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  • Rory O'Keeffe

Rohingyans' parallels with DRC

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, says that Rohingyans have been ‘drained’ by the ordeal they have been put through, including violence, rape and the destruction of their homes by the Myanmar/Burma military, and the subsequent scramble to escape and then attempt to survive, saying of their ‘passivity and almost no response’: ‘You almost felt there was nothing left and that everything had been drained by this. It is a symptom of trauma.

‘We haven’t seen this kind of trauma for a very long, long time. Maybe I saw it in the ‘90s in central Africa.’

Grandi led the UN’s humanitarian response to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ‘civil war’ (in which, in fact 13 nations fought against one another, but in DRC) in which more than 5.4 million people were killed.

That war (officially divided into two conflicts, but as they were fought by almost exactly the same groups, over exactly the same issues, and the second began within a year of the first ending, it is not unreasonable to suggest that they were in fact one war with a short ceasefire) had been started when the Tutsi Rwandan government – which had overthrown the previous regime, run by Hutus, to end the genocide carried out by Hutus against Tutsis – invaded the nation, then known as Zaire, because of attacks by Hutus who had fled to Zaire (about 1.5m people) after the overthrow of the Hutu regime, on Rwanda.

The Rwandan government claimed to have uncovered a plan by Zaire’s government to assist an invasion of Rwanda, and instead invaded Zaire, replacing its President Mobutu Sese Seko (undeniably a corrupt ruler) with the rebel war-lord Laurent Desire-Kabila (who renamed Zaire DRC, ordered all Rwandans and Ugandans to leave the state, and ended up fighting Rwanda himself, after the latter state claimed a large area of DRC as ‘historically-Rwandan’, and invaded once again, and Uganda, which also claimed parts of DRC should belong to it).

The fighting in DRC has never really fully ceased, and bands of armed Rwandans Ugandans, and those who support the DRC government exchange fire not only with one another, but also with militias all over the country. All are reported by the UN to target civilians.

The latter description is important, because not only do people who worked in Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide by Hutus against Tutsis report exactly the same ‘drained and detached’ characteristics among those who suffered, but also because acts of violence in one place are very seldom limited to that one place, and often, that violence creates yet more suffering.

In Myanmar/Burma itself, inside Rakhine state, where the Rohingyans live, aid organisations report that even before the state waged war on the Rohingyan civilian population starting on 25 August, since when more than 622,000 people have fled, Rakhine state Buddhists (referred to by Myanmar/Burma’s military and state leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing as the area’s ‘real citizens’) were blocking deliveries of aid to Rohingyan people.

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