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With political will, we could stop the mass atrocities in Myanmar

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (retired) is the founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. Dr. Shelly Whitman is the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

The fields of Myanmar are once again awash with the blood of civilians, its skies clouded with the smoke of burning villages. The international community knew this was going to happen long before, but it took no action in the face of clear warning signs.

Since late August, the state army of Myanmar – the Tatmadaw – and aligned vigilante groups have undertaken mass atrocities against the Muslim minority Rohingya, who primarily live in Rakhine State. The impact of this campaign of violence is staggering.

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More than 400,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh for safety in the past weeks, 230,000 of whom are children. Characterized by scorched earth tactics, the systematic campaign of brutal violence will have effects on the Rohingya for generations to come.

While voices of outrage and condemnation have been rightly raised by the international community, such a campaign of ethnic cleansing has been predictable for at least the past five years and fits in with the Tatmadaw's penchant for flagrantly violating international law. This is especially clear when it comes to the rights of children, mirroring a pattern we have seen before in mass atrocities committed in Syria, Rwanda, South Sudan and elsewhere.

Rohingya refugees have told reporters and human rights groups horrifying tales of soldiers and vigilantes targeting children, shooting, burning, raping and maiming them.

Children may also be among the perpetrators of the violence, given Myanmar's record: It is a persistent perpetrator of violence against children, listed by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict for committing grave abuses against children for many years. The Tatmadaw is one of only seven state armed forces listed for the recruitment and use of children.

When a government is willing to use children in their security forces and perpetrate grave crimes against the youngest members of its society, we should not be surprised that they are willing to perpetrate crimes against humanity in full view of the international community.

The world has a deficit of political will to confront mass atrocities, not a lack of knowledge.

The early warning indicators of mass atrocity in Myanmar have been clear and thoroughly reported on for years.

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Human Rights Watch has just released a report describing the current violence in Rakhine as crimes against humanity. They reached the same conclusion with previous violence there in 2016 and 2012. For years, extremists have inflamed the populace with hate speech directed at the Rohingya, leading to outbreaks of mob violence. The Rohingya were intentionally denied citizenship under a 1982 law. None of these actions are new or hidden.

Yet the international community has once more failed to take sufficient action in light of overwhelming evidence.

How do we create the necessary political will in the face of multiple ongoing crises, overburdened international institutions, and a checkered history of humanitarian intervention? By putting children's rights up front in the peace and security agenda, we can open up new avenues for co-operation, diplomacy and action. Protecting children is often a concern that can transcend intractable political differences and demonstrate to opposing sides that they do have some common ground to work from.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most-ratified international convention in history. Key UN Security Council resolutions such as 1612 and 2250 have been unanimously passed in an era of deadlock between the permanent members. Such examples demonstrate that such a strategy can work.

If the international community prioritizes children's rights in addressing the situation in Myanmar, it has an opportunity to decrease the violence currently being directed at children and begin reversing the dire situation on the ground, which five years of political reforms have failed to achieve.

Amidst so much tragedy and suffering, urgent action is needed. While we still must urgently work to end the abuses perpetrated by the Tatmadaw and bring those responsible to justice, we must take stock of our collective failure to prevent mass atrocities and press for the will and capability to ensure it is really never again, not once again.

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