Institutional Scholarship

When States Turn on Their People: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar and Sudan

Show simple item record

dc.contributor.advisor Incantalupo, Matthew Pence, Chris 2019-04-05T14:43:45Z 2019-04-05T14:43:45Z 2018
dc.description.abstract The current refugee crisis of Burmese Rohingya is a shockingly violent modern example of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Myanmar’s military. It brings new attention to the question of why a government would violently expel an ethnic group from its territory. By comparing the case of Myanmar with the well-documented case of ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region of Sudan in 2003-4, this thesis presents a theory of conditions that lead governments to commit ethnic cleansing on their own populations. The cases of ethnic cleansing in Sudan (2003-4) and Myanmar (2017) were orchestrated by their governments and led to massive violence against and displacement of specific ethnic groups. Both were responses to attacks against the government by rebel groups in peripheral regions with long histories of ethnic conflict (Beech 2017; Crilly 2010). In Darfur, as many as 400,000 were killed and 2.5 million displaced (Crilly 2010). The case of Myanmar is quite recent to make accurate estimates for the number killed, but MSF surveys suggest at least 6,700 were killed “in the most conservative estimations” (Médecins Sans Frontieres 2017). According to satellite images, 354 villages have been burned, and over 647,000 have fled to camps in Bangladesh since August 2017 (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2018; Human Rights Watch 2017). The Sudanese government used militias of Arab ethnic groups to carry out much of the violent campaign which targeted black Africans(Flint and De Waal 2008) while in Myanmar the army led the violence against the largely Muslim Rohingya ethnic group, with only limited support from militias of other ethnic groups, mainly Buddhists(Rowlatt 2017). In both cases, the perpetrators used torture and rape as weapons of war. Civilians, including women, children and the elderly, were not spared from the violence. First, this thesis summarizes relevant literature on ethnic cleansing. It first addresses theories of ethnic conflict, noting convergence among some scholars that such conflict is most often incited by political elites – “ethnic entrepreneurship” – rather than by “primordial” explanations that see conflict as inevitable due to the content or history of the differences between groups (Wimmer 2008; Posner 2004; Brubaker 2004). This focuses our attention in the two cases here on how government and ethnic elites used their power to incite conflict and violence, ultimately leading to ethnic cleansing. The section then discusses studies and theories on the relationship between democratization and ethnic cleansing, particularly of interest to the case of Myanmar which is undergoing a (far from complete) democratic transition. I note a convincing theory that democratization often leads to greater incentives for ethnic entrepreneurship, which in turn leads to increased ethnic conflict (Snyder 2000). After giving more background on ethnic politics in Sudan and Myanmar, this thesis presents a novel theory of government-led ethnic cleansing that attempts to explain in more detail the circumstances that lead governments to ethnically cleanse their own people. The theory finds two necessary but insufficient conditions for ethnic cleansing: a socially-constructed definition of the nation that excludes an ethnic group, and a perception on the part of the government that the ethnic group poses a threat to its rule. The theory also presents three contributory variables that increase the likelihood of ethnic cleansing: authoritarian rule or unconsolidated democracy, a history of military rule, and a weak state. Finally, the theory suggests that colonialism leads to the contributory variables in the country even long after it gains independence, putting countries with a history as a colonial holding at greater risk for ethnic cleansing. I then offer evidence from the two cases to support the various parts of the theory, finding substantial evidence for all aspects except for the impact democratization has on the cases. Neither case has strong enough democratic institutions to know whether the opinions of the populous had a significant impact on the decisions made by political elites, and neither has strong liberal norms of personal rights. Thus, any assertion for what might have occurred with stronger democratic institutions would be conjecture. Future research could resolve this by studying cases of ethnic conflict in democracies, with a focus on how the democratic institutions relate to the use violence or lack thereof (Snyder and Mann are two valuable contributions in this vein (Snyder 2000; Mann 1999)). The seventh section concludes with a review of the key findings, limitations of the study, implications of the findings, and areas for future research. I suggest that efforts to prevent ethnic cleansing should pay particular attention to ethnic conflict in states with weak democratic institutions, histories of military rule and/or weak states. I also propose that such efforts should work to reduce these three factors in countries at risk for ethnic violence.
dc.description.sponsorship Haverford College. Department of Political Science
dc.language.iso eng
dc.subject.lcsh Genocide -- Sudan -- Political aspects
dc.subject.lcsh Genocide -- Burma -- Political aspects
dc.subject.lcsh Democratization -- Sudan
dc.subject.lcsh Democratization -- Burma
dc.title When States Turn on Their People: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar and Sudan
dc.type Thesis
dc.rights.access Open Access

Files in this item

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

Show simple item record Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as



My Account