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Destroyed Rohingya village in Rakhine state, September 2017
|Date||9 October 2016 – January 2017|
25 August 2017 – present
|Location||Rakhine State, Myanmar|
|Theme||Military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar's armed forces and police|
|Motive||Anti-Rohingya sentiment, Islamophobia|
 (2019-present)
|Publication bans||Media access in northern Rakhine State is heavily restricted by the Burmese government.|
The Rohingya genocide is a series of ongoing persecutions by the Myanmar (formerly Burmese) government against the Muslim Rohingya people. The genocide has consisted of two phases to date: the first occurred from October 2016 to January 2017 and the second has been occurring since August 2017. The crisis forced over a million Rohingya to flee to other countries. Most fled to Bangladesh while others escaped to India, Thailand, Malaysia, and other parts of South and Southeast Asia.
The largest wave of Rohingya to flee Myanmar happened in 2017, which resulted in the largest human exodus in Asia since the Vietnam War. The 2016 military crackdown on the Rohingya people drew criticism from the UN (which cited possible "crimes against humanity"), the human rights group Amnesty International, the U.S. Department of State, the government of neighboring Bangladesh, and the government of Malaysia. The Burmese leader and State Counsellor (de facto head of government) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for her inaction and silence over the issue and has done little to prevent military abuses. Myanmar has also drawn criticism for the prosecutions of journalists under her leadership.
In late 2016, Myanmar's armed forces and police started a major crackdown on the Rohingya people in Rakhine State in the country's northwestern region. The Burmese military have been accused of ethnic cleansing and genocide by various United Nations agencies, International Criminal Court officials, human rights groups, journalists, and governments including the United States. The UN has found evidence of wide-scale human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings; gang rapes; arson of Rohingya villages, businesses, and schools; and infanticides, which the Burmese government dismisses as "exaggerations".
Using statistical extrapolations based on surveys conducted with a total of 3,321 Rohingya refugee households in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, a study estimated in January 2018 that the military and local Rakhine Buddhists killed at least 24,000 Rohingya people and perpetrated gang rapes and other forms of sexual violence against 18,000 Rohingya Muslim women and girls, 116,000 Rohingya were beaten and 36,000 were thrown into fires.
The military operations displaced a large number of Rohingya people that spurred a refugee crisis. According to UN reports, over 700,000 Rohingya people had fled or had been driven out of Rakhine State and took shelter in neighboring Bangladesh as refugees as of September 2018. In December 2017, two Reuters journalists who were covering the Inn Din massacre were arrested and imprisoned. Foreign Secretary Myint Thu told reporters Myanmar was prepared to accept 2,000 Rohingya refugees from camps in Bangladesh in November 2018.
The 2017 persecution against the Rohingya Muslims and non-Muslims has also been declared as ethnic cleansing and genocide by various UN agencies, ICC officials, human rights groups, and governments.
The UN described the persecution as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing". In late September 2017, a seven-member panel of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal found the Burmese military and authority guilty of the crime of genocide against the Rohingya and the Kachin minority groups. Suu Kyi was again criticized for her silence over the issue and for supporting the military actions.
Subsequently, in November 2017, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a deal to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State within two months, which drew mixed responses from international onlookers.
In August 2018, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared that Burmese military generals should be tried for genocide when they reported their findings of the investigation into the August–September 2017 events.  On 24 September 2018, Jeremy Hunt, the British Foreign Secretary, held a meeting with some other foreign ministers on the sideline of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the crisis in Rohingya.
The Rohingya people have been described as "amongst the world's least wanted" and "one of the world's most persecuted minorities" by the UN. The Rohingya are deprived of the rights to move freely and to receive higher education. They have officially been denied Burmese citizenship since 1982 when the Burmese nationality law was enacted. However, their persecution and marginalization predate the passage of this law (which only formalized the legal discrimination against them) which included denying their right to receive all essential services and means of support. They are not allowed to travel without official permission. Previously, they were required to sign a commitment not to have more than two children; however, this law was not strictly enforced. They may be subjected to routine forced labor, during which a Rohingya man will typically have to give up one day a week to work on military or government projects and give up one night a week to perform sentry duty. The Rohingya have also lost much of their arable land to the military; land was later distributed to Buddhist settlers who have migrated there from other regions of Myanmar.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia, bounded by the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, and India to the west, and China, Laos ,and Thailand to the east. Democracy has only existed in Myanmar since 2011 when the country's military made an arrangement with the opposition, under which a free election was permitted to be held on November 8, 2015. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was promoted to the presidency of Myanmar after having spent years under house arrest.
The population of the western coastal province of Rakhine State is predominantly Buddhist Rakhine (4% of Myanmar's total population, about 2 million people) while the Rohingya (2% of Myanmar's total population, about 1 million people) are predominantly Muslim. Tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities have frequently led to violence in Rakhine State, with nationalist Buddhists often targeting Rohingyas. The Rohingya are a distinct ethnicity with their own language and culture, but claim to have a long historical connection to Rakhine State.
The Rohingya claim to be the descendants of Arab traders who settled in the region many generations ago. Some scholars stated that they have been present in the region since the 15th century while others argue that although a few Rohingya trace their ancestry to Muslims who lived in Arakan during the 15th and 16th centuries, most arrived with British colonialists during the 19th and 20th centuries.  Despite these claims, they have been denied citizenship by the government of Myanmar, who considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Events leading up to the 2016 persecutions
The persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar dates back to the 1970s. Since then, the Rohingya people have been persecuted on a regular basis by the government and nationalist Buddhists. The tensions between the various religious groups in the country were often exploited by past military rulers of Myanmar. Amnesty International notes that the Rohingya suffered human rights violations under past military dictatorships since 1978, and many of them have fled to neighboring Bangladesh as a result. In 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assisted with the repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps threatened this effort. In 2015, 140,000 Rohingyas remained in IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps after communal riots in 2012.
In 2015, the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School found "strong evidence that genocide is being committed against Rohingya." After eight months of analyzing whether the persecution of the Rohingya in Rakhine State satisfied the criteria for genocide, the study found that the Burmese government, with the help of extremist Buddhist monks, was responsible for ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Rohingya.
The situation in Rakhine State is grim, in part due to a mix of long-term historical tensions between the Rakhine and Rohingya communities, socio-political conflict, socio-economic underdevelopment, and a long-standing marginalization of both Rakhine and Rohingya by the Government of Burma. The World Bank estimates Rakhine State has the highest poverty rate in Burma (78 percent) and is the poorest state in the country. The lack of investment by the central government has resulted in poor infrastructure and inferior social services, while lack of rule of law has led to inadequate security conditions. Members of the Rohingya community in particular reportedly face abuses by the Government of Burma, including those involving torture, unlawful arrest and detention, restricted movement, restrictions on religious practice, and discrimination in employment and access to social services. In 2012, the intercommunal conflict led to the death of nearly 200 Rohingya and the displacement of 140,000 people. Throughout 2013–2015 isolated incidents of violence against Rohingya individuals continued to take place.
Initial border incidents
According to Myanmar state reports, on 9 October 2016, armed individuals attacked several border police posts in Rakhine State and left nine police personnel dead. Weapons and ammunition were also looted. The attack took place mainly in Maungdaw Township. A newly formed insurgent group, Harakah al-Yaqin, claimed responsibility a week later.
Facebook's role in the genocide
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2020)
As early as 2013, Aela Callan, an Australian documentary maker, met with a Facebook executive to discuss anti-Rohingya hate speech. Elliott Schrage, Facebook’s most senior communications and policy executive, "didn’t connect [her] to anyone inside Facebook who could deal with the actual problem".
In 2015, tech entrepreneur David Madden gave a presentation to Facebook managers on how Facebook was being used to stir up hate in Myanmar. At the same time, the platform had 7.3 million active users in Myanmar but only around four Burmese speakers reviewing Myanmar content.
In 2018, Facebook admitted it was "too slow" to respond.
Following the border post incidents, the Burmese military began a major crackdown in the villages of northern Rakhine State. In the initial operation, dozens of people were killed and many were arrested. Casualties increased as the crackdown continued. Arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, brutalities against civilians, and looting were carried out. Media reports stated hundreds of Rohingya people had been killed by December 2016, and many had fled Myanmar as refugees to take shelter in the nearby areas of Bangladesh.
In late November, Human Rights Watch released satellite images which showed about 1,250 Rohingya houses in five villages burned down by security forces. The media and human rights groups frequently reported intense human rights violations by the Burmese military. During one incident in November, the Myanmar military used helicopter gunships to shoot and kill villagers. As of November 2016, Myanmar has yet to allow the media and human rights groups to enter the persecuted areas. Consequently, the exact figures of civilian casualties remain unknown. Rakhine State was termed an "information black hole".
Those who fled Myanmar to escape persecution reported that women had been gang raped, men were killed, houses were torched, and young children were thrown into burning houses. Boats carrying Rohingya refugees on the Naf River were often gunned down by the Burmese military.
On 3 February 2017, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report based on interviews with more than 200 Rohingya refugees, which said that the abuses included gang-rape, mass killing, and killing children. Nearly half of the interviewees stated that family members of theirs had been killed. Half of the women interviewed stated that they had been raped or sexually assaulted: the report described the sexual violence as "massive and systematic". The army and police were alleged to have burned "homes, schools, markets, shops, and mosques" belonging to or used by the Rohingya people.
In March 2017, a police document obtained by Reuters listed 423 Rohingyas detained by the police since 9 October 2016, 13 of whom were children, the youngest being ten years old. Two police captains in Maungdaw verified the document and justified the arrests; one of them said, "We the police have to arrest those who collaborated with the attackers, children or not, but the court will decide if they are guilty; we are not the ones who decide." Burmese police also claimed that the children had confessed to their alleged crimes during interrogations and that they were not beaten or pressured during questioning. The average age of those detained is 34, the youngest is 10, and the oldest is 75.
On 24 October 2018, Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, reported examples of atrocities committed by Myanmar Security forces against Rohingya Muslims. This Independent International Fact-Finding Mission was established in 2017 by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The military crackdown on Rohingya people drew criticism from various parties. Human rights group Amnesty International and organizations such as the United Nations have labeled the military crackdown on the Rohingya minority a crime against humanity and they have also said that the military has made the civilians the targets of "a systematic campaign of violence".
Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized in particular for her silence and lack of action over the issue, as well as for failing to prevent human rights abuses by the military. She stated in response: "show me a country without human rights issues." The former head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, after a week-long visit in the Rakhine state, expressed deep concern about reports of human rights violations in the area. He was leading a nine-member commission which was formed in August 2016 to look into and make recommendations on improving the situation in the state.
The U.S. Department of State expressed concern about the violence in Rakhine State and the displacement of Rohingyas. The government of Malaysia has condemned the crackdown in Rakhine State, with ongoing protests in the country. In a protest rally in early December, Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak criticized the Myanmar authority for the military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, and described the ongoing persecution as "genocide". Malaysia stated the situation was of international concern and termed the violence against Rohingya Muslim minority as "ethnic cleansing". Malaysia also cancelled two football matches with Myanmar to protest the crackdown.
In November 2016, a senior United Nations official, John McKissick, accused Myanmar of conducting ethnic cleansing in the Rakhine state to free it from the Muslim minority. McKissick is the head of a UN refugee agency based in the Bangladeshi town Cox's Bazar. Later that month, Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar envoy in its country to express "tremendous concern" over the Rohingya persecution.
In December 2016, the United Nations strongly criticized the Myanmar government for its poor treatment of the Rohingya people, and called its approach "callous". The United Nations also called on Aung San Suu Kyi to take steps to stop violence against the Rohingyas. In its report released in February 2017, the UN stated that the persecution of the Rohingya included serious human rights violations. The UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Raad Al Hussein stated "The cruelty to which these Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable – what kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother's milk?" A spokesperson of the government stated that the allegations were very serious, and would be investigated.
On 23 May 2017, a report released by the military rejected the allegations made by the OHCHR in February, stating that "[o]ut of 18 accusations included in the OHCHR report, 12 were found to be incorrect, with the remaining six accusations found to be false and fabricated accusations based on lies and invented statements."
Spillover into the 2017–present genocide
In January 2017, at least four police officers were detained by government authorities after a video was posted online of security forces beating Rohingya Muslims in November 2016. In the video, Rohingya men and boys were forced to sit in rows with their hands behind their head while they were beaten with batons and kicked. This was the first incident in which the government punished its own security forces in the region since the beginning of the crackdown.
On 21 January 2017, the bodies of three Rohingya men were found in shallow graves in Maungdaw. They were locals who had worked closely with the local administration, and the government believed they were murdered by Rohingya insurgents in a reprisal attack.
On 4 July 2017, a mob of at least a hundred Rakhine Buddhists in Sittwe attacked seven Rohingya men from the Dapaing camp for internally displaced persons with bricks, killing one and severely injuring another. The Rohingya men were being escorted by police to Sittwe's docks to purchase boats, but were attacked despite armed guards being present nearby. A spokesman for the Burmese Ministry of Home Affairs said that an unarmed junior policeman was with the Rohingya men at the time of the attack, but was unable to stop the attackers. On 26 July 2017 a man was arrested in relation to the attacks .
On 30 July 2017, packages of high energy biscuits gifted from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) as aid were discovered in a terrorist hideout in the Mayu mountain range in Maungdaw Township. The Rakhine State Government and WFP investigated on the pretense of misuse of food assistance. On 31 July 2017, three decapitated bodies were found in Rathedaung Township. A government official asserted they were murdered by Rohingya insurgents. On 3 August 2017, six Mro farmers were found killed in Maungdaw Township, supposedly as the work of Muslim militants.
On 25 August 2017 The Myanmar government announced that 71 people (one soldier, one immigration officer, 10 policemen and 59 insurgents) had been killed overnight during coordinated attacks by up to 150 insurgents across 24 police posts and the 552nd Light Infantry Battalion army base in Rakhine State. The Myanmar Army stated that the attack began around 1:00 AM, when insurgents armed with bombs, small arms weapons, and machetes blew up a bridge. It went on to say that a majority of the attacks occurred around 3:00 AM to 4:00 AM. The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed they were taking "defensive actions" in 25 different locations and accused government soldiers of raping and killing civilians. The group also claimed that Rathedaung had been under a blockade for more than two weeks, starving the Rohingya, and that the government forces were preparing to do the same in Maungdaw.
Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Myanmar reports at least 1,000 people had been killed in the violence since 25 August. She added that the figure is "very likely an underestimate". She also downplayed the chance that Myanmar generals will ever see the inside of the International Criminal Court due to ''powerful international defenders.''
As of October 2018, the persecutions are still continuing. Lee reported that Suu Kyi denies the allegations. Suu Kyi's government has denied "independent international investigations" and probes. Lee has described the situation as 'apartheid' with detained Rohingyas segregated from the 'Rakhine ethnic community' and without 'freedom of movement'.
On 23 April 2019, a Burmese gunship strafed the Rohingya village of Buthidaung. The military subsequently planted internationally banned landmines along northern Rakhine state to prevent the Rohingya from escaping northwest to Bangladesh. Burmese soldiers allegedly gunned down Rohingya civilians fleeing south. Those that remained were allegedly targeted by aerial attacks. Some have described the Rohingya as being trapped in a "genocide zone".
In early April 2020, the government of Myanmar released two presidential directives: Directive No. 1/2020 and Directive No. 2/2020. They were followed by the January orders issued by ICJ for the government and military to stop genocide against the Rohingya Muslim ethnic group. Directive No. 1/2020 legislates that the answerable authorities are liable to ensure anyone under their control do not commit activities that lead up to a genocide. Directive No. 2/2020 restrains all Ministries and the government of Rakhine State from destroying The ICJ’s January order and also mandated the preservation of evidence of any criminal activity that can possibly build up to a genocide.
Persecution and crackdown
After the attack on security forces, the Myanmar military responded with a "heavy counter-offensive" and started "clearance operations" against the Rohingya people with the help of the Buddhist militia. In the first week, at least 130 Rohingya people were killed. The Rohingya people started fleeing Myanmar in large numbers and tried to take shelter in Bangladesh. The Myanmar military often opened fire with mortar shells and machine-guns on the fleeing Rohingya, and dead bodies of many Rohingya people began to be washed ashore from the drowned boats as they attempted to cross the Naf River to enter Bangladesh. By the second week, at least 1000 Rohingya were killed. During the military operations, the Burmese military burnt down and destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages, killed thousands of Rohingya civilians, raped and sexually abused Rohingya women, and committed other crimes against humanity.
Massacre and killings
In August 2018, a study estimated that more than 24,000 Rohingya people were killed by the Burmese military and local Buddhists since the "clearance operations" started on 25 August 2017. The study also estimated that over 18,000 Rohingya Muslim women and girls were raped, 116,000 Rohingya were beaten, and 36,000 Rohingya were thrown into fires. It was also reported that at least 6,700 to 7,000 Rohingya people including 730 children were killed in the first month alone since the crackdown started. The majority of them died from gunshots while others were burned to death in their homes. The sources described their killings as "violent deaths". There were also reports of mass killings of Rohingyas by the military and Buddhist vigilantes in Chut Pyin village near Rathedaung. Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project stated that they had received reports of 130 being killed in the village. On 7 September 2017, The Guardian reported a mass killing of Rohingyas at the Tula Toli village and called it the Tula Toli Massacre. According to the Arakan Project, evidence of likely mass graves was uncovered, including time stamped mobile phone metadata indicating an 27 August date.
In February 2018, Reuters reported a massacre event which occurred in Rakhine state's Inn Din village on 2 September 2017. This event is known as the Inn Din massacre. Ten Rohingya men, all of whom were captured from the Rohingya village of Inn Din, were killed by members of the Burmese army and Buddhist villagers who formed an "informal militia" to attack Rohingya villages. The victims were taken from hundreds of Rohingya villagers who gathered near a beach to seek safety. Reuters identified all ten victims: five of the men were fishermen, two were shopkeepers, one was an Islamic teacher, and the last two were high school students.
Village burning and looting
In September 2018, the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar released a report stating that at least 392 Rohingya villages in Rakhine State had been razed to the ground since 25 August 2017. Earlier, Human Rights Watch in December 2017 said it had found that 354 Rohingya villages in Rakhine state were burnt down and destroyed by the Myanmar military. These destructions included thousands of structures, mainly homes used by the Rohingya Muslims. Lewa blamed the security forces of the burning village after village in a systematic way while also blaming Rohingya arsonists of burning the Buddhist village of Pyu Ma. A video provided to ABC News by a human rights monitor purportedly shows the village burning and in another clip of freshly dug earth mound, allegedly graves of those killed.
Before the Inn Din massacre in early September 2017, members of Myanmar military and the Buddhist villagers of Inn Din looted the Rohingya hamlets in Inn Din and then burned down the Rohingya houses. Several Buddhist villagers later confessed to Reuters that they set fire to the Rohingya houses with kerosene and participated in the massacre on 2 September. The 33rd Light Infantry Division of Myanmar Army, the 8th Security Police Battalion, and the Buddhist villagers took part in the looting which included Rohingya property, goats, cows, cattle, and motorcycles. Thant Zin Oo, the commander of the 8th Battalion, later sold the cows and the cattle in exchange for money.
Gang rapes and sexual violence
In November 2017, both the UN officials and the Human Rights Watch reported that the Armed Forces of Myanmar were committing widespread gang rapes and other forms of sexual violence against the Rohingya Muslim women and girls for the last three months. Alongside the Armed Forces, the Myanmar Border Guard Police and Buddhist militias of Rakhine were also involved in these atrocities. HRW stated that the gang rapes and sexual violence were committed as part of the military's ethnic cleansing campaign while the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten said that the Rohingya women and girls were made the "systematic" target of rapes and sexual violence because of their ethnic identity and religion. Other forms of sexual violence included sexual slavery in military captivity, forced public nudity, and humiliation. Some women and girls were raped to death while others were found traumatized with raw wounds after they had arrived in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch reported of a 15-year-old girl who was ruthlessly dragged on the ground for over 50 feet and then was raped by 10 Burmese soldiers.
Destruction of crime evidence
In February 2018, it was reported that the Burmese military bulldozed and flattened the burnt Rohingya villages and mass graves in order to destroy the evidence of atrocities committed. These villages were inhabited by the Rohingya people before they were burnt down by the Burmese military during the 2017 crackdown. Some intact villages that lost their Rohingya inhabitants because of the military crackdown were also bulldozed.
Attack on media
Since the 25 August incident, Myanmar blocked media access and the visits of international bodies to Rakhine State. Near Rangoon on 12 December 2017, two Reuters journalists who had been covering the refugee story were charged and imprisoned by the police for violating a 1923 colonial law related to secrecy. On 1 February 2018, a Myanmar court denied bail for the two Reuters journalists. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his concern and called for the release of the two journalists, who were released on 7 May 2019 along with over 6,000 other prisoners in a presidential pardon.
According to the Mission report of OHCHR (released on 11 October 2017 by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), the Burmenese military began a "systematic" process of driving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar in early August 2017. The report noted that "prior to the incidents and crackdown of 25 August, a strategy was pursued to":
- Arrest and arbitrarily detain male Rohingyas between the ages of 15–40 years;
- Arrest and arbitrarily detain Rohingya opinion-makers, leaders and cultural and religious personalities;
- Initiate acts to deprive Rohingya villagers of access to food, livelihoods and other means of conducting daily activities and life;
- Commit repeated acts of humiliation and violence prior to, during and after 25 August, to drive out Rohingya villagers en masse through incitement to hatred, violence, and killings, including by declaring the Rohingyas as Bengalis and illegal settlers in Myanmar;
- Instill deep and widespread fear and trauma – physical, emotional and psychological, in the Rohingya victims via acts of brutality, namely killings, disappearances, torture, and rape and other forms of sexual violence.
Media coverage in Myanmar
The Myanmar government has instructed media sources to not include issues regarding the Rohingya in 2014. Specifically, the Editor in Chief of the Myanmar Times sends a memo to his editorial team stating:
'... no material is to be run in any of our newspapers with regard to the Rohingya, Bengalis, Muslims and Buddhists and the ongoing issues in Rakhine without direct approval from my desk... Our coverage is unlikely to matter substantively in the scheme of things and there appears little sense in placing our heads on the block right at this time...’
According to Aung Zaw, who is the founder and editor of Irrawaddy magazine states that Burmese reporters are told by their editors to use caution or ignore the Rohingya issue completely when reporting. Zaw attributes the self-censorship to potential international backlash the Myanmar government may face when reporting on the Rohingya. The Rakhine authorities have secluded the Rohingya as much has possible from Myanmar society and from international visitors. Rohingya that have been known to have spoken to UN Special Reporters or journalists have been arrested and/or beaten for giving their accounts.
Media coverage in other countries
Coverage on the Rohingya crisis in different countries is reported on in different ways. In his dissertation, Md Khadimul Islam qualitatively examined 50 news reports and quantitatively examined 258 news reports of Bangladesh, India and China. Islam found that news reports from India and Bangladesh focused on the “human interest and protest frame,”¹ while Chinese media focused on security and conflict of the Rohingya with Myanmar government officials being cited most in their reports.
According to Islam's study, the human interest frame was the most frequent frame as it had 28% of news reports. This indicates that the stories put a human face on the problem the most, and described the Myanmar army’s brutal action prominently. The second most frequent frame is protest with 22.2%, focusing primarily on protest and criticism of the Myanmar government for its actions against Rohingyas. Focusing on different aspects of aid including calling for aid and providing shelter, roughly 21.5% news reports used the aid frame. “The frequency of use of security frame in articles is 11.6% and conflict is 7.5%. Only 2% news reports used other frame that did not fall the six categories of frames developed in this study."
In Bangladeshi reports, the most cited sources were aid agencies for the Rohingya with 19.6% of the sample of news media. Second, were national officials with 17.8% of the media sample, and Myanmar was cited the least at 5.9%.¹ Also found in Islam’s study were Bangladeshi news reports that found, Rohingya appeared 10.4%, foreign officials appeared 16.3%, local admin appeared 14.1%, national elite appeared 14.8%, and other appeared 8.3%.
From Md Khadimul Islam’s study, Indian media cited national officials the most on the Rohingya issue at 34.7%. Next, aid agencies were cited at 20.8%, and Myanmar appeared 6.9%. Islam also notes that “Rohingya” appeared 8.3%, foreign officials appeared 8.3%, local admin appeared 1.4%, national elite appeared 11.1%, and other appeared 8.3%.
In 2017, the vast majority of Rohingya people were displaced and became refugees as a result of the genocide. At the peak of the crisis in 2017, over a million Rohingya were forced to flee to other countries. Most fled to Bangladesh while others escaped to India, Thailand, Malaysia, and other parts of South and Southeast Asia. According to the United Nations reports, as of January 2018[update], nearly 690,000 Rohingya people had fled or had been driven out of Rakhine State who sought refuge in Bangladesh. It was estimated that around 650,000 Rohingya Muslims had fled Myanmar as of November 2017[update]. The refugee crisis in 2017 resulted in the largest human exodus in Asia since the Vietnam War.
In January 2017, an estimated 92,000 Rohingya people had been displaced because of the violence; around 65,000 had fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh between October 2016 and January 2017, while 23,000 others had been internally displaced.
In February 2017, the government of Bangladesh announced that it planned to relocate the new refugees and another 232,000 Rohingya refugees already in the country to Bhasan Char, a sedimentary island in the Bay of Bengal. The island first appeared around 2007, formed from washed down silt from the Meghna River. The nearest inhabited land, Hatiya Island, is around 30 km away. News agencies quoted a regional official describing the plan as "terrible". The move received substantial opposition from a number of parties. Human rights groups have described the plan as a forced relocation. Additionally, concerns were raised over the living conditions on the island, which is low-lying and prone to flooding. The island has been described as "only accessible during winter and a haven for pirates". It is nine hours away from the camps where the Rohingya refugees live.
On 14 August 2017 India announced that it was deporting an estimated 40,000 Rohingya refugees including 14,000 of those registered with the U.N. refugee agency as well. In the months leading up to the announcement, a string of anti-Rohingya protests took place in the country.
In September 2017, Nepal increased surveillance at its border with India to prevent more Rohingya refugees from entering the country. A small community of Rohingya refugees live in the capital, Kathmandu.
In November 2017, the government of Bangladesh signed a pact with Myanmar to return the Rohingya refugees to their homes in the Rakhine territory. The deal arose after a diplomatic meeting on the matter between Aung San Suu Kyi and Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali, the foreign minister of Bangladesh. The accord was viewed by international commentators as a conscious effort by Suu Kyi to address criticism over her lack of action in the conflict. This decision, coming after both the United Nations and Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, declared that the actions undertaken by the Burmese army against the Rohingya refugees constituted ethnic cleansing, was met with hesitation and criticism by aid groups.
The ongoing genocide against the Rohingya people garnered strong criticism internationally and generated serious concern about the human rights issues. International communities and human rights officials have described the violence as ethnic cleansing and genocide. Soon after the security forces and Buddhist militia started "clearance operations", the world leaders warned the Myanmar authority to avoid civilian casualties. In late September, a seven-member panel of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal accused Myanmar of conducting genocide against the Rohingya and the Kachin minority groups. The verdict came after a five-day trial, held at the law faculty of the University of Malaya, which examined various documentaries, expert views, and the testimony of victims. The tribunal made 17 recommendations including demilitarization of Rakhine State and the end of discriminatory citizenship law. The United Nations' human rights chief Zeid bin Ra'ad described the persecution as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing". On 5 December 2017, Ra'ad announced that the Rohingya persecution may constitute genocide under international human rights laws. In November, British prime minister Theresa May and United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the situation as "ethnic cleansing" while the French President Emmanuel Macron called it genocide.
After a two-year investigation into the Rohingya ethnic minority, the human rights group Amnesty International described the restricted situation of the Rohingya people as "an open-air prison" as they are under a "vicious system of institutionalized discrimination and segregation" which is limiting their human rights, their freedom of movement, and their access to food, healthcare, and education in their report. Amnesty International mentions that the Rohingya minority are confined to their villages, townships, and poorly-maintained camps which are cut off from the rest of Myanmar, and travel between their own villages is severely restricted. Travel between townships is subject to a complicated process of obtaining permission, and even then those permitted to travel are routinely harassed, physically tortured or arrested. All these "systematic" acts of discrimination and persecution amount to apartheid, the rights group said.
In 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi was criticized for her silence over the issue and supporting the military actions. She was relieved of her 1997 Freedom of Oxford award over "inaction" in handling the raging violence. Others argue that since the military retains significant autonomy and power in the government, she may be powerless to control them. Her inaction, on behalf of the Rohingya, brought a plea for action from fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. Numerous people have called for Suu Kyi's Nobel Prize to be revoked. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu also criticized Suu Kyi's stand to defend the military actions. The Economist criticized Suu Kyi's stance, arguing: "the violence in Rakhine has reached such an unconscionable level that there can be no justifying continued passivity."
Direct sanctions against the Burmese military and penalties for firms that do business with companies linked to it, as were in place by America and other countries in the past, have been suggested as the best response to the violence. According to The Economist, "The Burmese army is not easy to influence, but economic and diplomatic isolation does seem to have played a part in persuading it to surrender power in the first place."
Reactions from other countries
Melbourne based Australian documentary photographer Salahuddin Ahmad organized a documentary photography exhibition series "Brutality Against Humanity" in many Australian cities (as well as many international locations) including street photo exhibition in Federation Square, Melbourne. This photographic exhibition displays photos of the Rohingya people taken in October 2017 in Bangladesh. The exhibition is being held to raise global awareness and to protect Rohingya ethnic community. Ahmad and his colleagues conducted a study which estimated that more than 24,000 Rohingya people were killed by the Burmese military and the local Buddhists since the "clearance operations" started on 25 August 2017. The study also estimated that more than 18,000 the Rohingya Muslim women and girls were raped, 116,000 Rohingya were beaten, 36,000 Rohingya were thrown into fire. Photos below are the selected photographs from "Brutality Against Humanity" photography exhibition series:
At the Vatican, Sunday, 26 August 2017, Pope Francis referred to "sad news about the persecution of the religious minority of our Rohingya brothers," adding that he was praying that they would receive "full rights". The pope demanded that the international community "take decisive measures to address this grave crisis" and went on a diplomatic visit to the area in late November 2017.
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world and have sent support to the Rohingya. Protests erupted against the Burmese embassy in Jakarta, with a petrol bomb being thrown towards it. Indonesian president Joko Widodo sent foreign minister Retno Marsudi for "intensive communications" in September 2017, mentioning that concrete action was required. Aid in the form of tents, basic food and sanitation supplies was dispatched to refugee camps in Bangladesh through four Indonesian Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry offered Bangladesh a humanitarian aid package for Rohingya refugees. Bangladesh declined the offer.
Israel once refused to use the term "Rohingya" when responding to the genocide, seemingly in deference to the Myanmar government that rejects the term and does not recognize the Rohingya as citizens, instead considering them "Bengalis." Israel claimed that it stopped selling weapons to Myanmar in 2017 following pressure from human rights organizations and US / EU imposed sanctions over "alleged genocide". However, Burmese military officials were still allowed to visit a Tel Aviv Arms expo, with photos from the Israeli media. Israeli sales representatives at the expo responded that they were "unaware" of the ban.
- "I think it is important that the global community speak out in support of what we all know the expectation is for the treatment of people regardless of their ethnicity... This violence must stop, this persecution must stop."
"China supports Myanmar to retain its influence built over three decades of massive development aid and supply of military hardware, India supports Myanmar to play catch-up and build influence partly by development financing and partly by playing on civilisational linkages based on the shared Buddhist heritage. And both India and China engage the Burmese military as much as the civilian government because the country is key to India’s ‘Act East' policy and China’s Belt and Road Initiative.”
China is Myanmar's northern neighbor and ally. China has been investing in the Kyaukpyu port which could provide a port for Sino-Myanmar pipelines, from the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan. As part of its "One Belt, One Road" program, China invested heavily in Rakhine State—including the development of China's strategically and economically critical first-ever seaport on the Indian Ocean, in the predominantly-Rohingya coastal Rakhine township of Maungdaw—providing a shorter route to the sea for landlocked Central and Western China.
China displayed intentions to develop Rakhine State commercially in other ways. With China's engagement in Rakhine state requiring cooperation with the Burmese military and government, China used its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to protect Myanmar from any forceful U.N. action over the Rohingya issue—and has argued that the solution to the Rohingya crisis is more development in Rakhine State.
On 17 November 2017, China announced that it would send Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Myanmar and Bangladesh in a bid to increase Beijing's influence in the region and mediate in the deepening Rohingya refugee crisis.
After 2017 Yi has been mediating between Myanmar and Bangladesh, as well as supporting the Burmese government in the case at the International Court of Justice.
Like China, India supported Myanmar over the crisis, though more discreetly. South China Morning Post reported that India invested in the Rakhine's Kaladan project to connect Northeast India to the Bay of Bengal. Due to the influx of over half a million refugees, both Bangladesh and India feared a "jihadi nexus". The Indian Ministry of External Affairs stated:
"We stand by Myanmar in the hour of its crisis, we strongly condemn the terrorist attack on 24–25 August and condole the death of policemen and soldiers, we will back Myanmar in its fight against terrorism".
This occurred a day after an Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attack on 30 police and armed guards. Myanmar claims this attack "triggered its ruthless counter-attack that has driven more than half a million Rohingya into Bangladesh." Major General Gaganjit Singh, former deputy chief of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency, asked:
"What if ARSA terrorists attack an Indian ship on the Kaladan river or try blowing up parts of the Yunnan-Kyauk Phyu oil-gas pipeline as the [separatist group United Liberation Front of Assam] used to do in [the Indian state of] Assam? Such scenarios cannot be discounted".
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused Myanmar of trying to "provoke a war with her country". She has offered to help the Burmese military, the Tatmadaw, quash the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
The House of Commons, the lower house of the Parliament of Canada, voted unanimously on September 27, 2018 to revoke Suu Kyi's honorary Canadian citizenship in response to the actions of the Burmese government against the Rohingya. The upper house, the Senate, approved a motion to the same effect unanimously on October 2, 2018 which formalized the revocation.
By 13 September 2017, the United Kingdom had asked the United Nations Security Council to discuss the Rohingya crisis twice: on 29 August and 13 September. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a statement,
Aung Sang Suu Kyi is rightly regarded as one of the most inspiring figures of our age but the treatment of the Rohingya is alas besmirching the reputation of Burma. She faces huge challenges in modernising her country. I hope she can now use all her remarkable qualities to unite her country, to stop the violence and to end the prejudice that afflicts both Muslims and other communities in Rakhine. It is vital that she receives the support of the Burmese military, and that her attempts at peacemaking are not frustrated. She and all in Burma will have our full support in this".
A statement by 157 members of Parliament read, "The scale of the human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in Myanmar is unprecedented in its recent history. It requires the attention of the British government at the highest level". On 14 November 2017, Mark Field stated that "What is happening there looks like ethnic cleansing", assigning responsibility for the humanitarian crisis to the Burmese military.
While visiting Bangladesh, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said "The plight of the Rohingya and the suffering they have had to endure is one of the most shocking humanitarian disasters of our time. This is a man-made tragedy that could be resolved with the right political will, tolerance and cooperation from all those involved". Johnson compared the Rohingya situation with the displacement of Palestinians in 1948. He visited Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh.
In July 2020, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced sanctions on 2 high-ranking Myanmar military generals who participated in the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities.
Reactions from supranational bodies
Findings of the OHCHR Independent Fact-Finding Mission 2018
On 12 September 2018, the OHCHR Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar published its report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Following 875 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses since 2011, it concluded that "the [Burmese] military has consistently failed to respect international human rights law and the international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution." Even before the most recent incident of mass Rohingya displacement began in 2011, the report found that the restrictions on travel, birth registration, and education resulting from Rohingya statelessness violated Rohingya human rights. During the mass displacement of almost 725,000 Rohingya by August 2018 to neighboring Bangladesh, as a result of persecution by the Tatmadaw, the report recorded "gross human rights violations and abuses" such as mass rape, murder, torture, and imprisonment. It also accused the Tatmadaw of crimes against humanity, genocide, and ethnic cleansing.
Criticism of the Response of UN Agencies
All NGOs and humanitarian agencies, including UN agencies, are bound by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. As the 2018 Independent Fact-Finding Mission Report highlighted, UN agencies were aware of Rohingya persecution for almost three decades, with five consecutive Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Myanmar having been appointed since 1992. However, the Independent Fact-Finding Mission Report noted: "While Myanmar was repeatedly identified as a crisis situation requiring a human rights-driven response by the "whole of the United Nations", this approach was rarely, if ever, taken. Rather, many United Nations agencies have continued to prioritize development goals, humanitarian access, and quiet diplomacy. That approach has demonstrably failed, and the United Nations as a whole has failed adequately to address human rights concerns in Myanmar. Even now, the approach taken displays few signs of any lessons learned, with human rights missing from agreements recently signed with the Government."
The UN's continued attempts to cooperate with the Myanmar Government, despite the Government's unwillingness to acknowledge or address the Tatmadaw's persecution of the Rohingya, has allowed the humanitarian crisis to worsen. Although this approach complies with the common interpretation of other humanitarian principles, such as neutrality and impartiality, it neglects the core humanitarian principle of humanity. For example, a suppressed internal UN report heavily criticized the UN Country Team for ineffectively focusing on development and investment rather than on addressing the root causes of the persecution. Moreover, a September 2017 BBC investigation reported that, in an attempt to promote investment into Myanmar, UN officials prevented human rights activists traveling to Rohingya areas, tried to shut down public advocacy on the subject, and isolated staff that warned of ethnic cleansing. Despite these criticisms of the UN's approach, in June 2018 the UNDP and UNHCR entered an MoU with Myanmar Government providing for the reparation of Rohingya to Myanmar. On 13 November 2018, the plan to repatriate an initial 2,200 Rohingya was abandoned due to protests by Rohingya refugees.
In December 2017, a coalition of 69 human rights non-governmental organizations appointed an Independent Fact-Finding Mission team, including Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch, and called upon the UN Security Council to take "immediate action" in response to the humanitarian crisis by exploring "all avenues for justice and accountability, including through international courts". The coalition also called for arms embargoes and targeted sanctions.
The distinct OHCHR-appointed Independent Fact-Finding Mission 2018 Report similarly recommended that the UN Security Council issue a Chapter VII referral to the International Criminal Court, or, in the alternative, establishes an ad hoc international criminal tribunal. They also recommended: "enhanced monitoring, documentation, analysis and public reporting on the situation of human rights", the allocation of appropriate resources, repatriation "only when safe, voluntary and dignified with explicit human rights protections in place", termination of operational support for Tatmadaw until the genuine commitment to reform and cooperation is secured, and the establishment of a trust fund for victims.
Most recently, the Washington-based Public International Law & Policy Group concluded in their December 2018 report, based on more than 1,000 interviews with Rohingya refugees, that there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide have been committed by the Tatmadaw against the Rohingya population. In turn, they recommended "that a criminal tribunal should be established or granted jurisdiction to further investigate international crimes committed in Rakhine State and prosecute those responsible" and "the urgent establishment of an accountability mechanism or an immediate referral of the situation to the ICC."
The ASEAN member states upheld a principle of non-interference in intra-ASEAN relations. A day before the 30th ASEAN Summit was held on 26 April 2017, Reuters reported on the Myanmar military operations on the Rohingya in November 2016. Nonetheless, the Rohingya crisis was not on the official agenda in the Summit.
However, leaders of ASEAN countries began to raise concerns on the issue. In a meeting with other ASEAN foreign ministers on 19 December 2016, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman called for a collective effort to resolve the crisis. In addition, in the 30th ASEAN Summit, Indonesian President Joko Widodo discussed the issue of the Rohingya crisis with Suu Kyi. He stressed the importance of stability in Myanmar for the wider regional security.
The ASEAN states' hesitance to comment on the issue may be explained by a concern that the rise of China and its influence in Myanmar could risk ASEAN's interest in the country. Azeem Ibrahim, the author of The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar's Hidden Genocide, noted "Myanmar's interactions with ASEAN are perhaps indicative of its wider approach to international relations." While ASEAN member states welcome economic opportunities with China's rise, they fear its growing influence. It has been suggested that ASEAN criticism of Myanmar's domestic crisis will lead to closer ties between China and Myanmar.
As of 7 June 2019, ASEAN released a report stating optimism that half a million Rohingyas (referred to as "Muslim") will return to Myanmar in two years. The report allegedly glossed over the atrocities committed by Suu Kyi's regime. The UN has not yet commented.
Matthew Smith of the NGO Fortify Rights said "[w]e can now say with a high level of confidence that state-led security forces and local armed residents have committed mass killings." Smith accused the Burmese military of trying to expel all Rohingyas from the country.
Muslim protests were held in various capital cities in Asian countries in late November 2016. Protests were held on 8 September 2017 across Asia in Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Pakistan in solidarity of the Rohingya people. Protests were also held by Rohingya people in Melbourne, Australia in early September 2017. Additional protests were held in the same month in Washington DC in the United States, Cape Town in South Africa, and Jammu and Kashmir in India. A protest was planned in Hong Kong.
International legal responses
On 11 November 2019, The Gambia, with the support of the 57 nations of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, filed a lawsuit against Myanmar in the UN International Court of Justice on behalf of the Rohingya. The lawsuit alleged that Myanmar committed genocide against the Muslim minority group and was filed in the World Court as a dispute between nations. More than 740,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, but the government insisted that the crackdown in Rakhine since 2017 was necessary to target terrorism. Aung San Suu Kyi personally led a legal team at the International Court of Justice to defend Myanmar in the first public hearings for this case on 10–12 December 2019.
Separately, on 13 November 2019, in Argentina, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK filed a federal case under “universal jurisdiction” – the legal basis that for certain grave crimes any state can prosecute regardless of where the crime was committed and who was involved – against Suu Kyi and other top military and civilian leaders. On 14 November 2019, the UN International Criminal Court authorized a full investigation into possible crimes against the Rohingya by senior military and civilian officials. This follows several UN fact-finding reports. Technically, the International Criminal Court does not have jurisdiction in Myanmar, as the country is not a signatory to the Rome Statue; however, the suit in the International Criminal Court has been allowed because Bangladesh, where many Rohingya have fled to, is a signatory to the treaty.
- Freedom of religion in Myanmar
- Human rights in Myanmar
- List of ethnic groups in Myanmar
- Persecution of Muslims in Myanmar
- Rohingya conflict
- 2012 Rakhine State riots
- 2013 Burma anti-Muslim riots
- Inn Din massacre
- Persecution of Muslims
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