News Briefs Sept. 28, 2017

Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar

The Rohingya—an Islamic ethnic minority group in Myanmar—is suffering from the government’s military crackdown. The violent clash between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and Myanmar’s government army on Aug. 25 has produced more than 429,000 Rohingya refugees (The Guardian, “Myanmar: images show Rohingya villages still being burned, says Amnesty,” 09.22.2017).

The conflict between these two groups is not a new occurrence, but has in fact been ongoing for more than a half-century. Unlike the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar, the Rohingya are an ethnic group that have practiced Sunni Islam since the 15th century. For generations, one million Rohingya have lived in Rakhine, a state in western Myanmar, developing their own language and cultural practices (The New York Times, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis.” 09.13.2017),

Despite the scale and history of the Rohingya, the Myanmar government has not embraced them as citizens, even passing a law in 1982 restricting the Rohingya from holding citizenship. Rather, the government has treated them as an illegal immigrant group from Bangladesh under British rule. As a result, the Rohingya have become “one of the largest stateless groups in the world” (The New York Times, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis.” 09.13.2017). In addition to losing their nationality, the Rohingya have been denied resources like basic education and health care and cannot freely move across boarders. These obstructions from social rights have ultimately made Rakhine extremely poor and underdeveloped.

The long tension between the Rohingya and Myanmar Buddhists has provoked violent collisions several times in the past. However, the most recent clash on Aug. 25 resulted in such severe casualties and brutal violations of human rights that it has brought international attention.

In August, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army first started a provocation toward police posts and army base. The Myanmar government responded by carrying out “clearance operations” in order to eradicate every root of rebels. The result of the collision was disastrous. “Killing, raping, burning villages and shooting civilians from helicopters” ceaselessly occurred (The New York Times, “The Rohingya in Myanmar: How Years of Strife Grew Into a Crisis.” 09.13.2017). Moreover, the Myanmar government has halted any humanitarian aid to the Rohingya which has increased casualties even more.

More than 400,000 refugees have gone over the border and ended up in camps in the Bangladeshi district of Cox’s Bazar. However, the camps’ conditions are extremely poor, and Bangladesh cannot support an excessive amount of refugees. Robert Onus, an emergency coordinator for the medical relief agency Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders), pointed out, “The situation in the camps is so incredibly fragile, especially with regard to shelter, food and water, and sanitation, that one small event could lead to an outbreak that may be the tipping point between a crisis and a catastrophe” (The Guardian, “Myanmar: images show Rohingya villages still being burned, says Amnesty,” 09.22.2017).

People around the world are now focusing on the action of Myanmar’s de facto leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. In addition to international human rights organizations such as the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, other countries including the United States and several Muslim nations have urged her to protect the Rohingya and stop the violence between two groups. However, Aung San Suu Kyi cannot currently fully practice her authority, as “the flawed constitution has allowed the military to remain politically powerful and guarantees it control of key ministries including those related to security and defense” (The Guardian, “Myanmar: images show Rohingya villages still being burned, says Amnesty,” 09.22.2017). Nevertheless, last Tuesday, she decided to speak publicly about the genocide. The world is looking forward to the next step toward ending this tragedy.

—Youngju Chang, Guest Reporter

Mexico hit by multiple earthquakes

On Sunday, Sept. 24, Mexico’s coast was shaken by yet another earthquake, this time with a magnitude of 5.9 (out of 12) according to the Mercalli scale. The earthquake struck 99 kilometers southwest of Tonalá. It occurred only one day after the third earthquake in the past two weeks, which had a magnitude of 6.1, and before that a deadly earthquake on Sept. 19 and another on Sept. 7 with magnitude of 8.2, which resulted in almost 100 deaths.

The earthquake on Tuesday, Sept. 19, which hit Mexico City around 1:00 p.m., was one of the strongest and most devastating earthquakes the area has seen in the past 30 years. The earthquake’s epicenter was 123 kilometers from Mexico City, seven kilometers to the west of Chiautla de Tapia in the Mexican province of Puebla. The earthquake shocks could also be felt in the provinces of Morelos, Puebla, México, Guerrero and Oaxaca. Seismologists estimate that the earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1 and was followed by at least 11 aftershocks, the strongest of which had a magnitude of 4. So far it has claimed more than 300 lives.

In the capital alone, the most recent earthquake destroyed at least 38 major buildings. Many others were severely damaged, and streets were filled with dust and the smell of gas (Reuters, “Mexico in three-day countdown to search for earthquake survivors,” 09.26.2017). The city was left in chaos, with many fires and 3.4 million left without power.

More than 200 people died under the ruins, the majority in the capital and its vicinities. South of Mexico City, a 13-story primary school collapsed, resulting in the deaths of at least 21 children and five adults, though the rescue workers managed to save 11 schoolchildren. Authorities estimated that there were about 40 more people trapped under the ruins (CNN, “Fears of building’s collapse as rescuers race to reach girl trapped under rubble in Mexico,” 09.21.2017)

The streets were filled with people, as many Mexicans did not dare to return to heavily damaged buildings, fearing another earthquake. Mexican authorities called on the residents to use public transport instead of cars, as they wished to empty the roads for easier and faster transportation of wounded people to hospitals. A number of ad hoc emergency hospitals were set up. Among the survivors, the most common injuries were fractures due to the falling objects. There are thousands of volunteers, Red Cross workers, police officers, soldiers, firefighters and rescuers on the ground who are continuously searching for more people under the ruins.

Sept. 19 was the 32nd anniversary of another catastrophic earthquake in the Mexican capital (Reuters, “Mexico in three-day countdown to search for earthquake survivors,” 09.26.2017). In 1985, Mexico City was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.0. The earthquake claimed more than 10,000 lives, and almost 30,000 buildings collapsed. Due to the high number of fatalities and material damage of $4 billion, the 1985 earthquake is considered one of the worst in the history of Mexico. On Sept. 19 of this year, many people were reminded of the fatal earthquake of 1985.

The European Union has already offered assistance and expressed condolences to the victims of the earthquake. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her condolences and solidarity with Mexico, while Pope Francis prayed for Mexicans on St. Mark’s Square. Meanwhile, the Israeli army has announced that it will send 70 soldiers to Mexico, including engineers and search-and-rescue specialists.

–Marusa Rus, Guest Reporter

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