing and starving them and chaining them to their beds in their squalid California home.

    David Allen Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise Anna Turpin, 49, their hands and legs shackled, appeared calm as they pleaded not guilty on Thursday to multiple charges of abuse, torture and imprisonment.

    The pair were arrested on Sunday after their 17-year-old daughter jumped out of a window at their home in Perris, about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, and used a mobile phone to call police.

    She had been planning the escape with one of her sisters for two years, but the sibling, who also managed to flee the house with her, became frightened and returned to the property.

    Louise and David Turpin appear in court for her arraignment in Riverside
    Image: Louise Turpin and her husband David reject the allegations

    Prosecutors say the alleged abuse by the Turpins started many years ago when the family lived in Texas, and intensified over time as they relocated to Murrieta, California, in 2010, before moving to their current family home in 2014.

    In a news conference, Riverside County district attorney Mike Hestrin revealed more information about the charges, along with harrowing details of the alleged abuse, describing it as a case of “human depravity”.

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    The children, aged between two and 29, were held captive at home and denied basic freedoms.

    The only thing they were allowed to do was to write in their journals – hundreds of which are being reviewed for evidence.

    They were only allowed to shower once a year, it is claimed, and if they ever washed their hands above their wrists they would be accused of playing with the water and punished.

    Louise and David Turpin appear in court for her arraignment in Riverside
    Image: David Turpin is also charged with committing a lewd act on a child under 14

    The district attorney described the alleged torture as “severe, emotional, physical abuse”, and revealed that at least one of the children had once been hogtied.

    “The victims said as a punishment they would be tied up with ropes but when they were able to escape, their parents began using chains and padlocks,” he said.

    Other punishments included “frequent beatings” and “strangulation”.

    Mr Hestrin said the children would be chained up for weeks, or even months at a time, and would not be freed to go to the toilet.

    The prosecution claims when they were not chained up, they were kept in separate rooms and fed very little and on a schedule.

    It is alleged the mother and father would buy food for themselves but not give any of it to their sons and daughters.

    Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announces charges against David Turpin and Louise Turpin...
    Image: Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin announced the charges

    “They would buy food, including pies, apple pies, pumpkin pies, leave it on the counter. let the children look at it but not eat the food,” said Mr Hestrin.

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    Its is alleged that when the family lived in Texas the parents at one point lived apart from most of their children and would drop off food from time to time.

    Mr Hestrin said the children had been starved so much they were malnourished, their growth was stunted and their muscles deteriorating.

    The eldest, a 29-year-old woman, weighed just over five-and-a-half stone (82lbs), and a 12-year-old appeared to be the size of an average seven-year-old.

    Mr Hestrin said there had been no torture charge filed in relation to the two-year-old because the toddler appeared to be “getting enough food”.

    None of the victims had seen a doctor in more than four years, and none of them had ever seen a dentist, according to the district attorney.

    The Turpin family
    Image: The Turpin family

    “They were not allowed to have toys, although there were many toys found in the house that were in their original package and had never been opened,” he said.

    The victims lacked a basic knowledge of life. Many of the children did not know what a police officer was, he continued.

    When the 17-year-old was asked if there was any medication or pills in the home, she did not know what they were.

    The parents turned their home into a private school called Sandcastle Day School, where the father was listed as the principal and its six pupils were the couple’s younger children.

    However, at least one of the older boys attended college classes, Mr Hestrin said, but his mother would accompany him, wait outside and take him home once his class had finished.

    Mr Hestrin said the entire family would sleep during the day, going to bed at around 4am or 5am, and be up all night.

    When officers raided the home they found one of the siblings, a 22-year-old, chained to a bed and evidence suggesting two others – aged 11 and 13, had been freed moments before their arrival.

    David Turpin and Louise Turpin appear in court for their arraignment in Riversid
    Image: The couple were arrested on Sunday

    The couple were charged with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependant adult.

    David Turpin was also charged with performing a lewd act on a child, a girl, under the age of 14.

    When asked to elaborate on the lewd act charge, Mr Hestrin said: “We are alleging that David Turpin touched one of the victims in a lewd way by using force or fear.”

    The parents – who were married in 1985 in Pearlsburg, Virginia, when he was 23 years old and she was 16 – could each face 94 years in jail if found guilty.

    “A case like that sticks with you and haunts you,” Mr Hestrin said.

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    “Sometimes in this business you are faced with human depravity, and that’s what we have here.”

    The Turpins are next due in court on 23 February.

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