Two years ago, in 2017, the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar engendered international attention. The crisis was all over the news and social media, and for a moment, the entire world seemed to be coming together to attempt to resolve the crisis and alleviate the human rights violations. Today, although the crisis is no longer anywhere near as prevalent in the media, the Rohingya are still facing extreme persecution from those in charge.
The Contemporary Problem
Today, approximately 600,000 Rohingya are still living in reprehensible conditions in Myanmar according to the United Nations’ (UN) new report released to the public in September 2019. Additionally, although genocide has not been officially named, numerous UN officials from their recent fact-finding mission and report on Myanmar have stated that the Rohingya still living in Myanmar face the “threat of genocide.”
The Rohingya face threats from the government to “erase their identity and remove them from the country.” Others, which include over 730,000 Rohingya, fled the Rakhine state to Bangladesh during the height of the crisis in August, 2017, facing fears for their life and persecution from the state, in particularly from the security forces of Myanmar.
The security forces have been accused of gang rape, arson, torture, ill-treatment, killings, as well as gender-based and sexual violence, which served as the catalyst for the Rohingya to begin fleeing in 2017. Furthermore, the Rohingya face restrictions on their movement, which ultimately impact close to every aspect of their life. The UN report states that these persecutions remain prevalent and that they remain “a prominent feature of conflicts in Shan and Kachin states” (other states within Myanmar).
Another component of the ongoing human rights violations in Myanmar is that, combined, over the two-year time span, nearly one million Rohingya have fled Myanmar as refugees. The Rohingya abandoned their houses, villages and normal life in fear of their life, and even though two years have passed since they gained international attention, they are still unable to return as the perpetrators have faced no trial or punishment.
Who is to Blame?
The UN report stated that certain “military officers carried out the campaign against the Rohingya with ‘genocidal intent’ and should stand trial.” More specifically, there is a strong desire for Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief, to face trial for gang rape, killings and arson during the initial crackdown on the Rohingya. The report is extensive (nearly 200 pages) and includes approximately 1,300 interviews of those who have witnessed the violations of the Rohingya.
Due to the lack of accountability for the crimes and the failure of Myanmar to investigate the possibility of genocide or pass effective legislation punishing and criminalizing genocide, the problems persist. More so, the problems are increasing and “the evidence that infers genocidal intent on the part of the state…has strengthened.” Furthermore, there is a strong risk that the actions of genocide may occur or perhaps recur.
The report established that Myanmar, ultimately, has done nothing to deconstruct the systematic persecution and violence existent in the Myanmar government and security forces. The government of Myanmar claimed that the destroyed villages had been rebuilt, however, the UN report calls this into question as multiple military bases have been constructed in the place of many of the destroyed villages. Of approximately 400 destroyed Rohingya villages, 320 of them have seen no attempt to be rebuilt.
The Response of Myanmar
Initially, the military and the Myanmar government rejected and dismissed almost all of the accusations. When a government spokesman and two military spokesmen were contacted in relation to the report and the ongoing violations of human rights, all declined to respond, comment or even answer the phone. However, as some time passed, the officials in Myanmar began to release certain statements.
For example, the delegation in Myanmar admitted that the country faced both, human rights challenges and developmental challenges, but felt that these are “one and the same thing” and that the problems of human rights are simply an aspect of development. However, Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun stated that the crisis in Myanmar was abused for political purposes and he ultimately rejected any sort of attempt by the UN or international community to prosecute military figures.
What can Happen?
The report states that currently, Myanmar remains unsafe for the Rohingya living there, or for those that have fled to return. Although the report asserts that the abuses currently faced by the Rohingya are not as extreme as the ones faced during the “clearance operations,” the Rohingya remain a target of the government, the persecutors of the human rights violations against them continue to be unpunished and Myanmar is still “a State that commits ongoing gross violations of international law.”
The UN is calling for immediate international action, with the desire for the prosecutors to face trial in international courts. According to Christopher Sidoti, a member of the panel that released the report and a human rights lawyer in Australia, “the scandal of international inaction has to end… Unless the United Nations and the international community take effective action this time, this sad history is destined to be repeated.”
“600,000 Rohingya in Myanmar face ‘serious risk of genocide’: UN.” Al Jazeera. September 16, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/09/600000-rohingya-myanmar-face-risk-genocide-190916143753819.html.
“Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.” Myanmar Geneva. Accessed August 20, 2019. https://www.myanmargeneva.org/biography-of-permanent-representative/.
Reuters. “Rohingya still in Myanmar face ‘threat of genocide:’ United Nations.” NBC News. September 16, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/rohingya-still-myanmar-face-threat-genocide-united-nations-n1054761.
“UN report on Myanmar alarming.” The Daily Star. September 18, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019. https://www.thedailystar.net/editorial/news/un-report-myanmar-alarming-1801309.
United Nations. “Genocide threat for Myanmar’s Rohingya greater than ever, investigators warn Human Rights Council.” UN News. September 16, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019. https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/09/1046442.
United Nations. “Myanmar’s Rohingya Persecuted, Living under Threat of Genocide, UN Experts Say.” OHCHR. September 16, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019. https://www.thedailystar.net/editorial/news/un-report-myanmar-alarming-1801309.
Map of Rakhine State (Arakan) with Maungdaw District containing Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships highlighted in red, author: General Admiral Aladeen, source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.