Security forces in Myanmar have committed mass atrocity crimes against the ethnic Rohingya community – including the unlawful killing of civilians, rape, and the burning of at least 362 villages – since so-called "clearance operations" began in Rakhine State on 25 August 2017. According to the UN Refugee Agency more than 693,000 people have fled the violence, bringing the number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to an estimated 900,000 people. Myanmar's security forces launched the "clearance operations" after the so-called Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army armed group attacked police posts and an army base.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has stated that the systematic attacks on the Rohingya bear "the hallmarks of a genocide." The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, also stated that "acts of genocide" may have been committed. During March the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, said "the intent of the perpetrators" was to possibly "destroy the Rohingya as such, which, if proven, would constitute the crime of genocide."
Myanmar's authorities appear to have made a deliberate attempt to conceal evidence of these atrocities, including by bulldozing mass graves and systematically clearing the remains of some Rohingya villages. The Myanmar authorities also continue to restrict or deny access to northern Rakhine State, including for the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Fact-Finding Mission and Special Rapporteur Lee.
The Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority group of approximately 1 million people, have been systematically persecuted through discriminatory laws. Myanmar's 1982 Citizenship Law rendered most of the population stateless. The Rohingya are also subject to severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, with 120,000 Rohingya confined to camps since 2012. The rights of the Rohingya are further limited by the so-called "Protection of Race and Religion" laws place harsh restrictions on fundamental religious freedoms, as well as reproductive and marital rights.
The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State submitted its final report to the Myanmar authorities on 24 August 2017. Led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Commission has offered practical recommendations to address the root causes of conflict in Rakhine State, including reforming the 1982 Citizenship Law.
During March the Commander in Chief of the Army, General Min Aung Hlaing, said that tensions in Rakhine State were "fueled because the Bengalis demanded citizenship." In response, the UN Secretary-General urged "all leaders in Myanmar to take a unified stance against incitement to hatred."
Renewed fighting in Kachin State between Myanmar's military and an ethnic armed group, the Kachin Independence Army, has displaced more than 8,000 people since early April. The army has conducted aerial bombing and directed artillery fire on civilian populated areas in Kachin State. The army has also prevented humanitarian relief from reaching civilians.
Despite the transition to democracy, Myanmar's security forces continue to pose an existential threat to the Rohingya population and other ethnic minorities. Unless discriminatory laws and policies are repealed or amended, the Rohingya will continue to face the threat of further atrocities. The 1982 Citizenship Law and the Protection of Race and Religion laws are intended to eradicate the legal right of the Rohingya to exist as a distinct ethnic group in Myanmar.
The denial of access to the Fact-Finding Mission and UN Special Rapporteur undermines efforts to independently investigate atrocities in Myanmar.
The government of Myanmar has not only manifestly failed to uphold its Responsibility to Protect the Rohingya, it bears responsibility for the ongoing commission of crimes against humanity and possibly genocide.
The only formal response of the UN Security Council (UNSC) since 25 August 2017 has been the adoption of a Presidential Statement on 6 November. The statement called for the implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Commission and stressed the "primary responsibility of the Myanmar government to protect its population." From 28 April to 2 May the UNSC visited Bangladesh and Myanmar.
On 26 April the European Union extended its arms embargo on Myanmar for a year, prohibited the export goods and equipment that "might be used for internal repression," and banned military training and cooperation with Myanmar's army. Both the governments of Canada and the United States have sanctioned Major General Maung Maung Soe, the military commander of Rakhine State.
On 23 March the HRC renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a period of one year and extended support for the Fact-Finding Mission.
On 9 April the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) asked for a ruling on "whether the Court may exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh." While Myanmar is not a state party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, Bangladesh is.
A 23 March report by the UN Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence included Myanmar's Armed Forces on an annual list of groups that are "credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for rape or other forms of sexual violence."
The UNSC should demand immediate access for independent investigators to Rakhine State, including Special Rapporteur Lee and members of the Fact-Finding Mission. The UNSC should immediately refer the situation in Rakhine State to the ICC. The UNSC should also impose an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on all senior military officers with command responsibility for atrocities committed in Rakhine State, including General Min Aung Hlaing.
Individual governments and regional organizations should suspend all cooperation and training programs with Myanmar's Armed Forces. All international trade and development programs in Rakhine State should be scrupulously reviewed.
The government of Myanmar must demonstrate progress toward implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Commission. The government must also repeal or amend all laws that systematically discriminate against the Rohingya, including the Protection of Race and Religion laws and the 1982 Citizenship Law. The government must take proximate steps towards building a more inclusive society in which the human rights of all of Myanmar's diverse populations are protected, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
It is essential that any proposed repatriation of Rohingya refugees is conducted on a strictly voluntary basis, in accordance with the 1951 Refugee Convention and the principle of non-refoulement.
Last Updated: 15 May 2018
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