News & CommentaryArchive
May 26, 2008
When Do We Start Calling It Genocide?
It has been move than three weeks since Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy delta, and the Burmese government is still denying hundreds of thousands of people access to aid. Observers estimate that roughly 100,000 people were killed by the storm, while more than two million were left homeless. Without access to food, shelter and sanitation, it’s likely the death toll could easily double or triple. It is also clear that access to the basic necessities is being actively prevented by the Burmese government—not only have outside aid workers been prohibited from entering the country, but those relief supplies that have been allowed in have been diverted. A reporter from the New York Times has smuggled himself or herself into the delta region to see tens of thousands of people lined up along roads waiting for help. The police have begun preventing Burmese citizens from helping their compatriots and are threatening to use force to disperse the destitute begging along the roads.
Meanwhile, the government has agreed to a donor’s conference to solicit aid as long as “there are no strings attached.“ The government is claiming that all relief needs have been met and aid is only necessary for reconstruction purposes, a ploy designed to make it easier for the government to steal aid intended for the storm’s victims. There can no longer be any question that the Burmese government is content to let tens of thousands of its citizens perish—the only question is how actively they desire exactly this outcome.
The situation should remind us all of Cambodia thirty years ago. There, the Khmer Rouge government forced millions of people into camps, where those who were not shot or beaten to death, starved. No one quails from calling the Killing Fields of Cambodia genocide. When will we start calling the willful and purposeful actions of the Burmese government to kill hundreds of thousands of Burmese through starvation, exposure and disease genocide?