Rohingya genocide

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The Rohingya genocide or the Rohingya refugee crisis is a series of ongoing persecutions by the Myanmar government against the Muslim Rohingya people. It has forced over half a million Rohingyas to flee to neighboring countries such as Bangladesh and India. This article presents the ongoing crisis in two phases, the 2016 persecution and the 2017-present genocide.

2016 Rohingya persecution in Myanmar
Rakhine State in Myanmar.svg
Location of Rakhine State in Myanmar
Date9 October 2016 (2016-10-09) – January 2017
LocationRakhine State, Myanmar
Type
ThemeMilitary crackdown on Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar's armed forces and police
Cause
  • Attacks on Burmese border police posts by unidentified insurgents
  • Historical mistreatment of the Rohingya by the government
  • Existing tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities
MotiveAnti-Rohingya sentiment, Islamophobia
Outcome
  • Wide-scale human rights violations at the hands of security forces
  • Mass displacement of refugees
  • Forced relocations
Deaths1,000+[1][2]
Publication bansMedia access in northern Rakhine State heavily restricted by the Burmese government.
2017–present Rohingya genocide
Date25 August 2017 (2017-08-25) – present
LocationNorthern Rakhine State, Myanmar
TypeGenocide, ethnic and religious persecution
ThemeMilitary crackdown by Myanmar's army and police on Rohingya Muslims
Cause
  • Historical mistreatment of the Rohingya by the government and Buddhist population
  • Initial attack on border posts in Myanmar by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on 25 August 2017
MotiveAnti-Hindu sentiment, Anti-Rohingya sentiment, Islamophobia
Outcome
  • Thousands of Rohingya people killed
  • 700,000+ refugees fled abroad (since 25 August 2017)[3]
  • Destruction of many Rohingya villages
  • Wide-scale human rights violations by the Myanmar security forces and local Buddhist militants
  • Gang rapes and other forms of sexual violence mainly against Rohingya women
Deaths10,000+[4]
Publication bansMedia access in northern Rakhine State heavily restricted by the Myanmar government.

The 2016 Rohingya persecution in Myanmar occurred in late 2016 when Myanmar's armed forces and police started a major crackdown on 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.[5][6][7][8][9][10] The UN[11][12][13] has found evidence of wide-scale human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, arson and infanticides, which the Burmese government dismisses as "exaggerations".[14][15]

The 2016 military crackdown on the Rohingya people has drawn 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 (where many Rohingya refugees have fled). The Myanmar leader and State Counsellor (de facto head of government) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has particularly been criticized for her inaction and silence over the issue and for doing little to prevent military abuses.

The 2017–present Rohingya genocide began on 25 August 2017 when the Myanmar military forces and local Buddhist extremists started attacking the Rohingya people and committing atrocities against them in the country's north-west Rakhine state. The atrocities included attacks on Rohingya people and locations, looting and burning down Rohingya villages, mass killing of Rohingya civilians, gang rapes, and other sexual violence.

Using statistical extrapolations (based on six pooled surveys conducted with a total of 2,434 Rohingya refugee households in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) estimated in December 2017 that during the genocide, the military and the local Buddhists killed at least 10,000 Rohingya people.[16] At least 392 Rohingya villages in Rakhine state were reported as burned down and destroyed,[3] as well as the looting of many Rohingya houses,[17] and widespread gang rapes and other forms of sexual violence against the Rohingya Muslim women and girls.[18][19][20]

The military drive also displaced a large number of Rohingya people, spurring a refugee crisis. According to UN reports, as of September 2018, over 700,000 Rohingya people had fled or had been driven out of Rakhine state who then took shelter in the neighboring Bangladesh as refugees. In December 2017, two Reuters journalists who had been covering the Inn Din massacre event were arrested and imprisoned. Foreign Secretary Myint Thu told reporters Myanmar is prepared to accept 2,000 Rohingya refugees from camps in Bangladesh in November 2018.[21]

The 2017 persecution against the Rohingya Muslims and non-Muslims has also been termed as ethnic cleansing and genocide by various UN agencies, ICC officials, human rights groups, and governments.[22][23][24][25][26][27][28] British Prime Minister Theresa May and former United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called it "ethnic cleansing" while the French President Emmanuel Macron described the situation as "genocide".[29][30][31]

The UN described the persecution as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing". In late September that year, a seven-member panel of the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal found the Myanmar military and the Myanmar authority guilty of the crime of genocide against the Rohingya and the Kachin minority groups.[32][33] Suu Kyi was again criticized for her silence over the issue and for supporting the military actions.[34]

Subsequently, in November 2017, the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a deal to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees to their native Rakhine state within two months, drawing a mixed response from international onlookers.[35]

In August 2018, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reporting the findings of their investigation into the August–September 2017 events, declared that the Myanmar military generals should be tried for genocide. [36][37][38][39][40] 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.[41]

On 27 September 2018 members of the Canadian Parliament voted unanimously to dispossess Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship for the atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.[42]

General background[edit]

The Rohingya people have been described as "amongst the world's least wanted"[43] and "one of the world's most persecuted minorities"[44] by the UN.[45] The Rohingya are deprived of the right to free movement and of higher education.[46] They have officially been denied Burmese citizenship since 1982 when the Burmese nationality law was enacted.[47] However their persecution and marginalisation pre-dates this, the act effectively formalised the legal discrimination, including removal of all essential services and support. They are not allowed to travel without official permission and were previously required to sign a commitment not to have more than two children, though the law was not strictly enforced. They are subjected to routine forced labor where typically a Rohingya man will have to give up one day a week to work on military or government projects and one night for sentry duty. The Rohingya have also lost a lot of arable land, which has been confiscated by the military to give to Buddhist settlers from elsewhere in Myanmar.[48][47]

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 only recently emerged in Myanmar by arrangement with the military, who permitted a free election on 8 November 2015, which elevated Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to power after years of house arrest.[49]

Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist (88–90% of the population), with small minorities of other faiths, including a small minority of Muslims (4%).[50][49]

The western coastal province of Rakhine State, is made up of the predominantly Buddhist Rakhine (4%, about 2 million people) and the predominantly Muslim Rohingya (2%, about 1 million people). Tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities have also led to violence in Rakhine State, with nationalist Buddhists often targeting Rohingyas.[51] The Rohingya are a distinct ethnicity with their own language and culture, but claim a long historical connection to Rakhine State.[50][49]

The Rohingya describe themselves as descendants of Arab traders who settled in the region many generations ago.[52] Scholars have stated that they have been present in the region since the 15th century.[53] However, they have been denied citizenship by the government of Myanmar, which describes them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.[52]

Leading up to the 2016 persecutions[edit]

In modern times, persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar dates back to the 1970s.[54] Since then, Rohingya people have regularly been made the target of persecution by the government and nationalist Buddhists.[51] The tension between the various religious groups in the country was often exploited by the past military rulers of Myanmar.[52] According to Amnesty International, the Rohingya have suffered from human rights violations under past military dictatorships since 1978, and many have fled to neighboring Bangladesh as a result.[55] In 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had assisted with the repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps threatened this effort.[56] In 2015, 140,000 Rohingyas remain in IDP camps after communal riots in 2012.[57]

As early as 2015, the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School found "strong evidence that genocide is being committed against Rohingya."[58][59] After eight months of analyzing whether the persecution of the Rohingya in Rakhine State satisfy the criteria for genocide, the study found that Burmese government with the help of extremist Buddhist monks were responsible for ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Rohingya.


Before the most recent violence, in its 17 March 2016 Atrocities Prevention Report,[60] the U.S. Department of State summarized:

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.[60]

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, 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.[60]

Initial border incidents[edit]

According to Myanmar state reports, on 9 October 2016, armed individuals attacked several border police posts in Rakhine State, leaving nine police personnel dead.[61] Weapons and ammunitions were also looted. The attack took place mainly in Maungdaw Township.[62] A newly formed insurgent group, Harakah al-Yaqin, claimed responsibility a week later.[63]

Crackdown[edit]

Following the police camp incidents, the Myanmar 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.[64] As the crackdown continued, the casualties increased. Arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, brutalities against civilians, and looting were carried out.[65][66][67] According to media reports, 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.[68][51][69][70][64]

In late November, Human Rights Watch released satellite images which showed that about 1,250 Rohingya houses in five villages had been burned down by the security forces.[70][66] The media and the human rights groups frequently reported intense human rights violations by the Myanmar military.[64][66] During one incident in November, the Myanmar military used helicopter gunships to shoot and kill the villagers.[51][65][69] As of November 2016, Myanmar had yet to allow the media and human rights groups to enter the persecuted areas.[51] Consequently, the exact figures of civilian casualties remained unknown. The Rakhine State was termed an "information black hole".[66]

Those who fled Myanmar to escape persecution reported that women had been gang raped, men killed, houses torched, and young children thrown into burning houses.[71][72][73] The boats carrying Rohingya refugees on Naf River were often gunned down by the Myanmar military.[74]

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.[75][76][77] Nearly half of the interviewees stated that family members of theirs had been killed.[75] Half of the women interviewed stated that they had been raped or sexually assaulted: the report described the sexual violence as "massive and systematic".[76] The army and police were stated to have burned "homes, schools, markets, shops, and mosques" belonging to or used by the Rohingya people.[75][78][79]

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, with one of them saying, "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." Myanmar 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.[80][81]

On 24 October 2018, Marzuki Darusman chairman of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar reported some examples of atrocities committed by Myanmar Security forces against Rohingya Muslims.[82] This Independent International Fact-Finding Mission was established in 2017, by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.[83]

Criticism[edit]

The military crackdown on Rohingya people drew criticism from various quarters. Human rights group Amnesty International and organizations such as the United Nations have labeled the military crackdown on the Rohingya minority as crimes against humanity and have said that the military had made the civilians a target of "a systematic campaign of violence".[69][84][85][52]

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.[64][51][52] She stated in response: "show me a country without human rights issues."[67] 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.[86] 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.[86][52]

The U.S. Department of State has also expressed concern about the violence in Rakhine State and the displacement of Rohingyas.[51] 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 military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, and described the ongoing persecution as "genocide".[87][88] Earlier, terming the violence against Rohingya Muslim minority as "ethnic cleansing", Malaysia stated the situation was of international concern.[89] Malaysia also cancelled two football matches with Myanmar in protest of the crackdown.[90][68]

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.[51][89] 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.[91]

In December 2016, the United Nations strongly criticized the Myanmar government for its poor treatment of the Rohingya people, and called its approach "callous".[73][92] The United Nations also called on Aung San Suu Kyi to take steps to stop violence against the Rohingyas.[67][72] In its report released in February 2017, the UN stated that the persecution of the Rohingya had 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?"[75][76] A spokesperson of the government stated that the allegations were very serious, and would be investigated.[75]

On 23 May 2017, a report released by the military rejected the allegations made by the OHCHR in February, stating that, "Out 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."[93]

Spillover into the 2017-present genocide[edit]

In January 2017, at least four police officers were detained by government authorities after a video emerged 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.[94][95]

On 21 January 2017, the bodies of three Rohingya men were found in shallow graves in Maungdaw. The men were locals who had worked closely with the local administration, and the government believes they were murdered by Rohingya insurgents in a reprisal attack.[96]

On 4 July 2017, a mob of at least a hundred Rakhine Buddhists in Sittwe attacked seven Rohingya men from Dapaing camp for internally displaced persons with bricks,[97] 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.[98][99][100] According to a spokesman for the Burmese Ministry of Home Affairs, an unarmed junior policeman was with the Rohingya men at the time of the attack, but was unable to stop the attackers.[97] One man was arrested in relation to the attacks on 26 July 2017.[101]

On 30 July 2017, packages of high energy biscuits aided from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) were discovered in a terrorist hideout in the Mayu mountain range in Maungdaw Township. The Rakhine State Government and WFP investigated the discovery of the biscuits for whether it represented a misuse of food assistance.[102] On 31 July 2017, three decapitated bodies were found in Rathedaung Township. According to a government official, they were murdered by Rohingya insurgents.[103] On 3 August 2017, bodies of six ethnic Mro farmers, reportedly killed by Muslim militants were found in Maungdaw Township.[104][105]

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 on 24 police posts and the 552nd Light Infantry Battalion army base in Rakhine State.[106][107][108] The Myanmar Army stated that the attack began at around 1:00 AM, when insurgents armed with bombs, small arms weapons and machetes blew up a bridge. The army further stated that a majority of the attacks occurred around 3:00 AM to 4:00 AM.[109] The 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.[110]

According to Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Myanmar, at least 1,000 people had been killed in the violence since 25 August. She added that the figure is "very likely an underestimate".[111] She also downplayed the chance that Myanmar generals will ever see the inside of the International Criminal Court due to ''powerful international defenders.''[112]

As of October 2018, the persecutions are still continuing. Yanghee Lee has reported that Suu Kyi is still in complete denial. Suu Kyi's government have 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'.[113]

As of 23 April 2019, a Myanmar gunship strafed the Rohingya village in Buthidaung. The military planted internationally banned landmines along the northern Rakhine state, inhibiting the Rohingya from escaping to Bangladesh northwest. To the south, Myanmar soldiers will also gun them down. If they stay put, aircraft bombers and helicopter gunships will shell them. Some have described the Rohingya as being trapped in a 'genocide zone'.[114]

Persecution and crackdown[edit]

Soon after the attack on security forces, the Myanmar military responded with "heavy counter-offensive", and supported by Buddhist militia, started "clearance operations" against the Rohingya people. In the first week, at least 130 Rohingya people were killed.[115] To save lives, the Rohingya people started fleeing Myanmar in large numbers, and tried to take shelter in the neighboring Bangladesh. The Myanmar military often opened fire with mortar shells and machine-guns on the fleeing Rohingya women and children,[116] 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.[117] By the second week, at least 1000 Rohingya were killed.[118] During the military operations, the Myanmar 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[edit]

Rohingya refugees entering Bangladesh after being driven out of Myanmar, 2017

In August 2017, A Rohingya armed group brandishing guns and swords potentially massacred up to 99 Hindu women, men, and children and perpetrated unlawful killings and abductions of Hindu villagers.[119]

In December 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières estimated that more than 10,000 Rohingya people were killed by the Myanmar military since the "clearance operations" started on 25 August 2017. Earlier, 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.[120][121][122] The majority of them died from gunshot while others were burned to death in their homes. The sources described their killings as "violent deaths".[120] There were also reports of mass killings of Rohingyas by the military and Buddhist vigilantes in Chut Pyin village near Rathedaung. Lewa stated that they had received reports of 130 being killed in the village.[115] On September 7, 2017, The Guardian reported a mass killing of Rohingyas at the Tula Toli village, referred as Tula Toli Massacre.[123] According to AP reporting, evidence has been uncovered of likely mass graves which includes time stamped mobile phone metadata indicating an August 27 date.[124]

In February 2018, news agency Reuters uncovered a massacre event that took place in the Rakhine state's Inn Din village on 2 September 2017. It is known as Inn Din massacre. Ten Rohingya men, who were captured from the Rohingya villagers of Inn Din, were massacred by the members of Myanmar army and the Buddhist villagers who formed an "informal militia" to attack the Rohingya villages.[125] The victims were taken from the hundreds of Rohingya villagers who gathered near a beach to seek safety.[126] Reuters was able to identify all the 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[edit]

Aerial view of a burned Rohingya village in Rakhine state, Myanmar, September 2017

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.[127] 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.[128] These destructions included thousands of structures, mainly homes used by the Rohingya Muslims. Chris Lewa, director of The Arakan Project, has blamed the security forces of burning village after village in a systematic way while also blaming Rohingya arsonists of burning the Buddhist village of Pyu Ma.[115] 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.[129]

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 the Inn Din village and then burned down the Rohingya houses.[125] Several Buddhist villagers later confessed to Reuters that they set fire to the Rohingya houses with kerosene, and also took part 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.[125]

Gang rapes and sexual violence[edit]

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.[130][131][132] Alongside the Armed Forces, the Myanmar Border Guard Police and Buddhist militias of Rakhine were also involved in these atrocities. HRW stated that these 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 stated 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.[133][131] Some women and girls were raped to death while others were found carrying raw wounds and being traumatized after they had arrived in refugee camps in Bangladesh.[131] 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 Myanmar soldiers.[134][130]

Destruction of crime evidence[edit]

In February, it was reported that the Myanmar authority was bulldozing and flattening the burnt Rohingya villages and mass graves in order to destroy the evidence of atrocities committed by the Myanmar military.[135][136] These villages had been inhabited by the Rohingya people before they were burnt down by the Myanmar military during the 2017 crackdown. Some intact villages which had been emptied of their Rohingya inhabitants because of the military crackdown were also bulldozed.[137]

Attack on media[edit]

Since the 25 August incident, Myanmar has blocked media access and the visits of international bodies to the 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.[138] On 1 February 2018, a Myanmar court denied bail for the two Reuters journalists.[139] Upon this, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his concern and called for the release of the two journalists. The journalists were released on May 7 of 2019, along with over 6,000 other prisoners, in a presidential pardon.

Clearance operations[edit]

Myanmar security forces member near burnt down houses

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 Myanmar military in early August 2017 began a "systematic" process of driving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar. The report noted that "prior to the incidents and crackdown of 25 August, a strategy was pursued to:[140][141]

  • 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.[140][141]

Refugee crisis[edit]

Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh in March 2017

Since January 2017, a large number of Rohingya people was displaced and became refugees as a result of the military crackdowns. According to the United Nations reports, as of January 2018, nearly 690,000 Rohingya people had fled or had been driven out of Rakhine state who then took shelter in the neighboring Bangladesh as refugees.[139][126] Earlier, it was estimated that around 650,000 Rohingya Muslims had fled Myanmar, as of November 2017.[142][143][144][145]

By January 2017, an estimated 92,000 Rohingya people had been displaced because of the violence;[146] around 65,000 had fled from Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh between October 2016 and January 2017,[147][148] while 23,000 others had been internally displaced.[146]

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 Thengar Char, a sedimentary island in the Bay of Bengal.[147][149] The island first appeared around 2007, formed from washed down silt from the Meghna River.[147][149] The nearest inhabited land, Hatiya Island, is around 30 km away.[147] News agencies quoted a regional official describing the plan as "terrible".[149] The move has received substantial opposition from a number of quarters. Human rights groups have described the plan as a forced relocation.[149][147] Additionally, concerns have been raised about the living conditions on the island, which is low-lying and prone to flooding.[149][147] The island has been described as "only accessible during winter and a haven for pirates".[149][75] It is nine hours away from the camps in which the Rohingya refugees currently live.[149][147]

On 30 April 2017 Sri Lanka intercepted and detained an India-origin boat of 32 Rohingya refugees off its northern coast after it entered Sri Lankan waters.[150][151]

In May 2017, Bangladesh detained 12 Rohingya people and 2 people smugglers who attempted to leave the country by boat for Malaysia.[152]

In August 2017, Thailand announced that it was 'preparing to receive' Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar.[153]

On 14 August 2017 India announced that it was to deport 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 had been held in the country.[154]

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.[155]

Rohingya refugees in refugee camp in Bangladesh, 2017

In November 2017, the government of Bangladesh signed a pact with Myanmar to return the Rohingya refugees to their homes in the Rakhine territory.[156] The deal arose following a diplomatic meeting on the matter between Aung San Suu Kyi and Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali, the foreign minister of Bangladesh.[157] 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.[158] 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.[159]

Criticism[edit]

The ongoing genocide against the Rohingya people garnered strong criticism from all across the world, and created grave 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.[115] 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.[160][161] 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 the victims of atrocities. The tribunal also made 17 recommendations including demilitarization of the Rakhine state and the end of the discriminatory citizenship law.[160][161] The United Nations' human rights chief Zeid bin Ra'ad described the persecution as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing". Later, on 5 December 2017, he announced that the Rohingya persecution may constitute genocide under international human rights laws.[162] In November, British prime minister Theresa May and United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the situation as "ethnic cleansing"[163][164] while the French President Emmanuel Macron called it genocide.[165]

After a two-year investigation into the plight of the Rohingya ethnic minority, the human rights group Amnesty International in their report 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.[166][167] In the report, Amnesty International mentions that the Rohingya minority are confined to their villages, to townships, and to shabby camps which are cut off from the rest of Myanmar, and travel between their own villages is seriously 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" discrimination and persecution amount to apartheid, the rights group said.[166][167]

Myanmar leader and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi

As in 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi was again criticized her silence over the issue and for supporting the military actions.[168] She has been stripped of her 1997 Freedom of Oxford award over "inaction" in handling the raging violence.[169] 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.[168] 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.[170] 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."[171]

Direct sanctions against the Myanmar 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.[171] According to The Economist, "The Burmese army is not easy to influence, but economic and diplomatic isolation do seem to have played a part in persuading it to surrender power in the first place."[171]

Reactions from other countries[edit]

Holy See[edit]

At the Vatican, Sunday, August 26, 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".[172] The pope undertook a diplomatic visit to the afflicted area in late November 2017, demanding that the international community "take decisive measures to address this grave crisis."[173]

Indonesia[edit]

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world and have sent support to fellow Muslim Rohingyas. Protests erupted against the Myanmar 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 actions are required.[174] Aid in form of tents, basic food and sanitation supplies were dispatched to refugee camps in Bangladesh through four Indonesian Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules.[175]

Israel[edit]

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'.[176] Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed.[177] However Myanmar military officials were still allowed to visit a Tel Aviv Arms expo, with photos from the Israeli media.[177][176] Israeli sales representatives at the expo responded that they were 'unaware' of the ban.[177]

Chen Brill Egri of Amnesty International told the Haaretz that

“We were not surprised to discover that war criminals from all over the world were coming to the ISDEF arms expo as guests of honor.”[177]

Amnesty International itself said that

"Israeli companies continue to export weapons to countries that systematically violate human rights... often these weapons reach their destination after a series of transactions, thereby skirting international monitoring and the rules of Israel itself. The absence of monitoring and transparency [has] for decades let Israel supply equipment and defense-related knowledge to questionable states and dictatorial or unstable regimes that have been shunned by the international community."[176]

Some experts draw a parallel between Israel's 'ethnic cleansing' of Palestinians and Myanmar's 'ethnic cleansing' of Rohingyas.[176]

United States[edit]

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on September 14, 2017, said that Myanmar faces a "defining moment," adding:

"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."[178][179][180]

China[edit]

According to Binoda Mishra, who heads the Centre for Studies in International Relations and Development in India:[181]

“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.[182] China has been investing in the Kyauk Phyu port which could provide an oil pipeline from the Bay of Bengal to Yunan.[181] As part of its "One Belt, One Road" program, China has made heavy investments in Rakhine state—including 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 much-shorter route to the sea for land-locked Central and Western China. [181]

China also has indicated intentions to "develop" Rakhine state commercially in other ways. With China's engagement in Rakhine state requiring cooperation with the Myanmar military and government, China has used its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to protect them from any forceful U.N. action over the Rohingya issue—and has argued that the "solution" to the Rohingya crisis is instead more "development" in Rakhine state.[183][181][184][185][186][187][188]

On 17 November 2017, China announced that it would send Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Myanmar and Bangladesh in a bid to shore up Beijing's influence in the region and mediate in the deepening Rohingya refugee crisis.[189]

India[edit]

Like China, India has also backed up Myanmar over the crisis,[181] but India has been more "low-key" in its support.[189] According to South China Morning Post,[181] 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 fear what they call a "jihadi nexus".[181] The Indian Ministry of External Affairs stated:

“We stand by Myanmar in the hour of its crisis, we strongly condemn the terrorist attack on August 24-25 and condole the death of policemen and soldiers, we will back Myanmar in its fight against terrorism.”[181]

This occurred a day after an 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."[181] 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.”[181]

Bangladesh[edit]

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 ARSA.[181]

Reactions from supranational bodies[edit]

United Nations[edit]

Findings of the OHCHR Independent Fact-Finding Mission 2018[edit]

On September 12, 2018, the OHCHR Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar published its report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.[190] Following 875 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses since 2011, it concluded that "the (Myanmar) 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[edit]

Rohingyas at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, October 2017

All NGOs and humanitarian agencies, including UN agencies, are bound by the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence.[191] As the 2018 Independent Fact-Finding Mission Report highlighted, UN agencies have been aware of Rohingya persecution for almost three decades, with five consecutive Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Myanmar[192] having been appointed since 1992.[193] 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,[194] 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[192] 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 attempt to attract investment into Myanmar, UN officials prevented human rights activists traveling to Rohingya areas, attempted to shut down public advocacy on the subject, and isolated staff that warned of ethnic cleansing.[195] Despite these criticisms of the UN's approach, in June 2018 the UNDP and UNCHR entered a MoU with Myanmar Government providing for the reparation of Rohingya to Myanmar.[196] On November 13, 2018, the plan to repatriate an initial 2,200 Rohingya was abandoned due to protests by Rohingya refugees.[197]

Recommendations[edit]

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, 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.[198]

The distinct OHCHR-appointed Independent Fact-Finding Mission 2018 Report similarly recommended that the UN Security Council issues 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 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."[199]

ASEAN[edit]

The ASEAN member states have upheld a principle of non-interference in intra-ASEAN relations. A day before the 30th ASEAN Summit was held on April 26, 2017, Reuters reported on the Myanmar military's operations on the Rohingya in November 2016. Nonetheless, the Rohingya crisis was not on the official agenda in the Summit.[200]

However, leaders of ASEAN countries have begun concerns on the issue. In a meeting with other ASEAN foreign ministers on December 19, 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 Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanma de facto leader. He was said to stress the importance of stability in Myanmar for the wider regional security.[200]

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."[201] 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.[202]

As of 7 June 2019, ASEAN released a report stating optimism that half a million Rohingyas (they used the term '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.[203]

NGOs[edit]

According to Matthew Smith of the NGO Fortify Rights, "We 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.[204]

Other protests[edit]

Muslim protests were held in various capital cities in Asian countries in late November 2016.[205] Protests were held on September 8, 2017 across Asia in Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Pakistan in solidarity of the Rohingya people.[206] Protests were also held by Rohingya people in Melbourne, Australia in early September 2017.[207] Additional protests were held in the same month in Washington DC in the United States, Cape Town in South Africa,[208] and Jammu and Kashmir in India. A protest was also planned in Hong Kong.[209][210][211]

See also[edit]

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